My very first tour with Ciclismo Classico was in Puglia and as you mentioned, that was ten years ago. The reason I was assigned to Puglia was because my mother's family originated from that region. Ciclismo Classico often selects tour leaders and assigns tours based on a guide's background in that area. I am passionate about the Puglian culture and I have a love for their food as it is the food I grew up with; also, I still have many personal contacts in this region. Having the opportunity to share what I know and love about Puglia with Ciclismo travelers inspires me!
Planning anything special for those who will celebrate your birthday with you during the April 27- May 5th trip? Besides your birthday falling over this tour- why is this late April/early May trip an ideal time to be in Puglia?
It happened by chance that the spring tour begins on April 27th, my birthday! We are working on putting together some special activities to celebrate the ocassion in Puglia! However, the logisitics of the tour overall will not be changed.
This time of year is beautiful in Southern Italy. Spring is in full bloom with wild flowers such as poppies, dandelions and daisies that contrast with the red soil and blue sky. It truly is a festival of colors! Mild weather will be the setting of this special edition and as it's not high season yet there will not be too much traffic. Much of the trip involves riding along roads that are so quiet that it seems like a bike path. We will pass fields of olive treesand ride along the coast near Savelletri where we can opt to have spaghetti with ricci di mare right on the beach, take a swim or just admire the coast with its line up of antique watch towers used to defend the coast. The laid back lifestyle in Puglia is a great place to expand your senses and allow your mind to relax.
In 2013, our route through Puglia will be a little bit different. Can you explain the changes and why even people who have been to Puglia before with us will love this tour?
Ciclismo Classico has offered tours through Puglia since the 1990's and I personally have experienced three different versions of the tour. We are always trying to improve our tours and find new destinations to include in our trips. That brought us to the introduction of Matera, a province in the Basilicata region which is similar to Puglia but they are two seperate regions politically. Last summer, I scouted the Salento area and we decided to include it as well. The eight-day tour will now start in the city of Lecce which is in Puglia and it will end in Matera, a province in the Basilicata region. We are very confident this is the best La Bella Puglia ever!
While in Matera, you travel back in time several hundred years in the past. This region became renowned after The Passion of the Christ. The old part of town is called i sassi, which means the stones. This nickname was derived because every building in Matera seems sculpted, not built, out of sand stone. Its random layout will confuse you, its uniqueness, at least in the Western world, is what catches your attention. Its sunset can be very dramatic and triumphant.
Pugliese cuisine is fantastic- simple and tasty! The key though is not in the preparation but in the genuinity of the ingredients. Olive oil, tomatoes, eggplants, figs...everything grows well under the Puglian sun. Mozzarella and homemade pasta such as orecchiette are a daily treat. The food there is very much linked to the farmer's tradition, the "cucina contadina." Many great chefs from Puglia, some of which I will meet while in Boston and NY, often refer to their recipes' as "poor," this implies that they carry on the tradition of their parents whom very likely were farmers.
During the tour, we celebrate food from Puglia with cooking classes and demonstrations in some special settings such as at Tenuta Monacelle with awarded chef Pier Luca Ardito. There we dine in a Trullo-shaped dining room! This tour spends a lot of time with wine too (Beppe is a 1st level somellier) as wines from Puglia and Basilicata have rightly gained popularity. The reds are earthy and warm and they fill and caress your palate. We will toast from the start to the finish, from Salice Salentino to Aglianico del Vulture!
Lastly, we've been focusing on La Bella Puglia which is our moderate level tour. Bike Across Italy 2, which is an advanced tour, also takes you through the Puglia region. What parts of Puglia do you experience on that trip?
This is a fantastic journey from coast to coast which begins in one of my favorite places in the entire world, Polignano! The Bike Across Italy 2 tour goes to Alberobello, a small town in Puglia and Matera. Both locations are UNESCO World Heritage Sites so we definitely wanted to include those in our itinerary. Bike Across Italy 2 is an advanced tour so if you are an advanced rider you won't be disappointed. We consistently receive great feed back from guests who visit these less known regions.