"What about your duck pond?" asked Cameron Hewitt while updating the Rick Steves France guidebook. Gérard's eyes fell as he said, "Sadly, we no longer have ducks in our pond. A hawk moved in and began picking them off, one each day, until they were all gone."
Cameron spends as much time as I do researching and updating Rick Steves guidebooks. As I pack and finalize plans for my next trip (less than a week now), I'm featuring travel blogs from our Travelers' Café for a few days. On his latest trip, Cameron has been working on our France guidebook and reporting from the field. In this excerpt, Cameron (who's clearly recovered from his bout with cassoulet) shows the joy and care we bring to our work, particularly when it comes to making connections with accommodations that have personality:
I had one particularly lengthy, but very enjoyable, interaction at a countryside hotel near the Dordogne River Valley, called Moulin de Fresquet. The owners, Gérard and Claude, have converted an ancient mill into an idyllic retreat. Gérard greeted me in the driveway and proceeded to show me each of their five rooms -- all of them different, but all of them equally well cared for. He told me about the ghost who haunts the mill, showed me a copy of the innkeeper's memoir he wrote and published (unfortunately, so far available only in French), and took me on a guided tour of the lush, parklike grounds. The place is less a hotel than an enchanting fantasyland.
When I was leaving, Gérard asked me, "Excuse me. Do you know what happened to Karen Brown?" It took me a moment to realize who he meant. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Karen Brown wrote a series of guidebooks highlighting romantic, upscale, characteristic inns. (Back then, Rick used to say, "My splurges are Karen Brown's slums.") She had a very devoted following, but her niche became one of the casualties when printed guidebooks were eclipsed by online sources.
Genuine affection filled Gérard's voice as he described how Karen would come personally to visit and update her guidebook each year, and even brought her entire family on holiday once. This wasn't just a business relationship; it was a friendship. "I wrote a letter to her several months ago and never heard back," Gérard told me. Since Karen and I are both in the guidebook biz, he figured maybe I knew her. (Karen, if you're reading this, get in touch with Gérard and Claude! You know, they worry.)
To read the rest of this entry -- and lots more from France -- be sure to check out Cameron's blog.