I have always found the clamour amongst alpinists, mountaineers and walkers in general for the latest tome on the Alps to be a little confusing. Perhaps it is just me but I have found many literary guides to be less than the sum of their parts, often blatantly ignoring the best routes and resorts to instead run with the crowd, therefore failing to set themselves apart from the competition. It can of course never be said that such guidebooks don’t have their place or supporters but sifting through the dross to locate a diamond in the rough can be a tedious process.
It is with the aforementioned in mind that I write this blog post, to recommend the few authors and publishing houses who are worth their alpine salt. Alas for the likes of Rough Guides, this isn’t a post where you will find me endorsing the big-hitters, not because of their gargantuan budgets and reach but simply, they spread themselves far too simply to be of any use to the hardcore hiker or weekend walker. Admittedly, it must be a hard, if not thankless task for the author and editorial team to decide on content for an all-encompassing guidebook to a country but when I read the same things, edition after edition, I feel it smacks of laziness and of doing the bare minimum to meet publishing deadlines and obligations. Whilst the appeal of a particular area or mountain-range over another is purely subjective, it is disappointing to find many guidebooks fail to mention important areas. It equally irks me that an updated version of a country-guide seems to have been refreshed by simply using reader-recommendations, some of which are out of date by the time they come to print.
Should you decide on a particular area of the Alps for your next trip, I suggest sourcing written-material tailored to that area. It will surprise the otherwise ignorant that a wealth of printed-matter is available for regions that would seem too small to warrant a standalone volume. A particular example of this is Walking in the Julian Alps, authored by Simon Brown and published by the estimable Cicerone, a small but perfectly formed British leader in this niche market. Brown’s work is written in a simple but informative and thoughtful manner, imparting his love of the area and every nuance that makes each of his walks a pleasing one, whatever the length of or altitude reached. For those touring the Julian Alps in their entirety it is worth noting walks in this guide start from four centres: Bohinj, Bled, Kranjska Gora and Bovec. Whilst this is not a new book and at times is betrayed as being slightly outdated, I find it as indispensable now as I did at the date of purchase, some fifteen years ago. This book can still be found online, in particular but not exclusively on Amazon:
Continuing with the atavistic theme brings me to the unparalleled writings of Cecil W. Davies, who managed to bring together in his work The Mountains of Austria 98 Austrian hikes of varying length and difficulty but still left the reader with the feeling that he intimately knew every step of his musings, rather than just giving a vague overview of what an area has to offer. I believe this book was first published in the 70’s but remains as relevant today as it did then. Davies remarks on how a particular area, the Oetztal I believe, has had it’s terrain raped and sacrificed upon the winter-sports altar. Whilst it is unfair to single-out the Obergurgl-Hochgurgl-Soelden region as the only area to suffer at man’s indifference towards the environment around him for the sake of quick financial gain, I frequently wonder what he would’ve thought of the vast civil-engineering projects that now routinely take place in the Alps. Similar to Simon Brown’s Slovenian odyssey, I understand that it is now out of print but can thankfully be found on Amazon:
Not withstanding a glaring typographical-error within it describing the Grossglockner as topping out at 3300 feet lower than it actually does, in keeping with Cicerone’s expertly approach to the Alps this guide is a masterpiece, transcending the ages with an epoch-defining piece of writing, something the venerable Frank S. Smythe would’ve been proud of. The spectacular cover-shot of the Ellmauer Tor is merely a tempting taster of the book’s contents.
Cicerone have long held a healthy level of respect with alpine walkers. Notwithstanding their glories of yesteryear with the likes of Brown and Davies, a personal contemporary favourite is again from their stable. Taking up the baton from Simon Brown, Justi Carey and Roy Clark have authored The Julian Alps of Slovenia: A Walking Guide. Here is a book that can best be described as a labour of love, written by people who not only have affection for their subject but know it intimately, enabling them to impart their knowledge effectively and most importantly, with exacting levels of accuracy. Being the first one to point out to authors and publishers alike any errors in their publications, I can confidently say that this title is the most authoritative, accurate and thorough guide to walking in the Slovenian mountains currently on the market. Being a contemporary book it is subsequently readily available, not in the least from Cicerone’s own website:
A further title by the same authors gives the more adventurous a taste of what else Slovenia has to offer the hiker, other than the Julian Alps:
I am pleased to see amongst Cicerone’s forthcoming titles is a new guide to the Silvretta region in Austria, reinforcing my earlier comments that books concentrating on relatively small areas, often within larger areas such as the Tyrol, are economically viable as standalone titles.
Justi Carey and Roy Clark do though have a head-start on most other authors whose penmanship have touched upon the alpine delights of Slovenia. Literally living and breathing Slovenia, they are in the enviably fortuitous position of running their own guesthouse in Mojstrana, close to Kranjska Gora and an excellent base for tackling Triglav. Details of their guest accommodation can be found below. Should you subsequently decide to visit, tell them I sent you!