The Italian Jobs

Arco Rock and A Sud guidebooks

Arco Rock by Mario Manica, Antonella Cicigna, Davide Negretti 310 pages €24:90
A Sud by Graziano Montel 138 pages €17:50
Both published by Edizioni Versante Sud 2006

The Italian publishing set up of Versante Sud based in Milan, have produced a series of guides to the climbing in Northern Italy over the years. They have always had a distinctive style; the book covers are always edged with a characteristic red strip, and they use stylised topos throughout – black and white crag diagrams with the route lines marked on. This may sound a bit boring in today multi-colour, super-detailed crag topos but there is no doubt that they work, and work well. Linked to a series of detailed maps, finding your chosen crag and routes for the day should be no problem.

They also use a ubiquitous set of symbols indicating the aspect and altitude of the crag, the beauty of the setting, the state of the gear, how busy the place is likely to be, the state/size of the parking and any other characteristic such as suitability for kids, whether it is likely to be dry in the rain, any good for beginners etc. The descriptions of the individual routes is pretty minimal with a number for cross-referencing the topo, name, grade, length and a short one or two line description about the style of the climb. Interestingly stars are not used, though the descriptions points out the better climbs. There is a smattering of action photos scattered through the books illustrating the range of climbing available in the area. These are of high quality, though a few more would have been nice, but isn't that always the case!

The bigger of these guides is the Arco Rock – a sizeable volume covering 80 venues, many of which are very extensive. There are three versions available, Italian, German and English indicated by the appropriate flag in the corner of the front cover. Climbing in the Arco area stared back in the 1930s with climbers attacking the bigger walls that line the imposing valley sides. The first sport routes were created in 1982 and from small beginnings the area has become one of the best known in Europe. The place is especially well placed for the Germans who pour over the Brenner Pass, leaving the chill of Northern Europe for the milder Mediterranean climate, sunny limestone and the warm winds that blow up Lake Garda.

Radical dude on Nevermore 6c+ at Nago, one of the most popular cliffs in the area with over 130 routes in a sunny setting.
© Chris Craggs

This accessibility and the great beauty of the area has led to problems and especially in the summer the area is hot and very crowded with the campsites, lake-side and cliffs all packed to bursting, many Brits who have visited the area to climb have left vowing never to return! Add to this is the fact that many of the better cliffs are best described as 'tired' (the easier routes on the more accessible cliffs include some of the most polished rock I have ever seen anywhere) and the attractions of the area can be seen as a bit of a double-edged sword!

So how does the new guide address this potential problem – well by the simple idea of extended the area of coverage to include plenty of fresh new venues in the hills around Arco, all within an hour drive. Many of these are set at higher altitude than the lakeside crags and so are viable venues in the summer.

In summary this is a good guide that fulfils two important jobs, it is serviceable guide the popular areas – which is always needed, and it does a very good job of spreading the load to a whole host of newer zones.

The second guide if a small volume in the same format; as the name suggests 'A Sud' covers an area new to me, that around the southernmost 'boot' of Italy. This guide is chiefly in Italian though it has English text as well in coloured sidebars with the most important information. Interesting the routes that are not complete clip-ups have a R/S grade that tells you the likely spacing and state of the fixed gear, and how easy the route is to protect where the fixed gear is absent – I think they have been sneaking a look at the Yorkshire Gritstone guide!

The list of venues available for climbing in Europe appears to expand for ever – and here is a new one. RyanAir already fly from Stansed to Bari, Brindisi and Lamezia so there is the potential for it so be another Mallorca/Sardina/etc albeit on a smaller scale. The guide is a slim job, with details of 22 venues covered. The variety of venues is nice and varied with bouldering, single pitch sport routes, some multi-pitch trad on bigger cliffs and even some mixed/snow climbs on Monte Alpo, the areas highest peak at 1900m. Looks like the place need pencilling in!

For more information visit