Take me there: Souss Valley, Morocco
With its atmospheric medina and ochre-coloured ramparts, the fortified Berber town of Taroudant – an hour's drive from Agadir – is often called "little Marrakech", although it is more laid-back. Use it as a base for exploring the fertile Souss Valley, where you'll find orange groves and argan trees, wild, empty beaches and the sunniest winter climate in Morocco.
What to do
Haggle for Berber and Tuareg jewellery and crafts in the souks of Taroudant or take a horse-drawn caleche (carriage) tour of the town's ancient walls. Hire a guide for treks into the Western High Atlas or the Jebel Sirwa. Spot flamingos in the coastal lagoons of the Souss-Massa National Park, or hang out with the hippies and surfers at Taghazout beach, north of Agadir – Surf Maroc rents seafront apartments and surf gear (surfmaroc.co.uk).
Where to stay
Palais Oumensour offers riad-style accommodation, tasty Moroccan home-cooked food and plant-filled courtyards in the heart of Taroudant (from £30pp, hotel-taroudant-maisondhotes-maroc-hotes.com).
Where to eat
La Ferme Joachim is a restaurant 3km outside Taroudant on an organic smallholding run by a French couple. Dishes of home-grown veg and meat grilled in a wood-fired oven are served in a shady garden (restaurant-laferme-joachim.com).
"My favourite excursion is to the Berber villages in the foothills of the High Atlas. You get a real insight into the traditional way of life and the views are spectacular," says Karen Freestone of Naturally Morocco, a tour operator which offers authentic travel experiences in Taroudant, from cookery lessons to visits to a local hammam (naturallymorocco.co.uk).
Buy the book: Glossy publishers are reinventing the travel guide
At a time when travellers can look up any hotel or restaurant on the internet for free, or download maps and itineraries via an app, traditional guidebooks are having to work harder than ever to catch our eye.
It's no longer enough to be useful – they are having to reinvent themselves as desirable objects. Take the new box set of city guides released by cycle clothing brand Rapha (£25, rapha.cc/city-guides-set). The pocket-sized books cover eight bike-friendly European cities, from Berlin to Copenhagen, with route maps and tips on the best pitstops. But what really makes them stand out are the idiosyncratic illustrations from local artists from each city. I'm coveting one and I don't even own a bike.
Luxe City Guides were the first to put the glam into guidebook publishing with their sleek little volumes covering the world's sexiest cities (luxecityguides.com). Wallpaper* followed suit, adding new titles to its rainbow-coloured guide-series each year and dividing them into themed box sets covering everything from art to beaches (phaidon.com/travel). And this year Louis Vuitton put its luxury stamp on a series of guides to 15 of the world's greatest cities, collaborating with artists to create a visual celebration of each destination (louisvuitton.co.uk).
So, if you're stuck for Christmas gift ideas this year, forget the Breaking Bad box set and invest in one of these inspirational new travel series instead. They may not be as up-to-date as an app, but they'll look a whole lot better on your bookshelf.
For urban life and surprising value, go to... East London
The Dictionary, Shoreditch Hackney's first youth hostel opened last summer in a converted warehouse a 10-minute walk from Old Street tube station. The look is industrial (exposed brickwork and iron girders), but the welcome is friendly. There's a lively café-bar serving breakfast and booze (though not at the same time). From £16 for a dorm bed, £40 for a double room (thedictionaryhostel.com)
The Royal Foundation of St Katharine, Limehouse An oasis of peace and good value in the heart of the East End, this charitable foundation offers comfortable, no-frills bedrooms, arranged around a central garden. Rooms have Wi-Fi but no TV and guests are free to use the communal lounge, conservatory and garden. A great alternative to soulless budget hotels. Doubles from £72 (rfsk.org.uk)
Cable Street Inn, Shadwell Documentary filmmaker Julian Cole transformed this 18th-century inn into an intimate B&B two years ago. There are just three guest rooms, beautifully styled with a mix of antique and modern furnishings, contemporary artworks and fresh flowers. Breakfast can be taken in the rather grand sitting room or up on the roof terrace. Doubles from £110 (cablestreetinn.co.uk)
Ace Hotel, Shoreditch The first British outpost of cool American hotel chain Ace has been a big hit with the hipsters since it opened in September. Industrial-chic rooms boast original artwork, turntables and a selection of vinyl, while the Hoi Polloi brasserie puts a modern spin on British classics such as pork cheeks served with spiced apple, pickled carrot and dripping chips. Doubles from £159 (acehotel.com)
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