An Interview with Kara.
(or: Do I really need to wear lycra…?)
So, you’ve been browsing the site, marvelling at the photos of stunning scenery and simply itching to jump onto the saddle, right? But then something stops you. A tiny, nagging doubt at the back of your mind…a shudder at the thought of donning a pair of skin-tight cycling shorts and possibly sweating your way up the side of a huge (albeit beautiful) mountain. You can’t do it! this negative thought shouts at you from behind the comfortable sofa on which you’re sat. But before you decide, with a sigh, to close the window and let your dreams of exploring the most amazing parts of northern Italy remain, well, dreams, why not have a quick read of this….
This, dear friends, is an interview with none other than Kara, the expert tour guide of Kara Mia. Let’s start nagging her with all of our lycra-themed doubts, and see if she can convince us otherwise…
Hi Kara! So, before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about why you set up Kara Mia Tours?
My first bike trip was in Italy 26 years ago- I fell in love with travelling this way. I can’t think of a better way to see a country and feel intimate with it. It’s so entirely different than being in a car or a bus… the scents in the open air, the contact with the earth, the people, the grapes draped along vines as you ride by…not to mention the exercise, so that you feel great at the end of the day and can basically eat what you want. I was guiding for many years for another company and thought it was the best job in the world however, I wondered if people were really present with the experience since the itinerary was so jam packed it seemed like staying in these beautiful places sort of went to waste … I thought they might need a holiday to recover from this one! For me sitting drinking a cappuccino in the morning is one of life’s sweetest pleasures and so I wanted to establish the same kind of business but create time to really enjoy these things, so people could experience a real time out.
Do you have a lot of biking experience yourself? And, perhaps more importantly, do we need a lot of bicycling experience? The thought of miles upon miles of hard cycling is making our bottoms hurt already…
I love to cycle, in fact it’s one of the things I do when I need a little inspiration or to shake things up … it cheers me right up but I am by no means an avid cyclist. Even going around the block a few times can fulfil me! The basic mileage options are about 20/25 km in the morning and 20/25km in the afternoon (each day has a longer option as well). I created these trips so that there is just enough cycling to feel invigorated and to get the oxygen flowing, but not to the extent of it hurting or becoming solely about biking! I truly believe anyone can do these trips!
That sounds pretty good! So other than the cycling part, what are some of the other highlights of a typical Kara Mia trip? Is there…ahem… time for a drop of fine Italian wine by any chance?
Wine and Italy- they just go together!! Every trip visits at least one winery, if not more! On our Dolomites trip we stop at Pisoni for example; a small family run winery where they make the most incredible wines such as Vin Santo ( a succulent golden desert wine that is not too sweet but just sweet enough to offer a piece of heaven) and beautiful Reds with combinations like Pinot Noir with Syrah. We love to visit places that are full of love and creativity, and this is definitely one example of that. Marco the owner talks about his art of wine making with as much passion as if it was a lover… We also have olive oil tastings in Tuscany and visits to local agriturismos. We also stay in places like 12th century castles that are off the beaten track and have managed to find views and panoramas that seem to go on forever. These are usually pretty hard to find on one’s own.
Castles hey! Sounds incredible! What other sorts of places will we be staying in? They aren’t campsites are they…some of us aren’t too fond of those…
All our accommodations are 4 star and above… We stay in places that have true character and make you feel warmed when you walk in and have an enchanting quality – usually places that in the end, are hard to leave! We have a rapport with each hotel and inn so that upon arrival we feel like we’ve been welcomed into a family as opposed to being just another number.
So, what should we wear for the bike tour? I’m guessing a good, sturdy pair of shoes are necessary…but is skin tight lycra mandatory too?
…Yes, sturdy shoes are the most important thing! In all my years of guiding I just wore what was comfortable. I have to admit the extra padding (with the chamois inside) does help! But you can get cute little skorts where the bulky chamois is hidden and they actually look pretty darn cute (for women). They also make rather funky shorts that are made of a cotton-type fabric with the lycra and chamois underneath- these are for both men and women.
What happens if we get halfway up a hill and…well…can’t go any further? Will you come and give us a push?
Yes! We round up the whole group (It’s a team building exercise) and we all just heave ho…..no, I’m kidding of course! We actually have a van, which we sort of expect to give as a little support on the bigger hills. And it’s worth mentioning that some trips have little or no hills, such as the Dolomites trip.
What’s your favourite part about doing Kara Mia bike tours?
It’s really the people! The idea of people meeting other like- minded, interesting people in a completely new and inspiring setting, and seeing whatever opens up for them and pinches them into feeling the magic in life again and then returning home with a new taste of life and possibilities -that really lights me up!
And finally Kara, in your opinion, why should we get off our bottoms and do one of your tours? What makes your tours special?
We are a boutique tour company- that means the opposite of mass tours… the trip integrates into Italian life so we really live the rich culture and beauty of Italy. Everything from eating at places high in the hills where locals go to staying at hotels that are unique and special…. It’s more about savouring than doing a marathon or jamming activities into the day….each place chosen is because of its sense of love and joy and uniqueness -Quality as opposed to quantity. I truly feel my job is done when I see people returning home with a feeling of being inspired, re-ignited and touched by “la dolce far niente” – the sweetness of doing nothing; a flavour of being more with less.
Well, after some words of wisdom from the lady herself and the promise of a distinct lack of lycra, I ‘m convinced.
Now, what about you?