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For Those With Time to Wander and Wonder

August 22, 1993|COLMAN ANDREWS

ROMANTIC GETAWAYS IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST AND WESTERN CANADA by Larry Fox and Barbara Radin-Fox (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., $12.95 paper) and SPECIAL PLACES FOR THE DISCERNING TRAVELER IN CALIFORNIA, THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, WESTERN CANADA AND THE NORTHERN ROCKIES , fifth edition, by Fred Nystrom and Mardi Murvin Nystrom (Nystrom Publishing, Inc., $15.95 paper).

This latest title in the "Romantic Getaways" series (previous volumes have covered California, the mid-Atlantic states, Hawaii and the Caribbean), all of them written by a veteran Washington Post travel and entertainment correspondent and his wife, is--like its predecessors--a chatty, rambling guide not to resorts or country inns specifically (though these are included), but to whole regions, or parts of them. The series seems geared to travelers who are lucky enough to be able to wander slowly over large patches of landscape, taking their pleasure where they find it--which is apparently just what the authors do in compiling their research.

"Special Places," on the other hand, is quite specific: It lists nearly 70 hotels, inns, resorts, restaurants and other attractions, all personally visited, paid for and vouched for by the authors (at least one of whom--it isn't clear which--used to work for Sunset Magazine). Each listing includes practical details, a few paragraphs of description and a color photograph or two--usually of either snapshot or publicity-still quality. A useful planning tool for, er, a romantic getaway.

ZAGAT U.S. HOTEL, RESORT AND SPA SURVEY, edited by Joan Lang and Susan Safronoff (Zagat Survey, $16.95 paper).

This is the latest from the publishers of the phenomenally successful Zagat restaurant survey series--of which there are now some 22 city or regional editions. These are democratic guidebooks, based on the opinion not of a single reviewer or team of critics but of thousands of just plain folks who respond to questionnaires and offer comments on the establishments in question.

Leaving aside the question of whether the averaged-out opinions of about 7,000 critics (in the case of the present volume) is necessarily any more trustworthy (or universal) than the opinions of two or three, there is a built-in statistical problem with the process, which renders highly questionable the accuracy of the scores assigned. Each responding "judge" has visited a comparatively small number of the places scored, and there is no guarantee of common standards or experience among the respondents. It ought to be impossible, then, to assign equal weight to each individual rating.

But never mind. Simply as a surprisingly comprehensive directory to a wide range of American lodging places, this volume is invaluable. The extensive cross-indexing alone ("Beach Setting," "Downtown Convenience," "Frequent Flier Affiliations," "No Credit Cards Accepted," "Power Scenes," "Student Budgets" and some 40 more categories) is worth far more than the arbitrary rankings anyway.

AMERICA'S WONDERFUL LITTLE HOTELS AND INNS: The West Coast, 1993-1994 by Sandra W. Soule (St. Martin's Press, $15.95 paper); EUROPE'S WONDERFUL LITTLE HOTELS AND INNS: The Continent, 1993 by Hilary Rubinstein (St. Martin's Press, $17.95 paper), and EUROPE'S WONDERFUL LITTLE HOTELS AND INNS: Great Britain and Ireland, 1993 by Hilary Rubinstein (St. Martin's Press, $14.95 paper).

Like the Zagat guides, the Wonderful Little series depends on the opinions of non-professional critics--but in this case, no surveys are sent out and no numerical ratings are assigned. Instead, hotel-goers mail in comments and complaints, whole paragraphs of which are reproduced herein. The detail is extensive and the reports generally convey a real feeling for the character of each place. All the pertinent practical data is added by the author/editor of each volume; this even includes such information as foreign languages spoken by the hosts, which rooms have traffic noise, availability of cribs and baby-sitting, etc. The West Coast guide covers Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and western Canada. Other American titles are devoted to New England, the South, the Middle Atlantic states, the Midwest, and the Rockies and Southwest; there is also a selective U.S and Canada guide, culling the bests from the other books.

(Sandra Soule's newsletter,Innroads, with hotel recommendations and other information for readers of the Wonderful Little books, is available by writing (include 52 cents postage) to Soule at P.O. Box 150, Riverside, Conn. 06878.)

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