As the wonderful sport of open-water swimming continues its rise in popularity, so more and more of the world has opened to host events.
As the wonderful sport of open-water swimming continues its rise in popularity, so more and more of the world has opened to host events and provide exciting new destinations to explore.
Europe’s oceans and waterways, in particular, throb with open-water opportunities and - in an environmentally-preserved corner of the Italian Mediterranean - a small and craggy island is set to host only its fourth open-water contest.
Swim the Island is an event that features three distances of 1.8km, 3.5km, and 6km. Held in the Italian Marine Protected Area of Bergeggi, a little further north of the French coast that arcs into Italy, each of the three distances take in Bergeggi Island - circumnavigating it in both the 3.5 and 6km distances.
Taking place on October 5, the event utilises a Mediterranean sea that has spent the summer warming its cockles; as a consequence, the water temperatures hover around the 21-24°C mark; wetsuits are optional. This and the nature of the location itself, sheltered in parts by a headland and open and choppy in others, ensure that the swim is accessible to all grades of open-water swimmer.
Therefore, the rise in popularity of this new European adventure has been quick. So quick, in fact, that organisers saw 800 participants from 14 countries in last year’s race. And this year organisers estimate entry numbers to top around the 1,200 mark.
Friends and family will want to be dragged along to the European open-water escapade, since this protected area of the Mediterranean offers a travel experience in its own right.
The small town of Bergeggi sits atop the rocky coastline and looks down upon the island that, legend has it, floated from the African coastline to rest on the Liguarian coast.
Here, the Bergeggi Heights, ancient watchtowers, and Roman remains speak of indomitable history. The ruins of a 10th-century monastery can be found on the island; across its diminutive circumference, measures have been put in place to protect its natural gifts.
The town of Bergeggi’s narrow alleys and streets, known as "carruggi', are a common feature among the villages of the Liguria region. They lead here to a remarkable promenade over a sheer drop that plunges straight to the sea.
Throughout this part of the Italian Riviera, which became a reserve in 1985 - thanks in part to its proliferation of native Mediterranean flora and fauna - there can be found stunning beaches, lapped by waters famed for clarity.
Despite the proximity of the town and the civilisation of the beach, as it is today, the coastline adjacent to the island is wild and carved by nature.
The journey to Bergeggi will likely be from a base in the town of Spotorno, a seaside resort along the coast between Bergeggi and Noli. Here. most of the accommodation can be found and the town has a charming old centre that reflects its history of Genoese gentrification and burgeoning marine industry and commerce.
Spotorno is surrounded by hills bulging with vineyards and apricot trees, and it is something of a centre for adventure sports with cycling, paragliding, and a host of water sports available.
The unassuming island that has seen empires rise and fall now figures centrally in one of the clutch of Europe’s newest open-water events. And it provides a wonderful excuse for a long weekend.