Puglia 5 days 2008


Puglia is the South Easternmost region of Italy.  If Italy is boot shaped then Puglia is the heel and lower calf, or maybe the Achilles tendon.  The event was in the Gargano area which comprises a peninsula rising to over 1000m jutting into the Adriatic. 

We had not originally intended to go to this event.  Plan A was the World Vets championship in Portugal, but when that fell through the prospect of Italian food, wine, sun and excellent orienteering made Puglia a clear second choice. 

The event format was unusual.  3 days in forests were followed, after a rest day, by 2 days of street O.  Whilst it was a genuine 5 day competition with the aggregate time of all 5 days deciding the winner, prizes were also awarded for each day. 

Having spent a few days before the event in the Naples area seeing Herculaneum and Pompeii (Roman towns destroyed by the Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD79, now partly excavated and well worth the visit) we only had time for the first 3 days.  These were in the Foresta Umbra, which comprises a large area of ancient oak and beech forest high on the Gargano peninsula.  Opinion seems to be divided as to whether it gets its name from the old Umbrian people who lived there or from the Italian word “ombra” which means shadow.  The latter would be appropriate as the tall trees and heavy summer leaf canopy give the forest a dark, shady feel, broken by patches of bright sunlight.  The “white” forest was mostly very open and runnable, although parts of the map had plenty of green representing areas of holly which generally were not a complete barrier to progress, although they reduced visibility and made keeping a straight line difficult.  Of more interest to the discerning orienteer was that most of the area used for days 1 and 3 was karst terrain – big limestone depressions and low rocky ridges.  This, along with the low visibility in parts, made it one of the most challenging and enjoyable events I have ever done.  Day 2 was held in more undulating terrain with wide spurs and re-entrants, not unlike the hillier parts of South Eastern England.

The courses were short with my M45 course won in around 40 minutes on days 1 and 3 and only 20 minutes on day 2.  However given the Mediterranean heat and the intensity of concentration needed this seemed like plenty.

Numbers were low by British standards, and probably by most standards.  The 5 days itself had little more than 100 competitors, including a small British contingent from WCOC, SLOW, HOC and MDOC, although the event felt bigger as it was held in conjunction with the Italian inter regional championships.  This is a pity as the quality of the terrain and (barring a few very minor glitches) organisation deserved better.  Perhaps because of the low entry the senior classes were combined into 10 year age groups. 

Days 4 and 5 were held in the streets of Monte St. Angelo and Vico del Gargano.  Like many of the local towns these have historic districts comprising a maze of narrow alleys in which it is quite possible to get lost at a tourist walking pace, never mind on the run. 

They are great to wander around and find a gelato (outstanding - choose from vast array of flavours) and beer (the local Peroni is better than the stuff the Italians export) to cool off après event.  The evenings could then be devoted to sampling the local pasta, seafood and vino.  All in all a great holiday, and highly recommended.

Gabriele Viale, Chief Organiser, was asked about the next Puglia 5 days and he replied, “5 days Puglia (3 days in Forest and 2 days in city) will be held also next year in 2009, from 5th to 9th October. (Monday to Friday with first start on Monday 5th at 19.00 o’clock: sprint night in the city.) It will be fabulous!” So put it in your diaries now…