Like other mountain bike destinations at the peak of nearly everyone’s shredlist, Finale Ligure, Italy begs little introduction.
With close to 90 distinct trails, totaling over 400km in length, the tracks will leave you with memories for a lifetime and swollen forearms for at least a few days. The lion’s share of singletrack in Finale depart from 1,000m (3,280ft) Apennine mountain tops and dump out somewhere alongside the inviting Mediterranean Sea.
With multiple shuttle services to choose from and a number of guides and skills clinics available, visitors can easily enjoy a fortnight stay. During the high season, there are enough 10-passenger vans creeping around the hallway-wide mountain streets to turn the hillsides into a mountain bike version of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel.
5 reasons to ride Finale Ligure
- It is one of the very few locations in the world where trails end at the sea.
- There is more than one track to challenge everyone, regardless of skill level.
- Ligurian cuisine is some of the best in all of Italy.
- Post-ride drinks can be had between the fortified walls of a 13th-century village.
- Finally, Finale harbors some of the best trails in all of Europe, open all year round!
With few notable exceptions, the trails in Finale are direction-specific and gravity-oriented. While each track is accessible via a paved or gravel pedal, shuttle services will more than double the amount of trail mere mortals are able to ride. For example, the last time I shuttled for an entire day we put in nine long, rock-slapping runs, after struggling to complete four laps by pedaling the climbs the previous day.
If you are concerned about getting in a solid workout while shuttling, you will likely be happy with the number of short climbs and sharp sprints built into the tracks. A healthy dose of rocks and drops throughout the forest will work most people hard enough to warrant at least one whole pizza at the end of the day. The petrol spent while shuttling is not ideal, but guides will sardine as many people as possible in each vehicle to minimize waste.
My favorite part of the shuttle van ride is spending the day with people from all around the world, and growing my community! I have shuttled in Finale on multiple occasions and the diversity of people I get to meet and the unique skills and tricks I learn from them are always as valuable as the day among the trees.
From tracking one another’s lines to following someone into a spooky rock-face that you might otherwise walk, there is always something to learn. Often when I go solo to Finale my shuttle crew is all high fives and belly laughs by lunchtime. You may even make a new friend who you want to ride with in the future and schedule your next dirt-vacation in their backyard.
Now, let’s drop in. Below I will outline a few possible ways to slice the Finale pie.
The tales of trails in Finale where your tires only touch uneven rocks are true, but there are options. My favorite flow ride starts with a single shuttle (Italians use the term “uplift”) to an abandoned NATO base. The old concrete structures are adorned with beautiful art, and with the whirling of the adjacent wind farm in your ears, this trailhead is a unique and memorable place.
For true connoisseurs of flow, there is a handful of berm-packed tracks to pump. Madre Natura trail is a good warm up, followed by Base Nato, 115, and Sentiero-H. All of these tracks end on the same road where you can hang a right and climb back to the top. The paved climb takes roughly 30-40 minutes to pedal, and there is a fresh, potable water stop half way up.
After you have had your fill of Finale’s flowiest offerings at the NATO base, there are several ways back to town. I like to ride the asphalt west, back to the first point the van drops riders off on the way to the NATO base, which is called Melogno. From here you can ride a long flowy ridge trail called Roller Coaster down to a series of rockier tracks that finish in the town of Calice.
The shorter tracks between Roller Coaster and Calice are more technical than any of the aforementioned flow, so be sure to check the skill level markers on the trail signs (or use your Singletracks app!). For reference, Cacciatore is the tamest of these tracks, while Madonna Della Guardia is the most technical. Once In Calice, it’s a short ride on the road back to Finale. Though truthfully, the short ride back is better after you cool off with some artisanal gelato. Alternatively, you can take Ingegnere down from the NATO base to the town of Feglino, and ride back to Finale from there. This option offers a little better trail-to-asphalt ratio.
While there are several other ways to put a flow ride together in Finale, this is my personal suggestion. If you want to try some different iterations you can ask your shuttle guide for a flow tour and they will likely be happy to share their version.
Prime flow day tracks: Base Nato, Madre Natura, Sentiero H, 115, Rollercoaster.
Rough & Rocky Ride
If you came to Finale for the rougher and steeper tracks you have seen in videos of EWS stages, you won’t leave disappointed.
To hit two of the steepest tracks you will likely have to pedal, as most shuttles don’t roll that direction. Rocche Gianche is one to start with. This was stage 2 of the final EWS round in Finale for 2018. The trail kicks off with its most difficult section, an off-camber rock slab with 5+ lines to choose from. If the rock is dry, grip is high, and you can take any of the lines you feel comfortable with.
From here the tracks ribbon across a spine, eventually disappearing into a heap of switchbacks in the forest. The second track of this steep and deep day out is DH Uomini (DH Men in English). I personally have named this one the Cheese Grater, to signify what will happen to exposed flesh if you hit the deck. You may have seen this track in one of the countless photo and video shoots of Finale, overlooking the sea the entire length of its descent. If you want to have a look across the water you will need to stop toward the top, as the track demands full attention and becomes steep enough toward the end that stopping can be quite challenging.
If you would prefer to shuttle to the steeper walls and chutes of Finale, there are shorter tracks that van operators frequent. Some of the burlier descents below Melogno (the first van drop for most operators) are Fast and Furious, and Isallo Extacy to the west of the dropoff point, and Madonna Della Guardia, Kill Bill, Kill Bill 2, Rebel Yell, and Cavatappi that all branch off further down Rollercoaster trail. This list of technical descents could go on for quite some time, and these suggestions are simply a good place to start. Trail builders in Finale don’t mess around when it comes to creating legitimately challenging descents.
All Day Exploration
Though riding all day in Finale is possible in any direction that doesn’t point to saltwater, I want to share my favorite big day in the Apennine mountains. This trek can start with a shuttle or pedal to Melogno, but be forewarned that the ride takes most folks 4-6 hours with the shuttle. This is a seasonal ride, with the trails seeing their best conditions roughly June-October. If you are planning a visit and want to know what is open you can call the friendly folks at The Ultimate Bikeshop or Evolve Bikeshop for the latest trail conditions report.
From the bar in Melogno, turn west/left on the pavement and climb until you see the first set of trail signs at a gravel road on your left, roughly 1k away. You will want to download a GPS track for this ride or roll with someone who knows the route, as the pedal across the ridge is dotted with intersections and unmarked trailheads. Ending up on the north side of the mountains could mean spending a cold night in the woods. When in doubt, turn toward the sea.
The first trail on this 3 sandwich tour is called Karma. There is a brief hike-a-bike from the fire-road to the tippy top, and from there you can sign the visitors’ log and take some arms-length photos, for posterity, before dumping into the valley below. Karma is a rough and technical trail, becoming more so as you roll along. The tread is rocky in a way that demands some slower and more focused shredding than most tracks in the Finale network. It is certainly suited for fit riders, as the descent alone takes most folks 40-70 minutes to complete. You read that right — it’s roughly an hour of gripping and grinning!
From the base of Karma, you will start a 1.5-2hr medium-grade gravel road climb between the oak and chestnut trees to rest your forearms. The next trail you are rolling toward is called Bric Tampa. This track is somewhat rockier than Karma and ends in a creekbed that can be quite tricky to navigate. The end of Bric Tampa is a fun place to challenge yourself not to dab, as some of the rocks are far slicker than others.
From the end of this second descent, you can either climb and find another, or follow signs back to Finale. It is a rare intersection in Italy that doesn’t have clear indications of the nearby towns, so getting back to the village should be easy enough.
These are my favorite two trails in Italy to date, with their Tetris of line options and boulder problems to keep me present. Riding these tracks is demanding enough that the experience feels like meditation and a chess match in tandem. I love it!
Insomma (Or “in conclusion” in English)
All of the good things you have heard about the riding, the food, and the hospitality in Finale Ligure are true. I can’t speak to the bad things you may have heard, as I am not aware of any.
If you are bringing your own bike to Finale you may want to consider mounting the heaviest pair of tires you have, as the rocks will not forgive you for bringing race treads. Foam tire inserts, some fresh sealant, and an extra pair of brake pads will do wonders to keep you on your bike throughout your Italian holiday. If you need parts or service while riding Finale there are about ten bike shops in town and one of them will be able to get you sorted.
Don’t forget to take a pizza-break while you are there and fuel up on local cuisine, like gnocchi al pesto or farniata.
Robert Wheatley, there are heaps of rental shops. Nearly every bike shop has bikes for rent, so you should have a litter to pick from.