A FREQUENT criticism of guidebooks is, “Who wants to go to all the same places as all the other tourists?”
Hearing this said over and over by friends going on holiday, it’s always seemed persuasive to me. Flicking through Lonely Planet’s latest Melbourne and Victoria guide though, I really don’t see how that could be a problem. There are so many options listed, it would take months to do them all! Lonely Planet pays its readers a compliment by not dumbing down Victoria to only its key sites. Instead, it allows you to pick and choose, and make your own adventure.
As is always the case with Lonely Planet, the maps are excellent. Every activity comes with a price guide, and events and activities that won’t put you out of pocket are accompanied by a prominent “free” icon in front of their name. Handy telephone numbers for basic services are included, and the index at the back makes finding things easy.
The downside of all the stuff that’s crammed into this book is how dense it is. This isn’t a pretty guide, but a functional one. The text is small and the margins are smaller. Break-out boxes such as “End of the tramline treasures” or “To beer or not to beer” provide some relief from the relentless double column layout. As for pictures, you may as well take your own.
Ultimately though, a good guidebook is more than just an itinerary of what to see or a handy list of taxi numbers. It should give you a feeling for the place you’re visiting, a vibe or impression. Lonely Planet’s guide to Melbourne and Victoria certainly does that. The back of the book has 30 pages or so of the State’s history, as well as handy summaries of the state’s foodie, art, music and sporting scenes. Reading them wouldn’t be a bad way to pass a train ride.
What the book has done well too, is the subtle method of description pervading its pages that leaves an impression on visitors of what Victoria is all about. The three authors are all listed as Melburnians, and they certainly bring a loving but playful eye to their surroundings.
Take this passage on page 70:
“Beyond Merri Creek is Northcote, one of Melbourne’s fastest gentrifying suburbs, a sprawling neighbourhood of wooden Federation cottages and big backyards. It’s sleepy demeanour shifts once the sun goes down, when High St hums to the sound of a thousand Converse hitting the pavement in search of fun.”
This Lonely Planet is informative before all else. But such tongue-in-cheek, anthropological insights certainly make reading it a lot of fun.
The latest edition of Lonely Planet’s Melbourne & Victoria travel guide (RRP $34.99) is available from most good bookstores. You can also purchase the hard copy and digital editions online.