Italy's Val Pennavaire is something of a hidden gem. Why, you may ask? Well, think of a valley that offers 30 crags of perfect blue and orange limestone, crimps, pockets, tufas, all grades, all angles and only a stone's throw from the tempting waters of the Mediterranean. Add in the close proximity of the already popular Finale Ligure and you have what has got to be one of the best sport climbing areas in the world! And I haven't even started to talk about the amazing food, Italian hospitality, beautiful architecture and fantastic coastline, not to mention the coffee and ice-cream!
Tolmachevo an F7a at Sector Terminal© Kevin Avery-UKC, Dec 2008
Having climbed at the best that Europe has to offer I'm always a little skeptical when it comes to visiting new venues thinking, what if it's not as good? Maybe I'll be disappointed? However, on a recent trip to Italy I was completely blown away and left asking myself the question, why haven't I been here before? Well it's quite simple really. The Val Pennavaire is actually a very new area and has only really been properly developed in the last five or so years. Although now it is home to around thirty excellent crags and would almost justify a guidebook all by itself. The climbs are generally vertical to slightly overhanging and will test your stamina reserves to the limit and like I said, there really is something for everyone. From my limited experience I would say that this valley could quite easily be the “next big destination” as it has so much quality and it doesn't appear to be anywhere near worked out just yet!
Unknown Climber on Dulles F6a+ at Sector Terminal© Kevin Avery-UKC, Dec 2008
We visited Sectors Terminal and Ciusa but this really only just scratched the surface. Terminal is a south-facing wall offering fantastic sustained, technical wall climbs up to 35 metres in length on a mixture of tufas, crimps and pockets. Grades range from F5 to F8a+. Ciusa offers slightly shorter routes on a north-facing wall from F5 to F7b. Other must visit sectors include Emisferoa twenty-five metre high north-facing cliff with great wall climbs in the sixth grade, Antro Di Castelbianco (south-facing) with it's steep roofs and meaty grade eight challenges and the amazing long tufa-pipes of Red Up a sunny sector nestled high in the Pennavaire Valley.
My Classic Suggestions
Alison Hetherington on Arlanda F6a+ at Sector Terminal© Kevin Avery-UKC, Dec 2008
- LoganF5 Technical slabby wall (Terminal)
- Sentimento NuevoF5 Scoops to a technical exit (Ciusa)
- ArlandaF6a+ Vertical wall to a thought provoking tufa finish (Terminal)
- TemplehofF6b Tufa pipe (Terminal)
- Mani Di BurroF6b+ A technician's delight (Ciusa)
- Charles De GaulleF6b+ Looking for some big air?(Terminal)
- TolmachevoF7a Awesome athletic tufa (Terminal)
- MagnesiaF7b Power endurance sprint (Ciusa)
- Nino AquinoF7b+ Pumpy first half, steep roof, crimpy crux at the top (Terminal)
- Lester PersonF7c Pumpy jugs to a frantic finale (Terminal)
When do I go?
The best time to visit is from October to March. Winter is a good option with the area offering many south-facing sectors. Summer is likely to be too hot although north-facing crags do exist.
Who flies where?
We flew from Stansted to Genoa with Ryanair. Flying to Nice and Turin would also be good options. Easyjet and Ryanair fly to both of these destinations from a range of UK airports.
Where do I stay?
We stayed in Finale Ligure which meant we could choose between two world-class areas. The picturesque town offers a wide range of accommodation options ranging from self-catering apartments to five star hotels. Check with the local tourist office for more details. We stayed in the inexpensive Hotel San Guiseppe which provides excellent rooms, great breakfasts and friendly advice. The area also has many campsites such as Camping Terrerosse and a number of “agriturismi” options (dormitory/hostel type accommodation) such as this one. If you only plan to climb in the Val Pennavaire then Albenga may be a more convenient place to stay as you won't have to contend with the thirty minute drive (each way) from Finale Ligure each day. Again numerous options are available here from camping right through to swanky hotels. Get in touch with the local tourist office for more advice and to check availability.
A 70m single rope and twelve quick-draws should be adequate for all of the crags.
Where can I buy gear and food?
Both Albenga and Finale Ligure offer everything you would expect of a large town. Supermarkets, cafés, restaurants and bars are available in abundance. Eating out proved to be cheap and of the highest quality with a pizza in one of the restaurants on the seafront in Finale coming in at only five Euros. They were of course, enormous! Seafood is also particularly good. There is an excellent and highly knowledgeable climbing shop, The Rockstore situated in the picturesque square at Finalborgo. It stocks both guidebooks as well as a wide range of climbing hardware, chalk, shoes and clothing. The Bar Centrale opposite the Rockstore is a popular pre and post-climb meeting place and serves excellent coffee, beer and ice-creams.
What else is there apart from the climbing?
As well rock climbing the area also offers wonderfully scenic walks, fantastic architecture and what is now highly regarded as some of the best single track mountain biking in Europe. In fact, during our stay we saw more cyclists than climbers! What this means is that the Italian Riviera just may be the perfect multi-activity destination. Check out Finale Freeride and Outdoor Riviera for more details.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Kevin Avery-Assistant Editor- UKC