The final ride of this great week was to the coastal town of Polignano a Mare, 26 miles away. Then we were going to hop in a boat and see the rocky coast from the sea. I loved discovering Puglia and I loved it even more discovering it by bicycle. I challenged myself every day and was fortunate to have had such a friendly group of fellow riders for my first cycling vacation.
Cheers to them!
Now with the big Feast going on in Alberobello, there was a buzz of activity early in the morning, most notably fireworks. It symbolizes the start of the celebration. I also happened upon a marching band playing in front of the Duomo, in front of a stately-looking gentleman. Maybe the mayor? (See video)
We also had to do a bit of navigating to get out of Alberobello. I loved meandering among the trulli. It got a bit tricky going around the crowd though. And then we came upon a big street market, which did not help. So we just hopped off our bikes and walked through it. Nobody was moving for us anyway.
Cristiano explained that the first part of the ride “is just a little uphill.” But then the second half was a nice decline into town, with the sea in front of us. Well, he was right about the “uphill” part. It’s not that it was a steep ride. But there were some long, low hills, one after another. Then we’d hit a fabulous big downhill, only to see the big uphill right after it. The scenery was more residential at some points and there were even a few barking dogs behind gates that startled me a few times.
Then as we got about 14 miles out, the rest of the way was mostly downhill and we all entered Polignano a Mare together. The town is also the birthplace of singer Dominic Modugno, who made the song “Volare” an international sensation. To commemorate that, there is a statue of Dominic in a piazza, his arms stretched out as if he’s singing. The souvenir shops in town have magnets with photos of the statue, calling him “Mr. Fly.” (Volare means “to fly” in Italian.) What a hoot. What kitsch.
So we parked the bikes, took off our pedals and took off the Garmins. Then I gave my bike a salute and headed off to discover the town. Of course it’s quaint and beautiful and has a stunning bridge from which to get great views but the town’s shining star is its rocky coast. There’s a rocky beach with towering cliffs, some of which are used for cliff diving competitions.
Then we all met up after lunch, headed down to a marina where we got on two boats to see the coast from the sea. The sharp rocky ridges were pretty impressive. And the water in the grottoes was so clear. That was a nice couple of hours out there, on that nice sunny day.
Driving back to Alberobello in a big 14-seat van felt odd. No GPS, no navigating traffic circles, wondering if we should go left or right, no pedal-clipping out and in to stop and go.
Back in town, fellow cyclist Melanie invited us to taste three wines she bought along the way – two primitivos and a zinfandel.
And then it was time for our last group dinner, at Ristorante “L’Aratro.” It was located in the busy shopping area with the renovated trulli. In fact, the restaurant is in a trullo. The chef Domenico Laera, complete with his oh so colorful long apron was waiting for us at the door.
Everything on the menu was a Pugliese tradition and all the wines were from local producers. There was more chicory, figs, caciocavallo cheese, whole wheat cavatelli pasta, lots of mouth-watering tomatoes, a lamb chop which was cooked in a terracotta pot, with potatoes and wild onions and Pugliese canestrato cheese. We enjoyed a semifreddo almond cake for dessert topped with some delicious after-dinner liqueurs. Perfect.
Back in the center of town, the Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian was in full swing. All the lights were on, tons of people were out and that afore-mentioned band was playing in the gazebo. Julie, Chris and I just took it all in, laughing about anything and everything. It was such a festive atmosphere. What a great way to end the week.
The next morning, we left in waves because of varying train schedules. I had to catch a flight to Milano. Cristiano was on his way to Piedmont for his next tour and Suzie was headed back to her home in Chianti. We all said our farewells and left beautiful Puglia.
THOUGHTS ON THE WEEK:
There are many active travel vacation companies out there that offer biking vacations and I have only been on one. I am glad to have chosen Cristiano Bonino and his FoodStoriesTravel.com company. I first met Cristiano over a Skype conversation three years ago. I was going to be in Italy and wanted to know about following his group around for a story.
I follow him on Facebook and Instagram so I see how much work he puts into the itineraries.
I’m new to the road cycling world and plan on going on future trips. When I saw this group, all 65 and older (save for Melanie) kicking it every day, regaling me with stories of their past trips, I realized it didn’t matter how new I was. I’m here now and I can’t wait to hit the road again.