Italian publishing company Verstante Sud continue to churn out high quality guidebooks at a steady pace, to both Italy and further a field. The latest pair of books to flop onto my doormat form an interesting juxtaposition, Di Roccia Di Sole (Rock- Sun, Rock Climbing in Sicily) and Alpine Ice – the 600 best ice-falls in the Alps. Both are slick products, with loads of topos, stacks of great action pics and plenty of background information.
Verstante Sud publish their books in any one of, or a combination of, up to four languages (Italian, English, German and French) depending, presumably on their perceived market, for example their forthcoming guide to Fontainbleau will be multilingual, with all four languages in the one guide. In contrast the ice guide is being published as four separate volumes, one for each language, and the Sicily one in English, Italian and German volumes. It looks like they are getting ready for the invasion!
The Sicily guide blew away my preconceptions about the place, I had vague ideas about some small Mediterranean island with a scattering of recently developed sport crags. It turns out the island is over 170 miles from end to end, is seamed with mountain ranges rising to over 5000' and of course the eastern end of the island has Etna (the most active volcano in the world) towering to over 10,000'. The climbing is hugely varied, with a surprising amount of trad, or semi-trad climbing on some BIG cliffs along with all the usual array of sport climbing of all grades and angles. Factor in one of Europe's mildest winter climates, (the southern tip of the island juts south of the North African coast) plus cheap flights to Palermo (EasyJet and RyanAir from London for example) and I suspect the place is going to be popular. The locals sound very keen to encourage foreign visitors, the fact that Brits (and Germans and Scandinavians) are always looking for new winter sport venues assures Sicily's star is going to be in the ascendancy – best get booked sharpish!
The Alpine Ice guide is as different as chalk from cheese – so spectacular are some of the ice climbing shots they took my breath away. The book covers 600 classic icefalls from France, Switzerland, Italy Austria and Slovenia, with a small diversion to include the popular non-Alpine ice of the Cirque de Gavarnie - though I don't really think anyone will moan that they shouldn't have included the area. The topo format is simplicity itself, a picture of an ice-fall, or a whole valley side, with numbers at the bottom of the waterfalls – what could be more straightforward? Icons give you the grade and an indication of aspect, altitude, height, approach time and descent and a bit of background text fills in any other 'need-to-know' information. What makes the book though is the quality of the action photographs, spectacular isn't a grand enough description. Tiny colourful figures suspended from glistening white ribbons or weaving through towering cascades flash frozen for a moment in time – astounding! Flick through a copy and you will see what I mean.
If I was to put my guidebook writing hat on for 30 seconds and pick one thing that both guide could do to improve their usability a tiny bit – it would be the addition of a page reference on the action shots, this would really help folks who don't know these areas inside out – and who does? There, I went and did it against all my instincts, I nit-picked!
Price: €28.50 (Sicily) and €31.50 (Alpine Ice)
Pages: 350 (Sicily) and 450 (Alpine Ice)
For more information visit the Versante Sud website
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