Fun Things To Do For Families In Kalymnos

Kalymnos is a small island located in the Dodecanese region of Greece, at a stone-throw for the Turkish coast.

 

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The spectacular island of Telendos

 

 

Renowned for its superhuman sponge divers and its mythical rock climbing, Kalymnos is a wholesome travel destination sought after by foreign and Greek travellers alike.

We have been fortunate to spend two full weeks on the extraordinary island back in April and what struck us the most is, well… everything!

Intrigued by the quantity and quality of rock climbing routes, we were amazed to find out that Kalymnos is a wonderful island to discover as a family and that is sure to please everyone, including the non-climbing grandparents.

Greeks Are Fond of Children

Greeks literally adore children and welcome them everywhere. Now try to walk out of a store without a free treat – usually sweet –  being offered to your little angel! That’s just about impossible. While we were there, I must say that I had to loosen my grip a bit about sugar and treats as it would have been quite impolite to turn down such a nice gesture and refuse the treats #hellofreegroceries.

Cafés and taverns are all very welcoming to kids and will make anything to please them and their parents. I read in a travel guidebook that hiring a babysitter on a Saturday to go out on an adult date just isn’t a thing in Greece. Hence, it’s not unusual to see very young children out and about with their parents quite late in the night. If the restaurant owners have children themselves, they are very likely to be playing in the place while their parents are at work and entertaining the guests.

 

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Toys and games at the Gelato shop

 

Anywhere you go, beware however that there is just no boardwalk in that country. Streets are as narrow as can be and cars, scooters and other motorized vehicles drive at fast speed. A stroller is great to keep the little ones contained while walking on the road and older kids should be kept very close by.

Greek children learn a very good English in school and are happy to engage in a conversation with foreigners at the playground or the beach. Most of them have dark hair and dark eyes, they are quite intrigued when seeing a little blond kid and sometimes can stair with insistence. To my point earlier about sweet treats; it appeared to me that Greek children eat a lot of junk food and a lot of sugar and sugary drinks; something that even our daughter noticed on her own. Different country, different eating habits!

 

Grandparents Are a Blessing

I am speaking in general here. But they are especially for a rock climbing couple traveling to Kalymnos Island with their four-year-old daughter.

We don’t have the luxury of living near our parents in the everyday life and that makes us appreciate even more to 1) spend quality time with them as an extended family 2) being able to leave our daughter with them for a few hours to go climbing AND knowing she is having a blast.

This year we realized that for the first time we are able to really climb as a family, now that baby girl is no longer a needy baby or a crazy toddler and starts to enjoy climbing a lot or is just content playing with her toys at the crag and making friends with whoever has a few minutes to engage in a conversation with her.

I must say that having my father and stepmom there with us was extra special and made us enjoy our stay on the island … a lot. In addition to providing us with some quality adult time, it also opened our mind to other activities and attractions to explore on Kalymnos for non-climbers.

 

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Enjoying our first meal together before getting on the ferry in Kos

 

For those who would like an opportunity to go on the occasional adult climb, Monster Café in Masouri offers a childcare service for about 8 euros per hour. This is also a place for the little ones to hang out with their parents, meet up with other kids and enjoy the fabulous toys and activities. The Café’s menu includes healthy kid-friendly meals and snacks,  fresh fruit smoothies but also good coffee and après climb hop beverages.

 

Here is the list of our top activities to do as a family in Kalymnos:

  1. The Climbing

Well…It’s a bit difficult not to mention it, so might as well start with it. The climbing in Kalymnos is not only fabulous, but also very family-friendly. The information about the walking distance and difficulty of the trail is easy to find as well as the areas at the bottom of the crag and presence of easy climbs for beginners or children and the sun exposure. The guidebook is very complete, to say the least, which makes the planning of family cragging days much easier. The trails are overall in quite a good shape and walking distances are reasonable. Many areas at the bottom have been landscaped nicely so parents don’t have to fear deadly falls or traumatizing injuries. We also found that although the routes are all very long (30-40m), the first couple of metres often offer easier climbing, which makes the scenario ideal for families.

 

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Grande Grotta, Kalymnos’ most famous sector

 

Unsurprisingly, we encountered quite a few young families during our stay, all eager to exchange beta and share a secret gelato place or nice kid-friendly beach.

Speaking of beach, the “Beach” sector was one of our favourite to spend a day at, with kid and grandparents. We also enjoyed Symplegades a lot as well as Sea Breeze and Arginonta Valley, all for their easy access, flat and safe areas and shade.

For non-climbers wanting to experience verticality, guided via ferrata might be a great option. Located near Myrties, the via ferrata takes adventurers from 10 years old and up some 400 metres above the sea with outstanding views of the neigbouring cliffs and the island of Telendos.

 

2. The Underworld

Caving. Underground exploration. Spéléologie in French. The act of going underneath the surface of the earth through a sometimes tiny hole entrance to enjoy the sight of karstic activity and stalagmites and stalactites as big as the walls of a gothic cathedral.

Fully equipped with steel ladders and ropes, the Underworld is the most accessible cave on the Island. Located near the town of Skalia, it can be accessed within only 10 minutes of walking. While my daughter had the time of her young life going down in the tummy of the Earth, I – a longtime claustrophobic – was petrified.

 

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Entering the underworld…not even scared at all!

 

Nonetheless, (and because I know my own fear is irrational) I thought the place was safe to explore for a child that can safely climb up and down a ladder and walk on uneven ground with some help from papa.

Since then I know I am less of a hero to my daughter who was so proud to out courage her mom at only 4. Well, that’s just the beginning, isn’t it!?

For a preview of what the cave is like, check out this short Youtube video.

 

3. The Sea & the Beaches

No surprise here. Kalymnos being a Greek Island, just like all the many Greek islands, boast amazing beaches, is warm and sunny and is surrounded by deep turquoise water. Beaches and children always go well together and early-mid April, the temperature of the air and the water were getting warm enough to enjoy nice swims and sandcastle building sessions. The beach in Masouri has some really nice sand and one or two cute beach bars.

Taking a taxi boat ride to Telendos, the nearby island located 10-minutes across from Myrties is also very much worth it. For 2 euros per adult one way, a day spent at Telendos is great fun for the whole family and the beaches are beautiful and shady.

We found the cute little harbour of Porto Vathys was also a great place for a nice seafood lunch and a swim. The place has some natural diving platforms and hosts diving competitions in the fall each year. Make sure to take swimming armbands or a lifejacket for little kids as the water is too deep to stand and the stairs are coated with sea urchins…ouch!

 

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Idyllic beach location

 

In the summer months, Vathys would be an ideal base to go out on a kayak or SUP tour and boats can be rented right there.

Scuba diving and snorkeling is also very popular on the Island which boasts many diving schools and guiding services.

 

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Swimming in Vathys

 

 

4. Local flavours

Tomatoes taste better when they are in season and fish tastes much better when caught the same day. Kalymnos is an absolute paradise for foodies, especially foodies like myself who enjoy food when fresh, local, ripe and its most simple form. A little olive oil and vinegar, a little oregano, a few olives, fresh goat feta, crispy cucumbers and sweet red bell peppers AT EVERY SINGLE MEAL. Difficult even for a picky eater not to like the food in Greece. Greek yogurt topped with honey and pistachio, frozen greek yogourt with berries, local salami…yyyuuuummmm. Exploring the flavours of Kalymnos was my own personal second favourite activity (or perhaps even my first).

It is true that sweet treats are very present in Greece and especially when traveling and in need of quick, easy snacks that don’t require prep or can be packed easily. However, fresh produce is everywhere and is so affordable compared to BC!

Oh, the joy we had in stopping on the side of the road to buy fresh feta from the local lady cheesemaker, or fresh oranges and strawberries from the mobile market – a pickup truck loaded with produce going around the island each day.

Agriculture is a very important part of Kalymnos economy, as the thousands of free-roaming goats and chicken can attest. Grapes are grown in the lush Vathys valley. Fish is caught every day, right there off the shores of Masouri.

 

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Meeting the local fauna

 

Restaurants all take pride in the authentic Greek menus they display on the black chalkboards. Eating out is way more affordable than in other european countries. Count 12-15 euros per adults for an entree and a beer.

 

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Après climb dinner and drinks at Azul

 

Portions are generous enough so two entrees can feed a family of three with leftovers to take home. Greek cuisine is simple but so tasty. Greek wine is okay and quite pricey. Beer is thirst quenching after a day spent outside in the sun and of much better value.

On the go, grab a gyro! For a mere 2 bucks, those tasty pita bread filled with chicken or pork, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and tzatziki make up the best lunch.

 

5. Archeological & Cultural Wonders

As the cradle of Western civilization, Greece boasts many remnants of the past and does well at restoring, interpreting and showcasing them.

The Orthodox calendar is filled with celebrations of all kind so chances are one is going to fall while you are visiting. We were there for Catholic Easter (not really a big deal) and the Orthodox Easter or Christos Anesti (Christ Arisen), celebrated in Kalymnos with dynamites and fireworks across all the island, in memories of the battles against Turkey and perhaps as a warning to the neighbouring country with whom Kalymnians seem to hold on-going tensions. The detonation of dynamite bouncing off the limestone cliffs was really deafening and I sure was glad to be witnessing the celebration in downtown Pothia rather than climbing in a cave that could collapse from the strength of the explosion!

 

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Othodox Easter Sunday in Pothia

 

Massive family reunions seem to be the tradition on Christos Anesti and the equally traditional lamb roast is what brings the families together. Wandering through the streets, we couldn’t help but feel our mouth water to the fragrant smell and sight of perfectly roasted animal on the tiny balconies. Having a taste of a juicy and flavourful chunk of lamb kindly offered by a local was a pure delight to our daughter.

 

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Mmmm…roasted lamb

 

Pothia holds an impressive archeological museum for the size of the town and the island.  Exhibitions feature antiquities from the Prehistoric and Post-Byzantine era, presenting thus timelessly the island’s history over millennia.

The Castle of Chora is one of the most famous attractions in Kalymnos. It is situated in the place where ancient Pothia once resided and it is considered as the medieval capital of KalymnosThe castle took its final form in 1495 and was inhabited continuously until 1812 . Our little clan enjoyed hiking up the 230 steps leading to the Castle, wandering through this larger than nature open-air museum and exploring the many chapels and building that once constituted the town. With a little imagination and many princess and dragons stories, this kept our child entertained and interested for a full half-day.

 

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Fishing is an important part of the island’s culture and economy

 

The Maritime Museum of Kalymnos is another important cultural point of interest. It presents the naval tradition, history and methods of the sponge catching, along with many artifacts from ancient shipwrecks.

 

6. The hiking

There are many great hiking trails on the Island most of which are fairly easy and short and can be managed by strong little walkers or parents carrying the precious load…or a mix of both, like in our case.

Our whole crew had an amazing day hiking the Island most-traveled hiking trail: the Italian path, from Pothia to Vathys.

Though the trail is in much better condition on the Pothia side. Built by during the Italian occupation of the island under Mussolini, this easy 8-kilometre journey took us from the narrow streets of the capital to the quaint port of Vathys over a pass culminating at about 400 m above sea level with amazing views along the way. The work that has gone into paving the first portion of the trail to carry weapons and supplies is unbelievable.

Along the way, the landscape evolves from urban at the start to a few gardens and farm on the outskirt, then to dry and deserty land on the plateau with views of the sea and the neighboring Island of Kos. Then, upon descending toward Vathys, the lush valley bottom lined with fruit trees and vine welcomes the travellers that then end up the journey with the refreshing view of the harbour, its cute houses and colourful fishing boats.

This hike is best when completed early in the day as there is no shade at all and no access to water.   From Masouri, we took a bus to Pothia and then a scenic 30 minute taxi ride back to Masouri after a well-deserved swim and ice cream.

Kalymnos hiking map can be purchased at any outdoor retailer and includes the location of all walking trails as well as all the climbing sectors.

 

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Scenic trails everywhere!

 

 

Getting there, getting around and getting a roof overhead

Kalymnos being a remote little island, it can be a bit challenging to get to, especially when the weather is not cooperating. From our research, we found that flying from Athens into Kos and then taking a ferry ride was the fastest, safest and most cost-efficient of all. The flight takes about an hour. Then a taxi takes you to Mastichari for about 15 euros. From the port, a fast or a slow ferry sails across to Kalymnos in 20 to 45 minutes for 5-10 euros per person. On the return day, it’s best to allow plenty of time to get to the Kos airport and to book a return flight later in the day as the stormy sea might get in the way of catching your flight.

Scooters are the absolute best way to get around the island, although it’s not very convenient with an infant. We used a mix of scooter rental (12 euros per day or weekly deals around 55-60 euros (yes, the 3 of us rode on it with all the gear! #dontdothatathome) and public transit (2 euros per trip). Small rental cars are also available and are certainly the best option for families of 4 or with babies. Otherwise, when staying in Masouri, many climbing sectors, stores and amenities can be accessed on foot.

 

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The Best part!

 

Note that tap water in non-potable so, therefore, the freshwater logistic needs to be planned efficiently, hence a car might be useful for families. Free water springs are found in Masouri and bottled water can be purchased everywhere, but please, do our dear planet Earth a favour and don’t contribute to the plastic orgie in the sea.

All accommodation options can be found in Kalymnos – (except camping?!) but our recommendation for families really is the apartment with a full kitchen. Little studios are less costly but are limited in cooking amenities and usually more designed for couples. I personally find that you always end up spending more time in the unit as a family as you would without kids, might as well be comfortable.

Our travel party of 5 opted for a spacious 2-bedroom apartment that we rented from Poppy and Nikolas Sdregas, a lovely local couple. We thought the place was a little pricey and located oddly close to the road but it offered comfort and convenience of cooking most meals in, easy walking access to everything and a common living area to hang out as a family. Moreover, the kindness and attention of the owners really made our stay enjoyable, especially the fridge stocked with bottled water, wine and breakfast items upon our late night arrival.

Bottomline

We had been wanting to experience Kalymnos for so long and the waiting was well worthwhile. Kalymnos is getting better every year with more sectors, more routes and more amenities being added. We were surprised to see how family-friendly the destination is and enjoyed discovering the island with our daughter, my father and stepmom so much. Kalymnos must be on every rock climbers list and having a family should not be the excuse you are making not to go. Go! Go, now!

For useful travel information visit: climbkalymnos.com

P.S. I would like to say a special thank you to Jacques and Diane for being such formidable travel companions and grandparents and allowing Hervé and I to climb together again. Thank you to Hervé for being carrying such a heavy load around each day and still managing to send some pretty impressive routes. Thank you to my little Eva for being such an incredible adventure partner and a keen little rock climber and finally, thank you to my friends Anne and JD for giving us the guidebook and lots of very useful tips.

 

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One very content father!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finale Ligure: Pizza, Playa & Outdoors

The “Outdoor Capital”

Upon entering the town of Finale Ligure in the Province of Savona, Italy nothing tells it apart from the other resort towns on along the Riviera – a continuum of densely urbanized settlements squeezed between the coastline and the mountains. Nothing but maybe a sign with Capitale dell’ Outdoor written on it.

Then upon taking a closer look, it doesn’t take long to realize that Finale is a place where all the enthusiasts of the great outdoors collide. In the brisk temperature of this late afternoon in December, a few surfers are gathered near the coast catching the few waves reminiscent of the last storm. Up high on the cliffs at the entrance of the town, a few stainless steel bolts are shining in the last sun rays. On the street, two mountain bikers with full-face helmets pedal down from the hills somewhere.

Late in the fall, sunbather and swimmers have vacated the place and trail runners, cyclists of all types, long distance trekkers and rock climbers are replacing them.

Welcome to Finale Ligure where you can get your outdoor fix at any time of the year!

The layout of Finale is quite interesting in itself and seems to have three very different towns crammed into one: 1- a mediterranean seafront resort with a sandy beach, long boardwalk and seaside touristy restaurants and shops, 2- an authentic modern Italian downtown core with streets busy with vespas, piaggios – the mini three wheeled pick up trucks – as well as elegant Italian women pushing baby strollers and talking on their mobiles with their arms moving like windmills, 3- the old fortified town – Finalborgo – that boasts ancient buildings, cobbled streets AND at least a dozen outdoor and bike shops, which is more shops per square foot than Chamonix or Zermatt!!

 

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The beach after the storm

 

On the outskirt of town lie an endless playground, very mountainous in nature, olive tree orchards and other agricultural lands, quaint villages and many campgrounds.

Blame it on my tourism development background by I soon realized that Finale and its surroundings have done a tremendous effort to develop, protect but also brand and market its territory in a cohesive manner around a shared love for the outdoors and the local culture. I found this was quite innovative and forward thinking in an area where the warmth, sun and sea suffice to fill most businesses on the seafront several months of the year.

 

That means that the public and private stakeholders have decided to share the wealth in a more sustainable manner beyond the beach and main downtown core to the many surrounding villages and rural areas and foster a year-round visitor base and a viable economy, while ensuring that the development of new trails/areas/routes is done in a respectful manner with the residents, the other industries and the environment.

 

Some online research has proven the theory to be true:

“On October the 14th 2015 in Finale Ligure an Agreement between the 5 municipalities of Finale Ligure, Calice Ligure, Orco Feglino, Vezzi Portio, Rialto and the Association Finale Outdoor Resort was signed. It established  the starting point of the union called Finale Outdoor Resort, thanks to which  Finalese is not just a territory but becomes an identity brand that defines a district from the great historical and cultural richness, strongly connected to outdoor activities.” finaleoutdoorresort.com

While the main pillars of Finale’s tourism development are the hiking, climbing and mountain biking, every outdoor sport can be experienced in Finale and the territory is well laid out to provide a great deal of enjoyment and skills development.

 

The Outdoor Pursuits

Having heard many great things about Finale and with a full week ahead of us before the holidays, we decided to check the place out. We are eager to enjoy a bit of warmer, drier weather than what can be found in France at this time of year.

Hervé has only had his knee surgery three weeks earlier but he is feeling great and would like to slowly get into climbing again. Since there is just the three of us with no other adult partners to climb, we also arrive in Finale with the goal to climb a little, hike quite a bit and get into the Italian vibe (meaning eat lots of pizza and gelato!) and walks on the beach.

On our first morning, our first stop – after caffe latte obviously – is in a friendly little climbing store with the goal of foraging some beta on accessible, kid-friendly crags.

The salesman at is a great source of information and the gear and clothing in his store so very attractive that Hervé can’t refrain but purchase an Italian-made E9 pair of pants. Might as well dress like Cesar when in Rome after all!!

At the Rocca di Petri, we find a nice south facing crag with mellow routes and an easy 20-minute walk access to spend our first family climbing day. If at first, we find a bit odd to drive right below the autostrada to access the crag, the view and the peacefulness aren’t disturbed too much once at the crag. There is plenty of space for our daughter to play safely and the rock is solid as well as the routes well equipped. It feels so good to enjoy a day out without a down jacket on!

 

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Cragging at Rocca di Petri on a warm December afternoon

 

The next day we set off for a hike in the nearby town of Borgio Verrezi where we find a varied network of hiking trails, all of them very diverse in length, elevation and also very well signed. They take the hikers from gorgeous rural churches to ancient caves, geological wonders and stunning sea views. There is even a trail that links all the towns on the Riviera and provides a one-of-a-kind multi-day hike.

 

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The Riviera- between coastline and mountains

 

Way up on a road so steep and winding, we find the trailhead to a great 5 km loop with lots to entertain us along the way. This close to Christmas, there are many outdoor nativity scenes around the hamlet and even in the caves. Some steeper sections of the trail are even equipped with iron cables and steps like a via ferrata, to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

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Italy’s Holiday vibes

 

The other crags we explore over the course of the week are Monte Cucco near the village of Orco that is simply the best for young kids as some easy top ropes routes are located less than a 5-minute walk from the parking area. The only downside on a colder winter day is that it’s in the shade.

 

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The area boasts many sporty hikes and scrambles to suit every taste

 

 

Finally, we also spend a very nice day at Pianmarino, a spot popular amongst the mountain bikers and also one of Finale’s most historical crag. The hike in is fairly easy and short (25- 30 minutes), south facing and benefits from a very flat area at the bottom. The routes are however fairly short, and just like in Finale’s older climbing areas, the bolts are quite far apart and the routes quite challenging.

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Fall is the prime season for Mountainbiking

 

The lodging

Every night, we retreat to our humble studio quite early as the temperature drops fairly quickly after the sun goes down. We have rented the apartment for the week with Residence Adelaide, a rental agency located downtown on booking.com for the unbeatable prices and convenience. The place is spotless and fairly well appointed, there is a reception open during regular office hours with friendly and helpful staff (some even speak French!) and the prices are reasonable (300 euros for a studio for 4 people for a week).

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Our vacation rental in the morning sunshine

Finale counts a large number of apartment rentals and hotels as well as many campgrounds and outdoor people hangouts where you can meet fellow travellers from all over the world and ask around for information.

One day on our way to Monte Cucco our daughter was asleep in the car and we were desperate for a ristretto. (tiny little cup of very strong and delicious espresso).

 In the village of Orco, we asked the first guy we saw where we could find a bar and he answered in Italian “Let me go inside and get the coffee machine on!”  Actually, I must say that the only thing we understood was “la mac&china” and then we saw him run inside a building with a sign written “ Bed & Climb” on it… We figured in astonishment HE was going to make us a cup of coffee! We learned a great deal about the area by talking to Mauro who is just so knowledgeable and adorable and enjoyed a pure moment a warm Italian hospitality…or perhaps is it that strong worldwide connection between climbers.

Anyhow, we thought that his bed & breakfast and adjacent associative bar would be a cool place to stay in the future for an affordable and friendly experience and to meet fellow climbers and route setters. Orco Bed & Climb also offers guiding services and social events in the community.

Him & his wife Paula, along with their local climbing society had been investing time, energy and money in training the new generation of young climbers and getting the locals to open up to this new clientele and source of income while encouraging a healthy way of living in the local youth, all of which is fitting greatly in with the “Finale Outdoor Resort” philosophy!

 

The pizza, the pasta, gelato & Vino!

Blame it on the exchange rate or our tight travel budget, we were struck by how expensive the cost of living is in this resort town and namely the cost of gas, food and drinks. In Finale, an ordinary croissant costs 1.20 euros and at least 3.50 euro for a kilo of mandarines (although they were in season). The most simple bottle of wine costs way over 5 euros and poor quality bread that becomes inedible the next day costs 3 euros, which is way more expensive than in France. Hence, we have dined in most nights and have done most our shopping at the Co-op, the Fruiteria and the bakery and have packed a picnic lunch every day.

 

Of course, we have indulged in a few gelati here and there (those are inexpensive!) and a few happy hours with (German!) beer and an antipasti platter for 3 people for around 20-25 euros. There seems to be a rule in Italy that one shall not serve alcoholic drinks without some food to sponge it up! To the greatest delight of us, hungry penniless travellers!

 

 

 

On the last night of our stay, we have also treated ourselves pizza and tiramisu at the nearby Trattoria…because one can’t spend a week in Italy without eating pizza, right!?

The bottom line of our Finale experience is that this area really is worth visiting and it can easily be accessed from any western European cities (4 hours from Lyon, Geneva or Milano; 1.5 hour from Nice or Genoa and their international airports). This means it’s the perfect spot for a quick getaway any time of year but that could also be a destination on a longer euro climbing road trip in a van.

The climate is quite pleasant and the culture vibrant; the opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless (although the snow sports are a little far away!)

I personally never get tired of discovering the Italian flavours and of hearing my four-year-old practicing the few words of Italian she has learned during our trip: “Grazie! Ciao Bella! Brava! Per Favor!”

 Arrivederci!

 

More info:

Hiking guidebook Trails of Finale

Climbing guidebook: Finale Climbing by Marco Thomas Tomassini – translated into several languages and to be purchased at a local store or online.

Official Visitor Website:  www.turismo.comunefinaleligure.it 

 

 

Vamos a Chulilla! Climbing in Spain with Kids

Hola, Espanol!” says my daughter, giggling, as she runs out of the Panaderia. In her hand,  she holds a small pastry generously offered by the owner. Then, she runs across the narrow street to the village Plaza and sits on a bench to savour her sweet chocolate-filled mini croissant with a delicious honey-nuts topping.

It’s 11 am on beautiful Thursday in November and the Plaza is bathed in the sun and bustling with life. Today is market day. The locals are shopping for fresh produce, leather purses or pajamas and socks. Nearby, at the Caffè, a few climbers are sipping café con leche and catching up on emails, eyes glued to their laptops.

The temperature is cooler at this time of year and therefore no one rushes to the crags before noon, especially the shady ones; the mythical ones.

 

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A village nestled between the cliffs. Photo by Shenoa Runge

No one rushes to the crags but us. On a ten-day vacation with young children, we want to maximize every hour of daylight to explore and enjoy this huge climbing playground. Time is limited and family vacation also means we are here to spend quality family time.

 

We’re wondering how we possibly are going to fit everything into ten days…
Although a tiny little village, Chulilla is an enorme climbing destination. After timid developments in the 90’s, local route setters have been very prolific in the last few years, with increased community support towards this major tourism draw. The spot now counts over 800 routes dispersed across a dozen different areas, some located at walking distance from the village and some a little further away in the valley.

The quaint, white-washed village is perched on a bluff and surrounded by countless kilometres of bright limestone walls, perfectly vertical or slightly overhanging.


The climbs are known to be long and tenuous. It isn’t uncommon to link beautiful technical moves for 40 metres and even 50 metres in one single climb. Climbers must come prepared: strong forearms, eighty-metre ropes and lots of quickdraws are required to make the most out of a stay in Chulilla.
While the area offers climbs that range from 6a to 8b, Chulilla is an absolute paradise for 7b climbers, grade in which many of the most iconic climbs can be found. This is a little unfortunate for us, who happen to be modest climbers in comparison to many visitors to this destination.
The information we hold prior to our arrival is that routes in the 6th and low 7th grades can be found but can prove a little runout or polished. Nonetheless, the place still looks appealing to my dear husband, our loyal climbing partners Marc and Shenoa and myself, and we feel confident about finding nice climbs to play on.

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Marc and Hervé eager to get on the rock

In such a large destination with all the many different sites, the local climbing guidebook Chulilla: Guia de Escalada is absolutely essential, but requires some studying.
Fortunately, after day 2, we realize that there is some excellent climbing in our grade with plenty of newer climbs on excellent rock and very well equipped. Sectors like Fantasia, Cherales and la Peneta is were we end up spending a lot of time, in the warm autumn sunshine. These areas never seem crowded although very easily accessed. Most of those sites however, are not very toddler-friendly.

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Moms get on the rock while children play nearby, sheltered by the overhang. Photo by Marc Trudeau

The sites that we find fit and welcoming to families are La Nevera that is of easy access and has fun caves for the little cavemen. Competicion is the best area we found to set up a small top rope for the kids and is also an easy end-of-day crag on our way to the bar. Finally, we also enjoyed another small crag in the canyon between the bridges for the great hike it provides, the river and the fine sand.

Finn, never taking the easy road
Because the little ones like cragging too
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Eva and Finn exploring the narrow streets

We find however that the best way to maximize our time on climbing days is to split up our group into two teams; one team to look after the children for the half-day while the other team climbs.

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The Turia valley, a real oasis in the desert

There are plenty of fun things to do with the kids around the village between exploring the narrow cobbled streets, playing princess & knight in the Castillo, paying a visit the white fluffy goats, hiking the river valley or simply enjoying the local delicacies and running around on the Plaza. Chulilla also has two decent playgrounds, of which one is located by the local watering hole, wifi hotspot and tapas and climbing beta provider; Goscanos.

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Eva, Finn and Shenoa hiking Los Calderones trail
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Meet the Knight and the Princess of the Castillo

 

 

Fortunately , we also have opted for a comfortable and spacious four-bedrooms vacation rental, la Casa Nispero, which is located on a large gated property and the end of a quiet street where the little ones are free to roam. The location and amenities of the house really contribute to making our stay enjoyable, from the ability to cook healthy meals at home to the cozy evenings by the wood fireplace, pool-side lunches and naps in the sun…as well as the two bathrooms.

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Our Casa for ten days

There are also many other vacation rentals right in the village to suit every budget and group size as well as cozy inns and hostels, the main one being El Altico, owned by one of the prolific local route setters. Many climbers also stay in camper vans around town or on the main public parking lots, with access to water and wifi at the nearby climber’s bar.

The village hosts several small mercados or carnecerias where one can find most of the staples to survive: cheese, bread, wine, meat and charcuterie, oranges and mandarines in season, local and absolutely divine. For more diversified foods, the nearby city of Lliria or Valencia are the best options we found to please our little and big eaters.

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Breakfast in the warm morning sunshine

In Chulilla, the spirit between locals and climbers from all around the world is truly positive, especially when the climbers happen to have ninos,  who are the best conversation starter and get a very special attention from every store or restaurant staff.  Even with a limited proficiency in Spanish, it is very easy to communicate with residents who are so friendly and welcoming and never seem on a rush.

Eva chatting with a local abuela at the market

In the small climbing shop, visitors can buy all the staples including the guidebook. The store also carries t-shirts and hoodies with Chulilla’s tagline: Climb. Eat. Sleep. F**k. The sight of it makes me think that it’s probably what defines a stay in Chulilla for most climbers, single, young and beautiful, although we definitely noticed an imbalanced male vs female ratio.

Obviously, going on a rock climbing trip with toddlers changes your experience … a lot. I think it’d be more accurate to summarize our experience in Chulilla this way: Sleep. Climb. Eat. Play. Nap. Snack…and wipe bums.

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our crew – Photo by Shenoa Runge

From 2 to 82: 3 Generations on a Trip to Cassis, France

Last November, like every year, we went to France to visit my in-laws. Since they are well into their 80’s and no longer really keen to go on vacations on their own, we thought it would be great to go with them on a trip. We were committed to do all the travel arrangements and the driving, so what would be left for them to do would be to enjoy the ride and spend quality time with their grand-kid, away from their daily routine and chores.

There were a few reasons why we set our choice of destination on Cassis and the Calanques:

  • It was a fairly short drive from where they live (a mere 3 hours), which would suit elderly parents just as fine as our two-year old daughter.
  • Having been there as a young couple before kid, we had found Cassis very quaint and charming, which is contrasting with other major resort towns on the Riviera.
  • Cassis is located by the sea in the Provence region; it benefits from a pleasant Mediterranean climate which was important to consider given the time of year we would be traveling.
  • The Calanques offer plenty of scenic sightseeing and walking options that are well suited to children and seniors alike.
  • Most importantly (and a little selfishly too), it’s a fantastic climbing destination. Although I must admit that being a multi-generational trip my husband and I didn’t have much expectations as far as rock climbing goes)

With the rental car all packed up, the five of us set off on a beautiful Sunday morning for Cassis.

I had arranged accommodation in advance and had opted for a 2-bedroom condo located on the heights of Cassis, that I booked for the full extent of our stay. The condo happened to be the best option for us as it provided a quieter option to hotels downtown. We also wanted the convenience of a full kitchen, a large dining room, a nice patio and yard and a swimming pool (that we contemplated lots but really never used!).

Cassis is a VERY busy town 4-6 months of the year and can also be VERY pricey, but fortunately, traveling in November opened up more affordable lodging options. The full week rental plus cleaning fees was about 500 euros, which can quickly turn into 1100 euros during peak season. The owner was personable as “jail’s door” as my dear husband would say, and therefore our interactions with him were limited, but he had a cute bunny in a cage that my daughter made friend with…until he bit her hard.

The kitchen being separated from the dining/living area by 3 steps was, in a way, sort of ideal, and it set a different tone to our family time from the get go…My mother-in-law having reduced mobility, the kitchen by default became my kingdom, which allowed my in-laws to relax and let themselves be pampered and served. I know by day 2 they were both bored stiff to not be able to do anything in the kitchen, but overall, I think they quite enjoyed spending more time with their grand-daughter and being fed different food.

We also discovered that multi-generational travel (love the term!) brings a different pace then what we were used to; but you know what, we also realized that 80-year-olds and two-year olds are in fact on a similar schedule! Our daughter’s most active times of day are early morning and late afternoon, and this seemed to suit my in-laws quite well.

A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees
A little beach time, although the temperature barely climbs over 20 degrees

Between breakfast and lunch taken at the condo, and between the afternoon nap and dinner is when we did our exploration of Cassis and the Calanques, and it was awesome! Here’s what we have enjoyed the most:

  1. Walking around the port and chillin’ at the Café:

Cassis is such a picturesque town, everyone has to at least spend a few hours wandering around, peeking into the over-priced stores, and sitting at a patio to enjoy a cup of espresso or un demi (glass of beer). Multiple celebrities own properties in Cassis, so who knows, perhaps you will recognize one of them…

The only downside to the downtown is that there is very little parking nearby which is less than convenient when traveling with a young child and seniors, but being November, we still had some luck finding spots not too far…just be ready to leave a whole whack of change…

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Multigenerational travel or when the little ones get all the attention

2. Shopping at the Marché

Le marché is an institution no matter where you are in France, and even more so in the South. This is where people socialize, get some fresh gossips, buy their produce, a fresh loaf of bread, and of course a little piece of Provence such as lavender-scented olive oil soap, some Santons or a traditional tablecloth.

Note: there is even less parking spots available downtown on market day…

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Embracing the French life on this rainy market day

 

3. Taking a drive to explore La Calanque de Sormiou

If the drive through Marseille and its dodgy neighborhoods is a bit daunting to many people, a visit to the Calanque de Sormiou makes it well worth the adventure. Just outside the city limits, a drive on a narrow windy road up a small pass in the mountains and down on the other side takes you to this beautiful fjord. Once there, you feel you are on an isolated island in the middle of the sea.

Busy with the tenants from the many little “cabanons” in the summer, mostly recreationists and fishermen, and groups of youth part-taking in sailing camps at the UCPA,  it is a ghost village in November. The breeze from the sea, full of iodine is very invigorating and the view truly breathtaking. The walk to the end of the “cabanons” is only a kilometre, which was perfect for the young and the young at heart.

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La Calanque de Sormiou in rest mode after the busy summer season

 

4.Walking to la Calanque de Port-Miou

This Mediterranean Fjord is the closest to Cassis and can be access by a short easy walk. The biggest challenge once again is to find a parking spot nearby. Port-Miou in Provencal dialect means “Better Port” as it offers a nice anchoring locations for boats, sheltered from the wind.

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La Calanque de Port-Miou is the closest to town and offer an easy walking access

 

5. Taking a drive to the top of Cap Canaille via la Route des Crêtes

La  Route de Crêtes is closed several months of the year and mostly during the summer months, the main reason being forest fire hazards as we found out when we were there. Fortunately, it had reopened a few days into our weekly stay after an episode of strong wind and we were able to take the impressive drive and stop at the top to take photos. Note: children would be best kept on a leash is what we learned in a very scary way as our daughter ran for the edge and was caught just on time. Be cautious up there, parents; toddlers are unpredictable.

We also welcomed the opportunity to check out the anchor stations of famous climbs that top up right where tourists take their photos.

The view from there is stunning and on bluebird days you can really appreciate the uniqueness of the Calanques and the vastness ( and blueness (?)of the Med.

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Photo spot at the top of the Cap Canaille. Watch your kids as there’s a 200m drop right there!

 

6.Checking out the waterfront play area at La Ciotat

One fine day we went on a mission to shop for food (we actually did that everyday, several times a day) we ended up in La Ciotat looking for a larger grocery store than what Cassis offers, which is very limited and quite expensive. We decided to check out the port area, which from our memories was industrial and ugly. To our biggest surprise the whole waterfront “promenade” had been recently revamped and beautified and hosted the most amazing playground ever. This really made everyone’s afternoon as our daughter played and made friends, we socialized with some parents and my in-laws quietly sat on a bench, enjoyed the sea view and the sight of their grand-daughter playing and having a blast. That night we also brought some amazing seafood from the grocery store and had a feast back at the condo.

 

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Having a good time with her new friend at La Ciotat’s seafront playground

7. Climbing a multi-pitch route (yes, we finally did that!)

Towards the end of our trip, my husband’s best friend came to visit us, which opened up some climbing possibilities. We were also joined by our dear friend from Marseille, Elie, who at 76 years old still rocks his 5.10 on lead. One morning I took off with my two partners in crime, left husband, toddler and in-laws behind and went back to the Cap Canaille to climb the route “2 Vauriens 3 Canailles” (6 pitches, TD-, 6a+, 150m). After a spooky pendulum rappel down from the photo spot at the top, we let Elie lead the way on this pumpy, juggy, beautiful climb with a bouldery start that has left us a bit shaken. If the climbs in the Calanques can be polished and crowded, the Cap Canaille was a good surprise…but to this regards, locals say that Cap Canaille is NOT in the Calanques…

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Elie as keen and happy as ever, rocking this multi-pitch like a champ in his own backyard
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Un vaurien ou une canaille?
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Raph focused on the steep, pumpy 4th pitch

It was a great adventure with the 2 boys, just like in the old days, that we finished with a beer at a Café in the port and another seafood feast at night back at the condo. Don’t feel sorry for my husband who stayed behind since he went back with his buddy to climb the same route the next day and was also pretty stoked about it. We also checked out one sport climbing crag that wasn’t anything worth bragging about but still offered a fun afternoon outside with our toddler girl and some deserved rest at the condo for my in-laws for whom sometimes, being around a 2-year old 24/7 can be a little overwhelming…fact duely accepted and understood 🙂

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Checking out a local crag on la Route des Crêtes

 

All things considered, this first multigenerational trip was awesome. We had lots of quality family time and hubby and I were even able to escape for a romantic trail-run together. We had a little beach time and ate lots of excellent food. We dined-in most of the week as it was more convenient for our family and kept the costs reasonable. We were able to purchase good seafood locally or at larger grocery store of communities nearby. We also indulged in some good fine pastries and enjoyed our daily croissants and pains au chocolat and coffee at the port. The fair weather has also contributed to make our stay in Cassis the most pleasant, as we were able to spend most of our time outside…Had it rained all week, we certainly would have found the condo a little small…espceially with an energetic 2-year old.

Most importantly, I think our trip was a success because were able to manage everyone’s expectations, individual pace and interests so everyone from 2 to 82 could have a fantastic time.

 

 

Pecorino, Cannonau & Calcare Part 2

Rock Climbing in Sardinia, Baby-Friendly

Families can’t really go wrong when choosing Sardinia as a destination for a vacation. There is plenty to for everyone to do, from fabulous beaches to quaint villages, sail cruises to inland hikes, plenty of cultural interests and all sorts of activities for visitors looking for an agri-tourism experience, trad climbing, deep water soloing and long multi-pitches. On our hand, we kept our exploration of Cala Gonone pretty simple. Our stay was filled with our daily share of sports climbing, hanging on the beach, eating gelato …and changing diapers.

We had done our homeworks and had researched some climbing spots ahead of time online. The website www.climb-europe.com was, as usual, a great place to start gathering some info when planning a climbing trip in Europe! On day one, we also invested in Pietra di Luna, 5th edition 2011, by Maurizio Oviglia, a very good guidebooks covering over 1,400 routes everywhere on the Island. Bear in mind that this newer edition doesn’t include as many multi-pitch routes as the older versions. We purchased the book at the small climbing store in Dorgali, along with a pair of new rock shoes, which proved to be way to painful to wear and ended up being replaced by a second pair purchased the following day. Yes, we were in Italy and I was decided to take advantage of the traditional Italian excellence in shoemaking.

Families also can’t really go wrong when choosing a crag to spend the day. Around Cala Gonone, all of the crags we visited are fairly easily accessed and offer flat shaded spots to set up a blanket or even a tent for the kids to safely play and nap. Since we were there in May, the weather was also most favorable to spent the days outside with little ones; plenty of sun but moderate temperatures and the usual breeze cooling the air just enough.

Some of the crags we visited are:

  • Budinetto: located 5 minutes drive from town and 15-minute approach, this site offers moderate slab routes from 3c to 6c. It is mostly south facing and offers a spectacular view on Cala Gonone and the sea. We picked this location for our first half day on the rock. Probably the least baby friendly of all because it’s fairly bushy and doesn’t offer that much flat areas at the bottom; it is less than ideal for a clumsy toddler.

 

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Slaby limestone that has lots of grip in Budinetto. Great way to start clipping bolts again.
  • Cala Fuili: This site is also located just outside of town and requires a 10-30 minute hike, depending on the area. Some easy climbs are just off the beach and therefore very busy and quite polished. As you walk deeper in the canyon, you find more interesting routes, graded from 5a to 8b+. It is the largest sports climbing site in the area with over 110 routes, mostly single pitch with some multi. The beach is ideal to hang out with kids, however, since climbers will have to wander out of reach to find interesting routes it’s best to split the group…
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Cala Fuili is an easy-accessed, popular beach just outside of town
  • Biddiriscotai: A very cool cave accessed by a scenic 20-minute walk right from town. Nudists love to soak the sun on the rocks near the cave, which can be a little surprising as you come around the corner…It boasts about 50 routes from 5b to 8a+. The sea mist definitely makes the holds a bit greasy but the location is well worth the trip. It was a great location for small children who are not too mobile but could be a challenge for busy 2-3 year olds. The cave itself is like a giant sandbox and offers plenty of shade. The routes feature neat tuffa and stalactites.
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The coolest approach ever…minus the naked Sards (not shown on the pic)

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Baby catching up on zzz’s while papa and his buddy tackle a greasy 6c
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Look who’s climbing steep stuff in her socks!
  • Buchi Arta: Our Cala Gonone favorite. After a slightly longer drive up and down a narrow mountain road, you have arrived! This site offers 35 routes from 5c to 7a, vertical and crimpy and lots of flat spots nicely shaded by the ancient pine trees. While you won’t get a seaview, it’s ideal for a group with lots of space for the kiddos to roam. We spent two full days there and I think what makes me emotional about this spot is that it’s where I led my first 6b!

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A napper’s guide to Sardinia
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Giving this first 6b all my attention
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I could write a post only about bread, cheese and wine in Sardinia…so could my baby
  • Cala Luna: I personnaly did more beaching than climbing at this particular site, but I can say that the approach is definitely the coolest of all. While you can access it by hiking severals hours, you can also rent a power boat at the port for the day for about 80 euros plus gas. We were fortunate enough to be a group of 10 (8 adults) and were met by friends of friends so it was all well worth it and quite affordable. The boat ride was exceptional on a sea so blue and so clear you can see all the way to the bottom. Along the shore are many caves to explore, which get very busy with larger tour ships later in the day. You can also take a taxi boat to Cala Luna. The climbing there was good, with routes from 5c to 8b+ including some multi-pitch. Hubby and I were able to leave baby girl to our friends and do the classic very photogenic 2-pitch route. The beach was beautiful although it was much harder to find shade so bring your own tent or shelter or umbrella. Be aware of wild pigs who love to steal your food.
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A classic 2-pitch route is right on the prominent pillar

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All Aboard!

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Setting up base camp at Cala Luna

The boys in our crew were also able to squeeze in some quality multi-pitch routes, in Margheddie and Supramonte (in-land). Our thought was that the climbing was overall excellent, on solid limestone, well bolted and the grading relatively on par with other major european climbing destinations. We were happy to go early season and found the locals very hospitable and nice and the prices quite a bit lower than during the peak summer season. Many locals speak French or a bit of English and we found communicating was never an issue. I am sure Sardinia has a lot more to offer than what we just experienced but, so goes life when you want to balance a family vacation with a baby and destination climbing…can’t do it all! That being said, I wouldn’t mind going back to Sardinia has it has printed on our minds very sweet memories.

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Some more napping, just for the beauty of it

Rock Climbing in Sardinia, baby-friendly

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Mountains are great but the sea is pretty sweet too. Here is a view from Cala Fulli
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our daily fix of Mediterranean

Pecorino, Cannonau & Calcare Part 1: A long journey to Cala Gonone

At the exact same date 3-years ago we were embarking on a memorable trip to Sardinia.

Even with a 7-month baby in tow, we were convinced this trip would be a relaxing getaway made of chillin’ on the beach, reconnecting with climbing on perfect seaside limestone cliffs and drinking wine with a bunch of friends. After the fact, I can say that we certainly had underestimated what traveling with a young baby would entice…and overestimated the amount of climbing we would do. But other than that, our trip to Sardinia was absolutely amazing and we recommend the destination to any climber novice to expert, bachelor to a family of 8 and everything in between. Here’s our story.

My in-laws have generously lent us their car for our trip. We’re all packed and ready to go. I thank the Lord for only having one kid. There’s so much stuff in that car that my daughter seems to be buried in her car seat. I hope she’s still able to breathe. As realistic parents of an infant, we’ve decided to do the drive over 3 days between Saint-Etienne, France and Livorno, Italy. Our ferry ride is booked for 2 days later. Our goal is to drive to Serre-Chevalier to spend the first night at our friends who are coming with us on the trip and then together make our way to Livorno, spend the night near the Port and then embark on the ferry. Fortunately, our 7-month old is a well-traveled baby who travels well. Yeah, this can sounds odd, but at 7 months she’s already spent 1/7 of her life on the road, has flown 9 airplanes and traveled across 3 countries on 2 different continents…She’s a trooper. The only minor thing is that she breastfeeds a lot…and often! So, well, we take our time and make a lot of stops.

Who said that distances in Europe are short? Certainly not the parent of an infant. Driving 600km takes us 2 full days. However, the drive is uneventful and quite pleasant even, especially on the second day when we rally with our friends, Antho, Tif, their daughter Kenza and the dog Naumai. We took walkie-talkies along and we’re able to communicate and coordinate our stops as we drive at what seems like crazy fast speed on Italian freeways, which are all stupidly narrow and all underground and where fancy Alpha Romeos pass you nonchalantly at 160k/h. Other than being quite stressed and worried that my in-laws’ car mirrors get ripped off at every turn, we’re all excited about the trip and finding some nice Mediterranean weather. We spend the second night near Livorno in a cute little inn where the staff is absolutely charming and we get to enjoy our first wood oven thin crust pizza and a cold beer in the lounge while our little angles are snoozing in our nearby guest rooms.

The next morning, we casually make our way towards the port but quickly realize that Livorno port is huge and we have one idea where our dock is. After driving in circles for a while following Antho who seems to know where’s going (not!) we finally board the ferry just before the door closes. Booo for the Frenchies, you almost earned us a two-week vacation in Livourno. The day-time ride from Livorno to Olbia on Mobylines is about 8-hours. Mobyline ferries are very well set-up for families with children, with Disney-themed play areas, well-adapted washrooms, plenty of space to move around, several cafes and food outlet all serving delicious espresso for less than a dollar, uh, well, euro. Okay, a dollar fifty. From the deck, we sail along the rugged coast of Corsica on a calm see in a gray and relatively cool weather.

After reaching Olbia, there’s only 2-hour drive to reach our destination of Cala Gonone, a small fishing village on the east coast of the island, turned into a prime tourism destination which the German visitor market particularly affectionate. It seems like early May is still considered off season there so we’re hoping to find some peace and quiet and are ready to handle cooler temperatures.

We are meeting 3 other friends who took a different ferry from Genoa: Sophie, Raph and our 75-year old badass climbing legend friend from Marseille, Elie. The villa is right at the heart of the village just half a kilometer from the beach and has a gated garden and 2 patios with atrial view on the sea. It has a large dining room with a massive table, four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The kitchen is incredibly tiny and very poorly appointed which seems the weirdest thing in a villa that size in a country that claims to be the most food-loving in the world. It will prove challenging some nights when there are 4 of us in there; the two moms trying to mush of some veggie to feed the babies and the 2 others on dinner duties. With limited kitchenware, our cooking ability is somewhat limited, but fortunately, we live off divine charcuterie (salami and prosciutto), pecorino and other fabulous cheeses, olives, and wine.

Reuniting with our long-time friends in this very special place on that first night feels wonderful and it sets the tone for a great time. After too many glasses of wine for my husband my family and I settle in our little bedroom for a very poor night for all of us. Actually, for all sorts of different reason, every of the nights for our entire stay will be poor, more specifically because baby girl has started waking up every 2 hours. One other reason is that Kenza, Tif and Antho’s 18-month old daughter is an early riser. One other reason is that Italian people never sleep and like to go about their duties at night, such as signing, picking up the garbage, using power tools, arguing, etc. All the sudden, being in the place at the heart of the village doesn’t sound like a good idea anymore.

In my next post, I will talk about the serious business..rock climbing in Sardinia. Stay tuned!

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Papa showing her baby girl the monster wild pigs eating our picnic in Cala Luna
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Solid limestone, deep-blue sea and sunshine…heaven
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Sleep deprived but so happy!
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Road trip baby…in papy’s car on top of that
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La grotta, accessed by a scenic trail along the shore

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