I just witnessed the 40th Barcolana festival and sailing regatta, and I wish I could have been around for the previous thirty-nine. Barcolana is the largest such regatta in Southern Europe, drawing around two thousand sailboats to Trieste, Italy every year. The actual boat race takes place annually on the second Sunday in October, but the festival is in full swing for the entire weekend, featuring plenty of sailors, spectators, food and beer tents, as well as free entertainment.
My Barcolana began around midday Saturday. A couple of friends and I had a beer and strolled around the harbor, enjoying the sunshine and practicing obscure sailing vocabulary. I joined a crowd of oglers eyeing the powerful Alfa Romeo 2, the 2007 champion, and was amazed by the array of technology all over the boat, as well as by the industrious nature of the crew members, making last minute adjustments like busy squirrels gathering acorns for winter.
Saturday evening led me to a free concert in the breathtaking, seaside Piazza UnitÃ¡ d'Italia, designed by Austrians when Trieste was under Hapsburg rule. The refreshments were reasonably priced (around three Euro for Peroni, my Italian brew of choice, on tap of course), but I found the official Barcolana shirts to be a bit expensive. I really wanted something to remember the weekend by, so I shopped around a bit and finally found a discount rack of shirts from Barcolana's past, each about thirty Euros cheaper than their more up-to-date counterparts. Although I suppose the 40th Barcolana is a bit more prestigious, the 37th festival will always have a special place in my heart, and in my wardrobe.
I enjoyed the music and the atmosphere until the wee hours of the morning when I decided it might be a good idea to rest my eyes and my liver a bit. I surprisingly awoke promptly at eight a.m. the next morning to follow a tip and head up the mountain to Villa Opicina to view the regatta. After buying some food and wine for a picnic, I took the old-fashioned streetcar (located in Piazza Oberdan, 1 euro for a ticket), up an incredibly steep incline to the little village overlooking Trieste. The streetcar was a bit crowded on the day of the race; it seems that others had received the same tip, so it was to my benefit to travel light.
I followed the crowds and found an amazing view of the sailboats that created a whiteout effect when they passed by, completely engulfing the bay below. The picnic was relaxing, and I have hardly found a better view in all of my travels. When the winning boat crossed the finish line, a loud cannon shot announced Alfa Romeo 2's repeat victory, and I happily watched with a mouth full of fresh fruit as a magnificent convoy escorted the proud vessel back to port.
Trieste is a vastly underrated travel destination, and is easily accessible by Italian railways. The city also has a small airport; however, flying can be a bit expensive. I ended up saving about 1,500 dollars on a one-way ticket by flying from Boston to Rome and then taking an overnight train. There are a few hotels and a decent youth hostel nearby, but anyone planning on coming for Barcolana should book early. One of the best Italian destinations for anyone seeking fun and beauty on a budget.