Puglia, or Apulia as it is called in English, is the most southeastern region on Italy and this part of the country is the least densely populated as well as the flattest, after the Po delta flatland. People live mainly in towns, owning the lands around them. It is a great region to take a cycling holiday in an unspoilt area. Tourism is becoming more and more important but it has not ruined the landscape as in other areas of Italy. Here you will also find the best beaches of Italy.
Its strategic position, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, lying between two completely different Europe’s, linking the eastern and western Mediterranean resulted in it being attacked by foreign powers, mainly Turks. One of the most famous and helpful conquerors was Frederick II (1194-1250), the last Emperor of the Hohenstaufen line. An enlightened man, he built many castles which still grace the region, along with acres and acres of vineyards and olive groves.
The overlapping of cultures and languages (there are influences of Greek, Albanian, Latin and also Spanish in the many different dialects spoken in the region) can be seen not only in the towns and cities but also in the countryside. Apulia produces one-tenth of the wine drunk in Europe. Olive oil, fruit (citrus trees, grapes) productions and fishery are its main activities.
Polignano a Mare
The rides are mostly along well-asphalted country lanes and secondary roads with little traffic, however sometimes you have to ride on larger roads sharing it with the traffic when approaching and riding in the larger towns.
It is a requirement of booking this tour with Hooked on Cycling that you have suitable travel insurance which covers you for the chosen activity and for emergency evacuation and hospital care.
Own transfer from Bari or Brindisi Airport to the gracious town of Polignano a town that seems to have been a Greek colony (“Polis nea”, new city) founded on a rock over the marvellous Adriatic sea. Polignano a Mare is a glorious town overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Get lost in the labyrinth of streets amidst whitewashed houses. Visit the main church, known as Chiesa Madre, and the stunning, unique squares of San Benedetto and Dell’Orologio (you can see the remains of a sun clock under the clock on the tower).
The western part of the old city is still surrounded by high walls protecting the city from the frequent enemy attacks. You can still see one of the original entrances to the old town, Marchesale Arch where the cycling itinerary starts from.
Today you leave the amazing blue sea behind, as you cycle inland, passing through the typical Apulian vineyard landscape, till Alberobello, the picturesque Trulli capital. On the way, you can stop to visit the caves of Castellana, discovered and explored by Franco Anelli. These were created by an underground river and show a marvellous gallery full of stalactites and stalagmites and beautiful caverns. You can also visit the Museum Franco Anelli. Afterwards, the road takes you to Alberobello, a unique town consisting of over 1,000 Trulli houses, white stone houses with conical roofs and the most exceptional thing is that you will sleep in one of them. Wander around and visit the labyrinth of stone-paved streets and the Trullo Church.
Following an inland route, you will ride through the “Murgia” area, from the Trulli heartland to the flatlands by the Adriatic sea near Ostuni. You will see many stone-lined country lanes bordering olive groves large Masserie (farm houses). In the renowned town of Martina Franca, you will have your first opportunity to admire the Apulian baroque style in the charged balconies, window grates and gates.
You continue on to Cisternino, a small medieval town with excellent wines. You can visit the centre of the town and cycle by the typical whitewashed houses and narrow streets, the tiny courtyards and outside stairs, by the arches and flower-filled balconies and then ride on to Ostuni, a charming town whose whitewashed arches and houses lay on top of a hilly area, rich in olive groves and vineyards.
Ostuni’s historical centre is well protected inside the town walls, almost suspended in a flow of white lime. The old village represents the life and beating heart of the town and, at the same time, the historical memory with the most significant architectural treasure, the Cathedral (XV century) with its magnificent façade in late Gothic style. In the same street, the Museum of the Pre-classical Civilization of Southern Murgia holds the latest and most astonishing discoveries dating back to about 25000 years ago, the body of a young pregnant woman, found near the prehistorical station of Agnano.
You start your day by taking the train to Lecce. You shall then start cycling through the flat countryside to Gallipoli a medieval fishing town. Our destination is Gallipoli, whose name is derived from the Greek word kalé polis meaning “beautiful city.” The medieval town centre is full of narrow winding alleys which almost burst into the houses, bastions, castle and churches. You will be guided to the Greek fountain, re-done in the Renaissance period and you will be able to see Baronial houses which offer a rare attraction and render a holiday spent in the warm embrace of this town’s hospitality more than usually instructive.
Today riding along a flat coastal road you will reach the most southern point of the Salento, which also divides the Ionian and the Adriatic Sea and you will have several opportunities to stop for a swim at some of the beautiful beaches found here. Particularly paradisiacal is the Torre del Pizzo beach with its turquoise coloured water and fine white sand, it lies the opposite side of the bay from Gallipoli on a detour from the main route to Santa Maria di Leuca, the southern most point of the Italian peninsula.
In the past, the small village was primarily known as a place of pilgrimage because of its church, but at the turn of the century, many grand mansions were built here whose architectonic shapes range from the fantastic to the absurd.
Continuing along the high coastal road which winds its way towards Castro, you will cycle along one of the most beautiful and panoramic routes in the region, with its gentle ups and downs and deep cliffs up to 80m. above the sea. Softening the bitterness of the rock, constantly beaten by wind, olive trees cling to the hills and valleys seeming to almost lap the blue stretch of sea. This part of Salento is quieter and more isolated than the Ionian part and it is extremely beautiful because of the contrast between the dark blue sea and the green and brownish Mediterranean vegetation.
The Grotta Zinzulusa is worth a stop; the guided visit takes you into one of the most famous karstic caves of South Italy. Continue along the coast until Otranto, in ancient times called Hydruntum. It was a Greek colony come roman town with a large natural port particularly popular during the Republican Roman period because of the commercial relations between Italy and Greece.
In the middle ages, it was one of the most important Byzantine centres in Italy, and it had a Greek bishop. Otranto became the chief town and an important military centre and during the XI and XII century, it flourished thanks to the Venetian, Dalmatian and Levantine merchants who frequented its ports and because of the comings and going of the crusaders. The old Town is enclosed by thick city walls surrounded by a beautiful coastline.
The first part of the day’s ride will take you to the large and small Alimini Lakes, long shaped water extensions running parallel to the sea. The small one (also called Fontanelle) is a freshwater lake surrounded by marsh vegetation with marsh orchids and other rare plants such as the only carnivorous plant in Apulia. It is inhabited by cormorants, seagulls, egrets and ducks and it is linked to the Alimini Grande by a 1.5 km long canal providing it with fresh water.
The biggest lake is a salt-marsh ecosystem which has a surface area of 1.37 km2. It is connected to the sea by its mouth that has been prepared as a little fishery where fish are bred. The south western part of the lake was planted with trees in the ’50s and nowadays it is a hunting reserve while the south-east part is a protected area characterized by typical Mediterranean vegetation.
After the lakes, you head inland, cycle through the flat open countryside in the area known as the Greek Salento. In ancient times some. Greek colonies settled and flourished here and in the heart of eastern Salento, traces of the Greek-Byzantine civilisation linger on. Here Griko, the local dialect, which is surprisingly close to Modern Greek, is still widely spoken. This Greek area now includes the districts of Calimera, Castrignano dei Greci, Corigliano d’Otranto, Martano, Martignano, Melpignano, Soleto, Sternatia and Zollino.
If there is one thing which these villages have in common it is the survival or memory of Greek rites, which were widespread here until the 17th century, and of the Greek gloss, roots of which are buried in local toponymy. The originality of the architecture, communal courtyards painted in blinding white, the balconies, the rhombus-shaped decorations as well as the habits and customs, make this area worthy of attention.
Depart after breakfast.
By Plane Fly to Bari or Brindisi airports and transfer by train to tour start. Fly with Ryanair. Train from Bari and Brindisi takes around 30 minutes to 1 hour.
2021 Prices – For complete tour price breakdown please click the book now button and select your holiday tour date. Prices will then be listed.