Right at the beginning we need to point out that Paul had a small role in helping put together the English-language edition of the Book of the Alps, but we had already discovered and become fans of the original German version long before he got involved and it remains one of our favourite books of the mountains that has been published in recent years.
Indeed, it was a desire to be able to give this book as a present to English-speaking friends and family that initiated the first contact with Lana and Stefan who are the lovely and talented people at Marmota Maps and who, as the name suggests, began life as a Kickstarter project to produce the first transnational maps of the entire Alps with all the many ski resorts marked on it. Out of this initial project, Marmota have developed to produce any number of maps, mountain prints, themed card games, a pair of mountain-themed leggings (oh yes) and, of course, the Book of the Alps.
The book is a beautiful object, and tells the story of the Alps as a transnational region through a series of over a thousand infographics, maps and illustrations. The opening lines of the introduction give a nice feel about who might feel at home its pages:
‘This book is for those whose hearts skip a beat when they see the mountains appear on the horizon. For those who find meaning in the valleys and the high peaks. For those who get up at three o’clock in the morning to watch the sunrise from the summit, and for those who have never been to its summit but love it for its beauty…’
It begins, fairly logically, with the geological development of the region and how the Alps came to be, and continues on with its visual exploration of all facets of life in the region, from its flora and fauna, to Alpinism and mountain sports, society and economy, art and culture. There are fascinating, sobering and important sections on climate change, environmental protection and nature conservation, and there are also chapters that will tell you which cheeses to try, the James Bond scenes filmed in the Alps (and where), the difference between different types of skis and how to tie every possible knot needed for climbing in the mountains.
What else? You can read a history of Alpinism and about the most impressive achievements in the mountaineering realm, while learning the sad story of the worst natural disasters that have hit the communities of the Alps. You can make a virtual hiking trip along the 161 daily stages of the Via Alpina Red Trail and find out how the railway was taken over – and then through – the mountains. You can learn how to say ‘Marmot’ in various regional dialects, the legend of how the Drei Schwestern mountain got its name and how a foehn wind is formed. And all the while you’ll be building up ideas and inspiration for the next trip to the mountains and what you might want to see and do when you get there.
The level of information and attention to detail is truly impressive, and every time you pick it up it feels like you discover another interesting fact, quirky story or entertaining bit of information. And in that way, the Book of the Alps is every bit as varied and fascinating as the part of the world it is about. Sometimes, living where we live, the mountains can feel very far away. But the Book of the Alps has the ability to take us there for a little while, without having to even get up from the sofa.