Monday, September 12, 2011

New Edition of Lonely Planet Morocco

The release of a new guide book is aways good news for any tourist destination. It is doubly so when that destination is Morocco and the guide book is the Lonely Planet. Not only is Morocco one of Lonely Planet's top destinations, but over the years Lonely Planet has been the most popular guide book on the market (see our story here). The View from Fez team has been evaluating the new edition.

The tenth edition of Lonely Planet Morocco could not have come at a better time. As Ibn Warraq reported yesterday, (see story here) the tourism market is recovering. In addition the past couple of years have seen a great number of developments in Morocco and much has changed since previous editions.

Tony Wheeler, who founded Lonely Planet with his wife Maureen believed that "a great guide book should do three things: inform, educate and amuse". Happily, we can report that this latest edition does just that.

Those familiar with Lonely Planet will notice some changes in style and format. Gone is the rather plain "quick reference" section on the inside cover. In its place is a double page spread with essential sections of the book: "plan your trip", "on the road", "understand Morocco" and "survival guide". Each of the sections lists page numbers for its major contents. These sections are also colour coded so that flicking to each section is easier than in previous editions.

Plan your trip

This first section covers such things as the "18 top experiences". In the previous edition the reader was offered 25 highlights. One suspects that this reduction was brought about by budgetary constraints. In an odd twist the previous number one, the Fez Medina, has been relegated to number two behind Marrakesh's "Djemaa el-Fna street theatre".

There are other changes that appear to be a result of cost-cutting. The quality of the paper and the matt instead of glossy photographs are just two examples. However, the layout and basic information is all precise and quickly found. The "month by month" rundown is well thought out and the "suggested itineraries" are a good guide for first time visitors to Morocco and superior to those in the 9th edition.

Another change is the placement of general information for travellers. In the previous edition there were around sixty pages at the front of the book, covering a variety of topics from the environment through to advice for women travellers. In addition there was a "directory" at the end of the book. In the 10th edition most of this is now at the back of the book in the "survival section". In some cases the advice is in a more concise form.

On the road

This section contains all the essential information on various major destinations, starting with Marrakesh and Central Morocco rather than the previous entry point of Casablanca and the Central Coast.

The Marrakesh and Central Morocco entry was written by Alison Bing, who returns to the areas she has written about in the ninth edition. Bing knows her area extremely well and writes with authority and not a little wit. Her introduction to this chapter, however, is a rewrite of the previous edition. It is probably not such a bad thing, as her previous introduction was (and still is) well written!

An annoying thing about the new format are the lists of "five best" this or that. Our feeling is that it must have been restricting for the writers and there were may have been "words" exchanged with those back at Melbourne HQ.

The updated map of Central Morocco is a vast improvement and, like the map of Marrakesh, is much easier to read. There is also the welcome inclusion of a pull-out map of Marrakesh, but disappointingly, none for Tangier, Fez, Casablanca or Rabat.The writing about Marrakesh itself also contains much of the previous text, but thankfully refreshed in parts.

When it comes to riads and hotels the list appears more exhaustive and, as one would expect, there are some notable inclusions and omissions. Overall, it is a good snapshot of where to sleep and where to eat. One change is the dropping of the classification of hotels into budget, mid-range and top end. The new edition has a simple code beside each hotel with the number of Euro signs (€) denoting the price range.

The Atlantic Coast section of the book has had a major make-over. This is probably due to the fact that it has been researched and written by a new author - Helen Ranger - writer of the much in demand Fez Encounter. Ms Ranger is an experienced travel writer and it shows in the sections she has authored.

The information about the walking tour of Central Casablanca has been expanded and the maps have been improved.

One strange anomaly is the confusion over railway stations. Casablanca is served by two rail stations run by the national rail service, the ONCF. The main long haul station is Casa-Voyageurs, from which trains run south to Marrakech or El Jadida and north to Mohammedia and Rabat, and then on either to Tangier or Meknes, Fes, Taza and Oujda. A dedicated airport shuttle service to Mohammed V International Airport also has its primary in-city stop at this station, for connections on to further destinations. However none of the maps show Casa Voyageurs railway station. Casa Port train station - of less interest to travellers - while on the map, is not numbered with other transport services.

The Atlantic Coast coverage of this latest edition is more extensive and the attention to small details is impressive. For example,the bus to catch to get to Lixus is no longer numbers 4 or 5, but number 9. A small detail, but one that could make your trip to Lixus a little easier!

This section of the book includes Essaouira and again the updating of information is thorough. It is also pleasing to see that Ms Ranger has exploded the myths about Jimi Hendrix and his brief stay in Essaouira.

The Mediterranean and the Rif section was also authored by Helen Ranger and out of date information is gone and the coverage of the region much improved. The layout and information on trekking is well done, as is the attention to detail. The section on Tangier has captured the spirit of a city shrugging off its past and becoming an appealing destination for tourists.

Well known travel writer Paul Clammer, who was coordinating author of the 9th edition, returns to update the Imperial Cities, Middle Atlas and the East. Given the tourist boom in Fez and the range of new accommodation and restaurants, this update was much needed.  Clammer has done a good job on this, but because of the time lapse between research and publication, some details have already changed.

The Coordinating Author of this 10th edition  is James Bainbridge, who also contributed the Southern Morocco and Western Sahara update.  Again, all well done.

Understand Morocco &The Survival Guide

These two shorter sections not only have some valuable information, but have been set out in a way that makes them easy to read. One small lapse is in the language section where, unlike previous editions, the Moroccan numbers are missing the numerals between 10 and 20! Maybe the publishers are encouraging people to purchase the Lonely Planet Moroccan Phrase Book?

Our Verdict

There will always be those who like the older style of Lonely Planet guide book and for them, the changes in format and style will not be welcome. There is also the perennial problem alluded to earlier - that by the time any guide book reaches publication, it is already out of date.

Those quibbles aside, we think that Lonely Planet Morocco does its job well. It is easy to read; the maps are vastly better and the research in almost every region is impressive. The style of language retains that earthy flavour Lonely Planet is renowned for, ( which other guide book describes something as grotty?) but the general approach is a more mature one. If this is a recognition that not every traveller is a backpacker, then it is a step in the right direction.

Let's hope that those in Lonely Plant HQ will follow this with updated Encounter books for Fez and Marrakesh.

You can purchase by clicking image


Helen Ranger said...

Thanks for an in-depth review.
You will find an arrow pointing off-map to Casa Voyageurs station on the Casablanca map on p. 166. This station doesn't fall within the boundaries of the map on p.170, and an arrow wouldn't help as it's not a direct route from the edge of this map.
Do note that there is new edition of Marrakech Encounter, but not for Fez.

Ruth Evershed said...

I found the new edition a great source of information. I use it all the time. Thank you Lonely Planet and The View (as we call you in our office).

Anonymous said...

Yes, leaving out the main Casablanca train station was odd. But overall a welcome update. Well done LP. I have seen the new Marrakech Encounter... when is Fez due... it seems a long wait for a book so much in demand. If I had bought more than one of the first edition I could make a fortune selling them now!