Castelbianco, Italy, also known as Oltrefinale – outside Finale Liguria.

 

In particular the Val Pennavaire – the Castelbianco area itself, just to the North West of the small coastal town of the Italian Liguria region, Albenga. Where? Oh you must mean Arco? Nope, this area is relatively new and wow, southern France style of climbing, but in small village Italy. Why southern France style and not Ligurian Italian? Well to most of us North Americans, we know of Southern France as the uber sport climbing stone and setting, and explaining that there are other areas of Italy that are not Rome, Milan, or the climbing area of Arco.

 

The Ligurian area is just off to the East of Nice, France – the actual main road is the A8 out of France which turns into the A10 once you cross the France/Italian Border. The drive from the Nice Airport is about 1.5 hours to the Castelbianco villages. There are toll roads about 12 Euros to get there – you will require coins to get out of France, the Italian tolls take North American credit cards, but the French one’s did not.

 

Leaving the Nice airport can be a bit of an issue – it does get pretty confusing very quickly and just off a plane, but once on the A8 going to Monaco you just need a heads up for the closer coastal towns to the turnoff, like Imperia, then Alassio, then Albenga SP 582 – this is the one you want. Leaving the toll you want to go left on SP 582 and head towards Cisano Sul Neva, about 10 minutes up the road. You will drive through the village, then notice a sign to Martinetto and an Esso gas station – you want to go left here. This is the road that runs the entire Valley Pennavaire.

 

The climbing is pretty amazing, you have either side of the valley – sun or shade – Tufas, overhangs, techy climbs, burly climbs and the whole scale for most climbers – from 5.8 to 5.14 (5 to 8c).

 


Hit up Ciusa for a quick north facing fix, 5 minutes from the car, shorter, but solid climbing from 5.9 to 5.13a – about 20 or so routes. See the map for parking.

 

 


From the same parking area you can hit up the namesake crag, Castelbianco. This faces south and it’s the real deal, old school grades and climbs with new school bolts. Short to normal routes, bouldery, burly and unrelenting from 5.10 to mid 5.14, with a lot in the 12- to 13- range, reminiscent of Buoux TGF and Chouca areas.

 

 


Down the valley about 3 minutes from this parking is the stellar crag of the Terminal. It sits in the same position as the Castelbianco crag, but about 10 minutes up hill and above the Agriturismo . This is a wicked crag – it gets a lot of sun, but well worth the risk of heat. The climbs are long, about 30 metres, with tufas, crimps, power endurance. Some of the finest climbing I have been on.

 

This photo is of the right area, where you have routes like La Sporenza 6c+ about 11c/d and 35 metres long – stellar.

 

 

 

Across from this are 2 crags, Erboristaforia and Enoteca, both fall into the shadows after noon’ish. Erbortistaforia is new, long, burly and yet technical – after you cross the old roman bridge, take the right climbers trail to the big wall. Enoteca is up the main path, then as you crest the hill, with the Erbortistaforia wall below and to your right, you will cross a talus field to your left, cross under some cables, then follow trail leftwards and up to the crag. This wall has from 5.10 to 13a – about 20 routes. Merlot is the one from the guidebook.

Shot of the far end of the crag – bouldery and technical.

 

 

 

 

This shot is of the very old water basin – the route Merlot lands in it!

 

 

 

Up valley are some more crags – just after the village of Colletta, you will come around a bend to the right and then you will see an active plant – this is the parking on the south (left going up) of the road. This area hosts 3 crags, Euskal, Collesseo and the Basura. The walk is about 15 to 20 minutes up to it, you do need to keep you eye out for the rock cairns and the footwear marks. South facing walls.

 

Euskal hosts some of the hardest routes and some of the best – big, burly and on you the whole way. It’s the first wall you hit on the walk – 20+ metre long routes from 5.11 to 5.14.

 

The Collesseo is really the same wall, just up and left about 3 minutes – some excellent 5.10 to 5.12-climbing, slopey, burly and technical.

 

Then around the corner from it, just behind and down the roman terraces, you will walk about 3 minutes to the Basura – tufa climbing, 5.11 to mid 5.12 shorter bouldery tufa routes.

The following is from the parking area, the main roof is the Euskal crag itself.

 

Euskal from the parking:

The Collesseo:


The Basura:

 

The shot above is on the classic 11c that’s the guidebook photo as well – the right climber is on one of the good mid 12’s.

 


Another crag that is just off the rebuilt village of Colletta, up from the main valley road about 2 minutes, is the crag of Caprette. This crag has some short 5.8 to 5.10’s and then on the upper terrace is the main wall, fun tufa bouldery climbing – 5.10 to mid 5.12 about 20 metres long.

 

 


Up, way up the valley is a crag known as Red Up – stellar climbing and it feels remote, even though the walk is about 10 minutes from the village of Alto where you park just up from the cemetery. You end up walking into the valley, but below most of the villages and this is its’ remote feel. The wall is impressive 5.11 to 5.14 – some excellent 5.12’s, 30 metre long routes. On the way there you pass under a small bouldery crag with a bunch of short 10 metre routes maybe 12 in the 5.12 to 5.13 range.

 

 

The crag on the way to Red Up – if you’re a Red Up style climber odd are you won’t stop here, but it’s sweet if you like that sort of thing and combined with Red Up – oh yeah!

 


There is also the Reunion crag – the parking is at the junction of the main valley road and the road up to Vesallo. A super nice wall, a 10 minute walk, excellent routes from 5.10 to mid 12, but the bolts are “lose” – lots of “Caution” words written at the base of certain routes. This is also where we noticed the Army Ants – they have a home in the rock below the main routes – you kind of step over their area at the start and hope they don’t follow you. They seem very particular and organized – they follow a path about 4 wide and to my knowledge and observations they did not differ from this pattern.


The area itself and this photo is where you can park for the Reunion crag:

 

We stayed at the la Casa Die Nonni in the Village of Vesallo – excellent hosts and super nice apartment/villas: http://www.casadeinonni.it/en/home_en.htm  hosts Andrea and Mariarosa and Feber the lab. They have 3 villas and a half dozen B&B rooms – they serve breakfasts and make their own olive oil – wow! The area has lots of Agriturismo’s so, check them out and see for your self – La Casa Die Nonni is in my opinion about the nicest place for a climber to stay. You end up with meeting some great climbers who travel here to climb and relax.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vesallo down to road

 

Vesallo looking up valley

The terraces

 

The 2 main villas

View from villa terrace

 

Vesallo village church

 

 

 

The wood stack is about where the junction road is, to Vesallo.

 

Allasio restaurant.

 

 

Finale Borgo the old square and climbing shop in the mid left of the photo – the freeride shop is up the left side street – just down from the rock store.

 

Why go out for dinner when you can create and drink wine on your terrace?

 


Rest days and other things to do:

 

Finale Luguria is a 20 minute drive from Vesallo and about 2.5 Euro on the A10. Finale is also home to a whole bunch of climbing crags – it’s about as old and prevailant as Buoux, it climbs very differently and is reminiscent to coastal BC style of climbing, except on limestone. The walled in village of Finale Borgo is worth the trip – it has the old established climbing store, the areas superb Free Riding bike shop and shuttle service.

 

Allassio is the nicest beach I had visited on the trip – sandy, very nice, good restaurants and shopping – the village was settled or influenced more by the British way back, so maybe it just makes more sense to those of us who came from that country. It has more of a vacation feel than Albenga or Finale – along the beach anyways.

 

The other ting to do is just hang out on your terrace and chill – or go for an adventure to try to locate other crags – like Red Up and the Planetarium – I found the Red Up, but not the Planetarium, and I’ve up to then been 100% on locating crags – but this one was a total miss – then our host Andrea found the missing un-published page with the proper directions to the crag – maybe next trip.

 

The area is a gem – if you are a climbing pro climbing 5.14 and up, then this area may be on the less intensive end of things, but for those of us in the 5.11 to 5.14 area have plenty of routes to send, crags to decipher and hit up.

 

Remember you are in small village Italy – great appreciation for food and wine.

 

Food – Albenga has a COOP which has hours more accustomed to North Americans and a great selection of food and wine. Cisano sul Neva has a good bar and restaurant, and a very typical local grocer.

 

Strange things – flying beetles – like a hummingbird, but a beetle – Scorpions do exist, we saw a photo of one at the crag Ciusa, from our neighbor. Wednesday and Sunday are hunting days in the hunting period. Wednesday I think is Boar hunting – large rifles and a lot of activity – sort of like a small swat team outing – the rifle sound is un-mistake-able and a bit of a shock while climbing – as the sound fills the whole valley. Sunday is game hunting – shotguns – less “effective” on climbing, but the same effort of the hunters. It’s what they do and have done for years and years – they seem to have fun, but they have guns and are always pleasant to others.

 

How to get here?

 

We flew to the Nice Airport – good flights and decent drive – only 1 hour and 30 minutes door to door (airport to La Casa Die Nonni). You can easily rent or lease vehicles and a lot less of a hassle for North Americans to deal with the French set up than the Italian. We leased via www.ideamerge.com the Renault buy back – great for stays over 21 days. Otherwise, http://www.autoeurope.ca/ or .com will get you the best rates on the market.

 

The Drive is pretty easy, but you do land after a long flight and not a lot of sleep – once you can decipher how to hit the A8 in Nice, you’ll be on the road heading East into Italy and pass Monaco on the way – kind of a cool spot. Remember to ensure you have a bunch of Euros in coins when you leave the airport – you’ll need them for the toll booths in France – first one is $1 euro – don’t leave it in the trunk like me! Once inside Italy your CC will work.

 

The Verdon gorge and Buoux are only a few hours max by car – so if you feel the need for some history and them old climbs – make the drive.