Climbing in Finale Ligure

An Italian Climbing Paradise

On our final day in Siurana last spring, we met some Italians at the crag and ended up climbing next to them until the sun dipped behind the Spanish foothills. As we were walking out together, I started asking them about places to climb in Italy, as I assumed there were epic crags there but the only thing I really knew about were the Dolomites. I actually don’t remember what they recommended, but I got the sense there was more worth looking into and it planted a seed in mind. Plus, my great grandfather came to the US from Italy when he was nine years old, so I’ve always wanted to go visit the place my family came from. Fast forward to July, when I saw this post by Mark Anderson about climbing in Finale Ligure. The photos looked rad and some further research showed the area to be stacked with climbing.

Sometime in the summer, I set up some price alerts for plane tickets for our next spring break, and in November one came through with a deal too good to pass up: $500 round trip from Denver to Milan. We weren’t even sure where we would climb, but we bought the tickets and used the ensuing 24 hour grace period for some frantic research. One option was to connect in Milan to Kalymnos, but that was a little out of our price range, and it quickly became apparent that Finale was an easy 2 hour drive south of Milan. After checking out a couple videos and blog posts, we settled on climbing on the Italian Riviera, and started prepping for the trip.

Tracy Wilson romping up the jugs on Bombolo, Grotta dell’Edera.

I did a ton of research online, and even ordered the guidebook from Europe, which wasn’t cheap but I was glad I got it ahead of time. With over 3000 routes, it was a little overwhelming for a two week trip, and I wanted to make sure we knew what the best sectors would be for us so we could hit the ground running. One thing that immediately became apparent from watching videos and looking at pictures of the climbing was that the bolts appeared to be much closer together than they had been in Siurana. (I’ll try not to compare the two too much, but since they are the only two experiences I’ve had climbing in Europe, there are some differences I’ll note.) In Siurana, the climbing felt more like battle-mode, with crimpy, techy climbing on bolts that were often farther apart than I’d like, especially given the style of climbing and the fact that we were on vacation. I knew Finale was an older area, but it looked like when rebolting work was done, things had been made more friendly. This did in fact turn out to be the case, and was certainly appreciated, as flying across an ocean for a two week trip, we were looking to keep the fun factor high.

There are two airports for Milan, we flew into Linate, which is in the city, small and easy to navigate. After grabbing some coffee and food in the heart of the old town, we hit the road south for Finale through pouring rain as night descended. It had been a cold and wet winter and spring in Europe, and it seemed to welcome us in similar fashion. As we got closer to the coast, the landscape become more mountainous, with the highway passing through numerous tunnels. Getting off the interstate, we found ourselves on a quiet and windy road heading down through a sleepy valley. Soon, an illuminated castle appeared on a ridge to our right, shortly followed by another one further down the valley, he town coming into view shortly after. It felt like a magical welcome to this hidden valley filled with climbing and castles. We met up with our Airbnb host and got settled in for what turned out to be an incredible two weeks in Italy.

The author on Jazz Blues Fusion, Placca dei Maleducati.

The people. Finalborgo was a magical little town, and the folks we encountered were friendly, warm and welcoming, and we immediately felt a connection to the place. Our apartment was a two minute walk away from the 11th century walled town where you could get coffee in the morning, pick up some pizza and focaccia for lunch, or grab some last minute gear at one of the seven climbing shops. (I’m still not sure how they all stay in business!) We met the guidebook author on the first day, and he gave us beta on new crags that weren’t in the already overwhelming guidebook. We came to be friends with the woman who runs the little pizza shop (Cuki’s) we hit up for lunch each day, and Emanuela even came out for drinks with us one evening, her little English and my little Italian making for some fun and hilarious communication. Then there was the sweet couple that runs Sbuccia, where we grabbed coffee most mornings, and the always gregarious owner of Burgum Finarii, a great spot for a casual meal, or more coffee! Plus, there were no other Americans around, which was really nice from a cultural standpoint.

Looking down on Finalborgo, with the Med in the distance.

The town. Being right outside the old town was great, and made more sense than being down on the ocean (plus it was only a 15 minute walk from our apartment). Parking was easy, and the crags were only a 5-10 minute drive. Finale is a popular mountain biking destination and we were surrounded by mountain athletes. School groups were common during the week, visiting the archaeology museum and taking in the sites. It all felt super safe and made the vacation aspect very simple. On rest days we rarely felt the need to venture beyond Finale, as there was so much to explore right out our front door. Narrow streets, old, tall buildings, polished cobbles, castles on every hillside, old terraces with olive trees, ancient Roman roads. History was everywhere, and you could start walking in any direction and find yourself at an old castle or church or other significant site.

The food. No surprises here, but wow! I tried to only sample local fare, and it was all incredible. Lasagna with potatoes and pesto, swordfish carpaccio, raviolis with artichoke, more swordfish, the best pizza ever, with gorgonzola! Food is such an important part of Italian culture and it was a treat to be able to fully enjoy our meals. We cooked at our apartment a couple nights, but it seemed like it was worth the extra cost to sample as much of the local eateries as we could. I’m still dreaming about that pizza!

Andrew Overstreet on the sustained pockets of Remember We as Friend, Grotta dell’Edera.

The climbing. From the research I did, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Some of it sounded like it would be similar to Siurana, as the place is known for pockets and more technical climbing. What we found was an incredible variety of styles. Techy slabs, pocketed vertical routes, overhanging tufas, it had it all and most of the time you could find several different styles at the same crag. Many of the pitches were long, I did numerous 30-35 meter lines that were some of the best of the grade I’ve ever been on. The only thing missing was crimps, but you won’t hear me complain about that! And I got to climb on real tufas for the first time, which was a blast, comparable for me to the first time I visited Indian Creek and climbed a real splitter. On one particularly excellent route, I hand jammed between two tufas, knee barred a little higher and then shoulder scummed between two larger formations. Such cool 3D movement! All the crags were great hangs, the bolts were generally comfortably close together, most were modern glue-ins, and the rock was bomber. Plus at some cliffs you could look over your shoulder and gaze out over the Med or the hillsides and valleys stacked with more climbing. What a place.

Looking out over the Mediterranean at sunset. Not a bad view from the crag.

As noted above, my experience in Europe is limited but out of all the places I’ve ever climbed anywhere, this is easily in my top three destinations for routes in the 5.10-5.12 range, which I imagine is what many people going on a climbing vacation are looking for. And for those who want to crank harder, there appeared to be plenty to choose from, especially if you factor in the area of OltreFinale, a short 30 minute drive away. We were hoping to climb there, but most of the good looking tufa crags were seeping from the wet spring, so we stayed in Finale proper. (Some of the tufas here were wet too, but there was only one route I wanted to do that I couldn’t get on because it was dripping).

Finale was the complete package and ticked all the boxes for a great climbing vacation. The people, the place, the food and the climbing were all top notch. There wasn’t a single thing I would have changed, and we would go back in heartbeat. The locals told us the weather was cooler than average, but with a variety of aspects, it was easy to pick a cliff that would be warm on any given day. I also think it would be a good place to go with kids, as Mark Anderson also noted, or with other family members who aren’t wanting to climb every day. There’s a ton to see and do besides climbing, many of the approaches are short and it felt very safe.

It seems like it’s been longer than two weeks since we were fully immersed in our Italian climbing vacation, and I’m still seeing those tufas in my dreams at night!

Stay tuned for part two, regarding logistics for those interested in planning a trip to the area.

2 Responses to Climbing in Finale Ligure

  1. I’m headed here in a few weeks with my family to ride and bike, glad to see you enjoyed the area. We learned of this place through the MTB world, but then got really psyched when we found out there was good climbing as well. Sounds like we made a good choice–I’ll keep my eye out for the next post. Any insight into how baby friendly these crags are?

    taylor April 19, 2018 at 1:47 pm
    • Sorry I missed this somehow, hopefully you had a good trip and discovered that there are plenty of baby friendly crags!

      BJ Sbarra May 17, 2018 at 11:07 am
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