Steve Smith: Recommended Travel Guide for Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes

Steve Smith: Recommended Travel Guide for Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes
Steve Smith: Recommended Travel Guide for Travel, Food and Wine Writing Classes

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.

Ode to Travel Writing Cliches

Kelly Wisecarver, one of the students in my Travel Writing in Tuscany class, wrote this very funny little send-up of the clichés in Travel Writing. Let me know if you have favorites of your own that you love to hate!

Ode To Clichés (May 22, 2015)

You might say we’ve crossed one journey off of our bucket list. Embarking on an adventure to this sun-drenched Tuscan village, where colorful locals trump hordes of tourists, we frolic with new friends. Monticello is an undiscovered gem where glasses of Brunello wash down heaping platters of pasta. For our last night, we feast at a ristorante nestled into the side of the ancient city walls. We’ll savor scrumptious secondis such as toothsome wild boar, cinghiale, quaff gallons of vino rosso, and nibble decadent sweets to die for. Perfect for individuals or groups the Travel Writing in Tuscany class, led by adrenaline junkie Nick O’Connell of The Writer’s Workshop, boasts off the beaten path destinations for foodies and free wi-fi.

Home Winemaking Chez O’Connell

Punching Down the Cap
Here I am punching down the cap on our bodacious Ciel du Cheval syrah, a monster wine destined for greatness.

Taking a break from writing and teaching, I spent the past fall fermenting our cabernet, merlot and syrah. It’s physical work, but very rewarding, allowing me to get in touch with my inner winemaker. We buy most of our grapes from Ciel du Cheval vineyard on Red Mountain in Eastern Washington. These are some of the best grapes in the state; two wines rated 100 by Robert Parker came out of the same vineyard. As long as I do my job, the eventual wine will be superb. My winemaking partner Tom Remmers and I share winemaking duties and our crew of Les Copains volunteers does a fantastic job of helping us our with crushing, pressing, fermenting and finally bottling. It provides a good break from more cerebral activities like writing and teaching, and allows me to experience winemaking from the ground up.