Siena and Britain
Siena & the heart of Tuscany by Rebecca Ford
Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com & Bookpleasures.com is delighted to have as our guest, travel author, writer, and photographer, Rebecca Ford.
Rebecca is a contributor to several British newspapers and magazines, as well as some websites. She is also the author of several guidebooks, and is member of the British Guild of Travel Writers.
Recently, Rebecca launched her most recent guide- book, Sienna & the Heart Of Tuscany.
Good day Rebecca and thank you for participating in our interview.
Norm: Rebecca, could you tell us a little about yourself, when did your passion for travel writing begin? What kept you going?
Well, I think it really began at university. I did a degree in geography at St Andrews in Scotland and became increasingly interested in the relationship between people and places. After I graduated, I explored Europe by train and by the end of the journey I was hooked on travel. I'd always known that I wanted to write - so it seemed ideal to put the two together and become a travel writer. It was hard work getting established but I was determined, so I stuck at it. I knew it was the only job that would allow me to combine my passions -and it never gets boring.
Norm: What are you principal geographical areas of expertise and why do you concentrate on these areas?
Rebecca: Well, I'm freelance, so have to produce a lot of articles to make a living. Therefore, for practical reasons, I concentrate on writing about the places closest to me. As I live in Britain and obviously know it extremely well, I write a lot about the British Isles. I also love Italy and have travelled a great deal there (it's quick and easy to reach from the UK) so that's my other specialist geographical area. However, if I have time, I love to take off and explore further afield especially if it involves walking, watching wildlife or a great train journey.
Norm: What was your favourite guide- book you authored and why?
Rebecca: Mmm, it's hard to say. If I had to pick one, I think I'd say my latest book, which is on Wales. It might make up just a small part of Britain but it's incredibly varied and full of history. I found isolated sandy beaches that hardly anyone visits, and loads of amazing castles and cool hotels. It was great to discover so many secrets so close to home. And I loved hearing people speak Welsh.
The book's available now.
You recently launched a new guide -book, Sienna & the Heart of Tuscany, could you tell us a little about the book, and where is Sienna?
Yes, this is a pocket guide to Siena, one of my favourite cities in Italy. It's in the south of Tuscany and is an incredibly well preserved medieval city. It's got loads of great buildings and works of art to see you could spend a day in the cathedral alone, and there are lovely little shops and restaurants too. I think it makes a great base for exploring Tuscany, so my book also covers the surrounding area places like San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Cortona and Chianti. It's a very practical guide I recommend places to stay, eat, and shop as well as the best sights to see.
Please describe to our readers six of the most romantic and unique venues in Sienna to celebrate a marriage, or enjoy a romantic getaway.
Well, there are plenty of places for romantic breaks.
In the centre of the city there's the Grand Hotel Continental, which was once a wealthy family's villa and has now been converted into a 5 star hotel. Then, just outside the city, there's the Hotel Certosa di Maggiano, which is a 14th century monastery that's now a wonderfully secluded hotel with tranquil gardens and a swimming pool perfect for honeymooners. If you'd like to stay in the Tuscan countryside, then a good bet is Relais San Felice, in Chianti. It's a whole borgo (medieval hamlet) that's been converted into a hotel complex it even has its own chapel so you can get married there. There are some lovely self catering apartments in Chianti too: Podere San Giuseppe is a tastefully converted villa with panoramic views, roomy apartments and panoramic views, and Residence Catignano is an estate that has been owned by the same family for over 400 years and which offers lovely country style apartments and elegant rooms in a 17th century villa. South of Siena, in the centre of Pienza, you'll find the Hotel Relais, a luxurious converted convert with a good restaurant. If you want to mingle with the rich and famous, then try La Collegiata, the exclusive hotel on the outskirts of San Gimignano where Tony Blair has been known to dine.
I notice you are also a photographer, how do you blend your photography with your travel articles?
I take photographs whenever I travel- though there's usually no time to wait for the perfect light so I have to snap pretty quickly. I then offer those pictures to editors who often use them alongside my newspaper articles.
Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you find sources for your books?
My most important research techniques are walking and talking: I walk around towns and cities making notes on everything, from museums and churches to shops and restaurants. I also try and talk to local people whenever possible they know the secrets of a place, the best places to eat etc.
On top of that I spend time in the library, ask local tourist boards for information and surf the internet. But I try to then check everything in person once I reach the destination.
You have written several articles on various walks in Britain and Scotland.
There are lots of lovely walks to do in Britain-it's hard to know where to pick.
In Wales, I'd recommend doing a section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which hugs the cliffs and gives wonderful views of unspoilt beaches. It's a long distance walk that is easily broken into day long stretches. I'd also suggest doing a walk in the hills around Beddgelert, which is a beautiful village in North Wales. In Scotland I'd suggest taking a walk through wooded Roslin Glen just outside Edinburgh. There's a circular route you can follow that takes you to Rosslyn Chapel which was made famous in the Da Vinci Code. The chapel's full of mysterious carvings and the woods are filled with bluebells in the Spring. Further north, there's a lovely walk you can take from Stonehaven, along the cliffs to the ruins of Dunnottar Castle. It's a romantic and dramatic spot where the Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden in 1540 to protect them from Cromwell's forces. In England I'd suggest taking a walk in the quiet lanes around Thomas Hardy's cottage in Dorset. The cottage is thatched with a traditional cottage garden and is where the author of books such as Tess of the D'Urbervilles was born. The countryside is very unspoilt too. There are also lots of lovely walks near London. An easy but fascinating walk is on the Thames Path. It's a long distance walk that goes from central London to the source of the Thames. You can easily do a short section- perhaps from Hurley to Hambledon Lock near Henley. You're beside the river the whole time.
What does travel mean to you?
It means a chance to meet new people, and dip my toe in a different culture and way of life.
As there does not seem to be any authoritative standards that exist for guidebook authors or publishers, how do you know that a guidebook is up to par? How do you check out the authorial competence?
The only real way of checking is to go to the destination, use the guidebook and see if it comes up to scratch. Obviously restaurants, cafes etc often close down, and standards (of food, service) and prices change but you can get a good idea of whether the book has been well researched or not.
If you get a guidebook to an area you know well, then that will give you an idea as to whether other books in the series are accurate or not.
How have you used the Internet to boost your writing career?
I use the internet as another research tool, though I am in the process of setting up my own website and I hope that will give me contacts with editors/ PRs in other countries.
What is next for Rebecca Ford?
Well I've just returned from Macedonia and am planning a trip to Albania in the autumn. I'm also going to travel around Switzerland by post bus and am hoping to go to Canada to do some wildlife watching. So I'm keeping busy.
Thanks once again Rebecca and good luck with all of your future endeavours.
Interview by Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com