One of my favorite places to run Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes is France, one of the most geographically varied countries in the world, with everything from towering alpine peaks like Mont Blanc, sybaritic beaches of the Riviera, and wide swaths of rolling hills covered with vineyards in places like Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Steve Smith, coauthor with Rick Steves of the Rick Steves France guide, is arguably one of the most knowledgeable experts on the country, one of the reasons I recommend his books to the students in my Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes.
Smith is an avid Francophile, having visited Europe early on with his family. His father was an English professor and went to France to teach in the Fulbright program. Smith so enjoyed his time in Europe that he eventually went to work for Rick Steves, who at the time was just launching his tours to Europe.
Smith has now worked 24 years with Rick Steves, finding all the best hotels, restaurants, and sights in the amazingly diverse country.
“We’re covering fewer destinations in the country, but in more detail,” he said of the current approach to the guides. “We’re very diligent about checking destinations. We want the guides to bring things to people–restaurant and hotels, and local guides.”
My parents, Nicholas and Marie O’Connell, did several trips to Europe with Smith and enjoyed the trips immensely. My father, who reads widely, engaged in long and spirited conversations with Smith about Europe’s history and culture. Smith’s familiarity with this is evident throughout his guides, which include valuable, up-to-date service info on hotels, restaurants, and sights as well as informed discussions of the culture of the place.
“We can always work harder to improve and describe the place and what people can take away from it,” he said.
Smith has what many travelers would consider an ideal job, traveling to Europe regularly with his wife and family, leading tours, and researching guidebooks. He now owns a home in France where he can relax between tours and work on updating the guidebooks. “I can write upstairs in the house,” he said, “looking out over the Burgundy canal.” No wonder the guidebooks are inspiring.