The itinerary for Day Two of my fabulous week in Puglia was a 43-mile loop to Otranto, a beautiful, whitewashed seaside town. We really got a look at the Pugliese countryside on this ride. Dry stone walls lined the road and acres upon acres of olive trees covered the landscape. And there were also prickly pear plants, which look like flat cacti with red fruit dangling off the edges.
At five miles, our guide Cristiano Bonino, of FoodStoriesTravel.com, took us on a detour so we could see a 4,000-year-old stone structure, called The Dolmen “Placa.” That’s one of the things I love about exploring Italy: you can come across a preserved 4,000-year-old stone structure in the middle of an olive grove. It has seven upright stones with one on top, like an altar. History says it was probably a tomb but it also may have been used for celebrations and rituals. I liked seeing something so unusual on the ride.
Seven miles later we were at our first coffee break in a town called Borgagne. Upon arrival, we saw a scene of daily life I’ve seen replayed plenty of times: piazza, fountain, men sitting on benches shooting the breeze. We all gave them a “Buon Giorno” and then proceeded to refill water bottles, grab a snack, get an espresso or cappuccino and refresh ourselves. And then, of course, I had to have another near mishap on my bike, again with my right foot getting stuck in the pedal. Turns out I lost a screw on my shoe clip so for the rest of the trip, I was one shoe clipped in, one shoe clipped out.
This was also my first foray with driving in traffic in a town. While in the beginning I was nervous and a bit apprehensive, especially going around those traffic circles, I learned quickly that drivers in Italy respect cyclists and will always wait for you. They also honk when they’re going to pass.
I’d also never used a Garmin GPS device before. Every ride was programmed in it and we all went step-by-step on how to set up the daily rides. Piece of cake. And even though it was pretty tough to get lost – we were all connected by our phones, Cristiano or Suzie were always either behind us in the van or riding with us – some of us did try. Well, not really “lost.” Just taking turns where, ahem, we shouldn’t have. “Does yours say to turn right?” was a common refrain, usually among me, Melanie and Chris, the three of us who were usually in the back of the pack. Then out of the blue, Cristiano would appear and lead us to our stop (Or Suzie would be in the van, with her arm out the window, pointing in the direction we should take).
It was comical.
The ride to Otranto was pretty flat most of the way but then we hit some hills. We went down a big hill upon arrival into a parking lot and I was wondering if we’d have to go back that way when we left (read: up that hill. We didn’t.) We could hit the beach or visit the town or both. It was a gorgeous sunny day and I ventured out to get the panoramic view and see the town.
I discovered local specialties like orange-flavored linguine and a pasta called “sagne n’cannulate,” or pasta ribbons rolled into spiral tresses. I also found a shop that made taralli, my favorite snack food from southern Italy.
The shops were also full of pumi, ceramic pieces that look like rosebuds, that are put on balconies and in homes to ward off evil and bring good luck. I bought some taralli and a bookmark from the castle of Otranto. Pugliese towns have a lot of castles.
When we met up again for the return trip, we threw our purchases in the van, donned our helmets, gloves and shoes and headed out. The evening program was a group dinner in nearby Lecce, a Baroque city that just so happens to have Roman amphitheater ruins in the middle of town.
The whole town was out for the Sunday evening passegiata, an Italian custom. There was a shop there that sold nothing but taralli in flavors that I’d never imagined. That was a fun shop!
Then we had another wonderful dinner full of local specialties, this time with mussels, zucchini, some incredibly delicious tomatoes, crunchy friselle bread and octopus. Rooster one night, octopus the next! Everything was so tasty and full of flavor.
For all of our group dinners, Cristiano has worked with the chef to come up with a menu that showcases the region. It was a great way to taste so many different things. And this was just the second day.
Next up: Day Three – we stop at a winery for lunch and I learn all about riding into a headwind.