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

Easter Wine Tasting & Climbing in Skaha, BC

Easter in Skaha is becoming a tradition for our family…and every other climber in Western Canada, as we found out this year.

Integrated into the BC Provincial Park system less than ten years ago, the Skaha Bluffs keep gaining in popularity as the number of rock climbers in Western Canada grows exponentially year after year.

Tucked on the Western slopes of the Monashee mountains just above Skaha Lake near Penticton, the Bluffs offer close to 1000 routes ranging from 5.4 to 5.14. This South Okanagan gem benefits from a warm and dry climate that is unsurprisingly very appealing to warmth-deprived Calgarians escaping the cold and Vancouverites escaping the wet and gloomy.

hiking
Hiking to the bluffs in the warm spring weather on a previous visit to Skaha

If the destination is popular in the spring and fall, it is known as almost too hot for climbing during the summer months; climbers then have to aim for early morning and evening sessions. I have heard through the great vine, however, that local route setters are currently working on a new north-facing crag…Some winter climbing is also possible sometimes, although the gate to the parking area is usually open from late March to late November.

Speaking of vine, the climate in Skaha combined with the nature of the rock are not only benefiting climbers; they are also creating the ideal conditions to grow grapes. The perfect exposition combined to gentle slopes, rocky soil, cutting edge irrigation technology and a local savoir-faire developed over the last thirty years or so make this area one of the best in Canada for producing award-winning wines.

Fine wines, great climbing, and decent weather forecast all aligned to guarantee a great time on our Easter getaway.

If we’re usually camping on our annual Easter getaway to Skaha, this year we were lucky to benefit from the warm hospitality of my sister Anne and her partner Chris, recently established in Shaka where Chris’s family is from. In addition, our father, Jacques, also decided to tag along for the trip and booked a last-minute flight ticket from Quebec City into Cranbrook to enjoy the road trip with us and a long overdue get-together with my sister and I.

Although climbing was obviously on our list, this time we took the opportunity to explore a bit further what Penticton and the Skaha area have to offer in terms of activities for the small and big kids alike.
The heavy rain we had on the first morning didn’t put a damper on our spirits and we headed straight for the Penticton Aquatic Centre, auntie, and grandpa in tow. My daughter, who I suspect to be way more interested in swimming than she is in climbing, was in heaven!

Splashing in the huge hot tub

Penticton, a City of over 40,000, really has an amazing selection of recreation amenities and counts on a state-of-the-art aquatic centre that provided a full morning of fun for everyone, in spite of the mega yellow water slide being out of service.
The rain finally stopped around midday and therefore we were able to get out for an afternoon stroll in the gigantic Skaha Lake Park.

Rated #1 attraction in Penticton on TripAdvisor, this park located a stone’s throw away from my sister’s place didn’t disappoint. From riding bikes along the lakeshore to building sandcastles on the beach, goofing around on the two playgrounds and feeding the gazillion ducks in the creek, the park was well worth the daily visit.

One of the daily visits to the Skaha Lake Park
Not quite the beach temperature yet
Paved trails to ride bikes

And of course, there was the climbing!
We had never seen the Bluff’s parking lot this full, but we still managed to find some routes to kick off the season and spook the crap out of ourselves awaken our senses on the tiny technical ledges.

soeurs
My sis and I climbing side-by-side on the solid gneiss

We all gathered at the “Day Care” crag on a warm afternoon to make the kids climb and I must say that it is a very good initiation area, as its name tells. It was surprising over that weekend to see how many climbing families there are and to see that more and more parents are starting to appreciate this family-friendly activity (or perhaps it is that more and more climbers are starting to have kids?? I wonder…)

Parents will have to be mindful of ticks early in the season and do a full children and pet checkup at the end of each day.

Maya and Eva, 3 1/2 and ready to rock
Climbing lessons are on!

On a long weekend, those who want to tackle specific projects have to get up early to beat the crowd, which my husband and I took turns to do…on some mornings.
Another highlight of our stay was the time we spent with Chris’ family around great meals and the chugging tasting of local wines.

Paul, Chris’s father took us all on a nice walk along the mountainside to the nearby Pentâge Winery on Easter Sunday.

img_2530
Grasslands and rocky cliffs are typical of the area’s landscape
Half of our wine-tasting posse on its way to the winery
Pentâge’s vineyards overlook Skaha Lake and the valley
img_2535
One kind of “Heaven’s Door”

There, we were introduced to Julie Rennie and Paul Gardner, former Vancourites established on their land since 1996.
Passionate about their craft and so eager to share their knowledge with their visitors, Julie and Paul grow 19 types of the highest quality grape in small lot releases on their 23-hectares property.

Cheers!

In the sleek design tasting room where colourful local paintings contrast with the dark plywood and steel walls, Julie served us a crisp Gewürztraminer, followed by a Sauvignon Blanc and an oak barrel-aged Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier, which really delighted our privileged group of tasters.

We then completed the tasting with a rich Syrah and took our glasses outside on a private tour of the impressive 5000 sq. ft natural rock cellar carved right from the bedrock, which offers the controlled climate required for the French-made oak barrels to operate their magic.

img_2550-1
Eva and Uncle Chris climbing the granite slabs in the natural rock wine cellar, a glass in hand

Paul the winemaker then took some time out of his busy schedule to share some of his wine-making and travel stories with us…along with some dirty jokes.

We left the winery with fuzzy heads and a baby stroller heavy with a sleepy child and numerous bottles of Pentâge wine; some of them were consumed that very night, paired with the delicious Easter dinner prepared with love by Sally, Chris’ mother.

We departed Skaha the next morning with the skin on our fingers still intact, as this time we didn’t make climbing the core focus of our stay. However, we departed Skaha with our batteries recharged from the great times spent with the family (and extended family) and a bottled sample of Skaha’s terroir in our luggage.

Where to stay in Skaha (if your sister doesn’t  live there):

Banbury Greens Campground (opens on April 1st) Special early season rates for tenters and small camper vans. Sits on the right side of the lake to get the early morning sunshine. Hot showers, fire pits, and electrical hook-ups. No groceries nor restaurant nearby. The most popular spot for climbers.

Penticton is a fairly large City and therefore you will find accommodation options to suit any taste or budget from motels to vacation rentals: www.visitpenticton.com


Where to eat:

Bad Tatoo. A craft brewery with a great ambiance and tasty pub fares and healthy dishes at a reasonable price point.


Where to have a drink:

The Cannery. The other craft brewery. Excellent beer with the flagship brew being the Muse. Snacks and sandwiches available.


More family-friendly activities:

Ride the Kettle Valley Rail Trail between Penticton and Naramata

Climb indoors at the new bouldering cave in town

Tour other wineries of the South Okanagan VQA (which most of them open on the Easter Long)

Drive down Route97 to Oliver and Osoyoos and check out the Desert Interpretive Centre

Hike the Skaha Bluffs’s Trail and look for bighorn sheep and snakes.