Windsurfers may be a dying breed in the United States, but the sport is alive and kicking on the Italian Riviera. Throughout the year, sailboard enthusiasts enjoy the three-mile stretch of beach between Varigotti and the village of Noli, 2.2 miles northeast, that curves into the cornflower-blue Mediterranean, creating a playground of smooth, flat water. In the summer, the steady 13-mile-per-hour breezes provide ideal conditions for beginners and experts alike (one of Italy's best competitive windsurfers, Fabrizio Amarotto, lives here), and sea temperatures rarely drop below 60 degrees. The pace picks up in October with the arrival of Tramontana, a heavy wind from the north that can produce gusts up to 30 miles per hour, especially at sunrise and sunset. Even when this phenomenon occurs, the sea remains subdued and boards slice the waves like hot knives through butterperfect conditions for doing tricks. The Varigotti Windsurfing School (011-39-019-69-87-60, www.bagnimariella.it), open June through September, offers seven-hour group lessons for about $125 and private lessons for $26 an hour, including rental. Beginners can rent a board and sail for $9 to $12 an hour.
ACCESS + RESOURCES
GETTING THERE: From the States, fly via Milan or Rome to Genoa, 40 miles northeast of Finale Ligure. Most domestic and international airlines don't require a fee to transport your bike unless it's your third checked bag. By car, take the A10 from Genoa, drive 40 miles toward Ventimiglia, and exit at Finale Ligure (check out www.airport.genova.it/collegamenti/autonoleggio.htm for local car-rental companies). By train, take the direct line to Ventimiglia and get off at the Finale Ligure stop (not all trains allow bikes; check schedules at the station). By bike, take state road 1 (Via Aurelia) and pedal 40 miles from Genoa to Finale Ligure; if there's heavy traffic, this route will usually get you to Finale in less time than traveling by car.
LODGING: The HOTEL FLORENZ (doubles, $79-$93 per night; 011-39-019-69-56-67, www.florenzhotel.com), a 40-room renovated 18th-century convent just outside of Finalborgo, has a restaurant specializing in Ligurian food, an outdoor pool, mountain-bike rentals, and an on-site guide. The owners, Lorenzo and Sara Carlini, are well versed in the area's history, trail system, climbing sites, wines, and olive oils. ** CASTELLO VUILLERMIN (011-39-019-69-05-15, www.hostelfinaleligure.com) lets you live a fairy tale on the cheap. The castle turned youth hostel, dating from the early 20th century, sits on a hillside in Finalmarina, overlooking the Mediterranean. Choose between dorm-style bunks and four-bed family rooms ($11 to $12 per person per night). ** The SAN MARTINO (011-39-019-69-82-50) and LA FORESTA (O11-39-019-69-81-03) campgrounds, less than four miles east of Finalmarina, have campsites that go for $9 to $11 per night. Surrounded by pine and oak forests, the campgrounds are located on bus routes (buses run twice a day from the Finale Ligure train station).