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Essential reading for any visitor to Spain
on 21 April 2008
This is yet another feather in Rough Guides' cap. Spain is one of the most rewarding countries to travel around, especially for those who like to explore off the beaten track, so a good guidebook is more than welcome.
Besides the usual hotel and restaurant reviews, which I've always found accurate and honest, there is much more besides. The town and city descriptions are refreshingly candid, ranging from "stunningly beautiful" to "large, sprawling and industrialized", a welcome departure from those guides that are unstinting of their praise for everywhere. That makes it easier for the traveller to choose an itinerary that shouldn't contain too many disappointments.
The guide is organised into chapters on geographical regions, each with a useful introduction detailing the region's highlights. All regions of Spain are covered, often in surprising detail.
The sections on the well-known destinations are entertainingly written with coloured inserts that dwell on particular themes (e.g. the cider houses of San Sebastian, Costa Brava fiestas, parish churches of Seville, Madrid café life)that will encourage people to seek out the less obvious, a welcome respite from non-stop sightseeing. However, there is plenty there for the visitor who wants to concentrate on the country's big attractions. For example, in the section on Granada's Alhambra there is a whole page on the practicalities of "Admission to the Alhambra" to accompany the five pages of erudite description of the complex and a valuable map.
There are also knowledgeable sections on the less fashionable and less visited corners of Spain, such as Las Hurdes in Extremadura and El Maestrazgo in Aragón, often quite detailed, that will reward the traveller who enjoys getting off the beaten track. There are also details of hikes for those who like to get out of their cars and walk.
As is always the case with Rough Guides, there are attractive colour plates and a comprehensive "Contexts" section covering themes such as history, architecture, art, music, cinema and reading lists. The book is well bound.
Accommodation is price-banded, sensible given the seasonal fluctuations in prices in some places, and in the tapas bars/restaurant recommendations the house specialities are provided. I would offer just one criticism: in these days of car-based tourism, it would be useful to have indicated which hotels have car parking facilities.