Firstly... WOW! Just found this forum tonight and there is a TON of interesting stuff here. I recently began using Gimp for work (no previous digital art/design experience) and it's been a great experience. Also, I've always been a geography geek and I'm hoping to take both to the next level by learning about GIS and design in order to make my own map. Much thanks for reading this!

I want to make my own city map (specifically Paris) as a gift to the girlfriend before she visits later this year. I would like for it to be aesthetically pleasing and as professional as possible since I'm planning to make a foldout map-sized professional print of the final product and perhaps place it inside a notebook containing other useful travel things.

At first, I thought of hand-drawing the map, but figured it would be much too time-consuming to draw every street in Paris by hand. Then I considered using Illustrator or a similar image creation/editing program to fill in the details of an available map. But, I think using some sort of more professional mapmaking software with GIS capabilities would actually be best, since I'd like to accurately place landmarks, sights, museums, and other destinations of interest, as well as metro stations, street names, and the other bread and butter features of a good city map.

So, what are your suggestions for a good program (or perhaps a combination... GIS-capable program followed by editing in GIMP, for example?) to use? One which allows accurate placement of features and landmarks, has color and style palettes and tools to customize the appearance, and exports to large, high quality image files for large-format printing.

I'll keep browsing the stickies and perhaps testdriving a free program or two, but in the meantime I very much appreciate your input!