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Friday May 17, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Mallorca

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 Bearing in mind that the majority are annual publications and therefore go out of date fairly quickly, it is critical to choose one that doesn’t waffle, offer superfluous or travel-lite information, has durability and an eye for detail.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destination to check up on new facts and often the long lead time until launch of publication means that the guide is out of date before it even hits the bookshelves.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?

Please feel free to comment on this article. All comments are moderated, so it will appear after I have checked it. Thanks!

  1. Hi Anna

    i totally agree with the sometimes lack of information in these ‘information’ books/guides. Ive been travelling to Mallorca for a number of years now and still rely on just a few tomes – the AA Explorer guide / DK eyewitness top 10 and the little everyman mapguides – of course not forgetting my trusted old map by Freytag and Berndt. We have just come back from Mallorca – staying over in the south east ( Cas Concos) and we wanted to visit Banulbufar – a place we had driven through a few times. Many of the guides state that parking is a nightmare and it is only a place for a quick stop. Im glad we didnt listen to that twaddle because it was beautiful and spent all morning there up and down the back streets. i think some of these guides think if you cant get a dirty great coach through a village then their cant be much to see. I say good because it leave some of the most wonderful villages for the rest of us who prefer a road less travelled. Feeling a little Mallorca-home sick at the mo – your website and articles keep the grey away when im back in old Blighty-thanks. SB

    * by sarah brown | Jun 18, 05:51 pm

  2. Hi Anna,
    I am coming to Mallorca in September to research a tour -off the beaten track – I am taking with guests next year and didn’t quite know which guide book to buy. That was until I read your comments about Phil Lee’s book on Amazon. Ordered it, am half way through it and have to say it is excellent. Full of brilliant information and contacts. Thanks for the heads up. NM

    * by Nikki Maxwell | Aug 22, 04:50 am

  3. Thanks, Sarah and Nikki! I think it’s so important to find a guide that really offers insightful information.

    I find some guides do talk a lot of twaddle about impossible parking or treacherous mountain roads- I wonder where they get these ideas sometimes. Unfortunately I think it’s often based on hearsay rather than proper hands on research!

    * by anna nicholas | Aug 22, 03:08 pm