A Rowing Tourist: Going to a Place Worth Visiting

Bled – the lake had a veil of mist.

30 August 2019

Marie Barge, text & photography ©

Not only is Marie Barge a brilliant photographer, which she has been proven previously on HTBS, she can write too. Here are some ideas for those of you who don’t row at Masters regattas but accompany your partner around the world to see them race – and in between races would like to tour around the towns or places where the regattas are held. Some venues need to not only be thinking about the rowers but the ‘tourists’ too, Marie writes. 

Tourists constantly seek new adventures and experiences.

Many people travel to Game of Thrones filming locations in Croatia, Ireland and Iceland. The rowing scene is perhaps not as hyped as GOT, but rowing arenas are often situated at beautiful and scenic places. The cities, applying to arrange a Masters event, make efforts to promote themselves as a place worth visiting. And many of them are – if you give them a chance.

The rowing husband.

My husband is a rower. For a short period of time, I was also rowing and that’s how we met. Despite being a physiotherapist, I’m not a big sports fan. But I do like to watch rowing! I find it enchanting – the contrast between the slim, fragile boats and the strong capable bodies of the rowers. It’s elegant and powerful at the same time.

My husband used to row when he was younger, but then came military service, university studies, career and eventually children. So, for a lot of years there was little time to be out on the water. In 2013, however, the time (and age) was right and he and some fellow oarsmen signed up for the World Rowing Masters Regatta in Varese, Italy.

Who doesn’t want to go to Italy? I certainly did and ever since I have accompanied my husband to different Masters regattas around the world.

I find it’s an opportunity to have an interesting vacation, often to places I wouldn’t normally visit. If you’re able to extend the trip, it makes a nice vacation also for your partner when she/he is done competing.

Since Varese, I have been to many Masters events, except for the one in Ballarat, Australia, in 2014. We have so far visited:

Varese, Italy, 2013
Munich, Germany, 2014 and 2018 (not world masters events)
Henley, England, 2015 (not world masters event)
Hazewinkel, Belgium, 2015
Bagsvaerd, Denmark, 2016
Bled, Slovenia, 2017
Sarasota, USA, 2018

It would be dishonest to tell you that I watched all the races, I have not. I try to watch when my husband and his teammates row, then I rather randomly choose other races. The rest of the time is spent exploring.

These places have, in varying degrees, appealed to me, from a bystander’s point of view. I’m looking forward to the upcoming Masters in Valence, Hungary, on 11-15 September.

Varese has a beautiful lake and rowing stadium, not far from the town center. Like most arenas, it’s quite difficult to see the start.

The spectator area is good and there’s a nice selection of merchandise, from small necessary boat parts to oar cufflinks and your Lederhosen rowing suit. The food stalls served Italian favorites and you can get a great espresso!

An Italian crew on home waters.
A scene at the Varese boat area.

Surrounded by the great lakes, Maggiore and Como, Varese is a beautiful city of 80.000 people. It’s definitely a place worth visiting even without having a regatta to go to. The city shows great hospitality and makes a great effort to make the rowers and their entourages feel welcome. When we were there in 2013, some of the city’s officials were involved hands-on at the regatta and did their best to welcome you. I even got to visit the Mayors grand office! In the old town, they had an exhibition, al fresco, on rowing.

Al fresco rowing exhibition in Varese.

Varese is a beautiful town with some interesting sights, a nice centro and some good restaurants. It also makes for a convenient stop travelling further south in Italy. Have I returned? Yes, I have!

Munich has a fantastic Ruderanlage built for the Olympic rowing in 1972. It’s perfect for the spectators watching the races. The course is on a 2-km straight canal, built with convenient bicycle paths for observing and cheering on the rowers. The spectator stand is big, spacious and has some shade. It’s the largest one I have seen yet at these regattas. The local ruder club has a nice terrace where you can drink your beer and watch the races.

“Ruderanlage”, the rowing facility for the 1972 Olympic rowing in Munich.
Pick your Munich beverage.
Boats, boats, boats…
Happy rowing friends.

Munich itself is certainly worth a visit. From the rowing facility, it’s an hour by bus and train to Munich. Downtown Munich makes for a really nice day (and more if you have the time). You can have a mini Oktoberfest with wurst and a beer at Viktualienmarkt, the food market.

The Olympia Park near the Ruderanlage offers some thrilling experiences. With a guide you can climb the roof and zipline across the Stadium. For me, this is yet to be experienced…

The concentration camp of Dachau, which is 8 km away from Munich, is a terrible place to visit, but so important.

Then, the regatta of all regattas – Henley. Henley Masters Regatta might not have the magnitude of a World Masters event, but Henley is so much worth the trip. The competition, which is organized by Upper Thames Rowing Club, is held the week after Henley Royal Regatta, and the aftermath is still visible with pre- and post-party picnics everywhere – even in the parking lots!

Welcome to Henley.

The historical rowing clubs with their well-maintained boathouses are heavily guarded for trespassers such as me! So, I admired the boathouses from a distance.

HTBS writer Tim Koch is Swedish for a day, or for a couple of races at least.
Great view from the umpire’s launch.

The racing course consists of only two lanes, so it’s all very intimate and focused on the two competing boats. I was very lucky, together with HTBS´s Tim Koch, we got a ride in the umpire’s launch, an immaculate wooden boat with an excellent overview of the race. Quite a privilege!

For the meta race experience, I have only one word: Pimm’s! In another world, this tasty, understated beverage would have gone viral, but it seems the English are keeping it a secret.

The drink of Henley – Pimm’s!

The Temple at Temple Island, at the beginning of the race course for Masters, is a classic rowing scene. Built in a neoclassical style with Etruscan style wall paintings, I think it shows that some European influence is acceptable for UKIP, Theresa and Boris. (Surely, they can’t be rowers – can they?)

As for the 2015 Masters regatta in Hazewinkel, this was not my favourite venue, mainly because of the bad cold that kept me in the hotel room for some days. However, if you go to Hazewinkel for a regatta, do as we did, stay in the beautiful town of Mechelen, which has some good restaurants alongside the canal.

Lovely town house in Mechelen.

At Hazewinkel, I didn’t see much of the rowing stadium until the last day of the regatta. That day the rain was pouring down and the rowers were slipping in the mud.

More boats, and boat, and boats…
Wet conditions in Hazewinkel in 2015.

Sorry Hazewinkel! Although, I would like to return someday.

Bagsvaerd is only an hour away from where I live and because of this, it didn’t really feel like a vacation – especially as we went home overnight to sleep! Therefore, I have little to add apart from that it is a beautiful spot on Earth. Almost like home! The 2016 Masters regatta also had the added bonus of having Göran “Mr HTBS” Buckhorn himself visiting!

Bagsveard – Rowers and spectators at Bagsveard Rowing Stadion. On the far right, HTBS’s hack writer.

Bled – my favourite of them all! The lake is surrounded by mountains and the water is smooth and calm. It has historical landmarks, a nice town with really good restaurants, including a rowing-themed one, owned by an Olympic medalist!

The opening ceremony for the 2017 regatta had dancing, singing and an Olympic Games kind-of-parade with flags. A nice touch!

The athletes’ area and the boat area are, however, a complete mess. The pathway alongside the lanes is up and down through residential areas and swimming facilities. There is no way on earth that you can watch both start and finish, even if you have a bicycle. But for me that didn’t matter at all.

Launching at Lake Bled.

The regatta was excellently organized with races only 3 minutes apart. Due to the many entries, the races started quite early in the morning when the light was ocean blue and the lake had a veil of mist. It was very, very beautiful.

‘Ring them bells…’

You have lots of options for sightseeing – in the middle of the lake, there’s a church with a bell. Ring the bell and your wish might come true. (For the next Masters event in Bled perhaps?) You might want to visit the magnificent castle on the northern shore. Or take a swim, and if you’re up for it, you can rent, yes – a rowing boat!

For those with a big budget, you can stay at Vila Bled (in which I only had a drink). Formerly one of Tito´s many residences, it’s now a hotel, which is beautifully located at the waterfront. The nearby Kafé Belveder has an even better view of the races and won’t set you back as much. Go for a coffee and the famous cream cake, kremna rezina.

From the rowers’ point of view, I understand that Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota is very cleverly built with sort of a canal that takes you right back to where you put the boat in.

A photo of the photographer, Marie Barge, with some rowing buddies in a hot Sarasota in 2018.

From my point of view – I wasn’t impressed. There wasn’t all that much to explore. The nearby mall was an oasis of cool air, but who wants to go shopping for four days? The security was tight with sheriffs greeting you at the entrance! The athletes’ area was extremely restricted. I do understand the restrictions with the fragile and expensive boats but for me, a seasoned hang-around and facilitator (carrying oars, wallets, taking victory-photographs, etc), it was pretty frustrating. Especially since the spectator area was quite boring.

Of course, it was hot – it was September and Florida and I didn’t expect anything else – but all the nice shady tents were in the athletes’ area!

A pyramid of water skiers at the opening ceremony at Sarasota.
Benderson Family Finish Tower.

The organizers went all out for the opening ceremony: water-skiers, jugglers, rope dancers and at sun set, 15-minute long fireworks. Beautiful, yes. Astonishing, yes.

Infrastructure: buses ran continuously from the big parking lot to the entrance and that was convenient. There was supposed to be buses to and from the big hotels nearby, but no one seemed to know anything about it. You really had to rely on your own transportation. Downtown Sarasota was nothing special.

But the beaches then, you might ask? Florida’s famous beaches? Well, they looked incredibly nice, but you couldn’t swim because of the red tide that was plaguing Florida for 18 months! I’m sure the fertilizers from Trump’s golf courses didn’t have anything to do with it…

Children are more interested in finding a treasure than watching rowing.

Sorry Sarasota – you’ll have to cope without me next time.

So dear rowers, for the next World Masters Regatta – bring your partner and it might prove to be your best, unexpected, holiday ever!

And let me finish with a wish to FISA, World Rowing. I really would like to visit:

Japan, and the newly built Sea Forest Waterway! And also…


Editor’s Note: Next year’s World Rowing Masters Regatta will be held in Linz-Ottensheim, Austria, the place for the 2019 World Championships which are held right now. According to FISA, World Rowing, website, the bids for the World Rowing Masters Regattas for 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 are now open.


  1. Enjoyed Marie’s overview of various Masters Rowing venues. My St. Andrew’s Alumni
    hope to make 2020 Worlds in Austria. Meanwhile, may I suggest that Marie visi the
    30th Diamond State Masters Regatta, July 18,19, 2020 held on one of the most intimate and
    lovely venues in America, Noxontown Pond in Middletown Del. There’s 15 seconds of it in Dead Poets Society.
    Regards, John R. Schoonover
    Director, DSMR

    • Thanks for your kind words. Noxontown Pond looks lovely! Thank you for the tips. Might see you in Austria then?// Marie Barge

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