Businesswoman, model and triathlete Anastasia Ageeva heads to Italy for some off-season training and sightseeing. Here, she tells us what the country has to offer for sporting enthusiasts.
Spinning (cycling) along the Adriatic coastline, having left dresses and high heels back home, we are heading towards the heel of Italy – Apulia and the famous city of Vieste. Eyes focused on the views opening up as we traverse each bend of the road; stopping to take in the sights of jade green seas between the groves of olive trees on either side of the autostrada. Bellissimo! A visual boost to help us endure another epic hill climb. However, the reward of the lush vineyards and a welcoming sign – grape tasting beckons, mmmm.
We gladly take this break and roll into the cosy hut of a local vintner and his warm welcome: “Bongiorno signorinas!”
Feeling the warm breeze through the sanctuary, the rustle of the leaves, and having a few sips of vino rosso Italiano – its deep, fruity, playful notes brighten our spirits – we say “grazie” to the keeper. Rehydrated and socialised we head off, completely convinced “in vino veritas”.
It’s my first time in Italy, Bari and the Apulia region. After a challenging and successful year in the world of real estate and an intensive Bahrain Triathlon season, I’m taking this escape to discover the hidden jewels of rural Italy and keep tri fit through the off-season. It’s a perfect setting for both, and I am delving into the treasures of this serendipitous journey!
We are staying in a traditional Italian famiglia house and spa around 7km from the seafront with delightful vistas and a gorgeous garden, complete with a frog-filled terrarium. At dawn the cacophony of sounds breaks into the quiet of the estate with accelerating intensity as more amphibian voices join the chorus.
We are off for a run up the Foresta Umbra in the morning, fresh oxygenated air making us dizzy and, going all the way uphill, we come across gorgeous animals in their natural habitat, exotic birds and breathtaking scenery – truly Bella Italia!
A quick dip in the pool before breakfast is on the agenda for today – however, first we must rescue one of the frogs, it having made an expedition into la piscina last night, much to the excitement of the children and amusement of their parents and fellow hotel guests. Eventually the aquatic interloper is retrieved by the lifeguard and the little explorer is returned to its home to contemplate its next adventure.
A sumptuous Mediterranean, carb-loading breakfast spree follows – donuts, rolls, croissants, buns, chocolate cakes, twists and marmalade-filled turnovers – oh Dolce Vita!
A boat trip for the day turns out to be a rather jolly event with a horde of Italian tourists on board as we get under way to the Tremiti Islands, about a 90-minute trip with a boat change at Peschici. We arrive amidst turquoise-coloured waters and beaches perfect for tanning in this Mezzogiorno area of Italy, aptly named from the word ‘midday’ because of the intensity of the sunshine which glares down for nearly 300 days per year. We track along sun-hugged hills for a breathtaking view of the San Nicola church and the panorama of the islands beyond. Looking down the hill the water is inviting and, indeed, we dip into the cool of the Adriatic to enjoy the snorkelling followed by a sumptuous al fresco meal served to us on the boat back to Vieste.
The light of a new dawn breaks through our windows heralding the day’s event, a magnificent drive through the Gargano National Park and onward towards Monte Sant’Angelo. Trekking through the park is undoubtedly a desirable adventure.
A bike ride culminating in an 800m ascent is totally worth the pain and we are welcomed by unrivalled views that stretch over the valleys and sea. We recharge with a local fromaggio caciocavallo (cheese), fresh bread and olive oil and sample limoncello from a friendly local vendor – che bello! For dolce we are offered the local speciality of wafers filled with caramelised locally grown almonds – very sweet and welcome.
Next stop is a farmhouse 30km from our current location and it’s a lovely bike ride along relatively flat and well-surfaced roads. With dogs rushing to greet us, the smell of the farmhouse cooking wafting on the air and the sounds of chickens running around, a kind farmer exchanges greetings as he watches the day unfold, whilst leaning casually against the farmyard gate. Lovely scenery towards twilight calls for a meadow walk uphill, with wild strawberries at our feet, as red and mellow as the setting sun. We head back to a wholesome dinner of artisan foods, prepared with love by the farmer’s brother, and vino rosso della casa, chatting into the small hours, our conversation aided with expressive Italian body language. One always sleeps so contently in the country after a long walk and a healthy meal.
The following morning the crowing of the rooster awakens us, to discover that the dog has kept a vigil beside the door overnight. Running shoes on and out into the fields of poppies and a myriad of colourful flowers, we are greeted by lovely fresh air as we traverse the undulating landscape and venture deeper into the greenery, soaking it all in. You will always find natural nutrition on your run here – this time of the year we were snacking on ripe sweet cherries and plump purple and green figs. A perfect start to a day! Later we took mountain bikes and cycled into the fields of cattle, feeling at one and in total harmony with nature.
From the farmhouse we drive towards our final stop in the city of Manfredonia on the sun-baked coast with the lovely resort of Pugnochiuso along the way offering the pleasure of a long swims to grottos and wild beaches. The local castle, church and a long central street are a hive of bustling activity and the intoxicating sound of life can be heard from every corner as children play, after their siesta, well into the night. Delightful gelato shops and the faces of happy holidaymakers add to the occasion. We take a long morning run from the old marina along the promenade, sprinting into the new town with its modern port and numerous restaurants tucked into the main buildings. It’s wonderful to take a swim in water with a temperature that refreshes and, afterwards, indulge in traditional Italian Lavazza coffee with chocolate!
There are cycling tours along the coast as well as day boat trips making for great long swims with captivating grottos to snorkel in and explore for a couple of hours – that’s
Pizzette, orecchiette pasta, velvet-red juicy tomatoes, friselle, zeppole, vinello – the culinary delights are to die for, so you’d better live it and love it! Italia Amore Mio!
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Turkish Airlines flies from Bahrain to Bari. Hire a car to explore.
Average hotel prices: BD20 per night for two people in a four-star with breakfast.
Average restaurant bill for two: BD8.6 (Euro 20).
Visa: Fast track with MVA, Bahrain, located in Aali Mall.
Places of Interest
Gargano National Park
Coves and sandy beaches
Trulli in Alberobello
Fotress in Lucera
City of Vieste