While maps are on my mind (see previous post)… I have a newly discovered love for Marco Polo maps. But before I get on to them, let’s back track a little. I can’t imagine there will ever be a day when I ditch paper maps altogether; when I cycled to Italy in 2010 and along the Mediterranean coast in 2013, despite my equal love for online tracking, they were invaluable. The thing is that with a tablet computer or a smartphone, you can’t get the bigger picture. You can’t look at where you will be travelling over the next week or indeed month very easily simply because of the size of the screen. Nothing beats being able to sit (or more likely kneel) and just look at a paper map. They are also invaluable in being able to see not just where you are going and have been but where you haven’t been. The town in the next valley or perhaps how far you are from the next country. On the road, a paper map is just so much more practical to use than its digital equivalent. OK. I’ll stop there lest you think I’m some kind of paper map weirdo.
Back in 2010 I used exclusively Michelin maps. You can see from this graphic that I created at the time which maps I needed. Most were on a scale of 1;200,000 and I remember thinking that I had found maps that were the perfect compromise between giving sufficient detail and portability. I still believe this to be the case for any cyclist with a map fetish so in 2013 I set about purchasing a similar set of maps for my cycle along the Mediterranean. Not so easy… Michelin’s 1;200,000 (or even 1:300,000) world did not extend to Greece, Albania and the Croatia so instead, a little reluctantly, I prepared to use Marco Polo maps for the first few weeks of my trip. If you are eagle-eyed, you’ll notice that I didn’t actually use a map in Albania – just the small one in the Bradt guidebook I was using – and I can’t quite remember why I didn’t buy a map of Albania before I left. Why didn’t I buy one when I arrived in the country? I have no idea. I remember struggling from time to time but I did make it as far as Montenegro so…
You might also spot that the Michelin maps I used for Italy and Spain were only 1:400,000 (you can see more detail in this post that I wrote at the time). This was frustrating as I was left guessing for much of the time as to where I was or which road I should have been taking. Many of the more minor roads didn’t get a look in on the 1:400,000 scale maps.
So to my third continental crossing later this year. I was in Stanfords Travel bookshop last weekend looking at, you guessed it, maps. The upper floor is almost entirely given over to maps of Europe and there are thousands of them. Indecision took over… Should I go for Michelin 1:400,000 maps again for Spain or look into buying some from the Spanish mapping agency that was more detailed but covered only a relatively small area? And then my eye fell upon the Marco Polo 1;200,000 map for Andalusia. I opened it up – and several other maps of the area – to compare and contrast. In terms of clarity and detail, it was difficult to better what the Marco Polo map was giving me. It struck me that the map had been made for someone who wanted to know what was in the country rather than specifically for a motorist (which is often the impression I get when I look at a Michelin map). The roads were less dominant leaving ample space for much more precise and detailed information about the topographical geography, the towns and villages, the cities and the less significant routes. I started to wonder if I would be able to piece together a series of Marco Polo 1:200,000 or 1:300,000 maps for the entire trip. Alas no. Michelin seem to have cornered the market in providing universal coverage of western Europe with small scale maps. I’ve just been looking on the Marco Polo website and the following maps are however available:
French Atlantic Coast 1:300,000
Northern France 1:300,000
Belgium / Luxembourg 1:300,000
Denmark 1:300,000 (but also see below)
This is a great pity as in the 1:200,000 map of Andalusia (that I did buy), I believe I have found the perfect cycling map. It’s a winner on all levels. But alas, some kind of compromise will have to be adopted for my mapping needs for the Eurovelo 1/3 cycle. This is the full set of maps that I need to get hold of:
Andalusia Marco Polo, 1:200,000
Extremadura, Castilla La Mancha, Madrid Michelin, 1:400,000*
Castilla y Leon, Madrid Michelin, 1:400:000*
Aquitaine Michelin, 1:200,000
Poitou-Charentes Michelin, 1:200,000
Centre Michelin, 1:200,000
Nord-Pas-de-Calais Michelin, 1:200,000
(There is a separate 1:200,000 Michelin map for Ile de France / Paris but I suspect this area is entirely covered by the Centre and Nord-Pas-de-Calais maps)
Belgium South Michelin, 1:200,000
Germany Midwest Michelin, 1:350,000 (ouch!)**
Germany Northwest Michelin, 1:350,000**
South Jutland and the Islands Marco Polo, 1:200,000***
Sweden South: Malmö – Helsingsborg – Kalmar Freytag-Berndt, 1:250,000
(Similar to the Paris situation, I think that this map area – Sweden South-West: Gothenburg – Vänersee – Karlstad Freytag-Berndt, 1:250,000 – will be covered by the two maps either side, above and below)
Southern Norway: Oslo – Bergen – Stavanger Freytag-Berndt, 1:250,000
Central Norway: Trondheim – Lillehammer – Ålesund Freytag-Berndt, 1:250,000
Northern Norway: Narvik Freytag-Berndt, 1:400,000****
Norway North Cape: Hammerfest Freytag-Berndt, 1:400,000****
So there you have it, the Eurovelo 1/3 in maps. 16 of them adding up to around £100. Does anyone want to be my official map sponsor?
* Having just said I didn’t like using 1:400,000 scale maps in Spain, here I am putting them in the list. Is there a better alternative though that doesn’t mean buying an excessive number of maps?
** Almost the same problem as * but Germany is, I imagine, an easy country through which to cycle when it comes to direction finding. Will 1:350,000 suffice?
*** This map is available from Stanfords but is not listed on Marco Polo’s own website. If I wait until I am travelling to buy the maps that I need and can’t find it I will use the Denmark Marco Polo, 1:300,000 map instead.
**** These are also relatively large scale but bearing in mind the lack of things that are available to put on a map in northern Norway, I think they will suffice!