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BOOK REVIEWS: Morocco

A GUIDE TO THE GUIDES

  • The Insight Guide: Morocco, 360 pages, £16.99, ISBN 981-234-306-7
    The Insight guide to Morocco looks like an extended National Geographic article. Half the book is taken up with photographs and this, despite a discouragingly garish cover, must be its strongest selling point. This is especially true of the new edition which features much of the work of Alan Keohane - whose photograph bookThe Berbers of Morocco is such a visual treat. With over a dozen acknowledged contributors renewing an existing text it is no suprise that it is difficult to identify a consistent tone. It is however concise and knowledgeable while essays such as 'Morocco Bound' on page 71 are positively inspiring. By the standards of its rivals it is short on practical details, listings and local maps. Ideal browsing material on a flight and would work well as a companion to a pre-booked holiday.

    Overall rating 4
    Accuracy 4
    Readability 5
    Up-to-the-minute 3
  • Lonely Planet: Morocco "rock in the kasbah, roll through the Rif", 544 pages, £12.99, 5th edition in 2001, ISBN 0-8442-762-X
    The Lonely Planet Morocco has re-emerged this February into its 5th edition, bigger than ever and spine-stitched to delay the page break-up that it used to be prone to. The classic layout, two double columns a page, and note-like entries give it a soothing dictionary feel. Authoritative on cheap hotels (which are neatly priced, assessed and charted on the street maps) as well as bus departures, it is less convincing on historical sites. For instance the Roman ruins at Rabat's Chellah are now accessible, the details on Lixus need updating whilst Banassa doesn't even feature in the index. I doubt any of the readers are troubled, for the Lonely Planet is written by back-packers for back-packers, with a cheerful self-assurance that its readership is equally interested in beer, adventure sports and budget accomodation. It is vital sustenance for the Jack Kerouac's of the world, for whom the act of travelling is as important as the destination.

    Overall rating 3
    Accuracy (hotels and buses) 5, monuments 3
    Readability 2
    Up-to-the-minute 4
  • Morocco: The Rough Guide by Mark Ellingham, Shaun McVeigh and Don Grisbrook, 604 pages, £11.99, 5th edition published July 1998, ISBN 1-85828-169-5
    Well researched and with an in-built bias towards music, mountain climbing and left-of-centre politics, the Rough Guide to Morocco most fully expresses the multiple aspirations of the contemporary independent traveller. The series was created in the early 80's to bridge the yawning gap between the old style cultural guides (completely indifferent to such mundane matters as beds and food) and the student guides so keen to identify the cheap hotels that they had lost sight of the purpose of travel. It led the way in successfully combining a dedicated approach to cultural monuments with detailed listings of hotels, restaurants, transport, clubs and bars worthy of London's Time Out. The street maps (always something of a challenge in Morocco's labryinthine old cities) remain the best available outside of the covers of a French Michelin guide. Now updated into its fifth edition and embellished with a dozen colour pages as well as the expertise of such experienced mountain climbers as Hamish Brown. Literate, serious and informed, it is the travelling bible for the more serious and independent-minded back-packer.

    Overall rating 5
    Accuracy 5
    Readability 4
    Up-to-the-minute 4
  • Footprint Morocco Handbook by Justin McGuiness, 550 pages, £11.99, ISBN 1-900949-35-0
    Most guide books are too much the product of their time to last beyond a generation. The South American Handbook, continously in print since the 20's is a notable exception. The North African Handbook was always a lesser known sister, short on practical matters but packed full of historical anecdote and written with a wide cultural canvas. Its contributors were mostly professors teaching in London's School of Oriental and African Studies. This compendium has now been broken up into nation states and re-worked by Justin McGuinness, an Arabist resident in North Africa. His explanation of the workings of the tanneries at Marrakech (on page 347) is the only lucid description of this mysterious process that I have ever come across. I also relished his introduction to Tangier as "more of an atmosphere than a city". A new edition, due out this spring, may improve on the scantily drawn town maps and beef up the practical information. It will then become a serious rival to the Rough Guide which its new look cover already imitates.

    Overall rating 4
    Accuracy 4
    Readability 5
    Up-to-the-minute 4
  • Trekking in the Moroccan Atlas: includes Marrakesh City Guide by Richard Knight published by Trailblazer Publications, £11.99, 246 pages, ISBN 1-873756-35-6.
    I was alarmed lest this book might put any of Morocco's mountain-guides out of work. My fears were disarmed by Richard Knight's initial advice that "all but the most competent trekkers and map readers should consider employing a local guide rather than travelling solo". He also celebrates the company of "the two Brahims and Mohammed, muleteers of distinction: and of course the mules" in his acknowledgements. I warmed to the book immediately and had great pleasure re-tracing the one or two routes I have walked on his sketch maps. The trails are plotted with great care and I was delighted to find no map grids or satellite fixings but the more poetic (and useful) references to "jutting pink rocks stand out to the N.E.". While his introductory walk to the Ait Bou Guemez valley as a "Randonnée du The" perfectly captures the mood of this entrancing region. Will the publishers please send Richard off to write a companion volume on the Anti Atlas?

    Overall rating 4
    Accuracy 4
    Readability 3
    Up-to-the-minute 5
  • Blue Guide, Morocco by Jane Holliday published by A & C Black (publishers) ltd, 35, Bedford Row, London WC1R 4JH, 304 pages, £12.99, ISBN 0-7136-4677-2
    Blue Guides are one of the oldest names in guide book publishing. They were started during the First World War when a pair of English editors for the German Baedeker series set up independent shop. They were "blue" in deference to the renowned red Handbooks published by John Murray and swopped translation rights with their French sister, Hachette'sGuide Bleu series. Some recent new editions of the Blue Guide, especially those to Istanbul, Turkey and Jordan, prove the series to be as exacting and scholarly as they have ever been. Jane Holliday's Morocco is not up to scratch. The oasis of Figuig is described as it stood in the 60's, while to describe a tour of the ksour of Rissani as "the well sign-posted, 21km Circuit Touristique" is a serious underselling of one of Morocco's more anarchic and fascinating corners. Her historical introduction to Smara reads like propaganda. The complicated history of Morocco's Western Saharan province should not be treated in this simplistic way, not even by the wife of a British diplomat.

    Overall rating 2
    Accuracy 2
    Readability 3
    Up-to-the-minute 1

Barnaby Rogerson has written the Cadogan Guide to Morocco, A Traveller's History of North Africa, the Cadogan Guide to Tunisia and takes cultural-tours to the region. He has recently set up, with fellow travel writer Rose Baring, Sickle Moon Books which reprints classic travel literature (www@travelbooks.co.uk).

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