Puglia is the heel of Italy’s boot and while its unique style and charm is becoming known to more international travellers, it is still a place for those wanting to venture somewhere a little different and untouched.
We first visited Puglia last year to run a custom cycling tour for a group and fell in love with its rustic, laid back nature, its untouched landscapes and coastline, and its olive groves and amazing food. We often describe it as Italy – meets Greece – meets Morocco from an architectural perspective, but culturally, it is 100% Italian.
From a cycling perspective, it is still an untouched land, ready for you to explore behind the scenes, but one that you might want to visit sooner rather than later….because the secret is definitely out.
Below are our 8 reasons why a cycling holiday to Puglia is one to add to the bucket list.
1. It’s an adventure
The magic of Puglia is best explored on a bike. From adventuring through its ancient olive groves to riding along its tiny, rock walled roads, through ancient cobblestoned towns, along coastal roads and traversing its wide open landscapes, Puglia is a place to feel free.
Because there aren’t as many cyclists and cars on the road, as with some other parts of Italy, all you need to think about is turning the pedals and enjoying what’s in front of you. It’s a feeling of pure freedom; of riding at a steady pace, absorbing the landscapes that surround and quite simply, losing yourself in its beauty.
2. There’s not too many hills
Puglia is a mostly flat landscape and everywhere you look, you see olive trees. The Valle d’Itria in the centre of Puglia, where we spend our first few days on tour, is the hillier part of Puglia, however it is nothing on Tuscany or other regions, in terms of hills. It’s also the area with the highest concentration of olive trees in Italy, and one of the highest in the world – there are 60 million of them….and even more impressive, many of them are over 1000 years old!
Once we depart Valle d’Itria and make our way south into the Salento on day 5, we ride through a more barren and flat landscape, leading to the sea on both sides of the peninsula.
3. The food is simple and amazing
As one of the most sunny and fertile areas of Italy, the fruit and vegetables in Puglia are seasonal, fresh and bursting with flavour. They feature heavily on the Pugliese table because for what has been a relatively poor region for most of its history, locals couldn’t afford meat, so fruit, vegetables, pulses and home made pasta – with orecchiette (little ears) being the most famous – have always been the staples. In fact, orecchiette pasta con rape (a green, bitter leafy vegetable) could almost be classed as their regional dish.
The antipasti are an absolute standout with small individual dishes of incredible flavours all served at once. From marinated and grilled vegetables, to frittate and other egg based flans made with delicious local onions, to cheeses to die for such as the oozy burrata and caciocavallo, and of course the tasty local olives and taralli – these are a must on any antipasto plate, or with any glass of locally made Primitivo or Rosato wine.
The other standout on the food front is the seafood. Caught fresh and local every day, the range of simple and tasty fritto misto and insalate di pesce will never leave you hungry.
One of our favourite all time meat eating experiences in Italy is in the town of Cisternino. You choose your own meat from the butcher’s cabinet and they cook it for you in a unique oven over coals and flames, infused with smokey goodness. It is a test sensation. We visit this amazing town on day 3 of our Tour of Puglia, and it’s always a highlight for meat lovers.
4. The sea and the sun make for a perfect cycling holiday
We love the warm turquoise seas and the golden sun of Puglia. With 800km’s of coastline and some of the most spectacular beaches in Italy with powdery sand and crystal clear waters, a dip in the ocean post ride does not get any better than in Puglia. We stay seaside for 4 nights on tour and guests love the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Polignano a Mare, Otranto and south of Gallipoli.
Also, because Puglia is in the south of Italy, it has warm weather for many months of the year, and so swimming in the sea and lounging by the pools at our magnificent masserie and resorts, is possible on both of our tours in May and September. You might even have a beer or prosecco brought to you poolside while indulging in the Italian sun.
5. There’s less crowds and fewer cyclists on the roads
Puglia has always been a summer destination for Italians who flock to the beaches in August, with foreigners only beginning to visit in recent years. While tourism is growing and Puglia is often labelled as ‘the next Tuscany’ and Lecce as ‘the Florence of the South’ (don’t mention this to the locals), you still find fewer visitors in the towns and less cyclists on the road….as we tend to stay away from the more trodden e-bike paths that surround the Salento coast.
Our ride routes take you off the beaten track of Puglia and you’ll often wonder whether there’s anyone else around.
6. It runs at a slower pace…
The siesta is still very much alive in Puglia. For the locals, life runs at a slower pace and no matter how much you’d like things to happen a little faster or ‘just as they do at home’, our word of warning here is ‘they simply won’t’. This is when the ‘call to immerse’ kicks in; to simply accept that everything here happens in the time that the locals think it should. Their time. Pugliese time.
This southern Italian lifestyle where shops are closed for hours, drinks arrive when it’s time, and restaurants only fill after the evening passeggiata around 9pm, makes for a fantastic holiday. It reminds us to slow down and smell the roses….which you’ll certainly do at some of the beautiful masserie and resorts we stay in, and in the towns you explore, as you soak up local life, post ride.
This is definitely a southern Italian experience. Embrace it and do as the locals do.
7. The oh so beautiful towns
We fell in love with the beautiful towns of Puglia. From the quiet whitewashed villages of Locorotondo and Cisternino to the busier, but spectacular seaside towns of Polignano a Mare, Gallipoli and Otranto, to the unique golden baroque architecture of Lecce, you experience Puglia’s diverse towns on our cycling tour.
Each town has its unique characteristics and an ‘old town’ of crumbling facades and labyrinth streets, now often returned to their ancient splendour and decked out with very cool bars and restaurants. Whichever the town, and whether perched high on a hill or set down by the sea, all are made for aimless wandering and losing yourself in the sheer beauty of their tiny meandering alleys. Your camera will get a real workout, we assure you.
8. The architecture and welcome embrace of the masserie and trulli
Centuries old and truly unique in their architecture are the masserie, or fortified farmhouses, and the trulli, traditional dry stone huts with conical roofs. Now often restored to accommodation, these are a highlight on a cycling holiday to Puglia.
As amazing and unique as the architecture, and what comes to mind for us when we think about Puglia, is the warm welcome of the families who own and run these beautiful villas and resorts, which so often have been in the family for hundreds of years.
We ride through the UNESCO world heritage town of Alberobello on day 2 of our tour where you see the fairytale village of 1500 trulli and we also stay at a trulli resort, so you experience these iconic houses for yourself. We also stay at and visit masserie across Puglia where you experience working farms producing their own olive oil and wine, and enjoy time with owners preparing home cooked dinners for our group, all made using products from their farms.
The welcome of the people and its generous, abundant land makes Puglia very special. Come and discover it with us on our Puglia Cycling Tour, with a few spots left available for 2019 and our 2020 dates now confirmed.