Among all the travel guides out there, there is a category that stands out from others by combining sightseeing and practical information with useful general background to the area covered, and most importantly, opinion. LP and RG are the biggest English-language series in this category (Let's Go, Footprint and Brandt guides also belong here). Although I do have a preference for Rough Guides, LP seems to have a bigger market share and in many cases there simply wasn't a RG to the area I needed a guide for, particularly when buying one in the country.
Such was the case when I decided to get a guide to France, a good few days into the trip: I successfully used LP guides before many times and on finding that it was my only option, I happily picked up the big and slick newest LP France.
A few weeks later I can confidently say that among all the LP and RG that had a chance to use, the new LP France, despite packing in almost a thousand pages of text and pictures, ranks among the most disappointing ones.
To give it its fair dues, it's not by any means all bad. The overview of the essentials is up to the unusual LP standards. From food to driving, suggested intineraries and month-by-month list of highlights, the general sections of this volume are good. History and art are covered briefly but well and will help anybody not familiar with the country. The maps are clear and useful and the suggested highlights and unmissables are certainly inspirational.
France is a huge country, and full of cultural and natural attractions. Any guide, even as big as the LP, has to be selective and to make difficult decisions as to what it covers and how much space it devotes to a particular region or location. For this traveller, the choices mad by the editors of LP France were, to make a cheap pun, a tad misguided. We spent about six weeks in France, travelling by car with a family from Calais through Normandy, Brittany, Bordeaux, Lot et Garonne, Pyrenees and Provence. During this journey, the LP France was useful only occasionally. In fact, it was probably the least useful guide I have ever bought in twenty-plus years of travel, while using LP or RG pretty much every time I ventured anywhere.
I realise choices have to be made, but I am questioning the decision to devote more than 10% of the "on the road" part of the guide to the whole of France to Paris. Anybody that wants to focus on Paris will buy a guide to the city, while the whole country guide surely requires a bit more balance. Seven out of the 34 Normandy pages are devoted to the D-day landing beaches, and this is not counting small entries on war memorials scattered across the whole section. In Brittany, a whole half-page is taken by a description of one, small (admittedly unusual) B&B while whole sections of the region are ignored. Cap Sizun peninsula in Finisterre, with its stunning and eminently walkable coastline of cliffs and sandy coves (and the northernmost point of the country, a "grand national site of France" of Pointe du Raz) is not there, and neither is most of inland Morbihan with Pontivy and the significant coastal city of Lorient.
This pattern is repeated throughput the book: extra weight is given to the most popular – and a few unusual – places, while many, let's call them, B-list locations are ignored. For highlights of France, this LP works well, particularly for a first-time visitor, but it lacks the comprehensive coverage that one expects (and usually gets) of a whole-country guide.
I was also surprised that a LP guide, presumably aimed at a backpacker and budget end of the market, often fails to list hostels and camp-sites and suggest a 100 Euro a day PER HEAD as a low-budget estimate (we managed to spend not much more than that for a family of four and we weren't even self-catering for the majority of time).
Finally, one has to question the authority of a guide that, in the otherwise very informative section on wine, claims that French wine is not the most celebrated in the world – because if French wine is not, one wonders which is.
LP France would work well for a complete novice to France planning a whistle-stop tour of the A-list highlights with a few unusual options thrown in. If you buy this guide before the trip and plan using its suggestions, you will find this volume sufficient and inspirational. However, if you are looking for a guide that you can pick up and hope it will cover your own itinerary, especially if straying off the most beaten track, LP France is likely to disappoint.