My obsession for Italian food was definitely more of a deciding factor than my infrequent cycling hobby when I opted to head to Puglia, Italy for a solo week of cycling. A little light training later (for the cycling, and if I’m honest, also for the eating), and I was off to the “heel” of Italy to experience its slow pace of life and unique cultural quirks.
I'll start with my number one priority wherever I travel, and particularly in Italy! Along the coast, the seafood was absolutely delicious, and throughout the region the fresh produce and local traditions (such as the dominance of Orecchiette pasta) added a local flair to classic Italian dishes.
Puglia produces a huge percentage of Italy’s olive oil. The olive oil served in restaurants tasted incredibly fresh and zingy compared to what I am used to at home.
My favourite meal was in Ostuni, in this gorgeous restaurant in the town’s hilltop old-town.
Olives, Olives, Olives
In addition to eating the olives and olive oil, the cycling in Puglia was dominated by quiet roads through olive and fruit plantations. These sections of the journey were incredibly peaceful, and I found that I enjoyed watching the producers working on the land, and seeing the rhythms of rural daily life.
This town is the must-see of the region, famous for its Trulli houses (you can see Trulli throughout the region, but there are a lot in Alberobello). As a big tourist draw, the town is busier than many, and liberally peppered with the bright souvenir stands that you will avoid in many of the other corners of the region. But, it is absolutely beautiful, and a stunning sight in the glow of the evening light. If you get the chance to stay in a Trulli house overnight too, it is a deight!
Compared to other the parts of Italy I have visited, I found that fewer local people spoke English, so as a novice to the language it was a good challenge for me to learn what I could and improve through the week.
One of my favourite moments was when an elderly lady approached me in a small town where I had paused, gesturing to my bike and asking questions. I stumbled through an apology that I didn’t speak Italian, but she cheered in recognition and continued to happily chat and laugh for at least 2 minutes, full of affection and enthusiasm. I found myself answering what I assume I must have guessed her questions were, in English, with neither of us understanding each other. Both of us laughed along heartily until we said our farewells (in different languages).
Ostuni was another favourite town I encountered on my Puglia cycling adventure. Inland, but close enough to the coast that I could watch the morning sun glisten over the sea from my hotel terrace, and enjoy wandering the narrow streets of a historic hilltop town in the evening.
Ostuni in the evening, from my hotel terrace.
When to go to Puglia?
I travelled in April, and I thought the weather was perfect. Never too warm (temperatures varied for me between 17°C and 20°C), mostly dry and sunny (except one 10 minute hailstorm!). It was also quieter in terms of tourist numbers in the hotspots such as Alberobello, which gave me plenty of time and space to enjoy it at a relaxed place. There were a few places (cafes etc) still not quite open for the season at the start of April, so I always prepared by stocking up food and drink for the daily cycles. Autumn would be a wonderful time to visit too, with the buzz of harvest and golden glow on the landscapes.
I cycled a combination of the Puglia In Style Cycling Holiday and the Highlights of Puglia itinerary. Contact the Macs Adventure team at email@example.com for more details on cycling holidays in Italy or beyond.