Monday, January 2, 2012

Rock Climbing in Savona, Italy

This year, we spent Christmas in the Pennavaire Valley, a quiet gorge near the old-school, seaside locale of Finale Ligure, Italy. I'd had this valley recommended by friends over the past few years, but was always skeptical due to the lack of climbing media coverage and the feeling that the Italian Coast lacked the clout of the big Spanish winter destinations, like El Chorro, Margalef and Santa Linya. My concerns were short lived, though, once we arrived and got acquainted with the area. Although the valley's crags weren't in vast supply, they were of very high quality with all the characteristics of Spanish stone.

Logistics: Fly into Nice and rent a car. It's about 1.5 hours to the valley from the airport. Have Euros available for the drive on the toll highway - our credit cards did not work until we got into Italy.

Accommodation: We stayed in the hamlet of Vesallo at a beautiful bed and breakfast called Casa dei Nonni . The hosts spoke fluent English, easing our transition into the new culture. Our apartment was beautiful and had a full kitchen so we could prepare our own food. The village sits high on the hillside, and gets plenty of midday sun, a precious commodity in the depths of winter. I'd highly recommend this casa to visiting climbers.

Gear: I brought a 70-metre Mammut Serenity and it was the perfect rope for the trip. It held up well to limestone abuse, the skinny diameter was light for the airplane and the length allowed for safe lowering from many of the 60-metre-plus pitches. Sixteen quickdraws and a pair of shoes that perform well on technical faces and steep overhangs will round out your kit.

Guidebook: All the crags in the valley are covered in the book, Oltrafinale, a companion to the massive Finale rock climbing guide. Casa dei Nonni sold Oltrafinale, as did Bar Neva in Cisano about 15 minutes down the road.

The Rock: Although each crag differed slightly in character, the overall nature of the climbing was vertical to moderately overhanging on tufas, edges and generally positive holds. Routes from 4+ to 8b+ were available, but the greatest concentration for abundance and quality seemed to be from 6a to 8a. One special feature of the cliffs was the plethora of both moderate and advanced routes, allowing groups of mixed abilities to climb in close proximity. For instance, my five-year-old daughter could top-rope a 5a slab while I worked a 30-metre overhanging tufa route just around the corner. Finally, the routes were very well bolted - runouts were rare.

Conditions: The crags are generally north and south-facing, allowing climbing in a variety of seasons, but for the best crags cold weather is best. The months from November to March seem optimal, and we had perfect conditions at the end of December: frosty mornings with pleasant climbing in the midday sun. We were told the weather was drier than usual, and if it's cold or wet the pocketed walls of Finale Ligure, about 40 minutes away, are a better bet.

The Food - What's there to say? It's authentic Italian and is absolutely incredible. Whether you choose to eat out or buy fresh pasta from the local grocer, you won't be disappointed. Oh, and the gelato is the best on the planet.

Other Activities: This is the Italian Riviera, so beachside activities are abundant. The promenade below Finale Ligure is full of cafes, shops and amusement park rides for kids, all right off the beach. We enjoyed a couple of fantastic hikes, one along an ancient Roman road above the sea, and a second above treeline at the top of the Pennavaire Valley. The sightseeing in the medieval villages was wonderful and for a big city experience, Genova was only an hour away.

If you are looking for a climbing destination a bit off the standard circuit, but with all the allure of the European hotspots, consider the Pennavaire Valley for a future trip. We've visited many of the big name crags over the years, and were not disappointed with this Italian destination.

Happy New Years - Marc Bourdon, Squamish, BC

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great information, and it looks like a fantastic trip! I'll be heading to Savona in February. Any suggestions on where to find more info on hikes and transportation to/from Genoa? Thanks!