As the summer season looms large here in Majorca one thing is certain, a mountain of eager beaver destination guides will be hitting bookshops and online stores, hoping to persuade holidaymakers that a visit to the island’s sun kissed shores is nigh impossible without their invaluable insights and blessing.
How though does one sift through the ever-growing assortment of guides that aim to woo the traveller with seductive photography, top tips, must-see attractions and know-before-you-go essentials? As a one time visitor to the island and now a resident I have a rather ruthless approach to these guides. Bearing in mind that the majority are annual publications and therefore go out of date fairly quickly, it is critical to choose one that doesn’t waffle, offer superfluous or travel-lite information, has durability and an eye for detail. Of course many tourists rely on TripAdvisor but I like a proper book written by a paid professional to offer impartial information and recommendations.
Many of these books rely on updating information from local sources without the author actually schlepping back to the destination to check up on new facts and often the long lead time until launch of publication means that the guide is out of date before it even hits the bookshelves. Lonely Planet one time author, Thomas Kohnstamm, blew the whistle on guide book practices in his controversial Do travel writers go to hell and back? in which he freely admitted indulging in sex and drugs as he tripped around Brazil, not bothering to visit all the places he wrote about and relying on second hand sources because he claimed he received paltry expenses from the publisher. Despite the ensuing brouhaha, sophisticated travellers these days are usually canny enough to spot the phonies from the real deal.
I was flicking through my portfolio of Majorca guide books recently and found myself either laughing or tutting at some of the authors’ so-called pearls of wisdom. Take this arrogant throw away line from Time Out Mallorca, ‘…there is not much else to Soller…’ Oh really? But then elsewhere the author sensibly suggests that ‘parking in Deià can be a nightmare in peak season.’ Utterly true. No nonsense foodie trooper Vicky Bennison in The Taste of a Place advises readers to ‘choose a restaurant frequented by office or manual workers not tourists…’ Stating the obvious? Not necessarily given how many holidaymakers flock to some of the worst kind of overpriced kitsch restaurants. Lonely Planet Mallorca uses rather annoying Americanese such as in this description of services at a Majorcan hotel ‘the neat ideas they sometimes have, like Chinese massages on the roof.’ Urgh.
Some guides are just bolchy and grumpy. AA Essential Mallorca states ‘(Robert) Graves was hardly the first to discover Deià.’ Did he ever claim to be? Huh? Or how about ‘Soller is popular with day trippers…who seem to do little but sit outside the cafés soaking up the atmosphere and the sun.’ And why not, Mr oh-so disgruntled author? They’re on holiday. Give them a break.
And my ‘big girl’s blouse of the year’ award goes to Kompass Mallorca which issued a wimpish warning for those walking in the hills. ‘Only hike in long pants because between razor-sharp grass blades and furzes, you can get bloody legs really fast.’ Oh purleese!
Phil Lee, veteran author of the annual Rough Guide to Mallorca, is a bit of a ferret for facts and leaves no stone unturned. He’s also the only guide book writer – aside from Vicky Bennison- who bothered to winkle me out to ask my views about Soller where I live. He’s seen it all, travelled the world and has a wicked sense of humour which is why his excellent guide is undoubtedly my favourite. He offers a rich and dense treasure trove of facts and highlights and doesn’t patronise or hoodwink the reader.
For example I enjoyed this dry line in his new 2013 guide ‘the spectacular views often exceed the quality of the evening meal’ or this, ‘patchy service – take something to read, just in case’. A copy of The 2013 Rough Guide to Mallorca, perchance?
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