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!!

 

DSCN0941
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!

 

fullsizeoutput_e93.jpeg
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.

 

DSCN0986
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.

 

DSCN0973
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.

 

fullsizeoutput_1162
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.

dscn1079.jpg
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).

DSCN0927
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 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

budinetto
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…
calafulli
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.
approachsea
The coolest approach ever…minus the naked Sards (not shown on the pic)

grotte

nap2
Baby catching up on zzz’s while papa and his buddy tackle a greasy 6c
lilclimber
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!

buchiflat

nap
A napper’s guide to Sardinia
6b
Giving this first 6b all my attention
picnic
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.
Calaluna
A classic 2-pitch route is right on the prominent pillar

boat1

All Aboard!

basecamp
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.

napmamanbb
Some more napping, just for the beauty of it

Rock Climbing in Sardinia, baby-friendly

image
Mountains are great but the sea is pretty sweet too. Here is a view from Cala Fulli
image
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!

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

sardinia