Yes, we know it sounds dreadfully sad, but we have been spending the long winter evenings poring over maps. Maps are a must for travel planning, and an essential companion on the road. We count a good map as indispensable on all but the simplest of European journeys. A GPS is great but it is just not the same as a good map.
“Easily the best atlas there is.”
The best investment we ever made was in a handsome atlas, but it’s clearly something for the home library rather than to carry on a journey. We have dipped and delved into many atlases over the years, but the clear winner in our book is The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, which travel writer Paul Theroux nicely commended as “the whole world in a single volume,” and Bill Bryson dubbed “easily the best atlas there is.”
Britain and France
Various national mapping agencies in Europe produce first-class maps showing roads, railways, landscape features and more–generally only for their own territories.
Top of the range is the classy cartography of Ordnance Survey (OS), once Britain’s military mapping agency which has transformed itself over the last 30 years into a customer-oriented company serving business and leisure markets. If we had any say in these matters, we would long ago have extended the OS remit to cover the planet, but that’s just a dream so we can only imagine how wonderful an OS Landranger map of the Camargue or the Crimea would be.
France is blessed with great national map coverage at various scales, with IGN and Michelin locked in head-to-head competition. Our preference is for IGN (really the only option if you are looking for large scale maps suitable for hikers), but Michelin offers elegant medium and small scale maps for long road trips.
We are very impressed with many of the mid- and small-scale maps of Freytag & Berndt, a long established Austrian company which has produced maps of most areas of the world. That company’s 1:150,000 road atlas of Croatia and Slovenia is a gem that has served us well over many years.
For sheer quality of cartography, though, the maps of Reise-Know-How are hard to beat, and they come sensibly printed on waterproof tear-resistant paper. This German company specializes in areas overlooked by mainstream mapping agencies, and we have found their maps of lesser known parts of Europe to be a real godsend. As dedicated rail travelers, we much like the fact that Reise-Know-How maps give some prominence to railway lines (which too often on other maps play second fiddle to roads).
Of course, if you are traveling by train around Europe, it pays to get a dedicated rail map. Pick of the bunch is the Thomas Cook Rail Map of Europe. The 18th edition of this old favorite is published next week. Europe’s rail network is so fluid, with new routes opening and closing every year, that it is really worth having an up-to-date edition.
A new edition of the same company’s Rail Map of Britain and Ireland is also published on 3 February. Publication dates for both maps in the US market are about a month later.