Roughly 770 meters (2,525ft) above the Italian Riviera, and only forty freeway minutes from the border between France and Italy, San Romolo’s training tracks are a sharpening stone for some of the fastest enduro and downhill racers in the world. Nearby national champions and World Cup racers take advantage of the steep rocky trails and warm climate to prepare for the season ahead. For your coming Italian trail-vacation, call up Sanremo Freeride to organize shuttles and guided tours in their back yard. I recently met up with a crew of good friends for an annual winter shred and wanted to share the stoke for this hidden trail center.
Unlike the European trail capital of Finale Ligure just an hour east, the tracks in San Romolo are never crowded with riders or pitted with brake bumps. These trails are less known, steeper, rockier, and consistently maintained by a small crew of paid builders. The hand-dug tread is not only kept in good shape but its naturally rocky temperament is maintained wherever possible, which means that they only dig berms where they genuinely need them and leave the rest of the lines untouched.
Now, onto the rocks. The traction in San Romolo is stellar-when-wet, and riders will find far more grip on the sandstone slabs than expected. The guides told us that they find the traction best after a rain because when the rocks are wet and sandy they grip like asphalt, but when it’s dry and dusty those properties are reversed. Despite the high-grip reputation, it took a few runs to trust the rubber on visibly wet rocks. With ten riders pushing the pace on unfamiliar tracks, there were some silly crashes, and even a broken carbon frame, but no one found slick stones to blame.
We collected a diverse crew of folks, some who have been riding for more than thirty years, some who race enduro and XC, and one greenhorn who began shredding soil six months back. Fortunately, our newest rider is an advanced backcountry skier who was able to transfer his steep alpine skills to the warmer seaside vertical. Four Italians, three Frenchies, an English chap, and a pair of wandering immigrants sardine their way into a shuttle van — the punchline was loads of fun.
On the first ascent, the guides asked us if we wanted to ride some of the trickiest trails a few times, or if we would prefer to see everything. We chose to taste the full smorgasbord, including Bruciato, Isola, Due Muri, Up and Down, Antigravity, Scogli Grossi, Tubi di San Lorenzo, and a few other tracks. We didn’t hit it all, which is quite alright. We planned a return trip in early 2020.
The overarching trail theme around San Romolo is steep and rocky, but most of the tracks are rideable for most riders. Many of the larger drops have shallower edges and though there is ample air to be found, there are almost no built jumps to speak of. Some of the most technical trails need to be ridden at speed in order to keep your front wheel from stalling in the holes between the rocks, and the shuttle guides can help you create a day of riding that fits with your skill level and desired risk. I didn’t manage to shoot any photos of the trickiest bits, as they are all in a dark oak forest.
It’s hero dirt, and quite technical, but not too dangerous. There is a good mix between technical and open trail. It’s not bike-parky at all and I think this is the main point of this place, but at the same time the trails we rode were easily rideable at first sight for average experienced riders. I think there are way more technical trails in the zone. [It’s a] very nice place with a pedigree you can feel when you are riding. It’s a perfect winter spot for true mountain bike lovers!
For riders who truly want to challenge themselves to a duel with the dirt, something special awaits in San Romolo. With the throttle at full twist, many of the roughest tracks begin to smooth out a bit, provided your suspension is properly adjusted. There is no “perfect line” cut into the rocks. You will need to look up fiercely and be ready for a spirited huck between sight-lines. If your aim is to improve on enduro or DH skills, San Romolo should be high on your list of training destinations.
Accommodations can be had throughout the slopes above the nearby seaside city of Sanremo, or you can stay in a chalet right near the shuttle meetup. Stop in Ristorante Dall’Ava for amazing local cuisine, and intel on anything from trails to mini-golf. The owner is a former national motocross champion, whose father used to organize a famous auto rally in the town. The restaurant is packed with motocross and rally photos and memorabilia, and Davide Dall’Ava is typically on hand to pour your beers and share stories from the race track.
Fall through spring is likely the best time to visit, as prices and temps are significantly lower than the tourist riddled summer months. We rode on a sundrenched day in early December, with a temperature range between 7° and 11° Celsius (45° to 52° Farenheight). With low humidity, those temperatures were perfect for a long sleeve jersey and a pair of warm-weather riding pants. You’re never too far from fresh water, warm food, and a place to warm your bones, making San Romolo a fantastic destination for long winter trail adventures.