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The region known as Il Finalese--a long stretch of rugged coastline backed by the Manie plateau and the high inland region of the Val Bormida--has for centuries represented a kind of border. In its earliest history it was the dividing line between the Ingauni and Sabazi tribes of ancient Liguria. When the Romans arrived it became the frontier of the Vada Sabatia municipality. Finale Ligure is the modern combination of three separate towns, Final Marina, Finalborgo, and Final Pia, all at the western extreme of Il Finalese. For years this area was one of the greatest blockades to Genoese hegemony on the western Riviera.
Just to the east the town of Noli was a great maritime republic outfitted with a fine castle, fortified walls, and rich tower houses, a stalwart ally of Genoa. Spotorno, too, was under Genoese dominance, with a podesta established as the head of government. In the 13th century Noli pried the village from Savona, sworn foe of Genoa until the 16th century when it, too, was conquered and forced into vassalage by the Republic.
Bergeggi on the eastern edge of Il Finalese was acquired by Genoa in the 14th century and owes its present form, with fortress-houses and fortifications, to their influence.
But Finale Ligure fell to the Del Carretto family in the 13th century and for centuries thereafter was closely tied to Milan. The Del Carrettos were allies of the powerful Sforza of that city. Then, in the early days of the 17th century the Marquisate was sold to the Spanish royal family. It wasn't until 1748--just a few decades before the establishment of the brief Ligurian Republic, followed by the years of French control and then the push for Italian unification--that Finale Ligure was overtaken by the Genoese.
Today the coastal towns are a splendid mix of the medieval and the modern, with Noli a standout for its picturesque walled core, towering castle, and lively carrugi (alleyways). The resorts here are less flashy than some of their counterparts elsewhere. Somehow they manage to be both quaint and cosmopolitan at the same time, evoking mid-century nostalgia and contemporary comfort in one fell swoop. The beaches, shallow bays, and turquoise coves are magnificent, with a lovely mile-long sand beach stretching west of Noli from the town of Varigotti.
Inland, the towns have a Piedmontese inflection, as does the cooking (making liberal use of mushrooms and the white truffles that are native to the Val Bormida). They're small and surrounded by wilderness that is popular for hiking, riding, and wind-born activities like paragliding from the peaks above the plateau.
Administratively speaking, Finale Ligure is one town (and has been since 1927). But the three villages of which it is composed--Final Marina, Finalborgo, and Final Pia--have separate personalities and identities, even separate histories.
At the western extreme is Final Marina, set right on the water and with a harbor given over to seafaring activities as its name implies. Its sailors took to trade and the town developed into a commercial center early in its history. In the 14th century there was a brief period of Genoese dominance, during which the Castelfranco was built.
But recognizing the strategic importance of an outlet for shipping and naval activities, the Del Carrettos--whose marquisate was based just inland at Finalborgo--seized Final Marina, incorporating it into their territory. Throughout the period of their dominance their Finalese holdings would be fiercely contested by the Genoese who sought to consolidate their hold on the western Riviera, culminating in a war between the two powers from 1447-1449. The Del Carrettos, allied with influential Sforza family of Milan, received protection from that wealthy northern city.
During the battle the marquisate's capital suffered great destruction, but the victorious Del Carrettos promptly rebuilt and Finale entered a period of prosperity and constructive fervor during which numerous churches and other important buildings were built or remodeled. It was during this time that Final Pia--also on the coast, across the river from Final Marina--took on its modern form, acquiring elegant residences adorned with slate portals.
By 1602 the fortunes of the Del Carrettos were on the decline, and the marquisate was sold to the Spanish royal family, becoming a linchpin to the crown's aspirations in greater Europe by giving them coastal access to Milan. Troops began to come and go through the town and in 1666 they built the Strada Berretta, providing an overland communication route to Milan. The Spaniards also strengthened the defensive system, making renovations to …