If you're ready for a guidebook that's less rough and more refined, take a look inside the LOUIS VUITTON CITY GUIDES. These slim volumes ($55 for a set of eight, covering 35 European destinations) are tailored to slip discreetly into one of those famously monogrammed handbags. Apart from listing the finest hotel, dining, shopping and touring options, the books provide arcane survival tips for fastidious travelers, such as the fact that Blossom & Browne's Sycamore Laundry in London uses "softened water to protect your Pradas." But not all the attractions have five-star ratings. Flea markets happily coexist with big-name boutiques in the shop listings, and the reviews of the usual destinations Paris, Rome, Madrid are joined by shorter takes on more unusual ones like Malmö ("an unpretentious haven") and Krakow ("filled with joie de vivre").
If your itinerary will only take you to the capitals of culture, try the STYLE CITY books from Thames and Hudson ($24 each), which supply the scoop on and gorgeous photos of Barcelona, London, New York and Paris. Amsterdam and San Francisco are next. The guides' writers convey the "vibrant and idiosyncratic experience" of each city, and they take the reader off the beaten path. Craving chocolate in the Catalonian capital? Try Cacao Sampaka, a "beautifully spare shop interior full of dark chocolate-colored wood." Dare to venture beyond Manhattan? Fuel up at the Brooklyn Inn, where you can "argue about Kierkegaard" with regulars. But note how to get there before you set off: these large-format guides will be too big for some folks to tote around. For the seriously stylish, there's NOTA BENE ($350 for 10 issues), the "destination review" favored by P. Diddy and Gwyneth Paltrow. Each issue focuses on one place the Maldives, Milan, Courchevel, with a bit of luxury-travel news at the back. The writers are knowledgeable, but fond of words and phrases that went out with steamer trunks; NB praises a Toronto hotel for its "unguents" (that's soaps and shampoo to the rest of us) and describes how chic Torontonians "tend to have pre-dinner drinks in the restaurant at which they are dining and remove to a hotel bar afterwards." If that charms you, grab a copy of NB, remove to a wing chair and luxuriate in the unctuous prose these travelers know what they're talking about.