Over the last eight years, I have been lucky enough to visit Finale Ligure seven times. Set on the edge of the Ligurian Sea on the Italian Riviera, Finale reverberates with the atmosphere and scents of the Mediterranean, while also offering a massive network of trails. It’s the one place I recommend without a doubt as the best mountain bike holiday.
When I raced the entire EWS circuit, we’d drive down from the mountains, into the hot, dusty town. Horns would be honking, scooters splitting lanes – chaos! And ... we’d relax. Finale made me feel, immediately, as if I, too, was on holiday. It didn’t matter what tracks we raced, or how practice went, at the end of the day there was always something to make you happy. A good plate of pasta, gelato, a swim in the sea or maybe just a cold lemon soda. Italians, to me, always seem like they’re in a hurry to do nothing but sit back and enjoy life. Why not join them?
Unlike other places we sometimes visit, we were not a lone group of mountain bikers. Each year I'm floored by how many people are there to ride. Mountain bikes are piled in stacks outside bars, shuttle vans, loaded with bikes, weave through traffic and e-bikes whizz by you on the climbs. Of all the race venues I’ve been privileged to visit, I think I’ve been to Finale the most. Despite my love for it, however, the ‘ride, race, depart’ nature of racing made me realize I had developed no sense of connection. I didn’t understand the history, and how the town had become this bikers paradise.
I wanted to change that! So ... with the freedom to explore afforded by our Here, There and Everywhere format, Graeme and I arrived early for this year’s Enduro World Cup, to spend time with Enrico Guala, Riccardo Negro and Francesco Gozio- three molto appassionato and influential members of the Finale Ligure community responsible for bringing racing to Finale for over 15 years. They’re Italian, so they did what they do best - poetically painted us a picture of Finale. From the beginning.
The trails of Finale Ligure date back thousands of years. You ride past caves which provided shelter for primitive humans and along the paths they built to move between the sea and the mountains. Trails run next to fossil sites, and over Roman roads and bridges. In race mode, due to the pace, focus and exhaustion, there was no leisure to feel that connection to the place - where I was, and who had traveled these roads before me. The significance was lost.
Riccardo became our interpreter, and introduced us to five of the key trail builders of Finale Ligure, each with their own specialty. Fulvio Balbi, often referred to as The GodFather of Finale, is responsible for many of the flow trails found off of the famous Nato Base. Alessandro Massa is known for more rugged, DH trails; Ivo Camilli has built some of Finale’s most iconic, unique and natural trails, Nico Accame directs the development of eBike terrain and Fabrizio Valenti has been building for 25 years and started the very first shuttle company in Finale, ‘Freeride Finale’.
The passion and pride for designing, building, riding, and sharing with the world their trails positively emanated from the group, so despite our lack of Italian, it felt like we could understand them.
The economic effects of cycling on Finale and the surrounding towns has been massive. To try to ensure order and a sustainable future, a consortium named Finale Outdoor Region has been created to properly organize trail maintenance and manage the impact of tourism in the area. To help engage the local business population, as well as subsidize and support the initiative, a ‘FOR You’ reward-card has been put into play. As per most reward programs, points are awarded to FOR Card holders who eat or shop at local businesses enrolled in the FOR program. Each point represents a monetary value that will be donated to the Finale Outdoor Region, while the customer may redeem their collected points for rewards. This simple, but well thought-out system could be adopted anywhere in the world as a way to allow businesses profiting from cycling ‘trade’ a way to contribute back into the trail system.
Finale Ligure is brilliant. They have built themselves into one of the world’s largest mountain bike destinations, proud to share what they have created and year after year, they invite the world to visit Finale Ligure. While I will always be a tourist, knowing the names of the builders of my favourite trails, and feeling the energy and passion they have poured into them, has elevated my experience and appreciation for my most recommended mountain bike destination. Enrico Gaulo told us - “you’re a fish, caught in the net of Finale and everything that it has to offer”. Consider me a fish.