Agents at ActiveTravels Experience Puglia Firsthand

Lisa and I arrived around 6 pm Saturday night with our good friends Debbie and Michael and walked from the train station to our hotel for the night, Patria Palace. The 20-minute stroll through Lecce was an eye-opening experience as we passed exquisite Baroque churches, plaza after large plaza, and Roman and Ottoman Empire ruins, like an old amphitheater down a side street. It only got better as the night continued and hundreds of locals swarmed the streets and walked arm and arm to dine and drink at the outdoor tables. There were very few tourists. We went to a recommended seafood restaurant, Pescheria, where you see the fresh fish on ice and pick what looks enticing. We chose a grilled dorado, mussels, prawns, and a heavenly pasta dish with hazelnuts, topped off with a lemon tiramisu. Fantastic! Then we strolled through the large plazas and cobblestone streets looking around every bend at the next architectural wonder.

The next morning our guides Davide and Paolo picked us up and we met our group of 10, including a family of 4 with adult kids and a couple from Istanbul. We hit it off instantly.

Day one was a washout as the rain drenched us on our first ride, but day two easily made up for it, one of the best coastal rides I’ve ever been on. We biked up and down sweeping hills with the blue expanse of the Adriatic Sea always by our side. The sweet smell of honeysuckle was the best form of aromatherapy as we cruised past seaside villages and old stone walls, peering down in awe at the greenish-blue waters hundreds of feet below. We stopped in Santa Maria di Leuca to gaze at the lighthouse, church, and large plaza before making our way back to the port of Tricase where a fresh seafood feast was waiting for us.

According to my trusty Strava app, we had biked 43 miles with an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet, so I was definitely ready for a break and the chance to dig into calamari, mussels, and grilled aubergines, tomatoes, and the creamy burrata cheese the region is known for.

The next day, we would bike the route we missed during the day one washout, another coastal ride near beach towns that are popular during the summer months, including Uggiano la Chiesa, where our guide Davide lives. Then it was off on a 90-minute drive northeast to the town of Locorotondo, where we would begin blissful days of riding through the heart of the countryside. I savored the riding here, rolling hillsides dotted with centuries-old gnarly olive trees, vineyards, and the distinctive mushroom-shaped houses called trulli. All on country roads with little or no traffic. We spent that night in restored 1800s trullo, now part of the boutique property, Borgo Canonica.

Then it was off again the following morning on another serene ride past fig trees (of course, we had to sample the fresh figs), more farmland, and finally the town of over 1,000 whitewashed trulli, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Alberobello. After lunch cooked by a local inside one of these historic dwellings, we made our way back to the coastline, riding past thick-barked olive trees that a landscape historian recently noted were over 2,200 years old. The next two nights, we would stay at an exquisitely restored farmhouse estate with a wonderful pool and sprawling grounds, Masseria San Domenico.

Puglia is known for producing more olive oil than any other region in the country and what many Italians consider the best. We would taste the local specialty at every meal, usually for dipping with warm baked bread. But on our last day, we had the pleasure of biking to Masseria Salamina known for making some of the finest olive oil in the region as well as a wonderful place to stay and take cooking classes. First we had to earn our meal by making our own pasta, the ear-shaped orecchiette Puglia adores. Then we dined outdoors on our pasta with grilled vegetables, washed down with the local Primitivo red wine. The olive oil was so good that we brought home two bottles and had to struggle to find room in our already densely packed luggage.

Davide and Paolo were not only fantastic guides, but excellent traveling companions with larger-than-life personalities, often teasing each other and us. They were a well-oiled machine on the routes, one riding with us and one back in the shuttle sweeping the route. What I loved about DuVine was that their group size was only 10, and often less says Paolo. This is much smaller than most biking tours. We had an intimate group that we now consider good friends. Also, the lodging and restaurant choices were top-notch during the entire itinerary. Not only would I recommend Puglia for moderate bikers, but I’d happily recommend DuVine for any of their trips.

About the author

Steve Jermanok is the co-founder of boutique travel agency ActiveTravels, a freelance travel writer, and a longtime Boston Globe travel contributor. He has authored articles and books on more than 90 countries, dishing out his favorite travel locales. Follow Steve @ActiveTravels.
Up Next: On December Thirty-First