DORSET'S charms have been highlighted in a new tourist guide.

The county's towns and villages were given a glowing report and escaped the blasting of other English towns in the Rough Guide to Britain.

Weymouth was given the thumbs-up as a 'lively family holiday destination' and its indoor tourist attractions were described as a welcome bonus to the resort - to the delight of the borough's mayor Doug Hollings.

Among those commended were the Sea Life Park, Deep Sea Adventure, the Timewalk and Nothe Fort.

The guide said: "Like most British seaside resorts, Weymouth has had to supply more than sand and saucy postcards to its clientele in recent years.

"Its slightly faded gentility is now counter-balanced by a number of 'all-weather' attractions."

It added: "Weymouth is also well-served by its refreshment outlets and restaurants."

Portland was called 'stark, wind-battered and treeless' and Chesil Beach was hailed an 'appealing antidote' to busy south coast resorts, while stressing it was dangerous for swimmers.

Councillor Hollings said he believes the report will encourage tourists to keep visiting the borough. He added: "I am delighted that at last they have recognised that Weymouth and Portland are very attractive. We have a range of attractions for families and this is well-deserved praise.

"Weymouth has a glorious seafront and golden sands and Portland has a rugged beauty, and I think they complement each other."

Dorchester was praised for its historic buildings, lively market and Thomas Hardy links.

A special mention was given to Maiden Castle as 'the most impressive of Dorset's pre-Roman antiquities' and Athelhampton House was acclaimed for its decorative gardens.

The guide said: "Even without the Hardy connection, Dorchester makes an attractive stop, with its pleasant central core of mostly seventeenth-century and Georgian buildings, and the prehistoric Maumbury Rings on the outskirts."

Lyme Regis was described as a hub of activity in the summer when its narrow streets are crowded with visitors.

The Rough Guide said the town has 'undeniable photogenic qualities' and lives up to its regal name.

Bridport won praise as a 'pleasant old town that has wide streets with fine buildings including a medieval church, Georgian town hall, a fourteenth-century chantry and a Tudor building housing the museum'.

The book pointed to Milton Abbas for its 'curious artificiality' and Cerne Abbas, home of the chalk-carved giant, as the most interesting villages in rural Dorset.

The Rough Guide criticised some British coastal places, saying that Portsmouth had 'an ugly profile' and dubbed Herne Bay in Kent 'Hernia Bay', claiming it was 'something of a relic from a bygone age'.