With two more 6.0 earthquakes shaking our house in one night and with three quakes over a weeks time it was time to head to solid ground. Over the Halloween weekend Heidi's school has an extended weekend that coincides with an Italian national holiday making it a perfect recipe for getting out to explore more of Italy. Finale Ligure here we come!
We had wanted to visit Finale over the summer but the summer heat kept us away. Many folks we had talked to recommended the fall as the best time to go. With our good friend Owen scheduled to arrive in Italy for a week of good times this would a great opportunity to explore a new area of mountain biking with fellow bike lovers. Ben and Nelly, from France, would also be joining us for this trip. So the stoke level was high to say the least.
Finale is the mountain biking Mecca of Italy. It's situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea between Genova, Italy and Nice, France. The mountains surrounding the towns of Finale Ligure, Varigotti, Noli, and Pietra Ligura make up optimal terrain choices for miles and miles or kilometers and kilometers of trail. We'd spend three days sniffing out the best trails we could find but only ended up scratching the surface of what this place has to offer.
Deciding we'd only give Owen a whole 18 hours to adjust in Rome, we gave him the quick and dirty tour before traveling towards Finale. After a quick reassembly of his bike on Friday morning he and I did our "Urban Assault" route into the city to see some sites and grabbed a quick lunch in Campo de' Fiori. Cool huh, ok, time to go!
Owen and I packed up our fancy Mercedes rental van with the bikes and gear, picked up Heidi off the Cassia and away we went. After six hours of driving, an exploding bottle of wine ("Owen be careful with that!"), some perfect parallel parking, and a ridiculous Fleetwood Mac sing along we arrived in Finale Ligure to our waiting friends. Let the games begin!
We rented in a cozy apartment for our time in Finale and we couldn't have asked for a better spot. It was right in the heart of town overlookng the beach and we could ride from the front door. The morning sun rises where stunning, especially since the sun didn't rise until almost 8 in the am. Which also meant sleeping in a bit longer each day. Who doesn't wanna sleep in on vacation?
Day one we all rode over to an area of trails situated above the towns of Varigotti and Noli. The climbs were a nice pitch that didn't crush our legs to early in the ride. Leaving us with plenty of energy to rage throughout the day. We said early on in the ride that this area was already our favorite riding in Italy. This held true the entire trip. The riding wasn't just crushing climbs to an hour descent to the finish. In Finale the trails are made with bikers in mind. The singletrack that flowed over, through, across, up and down the terrain was first class. Not to mention that the views of the sea, surrounding hillsides and towns are outstanding.
It's hard to get into a bunch of details to describe the trails you've ridden on a trip. Most of the time the riding is rad, awesome, gnarly, fast, rocky, etc. And these trails were all of those things combined and more. But what I usually remember on days like this is the company and the good times spent celebrating being outside on a bike. Not every detail of a trail. Our crew was on the same page for this ride. We weren't in hurry to get anywhere. We laughed a lot. We ate weird berries Nelly found on a tree. We rode to seaside cliffs hundreds of meters over the coast. We even got lost and didn't give a shit because the lost trail we had ridden was perfect. Oh yeah, and Heidi barrel rolled off the trail into a ditch after a crash only to get up laughing.
The perfect day of riding came to an end as we rode through some old villages and olive groves to reach Finale Ligure. With huge smiles on our faces we headed back to the our beachside villa for an evening Spritz and some time in the sand. Finale has such a good biker vibe to it. When we arrived to our apartment the beach was full of bikers ending their day with a cold beverage surrounded by friends. We naturally followed suit.
The next day the weather was again perfect. Warm and bluebird skies with no humidity. Great weather for riding mountain bikes in the Italian Riviera. This day Nelly and Ben decided to do some climbing around the area since Finale is also a climbing mecca. So the Americans rode together towards the hills to the south of Finale.
What a difference a day can make. We decided to pedal the long climb to the top of another network of trails to find the goods and we surely found the goods. Although to repeatedly ride the goods you had to partake in the classic euro style riding. Grunt up a climb, ride sweet/sick downhill, repeat. But after the initial long climb we didn't have the energy to repeat. We still had another climb ahead of us to get back home. The "Rollercoaster" trail we did ride was pretty rad though. I think we all said in our review of the trail that we had never ridden a trail like the Rollercoaster but then finished our comments with the thought that this type of trail was not our favorite type of riding. Moving on.
After another pretty painless climb to the top of another set of trails the lack of replenishing materials was starting to take hold. If you've ever been on a ride with us and we've started to bonk, you've probably wished you weren't on the ride with us. Add the fact that we couldn't find the most direct route down the hill because of the many unmarked forks in the trails (spoiled rider issues) you've got a recipe for some hangry riders. We made it, everything was fine but I thought Heidi was going to kill Owen when we stopped for the photo below. It's my favorite photo from the trip!
That night the whole crew rode into the walled village of Finalborgo for an amazing dinner. As Ben and Nelly finished climbing that day they stopped in the village to check it out. What they found was the haunt where the climbers and bikers visiting the area where hanging out. It was a drastic change from the family atmosphere of Finale. Everyone was wearing "outdoor apparel" brands, not leather and jean jackets. It could have been Crested Butte or Chamonix. Who knew?
Our dinner was in a small restaurant that only had six tables and they had used every available seat to fill the place to capacity. We had some language barriers to start the evening but after we realized that only a third of the menu was still availably we soon understood why the place was packed. It food was incredible. Everyone was blown away. We shared an octopus salad with the most tender and flavorful octopus I've ever had. I guess it really does make a difference in quality when you're only a thousand meters away from the sea verses a thousand miles away.
The last day of riding was made up of the entire international crew. After some quick research and discussion with our famous mountain guide we launched from the apartment to yet another new area of trails directly behind the town of Finale. Similar to the first day, the excitement started after a reasonable climb to the top where the views continued to impress. The first descent took us through an exciting range of views, terrain, and trail. We started with some fast, flowy trail through what seemed like ancient terraced olive groves. From there the trail started to build on it's ruggedness and passed through old villages, churches and patches of bamboo fields. We even found a couple exposed metal pipes running down the trail to keep you on your toes. I think the terms loose and rough were used by some. I think the route was enjoyed by all. Nelly may have a different opinion.
As we made our way towards the same summit we had used on the first day, we stopped and had a bikers lunch at a local osteria that catered to mountain bikers. This place was an old farm house filled with colorful bikers and bikes from just about everywhere. Lunch consisted of simple pasta dishes with simple bread and simple wine that gave us the energy for one more short climb before making our last descent of the trip. The last trail would lead us to the town of Noli where we'd ride the road back to Finale Ligure. The trail was "game on" the entire way. You had to keep your focus. There was no room for error or time to think about anything else but the terrain ahead of you. We loved it. Although I would question anyone's sanity who rode the last 100 meters of this trial. So we walked.
Finale Ligure brought out a new perspective of riding in Italy for me. A discovery of a place where the excitement of riding a bike and being outdoors is instrumental to life. When I first discover a new area to ride I usually set the expectations pretty high. Hoping that it offers the best of every aspect in a mountain biking community. Most times places are great but just don't have "it". Finale has "it". Location, trails, vibe, community, and throw in the Mediterranean Sea for good measure. When you fantasize about living in a new place that's usually a good sign you've had a good time too. We probably won't move to Finale anytime soon but we'll absolutely be back to rage.
Before we returned back to Rome we went to the city of Pisa for a quick lunch before going to a date with an organic winery in Tuscany. What kind of hosts would we be if we didn't squeeze every hour out of Owen's trip before he left the next day. Pisa was beautiful, and yes, it's really leaning. The winery wasn't our favorite but I think we'll have more chances to visit some other vineyards in the future.
NOTE: Don't forget to check out my Flickr account for more photos of our trip. The icon is at the top of the page. Also check out Owen's Flickr account. He took some great photos. You can find his account on my Flickr page under people I'm following.