Italy on Trail’s Maria Bellini takes a Trail break and runs the Capraia Rock Trail on the Island of Capraia
by Maria E. Bellini
What Made this a Tempting Race?
A 25km race course on a semi-deserted Mediterranean Island in the end of March.
What’s there not to be tempted by for heavens sake!
After a long winter with copious quantities of mud, humidity and greydom, the idea of spending a couple of days on the trails on a hopefully (please, please…) sunny island, with a bunch of like minded nutters sounded like the perfect way to induce my trail running mojo out of its sluggish, and worryingly long period of hibernation and back into the realm of TRAIL!
The logistics of race entry into the Capraia Rock Trail had been relatively straightforward. The Capraia Trail race website held most of the information required for travel and running, and after a couple of enquiry mails to the organisers: “Leopodistica A.S.D.” I was put on the mailing list and sent regular updates regarding race packages available to runners and families, ferry times, parking details, plus all the actual race information. There were several “race and stay” options available which included race bib with different types of accommodation and length of stay, meaning that there was something to suit all budgets.
I was getting excited! It was time to pack my race kit
So – the day before actual race day I drove down from my home in Parma to Livorno in Tuscany, where I was due to catch the ferry that would take us to Capraia Island.
It must have been late eighties since I’d last ventured onto a sea vessel larger than a lilo. Perhaps whilst doing a Dover – Boulogne exotic (read drinking) ‘day trip’ to France. A distant memory of posing on deck, big hair tousling up in the wind whilst watching those white cliffs get smaller and smaller, seemed to be deja-vu-ing itself before my very eyes.
Things hadn’t really changed much since then. Except perhaps for the cliffs – or lack of. The ferry set off, and so did a nostalgic, slightly crazy 2 hours and 45 minutes. With your typical wallowing in a rhetorical (but meaningful at the time) ‘when I was younger’ mish-mash, until, thankfully we arrived at the surprisingly small and spartan island of Capraia.
A tiny island with a big heart
Yes, I know I’d read a million times that it’s only 19km squared with just one road and two tiny villages: the harbour and ‘the village’ and Italyontrail.com has written about it here too
Nonetheless the arrival still imparted quite a strong Twilight Zone effect, and whilst disembarking I wondered if we’d done a spot of time-travelling and gone back to the Italy of Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroiani.
It certainly felt so.
As we walked through the tiny harbour with small houses, some faded and aged by the elements, others jauntily painted in bright colors, all somehow huddled up together forming a varied and somewhat timid welcoming committee for this unpretentious, quite humble island.
A couple of cheery bars, several cosy restaurants and a homely shop or two reassuring us with the promise of a glimpse into this community’s intimate space.
Sniffing one’s way up towards the village
A short walk up the island’s only tarmac road and I reached the hotel. Getting there took longer than it should have done due to continuous pauses for picture taking, philosophical musings and plant sniffing. There was hardly anyone about except for runners who like myself were ambling along seduced by a view that was all hills, with sparse, low vegetation, and just incredible sky and the intense relaxing blue of the sea.
The rest of the day was filled up with the usual pre-race routine. Race bib collection down at the harbour, catching up with several familiar faces, meeting new people, gaining info about the race course, and resting a bit. It felt like a real holiday. And the afternoon was turning into one of those really special “Trail times” when you get that strong inkling that everything was going to turn out just fine…
Race day started with a slight (understatement) fuzz as the clocks had ‘sprung forward’ the night before.
A bit grouchy with one hours less sleep, it was a minor pain to get out of bed (it always is) but ”hey-ho”, on opening the shutters and seeing the view of a dawn fit for a Windows Mac screensaver, instant elation immediately replaced all signs of sleepiness!
A sobering briefing and a dashing Mayor
After a dutifully contained breakfast it was a short trot down to the harbour.
Alive with that special pre-race buzz; runners doing their last minute kit checks, loo visits, warming up, chattering and taking selfies, with the Race organisers patiently herding the athletes towards the race arch.
We were hushed and given the route briefing and then a surprisingly sobering and strict (rightly so) safety briefing from the medical crew. We were advised to watch our step, as terrain was quite technical and uneven. In some parts of the island rescue services, we were warned, had to be done by sea or by air.
A moments pause and then the Capraia Rock Trail 2017 race start was given by the island’s rugged and somewhat dashing Mayor – who I’d seen the day before playing a lively game of cards at the harbour’s inn with the locals.
Where are the spring onions?
We were off!
A bunch of brightly dressed athletes soon flew across the harbour past the amused onlookers and towards the hills. Up we climbed, on what seemed like quite normal dirt tracks – up, up up… past the mysterious crumbling ex prison with it’s farming buildings, now in ghostly ruins. Through low, wild Mediterranean maquis that provided no shade but an incredible heady aroma of rosemary, juniper and myrtle.
Plus frequent intense wiffs of spring onions, which were to accompany us for the majority of the course.
Thank heavens I had my poles!
Then something changed – those nice easy trails became uneven rock and stone filled technical single track!
The ones that the med crew had warned us about!
Nothing has prepared me for the concentration required to put your foot down in the correct manner! So other than bestowing us eye-candy with the most stunning location possible, the race provided us with a mental challenge too!
Which soon also became physical, as there were a couple of steep climbs to entertain us with. And that’s when I took out my poles. And used them. A lot.
Is that Mount Ararat?
As we ventured out towards the remotest part of Capraia, the race course took on a biblical atmosphere (this was confirmed by others runners – post race). It was hot, sunny and wild, with gnarly, dusty tracks underfoot. Plenty of hard roots, dried white branches like wizened bones, and more rocks and stones jutting upward at odd angles.
Thus like an apparition the island of Corsica suddenly appears in the distance. A mere 30km away with snow capped mountains looking as huge as Everest and quite a contrast to the blue sea in the foreground.
The unforgiving race route ploughed on relentlessly. But so did I. Running alone for most of the time, (I just couldn’t catch up with anyone) the effect was very Robinson Crusoe-ish which was quite positive as I couldn’t complain to anyone.
Don’t ask about the race results
Finally, and kind of sadly… the race was nearing it’s end… I was running towards the village and civilisation. Down to the harbour, towards the arch and accompanied by rowdy cheer as I crossed the finish line in 4.51.
As usual, I was one of the last people to finish. Which is kind of Ok – but not OK – all at the same time (can anyone relate to that?). However the post-race atmosphere with a fantastic pasta party laid on by the Leopodistica A.S.D., was such that any athletic inadequacies were soon forgotten!
After a relaxing shower back in the hotel and a final amble down towards the harbour with more photo stops and more plant sniffing, I enjoyed a pre-ferry last minute Cappuccino at the harbor’s inn – and I made myself a solemn promise to come back – SOON – perhaps to play cards with the Mayor!
The Capraia Rock Trail takes place in March.
Organised by the Leopodistica A.S.D.
Race course is 24/25 km with 1400m D+
There is also a shorter distance.
Fly to Pisa, Parma, Bologna or Genova – see our airport guide here.
You do not need a car on the island.
Car parking available by the Port Mediceo in Livorno – we stayed here Parking Mediceo telefono: +0039 338 8969912
Ferry goes from Livorno – Porto Mediceo to Capraia – see Toremar
I stayed in the lovely Hotel Saracino. Located in Capraia Village and run by the very kind and informative Ms Nawal Menad.
Maria Elisabetta Bellini is Italyontrail.com’s founder, born in the U.K, she came to running whilst living in Italy, where she still lives and trains. Never ceasing to marvel at what’s at the summit of a hill, or around the bend along the trail, she loves using trail running as a means to explore nature, contemplation and Italy.