I usually talk about plan B in relation to the choice of cycling, choosing the bike as a lifestyle, but just as often I find myself talking about plan B because I change my mind or because something happens that makes me change road and direction. Accept changes lulled by the wind, get carried away without resisting too much to get to know things that we wouldn’t have known otherwise.
And here we are, where the trip has begun.
The first tour of the year, a week off, my initial idea was to visit Istria, follow the Parenzana cycle path, between the hinterland and the sea. This time I decided not to travel alone, so I shared the event on Facebook on different groups, there I’ve found somebody that was interested in joining the tour. We wrote to each other, however many of them were doubtful about crossing the border with the fear of returning with a negative test. Initially, I thought it wasn’t so much a problem, but day by day with the increased rates of cases of the umpteenth variant of Covid-19 “Omicron”, I changed my mind. Thus was born the Apulia Winter tour, from Monopoli to Monopoli in 6 days.
The participants of the tour were acquaintances rather than friends, but people who somehow I had met once thanks to a cycling event I attended or thanks to the fact I followed them on some of the usual social media. Po 1974, Guido an experienced retired traveler, would also have come to Istria and in any case, decided to take part in the Apulia tour. Pedalento, Simone a passionate “graveller for real” who had thought of a Tuscan tour, but let himself be tempted by a tour in an unknown region to him. Stefania Zamperlin, who had already cycled with me once, when I was part of Wonderide (an association I’ve founded with friends in Milan), and who had dreamed to visit Apulia for some time.
The time to program was short, immediately I throw myself on the site of the Apulian Aqueduct cycleway, a project that I have been following for some time with curiosity and interest. I checked on the map, and I downloaded the files of the routes where the cycleway goes through Apulia, I saw that if we would have started in Alberobello and gone south, up to Santa Maria di Leuca, we would have been able to cross different areas of Apulia and return from the seaside stopping in nice towns like the baroque Lecce and visit it. I talked about the new plan with my travel mates and we all shared our thought about the routes creating a collaborative collection on Komoot, thanks to Guido who is an expert in the field!
Day 1: Monopoli – Alberobello (121 Km + 1080 m) gpx
Departure from Monopoli, where we met the night before in a nice B&B in the town center “Borgo San Martino“, we entered with difficulty through the small door of the old house, the stairs were too steep to carry our bicycle, however, the lady was very kind and she let us store our bicycles in her office. Rooms are cozy, warm, with lovely stone ceilings. In the morning, the alarm went off not too early and after breakfast, off we went along the coast, the first stop was in the nearby town of Polignano. From the sea promenade we could see the old village. The sun was warm, our road immediately left the coast, through small streets surrounded by stone walls and olive trees up to Cassano nelle Murge, where our path met the cycleway of the Apulian Aqueduct. It took very little before we got lost, our path ended in a meadow with no exits, we tried to pass, but we couldn’t, we went back, we took another small road and finally we managed to reach Gioia del Colle. Meanwhile, the sun was setting, we turned the lights on and for an hour or so we carried on in the dark, even though we cut straight to Alberobello, where our day ended in a Trullo (obviously). We were tired but happy with our adventure and satisfied with a succulent dinner at “Gli Ulivi Restaurant” with lots of starters and huge portions. We went back to the luxury Trullo under the stars of a beautiful night.
Day 2: Alberobello – Manduria (92.6 Km + 800 m) gpx
In the morning with the consequent slow wake-up call and the Apulian breakfast, to compensate for the missed evening visit to Alberobello, we returned to the village, we couldn’t miss the tour of the Monti district, Unesco heritage. The typical limestone houses, perfectly preserved hut shape captivates for their unique architecture. Off we went, and we left the city behind to enter a bristling and bumpy path towards one of the most exciting passages of the Apulian aqueduct cycleway, the stone bridge, here we were, as in the postcards seen on the web, us and the history of this magnificent opera. From Alta Murgia to Valle d’Itria to Terra d’Arneo, in one day we cover many parts of the greenway of the aqueduct which for a while between the municipalities of Locorotondo and Cisternino became the cycleway you won’t expect, perfectly indicated, flowing, smooth, with open gates, fountains, benches, to disappear again where the gates close and the traces are lost. We continued on alternative routes but as always the day went by quickly, the sun settled by the time we reached Manduria. Perfect time to get amazed by the Christmas lights and the white houses. We arrived at our B&B “PalÈat” where the girls who have recently opened the business warmly welcomed us. They say that when you travel you feel at home after a while, this is not always true, but it often is in Apulia.
Day 3: Manduria – Gallipoli (90.3 Km + 420 m) gpx
We woke up in Manduria with a wind that made itself felt, it is the Scirocco, a warm wind, so we could expect a beautiful day, but also a tiring day because obviously the wind is never in the cyclist’s favour! We started from Manduria on silent roads, we began to skirt a long stretch where our beloved Apulian aqueduct cycle path was running on a single track alongside our small road, at times we decided to take it, was also this time we found new gates that were closing our path. We also found ourselves entering a courtyard of a private house to follow the track. We crossed Galatina and Galatone, the towns were all very quiet, few people around, we stopped shortly because this time we wanted to arrive at Gallipoli with the sunset to enjoy the view of the sun going down towards the sea. The road was downhill when we arrived in the Gallipoli peninsula, we stopped at first along the access road before arriving towards the centre, the wind was still very strong, but we got our sunset picture! Gallipoli is a sailor town, marinas everywhere on the coast and the small white houses typical of the area. The roads of the old village are small, made like a maze, this was designed precisely to stop the wind from blowing inside. In the historic centre, there are many churches all enriched with frescoed altarpieces, we got amazed by an installation, a crib, 1: 1 scale with statues and scenographies of a true craftsman masterpiece.
Day 4: Gallipoli – Tricase (89.8 Km + 420 m) gpx
In Gallipoli our breakfast was a real reward, the weather was beautiful, so we had a chance to eat it on the terrace, with a magnificent view over the rooftops and the sea. Coffee, fruit, and pasticciotti (symbols of Salento pastry), a must in Puglia! We left the sea to return to the path of the Apulian Aqueduct cycle path, the sun was hot, with a light wind. Returning inland, we went back to our “following the AQP cycle path” we crossed Tuglie and Neviano villages, the cycle path immediately manifests itself as the real “Salento stretch” passing from small roads, fields, red earth paths above all in a splendid plateau. The colours are so beautiful between the red of the earth, the white of the walls and the green of the olive trees, that we stopped many times to take pictures, to admire the countryside. After the town of Montesardo the splendid descent on S. Maria di Leuca, when we arrived at the panoramic view by the lighthouse and the basilica of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae we could feel the emotion of the traveller, we have reached the most southern place of our tour, the end ends where the sea starts. From S. Maria di Leuca you continued climbing along the coast road, watching the sea, the cliffs and its inlets. Our arrival for the day was set in Tricase, again between detours and photos’ stops we arrived at sunset. Time to get organised, take a shower and we were out in the centre of small-town full of tower buildings and beautiful churches like San Domenico, a small baroque jewel. The temperatures were pleasant, so we stopped for a glass of wine sitting in a pedestrian street before the succulent dinner which, as every evening, was a difficult choice among the many local restaurants.
Day 5: Tricase – Lecce (85.8 Km + 560 m) gpx
Breakfast at the “le stanze di Brando & Nico” is a surprise, lots of cakes and fruit, while we serve ourselves at the delicacy table we met another traveller, a backpacker, but also a cycle-traveller. It is nice to meet people along the road of pilgrims, we can talk about the day ahead, the expectation and sometimes about the tiredness. That day we got surprised by another unexpected encounter, the fog, I wouldn’t have ever thought of being able to find in Apulia, yet she was there. We doubted about how much to cover ourselves, given the humidity, but luckily, after a while when we reached the seaside, it had disappeared. We found ourselves admiring a landscape more typical of an Irish coast than the Italian ones. We cycled against the wind and we were slow, even if fatigue does not count when you are surrounded by so much beauty, in additional thanks to the low season there was no one on the street, we were alone, us, the cliff and the sea. We continued up to Otranto where we stopped for a coffee in the small port, going along the narrow streets of the fisherman village reminded us a little of Gallipoli. About 25 km from Lecce, before entering and exiting the sea, we stopped at “Roca Vecchia” known today as the “Cave of poetry”, a magnificent rocky cove on the sea in the municipality of Melendugno, a natural space to admire and perfect in summer also for a swim thanks to its clear waters. Cycling towards Lecce, the thing that amazes us most was finding signs and cycleways that took us right into the city. We continue zigzagging through the planned tracks of Komoot and the signs we could find along the way. It was a simple ride, at 4.30 pm we were in front of San Biagio gate, in a moment we arrived at the convent where we would have been guests for the night. In Lecce, a friend of Stefania’s welcomed and let us around the city centre, telling us how the Lecce baroque, in addition of being rich and sumptuous, it hides among the common houses to amaze passers-by, who snooping between one street and the other find themselves repeating “wow” at every monument. In Lecce, we also met new friends, in fact, thanks to the posts we followed during the holiday on Instagram we were able to meet 4 Emilian travellers, who unlike us had made a piece of the Apulian Aqueduct cycleway starting from Matera, Basilicata. It has been a night of travel stories and good memories, accompanied by good food and a lot of wine!
Day 6: Lecce – Monopoli (119.8 Km + 390 m) gpx
Leaving Lecce after the rain of the night, the sky was deep grey, the wind had changed, we had to pedal fighting a cold north wind until the finish. The mood was low the right one for the last day, after a puncture, we pedalled without too many questions, without taking too many photos, the road was long and I guess we all felt a bit sad. From Lecce we found some recommended routes for bicycles, but after a while, we were close to the sea and we had to continue on a road belonging to the ring road with nothing to visit. Around 2 pm, it started to rain, we told ourselves that it was deserved, we hadn’t caught a drop of water in a week of travel. We manage to get to the sea in Marina d’Ostuni to drink a hot cappuccino, we had travelled for 90km, we were closer to Monopoli. It stopped raining, the path took us through a tourist village closed by bars (not enough to stop us), we run along the sea, still on small roads in the countryside, until the arrival. We did it.
This Apulian journey hasn’t been a difficult journey, we got lost when we absolutely wanted to follow the traces of the Apulian Aqueduct cycleway, but we never gave up, we cycled through fields, along with old houses, villages, among the olive trees in a perfect atmosphere thanks also to my travel companions. A journey that warms soul and body (thanks to the delightful temperatures of southern Italy in winter) and fills eyes with colours, landscapes, dreams.