Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ferrari Spumante and other stories from the land that 'booted' me back into climbing shape - Installment 1 of 3

I recently returned from a month of climbing in Italy with my husband Evan. It was our annual 'lose-ski-legs-drink-cheap-wine-pull-steep-limestone" pilgrimage to Europe, and as a vacation destination, Italy did not disappoint. To keep this from being a mega-post of unwieldy proportions, I am breaking it up into three installments I will post in the next few weeks.

We began our trip in the Castelbianco region of Oltre-Finale, a collection of limestone crags in a lush, peaceful valley in the Liguria region of Italy. Around 1.5 hours from Nice, and a quick 20 minute drive from the Italian Riviera, Oltre-Finale offered great climbing in a variety of styles for us to get back in the groove after a long winter. Some of the best crags faced south, making them too hot for the late spring temps, but we found an all-day shade paradise called Erboristeria (translation - Herbalist) that had a few great warm-ups and enough 40m challenging pumpfests to keep us busy for much of our 2 weeks in Castelbianco.

The morning commute to Erboristeria included crossing this old stone bridge

Climbing at Erboristeria

Jeff Banks climbing at Erboristeria

For me, a great climbing trip has to engage all my senses, not just pump out my arms. I can do that curling soup cans in front of the TV at home! As soon as I arrived in Italy, I knew this climbing trip was not going to lack for sensory stimulus.

Our first trip to a supermarket revealed an amazing selection of excellent produce, cheese and wine. The gelato was to die for - flavourful and creamy. The pizza was a simple and delicious combo of thin chewy crust, tangy sauce, flavourful cheese. The coffee was strong and invigorating. Oh, am I still on taste?

Smell - the air in Castelbianco was consistently fragrant from the blossoms of numerous flowering trees, shrubs and plants.

Sight -medieval stone villages, fig and cherry trees laden with fruit, small scale agriculture and well-kept dwellings.

Touch - the feel of the warm, smooth, water sculpted limestone underfoot after a chilly dip in the river. According to Italian vending machines, touch is very important....

Sound - every morning at dawn melodious birdsong drifted into our apartment.

On one of our rest days we broke the golden rule: never climb on your rest day. We convinced ourselves that an easy 5.9 7 pitch traverse above the Mediterranean in the blazing sun couldn't possibly be anything but restful, so we drove down to Finale and rapped in to this truly amazing traverse. It was worth the aching toes and sweltering heat - it was really beautiful climbing on the white stone above the deep blue sea.

Exploring the old walled city of Finale also proved to be a great rest day activity. I fell in love with all the old bikes and scooters leaning against the stone walls of impossibly narrow alleys.

The scooter in front is called "BETA"

Coming soon: installment #2 of Italy trip blog about our time in Arco.