Puglia: Cycle the Heel of Italy
It was dark by the time we reached this secluded corner of Italy so the shadows kept it secret for another day. However the lights of the trulli infested town Alberobello were definitely shining so we embarked on our first mission on our self-guided cycling holiday – to eat at least 1 pizza every day!
These magical houses are the reason the town has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and their characteristic conical roofs dot the picturesque countryside all around. Almost fit for dwarves, these limestone dwellings were originally built in an effort to evade taxes. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Trullo was home to the peasant families of Puglia. Whole families would share two or three cones and a large fireplace was normally the focal point of the living quarters, used for cooking and heating.
After saddling up and admiring the view from a high spot we set off into the beautiful plain of the Itria Valley surrounded by 5,000 of the ‘little cathedrals’ as well as countless vineyards and ancient olive trees. Sensibly we avoided the opportunity for a little wine-tasting in the ancient hilltop dwelling of Locorotondo and left the trulli behind us as we headed into the white-washed town of Ostuni, ready to paint the town red after our first day’s cycling.
The old town is built on the top of a hill and fortified with ancient white walls. As well as boasting impressive views of the Adriatic coastline, it is a joy to stroll around this monument of a town and marvel at its typically white-painted architecture.
It was a tale of rags to riches the next day as we left the tax-evading trulli behind for a countryside dominated by a plethora of fortified large estate-farms, known as the Pugliese ‘masserie’. Before heading inland we caught a final glimpse (well at least for a few days) of the Adriatic from the nature reserve of Torre Guaceto. The place is so called after a tower, which is part of a series of towers existing along the coast. Built in the 16th century, because of the continuous and violent Turkish incursions, these towers communicated using smoke during the day and fire during the night.
Our journey across the flat rural landscape was sandwiched by a night in the ‘city in the middle’ (Mesagne) and when we finally arrived at the Ionian coast it only seemed natural to stop for an ice-cream and lap up the tranquil waves. Unfortunately it was only a brief moment of calm before the storm as the heavens opened and an untimely and unexpected rumble of thunder and bolt of lightning headed our way. The clouds closed in and we took cover until it was safe to saddle (soaked) up and head to the beautiful city of Gallipoli. Also known as the ‘Ionian pearl’ the old town is located on a limestone island and it is a delight to explore the ancient cathedral and castle as well as enjoy our daily pizza.
We then cycled to the most southerly point of the heel of Italy at Santa Maria de Leuca, where the crystal waters of the Ionian and Adriatic seas merge. Home to one of the most important lighthouses in Italy, standing at 102m above sea level, it really did feel like we had pedalled to the end of the world. Continuing along the coast, but beside the Adriatic, we headed deep into the region of Salento, passing numerous sea grottos, containing the most beautiful blue pools of water. In the middle of this uncontaminated coastline is the city of Santa Cesarea Terme, boasting very unique Islamic styled architecture with more churches than there seem to be people. But it was a peaceful respite from the undulating terrain, which continued as far as Otranto, destroyed by an Ottoman Turkish fleet in the 15th Century.
The final leg took our tired legs through innumerable olive groves to the Baroque metropolis of Lecce, nicknamed ‘The Florence of the South’ before heading homeward – after one last pizza of course!
By Andy Buswell, Exodus Product Executive