Paola and I just returned from two weeks in Puglia, the “heel” of Italy, where we explored small towns, villages and the regional capital of Bari relying mostly on guidebooks and maps published by the Touring Club Italiano (or TCI).
If you are not familiar with TCI you should take a look at both their guidebooks and their maps. TCI began life as a bicycle touring club in 1894 when bicycle touring was all the rage in Europe. Since then TCI has built a reputation for producing some of the best maps in Europe and a series of guidebooks and interpretive travel books of Italy that are unparalleled.
If you are headed to Italy on your own to bicycle, to rent a car or just travel by train and bus you will want to make use of the TCI maps of Italy. At a scale of 1:200,000 (one centimeter equals 2 kilometers) the entire country is covered in fourteen regional maps (fourteen instead of the twenty regions since some maps combine two regions). While this scale is inadequate for hiking or mountain biking it is perfect for road cycling and for exploring by car.
Buy these maps at a good map store or online at Amazon or elsewhere by searching TCI Italy Map, then the region. Come on a bike tour in Italy with ExperiencePlus! and we’ll provide you with a TCI map of the region you are cycling through.
The guidebook options through TCI are more complex. Over the last 120 years TCI has published an encyclopedic array of guidebooks and books on the history and geography of Italy specifically for travelers. One of the best things about these books is that TCI employed Italian academic geographers to write much of the content in them. The result is a series of books full of great content, interpretive information, history and geography.
On our recent trip to Puglia, for example, we used the Puglia Red Guide (2005 edition – there is a newer 2008 edition). We also used volume 3 (southern Italy) of Dentro l’Italia, Piccole città, borghi e villaggi (2008 edition). This book contains wonderful descriptions of small, off-the-beaten-track villages, planned towns, and fortress villages that don’t normally make it into the bigger guides.
Unfortunately these books are only in Italian. If you have a little Italian and want to improve your reading ability the “Dentro l’Italia” series would be good. But if you don’t have a solid base in Italian you would find the Red Guides overwhelming. The Puglia guide alone is 520 pages of densely packed information.
If you don’t read Italian at all an alternative to these exist in English. For about a decade beginning in the late 1990s TCI published guides in English but the series has, apparently, been discontinued. These books are good, though, so it is worth buying an older edition. Information on hotels and restaurants will be outdated but the principal content is current.
Look for these series in English:
“Authentic Italy,” including separate volumes for Tuscany, All Italy, Rome, Sardinia, Piedmont and Val d’Aosta, and Sicily.
“Guides to Italy,” including volumes on the following cities and their provinces: Ferrara, Mantua, Ravenna, Forli-Cesena and Reggio Emilia.
And the “Heritage Guides,” including Milan & Turin, Venice, Italy in General and Florence.
Buy all of these online from TCI or Amazon. Amazon has used copies as well for as little as a penny each.