The intrepid team of media professionals invited to experience the pleasures of Liguria had been split into two groups, active cyclists and foodies, hence the title. The truth is however it was too warm to need leggings and although we all enjoyed a variety of pasta dishes, lasagne wasn’t one of them.
Until the unification of Italy, Liguria was a country in its own right: The Repubblica di Genova, which for hundreds of years was a power in the western Mediterranean competing with the Venetian republic. The region still has its own distinctive identity and flavour. The most obvious, individual features are the magenta bougainvillea that cascade over almost every wall.
Then there are the coastal villages with their tall narrow buildings packed tightly together in a tangle of tiny narrow streets, and baroque churches. The largest city in the region is Genoa which is an ancient port located roughly in the middle of Liguria. We had some time to wander the streets of Genoa and find our Italian feet, but there was more time at the end of our trip to explore
Like most regional capitals it’s a bustling city with lots of historical buildings, churches and public spaces.
Our next stop was San Remo, located in the west of the region. This is Liguria’s own “little Monte Carlo” with gracious period architecture and the Tyrrhenian Sea on the doorstep, it’s possible to be fooled into thinking time travel is indeed possible.
The quaint, old town comes complete with lashings of Riviera style grandeur. We stayed at the Lolli Palace Hotel, and I could easily conjure up visions of parking one’s Mercedes limousine outside the hotel, while enjoying a grand tour and living the Riviera lifestyle for a while!
The reason we’d chosen to visit San Remo was because of the San Remo Bike Trail; a tarmac strip that runs the 36km from here to Imperia.
The cycling trail is a nice way of converting an old railway track that ran along the coastline, replacing it about 15 years ago by the new underground railway line currently in use. Instead of having it turned into a derelict strip full of debris and graffiti, the local government invested EU funds into turning into an extra wide cycling trail. Keeping cyclists away from the traffic and affording great views of the little-known but scenic Ligurian coastline. The trail starts fittingly, at the old San Remo station.
There are numerous points on the trail where you can stop for a lazy lunch with terrific sea views.
The professional cycle teams and riders of the Giro D’Italia rode this part of the bike trail during the 2015 tour.
From San Remo swapping our sit up and beg bikes, it was onto Finale and some mountain bike action.
Finale Ligure is one of the places that more trail riders really should think about visiting. Aside from the fresh sea breeze and opportunities to consume cooling gelato
while sunbathing on clean sands, there is an abundance of single-track to be explored in the hills that extend into the Maritime Alps behind Finale.
Several shuttle companies run mini-buses with riders to the summit of the peaks, where guides take groups along the spiders-web of trails that run through the ancient forests. Water stops are made at fountains along the way, lunch is taken at traditional Italian restaurants and the day only ends when another gelato is required. It is a rather nice place to ride bicycles.
Throngs of German tourists flood to Finale every year, particularly in the months outside of high summer. The temperate Mediterranean climate makes for an excellent riding venue when other resorts deep in the mountains may be covered in snow or shut down for the off-season. Finale never stops: Pizzas are always ready to be eaten, the trails are ever-plentiful and the town’s shuttle companies are open most weeks of the year.
We stayed at the Hotel Florenz who’s German owner was one of the first to realise the potential of the hills.
“Stop looking at the sea!” He would tell the other business owners, “look at those hills!”
The bulk of Finale’s quality bike riding is in the hills behind town and is comprised of hand cut single-tracks that snake through the trees with an unbelievable flow unlike anything you will find on steeper Alpine slopes. Upwards of 20 trails are scattered about the woodlands and there are several main start points, namely: Restaurant Din at Colle del Melogno; and the old Nato base off Strada Provinciale 23
Since 1999, the “Finale Ligure 24 H MTB Festival” a three-day event involving thousands of mountain-bikers from all over the world, has combined mountain-biking, music, entertainment, food and wine at a level unparalleled in Europe.
In the town, locals and mountain bikers mingle happily and without concern for each other.
I had the pleasure of riding the bike up to Castel Gavone a 12th century castle overlooking Finalborgo with its “Tower of Diamonds”
The ebike certainly made short work of the hills on the way up to the castle and as precise as anything I have ridden on the way back down. It’s an utter joy to ride and if you ever have the opportunity to try an ebike; just do it!
Then, was a return to Genoa for a final walk round before it was time to bid Liguria goodbye.
No visit to Liguria would be complete however, without mention of food.
The local speciality is Focaccia, plain or with cheese and you can buy it pretty much anywhere
Quite simply, Liguria and Genoa in particular, has ruined pasta for me for life!
No longer will I be happy with the cupboard standby of dried spaghetti, oh no, not now I have tasted some of the best pasta in the world. If you have not yet managed to get your hands on genuine Genoese Pesto (thankfully my local deli stock it) then do please do yourself a huge favour and invest in some. I promise your taste buds will thank you for it.
It may seem after all that focaccia and pasta a diet might be in order ………. Fortunately, however a Ligurian cycling trip is also waistline friendly. J
Guest review by Alison Bailey
I started as a photographer at the tender age of three when my Dad gave me my first camera, a Kodak Brownie. I crawled around ‘taking pictures’ of everything, even though there wasn’t any film, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since.
I’ve worked as a Lab Technician specialising in Pathology to the promised land of Olympus cameras, and even a spell in law enforcement. I’ve returned to my first love now however, specialising in wedding photography. I predominantly use digital today, but the traditionalist in me still loves film, and the skills required to develop it.