Maps and Guides

Choice of maps is dependent on what kind of biking or exploring you want to do. The difference is mainly down to scale, but quality can vary according use as well. Specialist map shops like Stanfords of London provide an excellent on-line service plus the opportunity to see a map ‘in the flesh’ – beloved of serious map anoraks! – before buying. In addition, maps vary enormously in style and content and it’s very much a personal tastes as to which suits you best – so it is worth trying to see a map before buying, especially if you’re going to buy a half-dozen or so!

I’ve also been well impressed by the Biker special company MapsMan, who has special,sets of maps and guides for specific areas of Spain – they also do Michelin maps at discount prices – especially at the end of the season, so be aware that in Spain at least timeliness is everything as the roads change with the blink of an eye!

There are several map series available for Spain, and contrary to urban mythology there is a Spanish equivalent to the British Ordnance Survey Maps, the Centro Nacional de Información Geográfica. There are also other maps produced by private companies for specific purposes like walking, climbing, etc. and yet more produced by the regional governments, one of which, Catalonia’s Institut Cartogràfic de Catalunya (ICC) is world renowned – for map groupies it’s worth planning a tour there for this reason alone – see below!

Discovering the abandoned village on Conill in the Pla d'Urgell is part of the fun of using the Institut Cartogàfic de Calalunya's amazing on-line maps - follow the link and blend with the satellite-topographic views!
Discovering the abandoned village on Conill in the Pla d’Urgell is part of the fun of using the Institut Cartogàfic de Calalunya’s amazing on-line maps – follow the link and blend with the satellite-topographic views!
A question of scale
  • 1:25 000 or 1:50 000: these are suitable for walking and the difficulty is that bikers will readily cover distances greater than these maps cover. But the details is sometimes essential for finding hidden off-road trails and especially for devising routes for others! OK – someone can do the run and Garminize it – but they have to find it in the first place don’t they! The Centro Nacional maps are good quality but are based on an arbitary grid system so you never seem to get the one you want. The ICC maps are based around pollitical units, especialy the Comarcas, which are often based on physical features of te landscape like river basisn and mountain ranges – much more useful!
  • 1:100 000: series maps are ideal for exploring country lanes, including the  networks of rural dirt trails that link villages and farms. Following the long distance Cañadas Reales would be well supported by maps of this scale. It’ a big shame that the ICC maps are only of Catalonia – this really is the perfect scale!
  • 1:200 000: these maps fit most provinces in Spain, but are neither large enough to cover a good day’s road riding nor are detailed enough to be really useful in off-road situations. The Centro Nacional does maps based on provinces at this scale, so are available for everywhere in Spain – but not from Stanford’s as far as I know. They do stock the Military 1: 250 000 series but even though each map is named after an important town or city these are again based on the grid system, so you have to be careful that you’re getting the map you need!
  • 1:250 000 or 1:400 000: these are the perfect road rider’s maps, detailed enough to assess a ride but large enough to contain a reasonable amount of the territory. My own favourite is the Michelin series. They’re fairly accurate and up to date – always an important consideration in Spain – but  they also have the right amount of relief to get a fair idea of the landscape.
  • 1:1 000 000: this map size covers the whole of Spain and Portugal on one sheet. The scale gives enough details to plan long tours and assess routes, but too many minor roads are omitted to get the best out of planning a tour – it’s a good minimum size if you just want to get ‘lost’ and then find yourself again! Handy to have though – again, Michelin score well with their water-resistant, tear-proof map. This map is one two sides of the sheet, which is a drag but does make it easy to handle – and there are more than adequate margins over each side.

These fall into two categories: guides that are highly factual, handy to have to hand if you are travelling without an itinerary but want to know a little bit about where you are when you get there. And guides that double as your holiday reading (for notes of further in-depth reading about Spain see the Books chapter). Starting with the most basic:

  • Berlitz Pocket Guide: these guides are just made for the travelling biker. At just 144 x 102 mm they really are pocket-sized! Furthermore they are printed on reassuringly waxy paper that neither disintegrates nor sticks together – and appears to be proof against water, wine, olive oil . . . Content-wise the pioneering guides writers really are experts on what you need to know – the very useful phrasebook is what you would expect from one of the world’s major specialist in language teaching!
  • Michelin ‘Green’ Guides: this is a masterpiece of the art of précis! As well as a detailing Spain’s towns,cities and major attractions there are guides to history, culture and useful reference including opening times of museums, useful telephone numbers and all the rest. It includes themed itineraries and a ‘star’ system identifying places and ‘interesting’, ‘worth a detour and ‘worth a journey’. Each entry is cross referenced both within the book and to the relevant Michelin map. There’s a useful map of Spain and very good street maps of most cities. Furthermore, its handy format – the same size as Michelin maps – and its almost indestructible glossy paper and sturdy binding make it an ideal guide to stow in the tank bag! Michelin are now producing Green Guides to the more popular regions
  • Rough Guides: these classic back-packers guides are renowned for their depth and insight; history, culture, etc. and in general their writing is excellent – so make good reading in their own right. There are Rough Guides to regions such as Catalonia or the Pyrenees as well as the main Spain Guide. Personally, I find the writing style, which is very much geared to young readers, a bit ‘in your face’ and even arrogant. But they do get a recommendation here.
  • Time Out: these city guides are useful if you plan to combine a biking trip with a mini-break in one of Spain’s wonderful cities. They are cheap and handy and have a reputation for being up to date with the latest ‘in’ places – that’s the brand trademark after all!