25 April 2008
Travel writing: truth or fiction?
The recent furore over a Lonely Planet travel writer who confessed to various unethical escapades (as discussed by various writers and readers in the Guardian's travel blog) has provided a fascinating insight into the world of print travel writing. To be honest, although I do frequently find errors in travel guides, I hadn't realised how brief some writers' research really is.
I prefer to keep a low profile and focus the website on Italy, not on the writer, but to reassure readers: I've lived in Italy for several years, and currently spend around half my time in the country. I speak Italian and Italy Heaven is full of information and tips I couldn't have discovered any other way. All the text is original; as well as visiting sites, catching buses, asking questions and dutifully sampling ice creams, wine and food, I also research information using a variety of books and publications and cross-check where possible. As I hope is clear from my destination pages, I have visited and explored just about every place described on the website (there are still one or two exceptions), and I try to be as accurate as possible in describing a town as I found it. I've never pretended to have been anywhere I haven't set foot, nor invented restaurant or hotel reviews. All the photos are taken especially for the website.
I suppose I could photograph myself by landmarks to prove my travelling credentials but that seems rather unnecessary and I prefer to be more anonymous. However, a little travelling companion has accompanied me on my most recent trip and I am including pictures of him to prove that he, at least, has visited Urbino, Florence and other towns. As readers have perhaps become more interested in personal reports and authenticity, I'm considering adding more travel journals onto the website to complement the factual reports.
I think that Italy Heaven is as reliable as we can practicably make it without hiring a team for constant updates. I always think you need a print guidebook in your hand as you explore, but I hope the website provides a good starting point for planning a trip and deciding where to go and what to see. For some smaller destinations our pages, although they are rapidly plagiarised by other websites, are often the most detailed account you'll find. In some cases, such as the Venice section, our pages will be as good as and more up-to-date than most guidebooks - we've certainly eaten at our recommended restaurants more recently than the guidebooks have been updated.
You should always check for updates to bus timetables etc. using the links we provide, and be prepared for some things to have changed. When researching online elsewhere, be wary in general: so much information out there is based on subjective reader contributions and out-of-context plagiarism. Some websites rely on text which is out of copyright, and therefore decades out of date. Others are simply poor translations of the local tourist board information (I've found quite a few of these about Italy recently) so don't provide any practical advice or judgement.
If you do have any comments or updates let us know - obviously things change and we always want to be as accurate as possible in our recommendations.
Pesaro, which I thought could be a good holiday base by the sea (in Le Marche)
Ravenna - where there are even more fine mosaics than I'd expected; allow a couple of days to see everything properly
(and yes! we've really been there, and just a few days ago too).