Monthly winter stay in the Itria valley, famous for its olive groves and trullo houses (Itria Valley by bicycle blog post) in the region of Apulia (Puglia) in the very south of Italy, it only whetted the appetite for cycling in the region. I've already made up my mind, that I will return there in the spring - because the day is longer, the weather is kinder and the landscapes and architecture (Baroque reigns and the building material is the famous local sandstone) and how trullo houses taken out of a fairy tale stole my heart. Not to mention the emerald color of the water in the sea (my post on the topic HERE. (Edit 2023 – I lived there again for 3 months in winter 2022/2023).
In particular, I wanted to visit the Salentinian peninsula, or as Italians say - Salento. This is the very end of the Italian "heel". From there, in good weather, you can already see Albania, and even Africa.
As he said so she did. The overnight Flixbus from Rome provided my bike with a decent overnight rest and turned out to be the cheapest and fastest option to transport to the capital of the Salento region - Lecce city.. Ps. I was coming from Tuscany, but the easiest way from Poland is to fly to Bari. So far, in December, I had the opportunity to visit the capital of the region, the weather, however, made it impossible to venture further afield. Yep, Apulia is quite a boo, in addition, it often rains in winter.
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Two words about Salento
Salento is a sub-region of the Apulia administrative region, the southernmost point of Italy. It is a peninsula, sometimes referred to as the heel of an Italian "shoe". Greek influences are mixed here, Turkish, Germanic and Italian. It is completely different here than in northern Italy. The architecture is dominated by the baroque, there are also the oldest olive groves in Italy. There is hardly anything to mention about the richness of seafood in a place surrounded by waters on three sides.
Capital of Salento – Lecce
I was delighted with Lecce in a flash. Lecce is like a sponge cake covered in frosting. Monumental, but a city full of subtleties, that the elaborate one gives, rich ornamentation of churches, houses, sculptures. All in a creamy-yellow color, because that's what the local building material has - sandstone from Lecce. This particular type of stone is mined here in the area, is one of the city's main exports. Soft and workable building material, which is easy to form. In Lecce, not only sacred buildings and monuments were created from it, but houses, street, streets, the intricacies of which I did not comprehend.
I packed my bike, I drank cafe latte, I took a bite of a croissant, that is croissant at the nearest bar, I wandered the streets of Lecce (I recommend at least one night in Lecce, but I was able to shorten my stay because I had spent there before 3 days) and I went on tour. And there, in addition to the abundance of multi-colored ones, spring flowers, I was met with a tremendous amount of cyclists! April and May is the full season of cycling, then it's too hot in here. Although this year, as it turned out later, the turn of April and May was not the most cheerful.
Standard itinerary for a bike tour of the Salento region of Apulia
I looked at the route by studying the trip plan. It was just a rough outline, but he was creating some kind of framework plan. The itinerary of the bike tours around Salento is quite similar, not to say identical (I looked through a few). Lecce is usually treated as the starting point (Access from Bari, e.g.. train). Salento is a mostly flat region (one of the few in Italy), There is no shortage of people willing to ride a bike.
The suggested weekly bike route is:
Lecce (departure towards the Adriatic Sea) - Acaya castle - Alimini lakes - Otranto and surroundings (loop) - coast crossing to Cape Leuca – drive partly along the coast to Gallipoli - loop around Gallipoli - return to Lecce.
I was going to use the arranged program, but as luck would have, that the Italian long weekend had just begun.. 25 April, Italians celebrate Liberation Day. When I got to the coast, there was quite a lot of traffic on the roads. Driving along the coast quite quickly, I had holes in the noses of the crowds, the noise and screams of Italian families and the roar of speeding motorbikes.
Via Francigena in Apulia
“Guard, a pilgrim, like us! look, she is a pilgrim like us! the girl with the backpack said to her partner, as I parked my bike at Otranto Castle and waved me happily. "Una pellegrina" - with my laden bike, I definitely stand out from the crowd of light riders and this term gave me the idea. The Italian section of the Via Francigena pilgrimage route, whose main road leads from Canerbury in England to Rome (and next), and which I used to drive in Tuscany before, continues to the tip of the Italian heel. And on the roads of Apulia I saw quite a lot of pilgrims.
Otranto is the easternmost city in Italy. For centuries, it was one of the seats of the Byzantine Empire and also the cultural and artistic center of the entire region. I wandered around the waking streets, I walked around the castle without deciding to visit it. Pub owners were lazily setting tables and turning up the music. I also found a nice eatery, where I drank my coffee, and that I left heading south. I decided to stick to Via Francigena instead of going along the coast.
Marking of the route was good. I traveled all day through "pilgrimages" through small Apulian towns, which die at noon and wake up in the evening, narrow, side roads and olive groves. The route is high overland, in many places you can see the surface of the sea on the horizon. I finished Via Fracingena at Cape Leuca, which wash the waters of the Adriatic and Ionian seas.
Yep, thus I bypassed the road Otranto - Gallipoli, which runs along a cliff for several dozen kilometers. It is definitely one of the most beautiful coastal parts of the region, but I was pleased. On Saturday, lots of drivers turn out to be on it. I just let go, but let everyone decide for himself, which route to choose.
Cape Santa Maria di Leuca and the coast road to Gallipoli
The lighthouse in Leuca, white tower high on 47 meters, the second highest in Italy can be seen a few kilometers earlier. Near the lighthouse there is the Basilica "The End of the World", which commemorates Saint Peter's alleged passage there. Something was going on with her the day before, I saw and heard fireworks from my lair in an olive grove a few kilometers away. Only then did I realize, that it was a national holiday.
In the morning, however, nothing happened. In the cloudless, a clear day the deep blue surface of the sea, surrounding the cape on three sides as if stuck in place. I looked and headed north along the coast, towards the city - the port of Gallipoli. The road here is practically flat - in contrast to the one leading along the coast, quite demanding due to the Otranto hills - Gallipoli. I was pushing the pedals hard and by 2 p.m. I had it 60 km in the legs. I passed many beautiful beaches (one of them is called "Maldives", which crowded in summer now welcomed the first followers of bathing. For me, it was still too cold to take a bath. I stayed three nights in the town of Tuglie, some 10 km from the coast, and I went to Gallipoli the next day.
It is called the pearl of Salento, because it is a port city picturesquely situated on a promontory in the Ionian Sea. Its name is derived from the original Greek name “Cale police” meaning “beautiful city". It is famous for its impressive beaches and charming little town, fortified historic city center. It is one of the most visited places in the region.
Honestly, I don't quite know why - it has a lot of charm, but that would not be the purpose of a day trip for me, I drove around them in half an hour. It's worth it, but there are many more beautiful villages in the region. There is also a public beach in the city center, were the first users.
This is why, why is it worth coming here, basically it's BEACHES, Baia Verde in particular - it's a beach, basically a string of beaches and coves, located about three kilometers south of the city. It is considered to be one of the best beaches in Puglia and on the entire coast of the Ionian Sea. This is where I pulled out my swimsuit for the first time. Emerald water, coves, sand.. eh. Story. I was absolutely infatuated with them, although I am not a supporter of lying on the sun with my cake. Of course, on the first hot May days in mid-May, there was almost nobody there - which completely changes in the season, i.e. from June.
Galatone, Galatina, Tuglie, Nardo, Copertino and other towns in the Salento area
You're leaving? And with us it is the most interesting weekend! The patron saint of the city will be celebrated.. there will be a lot going on, and the most important things on Sunday.. I was bid farewell by the owner of the lodging in Tuglie, but unfortunately I had to go, the rubber pocket is not and I sat there anyway 4 working at night and then getting sick, but also eating seafood, which I bought in a fish store and had nowhere to prepare them. I left Tuglie with regret, just after, to then zigzag, and even backwards, wandering around the local fields and visiting towns. Each of them is a gem and I saw decorations in almost all of them. It looked like it, that it was the season for the celebrations of the patron saints of the cities.. Usually around the cathedral, the main squares were decorated with lace structures like.. at Christmas time. Unfortunately, it was either too early to visit them, or too late. Each town is worth visiting, but some more.
The first fruits are waiting for us by the roads – medlar. The figs were unfortunately still unripe.
It is a lovely city with Greek roots. The old center is a series of streets and alleys gleaming in the sun, elegant palaces. The main square is dominated by the majestic St.. Peter and Paul with a fabulous baroque pediment. The second and perhaps more interesting, o Cathedral of Santa Caterina d'Allessandria is unusual for the region – it is in gothic style – the most interesting is one interior covered with dozens of paintings. It is really impressive. I knew, that the interior is only opened to 3 hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, I was aiming like that, to hit.
Practical note - like most places in the region and in Italy in general, the cathedral is open only in the morning and after noon (9-12.30 and 15.30 – 17.30). Tune in, that life in Italy, especially noon, it only works during these hours. In hours 13.00 – 16/17.00 freezes. Shops are closed (apart from big cities), pubs also close max 14.30.
It is also famous, as is the whole Salento from the pasticiotto. Another famous local specialty is the orechiette pasta (ravioli). It is worth visiting the tourist information in the clock tower, their service is really committed, there is also a lot of free material.
First I visited and explored Galatone, and unexpectedly after 2 weeks I came to live and work there (I found the best price offer). Well then.
Tomorrow 1 May, please go to Galatone, there will be horses! She praised the girl at the tourist information desk in Galatin.
1 May reminds me of parades, so I pictured uniformed handsome men on horses.
So I came to Galatone 1 May and saw.. a parade of all kinds of carriages!
This, as it turns out, is the custom in Galatone, region Salento.
This city cannot be missed. It is probably the most beautiful of all the Apulian towns I have visited.
How I regretted it, that I didn't get there in the evening! I was there before noon, as people slowly hid from the heat of the sun, which at the beginning of May began to heat properly. I would love to sit on the central square, Piazza Salandra - this is one of the most beautiful and surprising baroque squares in southern Italy, with a monumental carparo stone spire dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, the oldest Sedile building crowned with baroque sculptures. The colorful town houses decorated with balconies are completely inconsistent with this baroque "tortuga". An additional architectural curiosity are numerous scattered around the city “osierocone” bows.
I highly recommend spending some more time in Nardo, najlepiej przenocować by poczuć atmosferę placu wieczorem.
W Nardo znajduje się też kilka godnych uwagi restauracji. Poklikajcie sobie na opinie na google maps.
Gallipoli - Taranto along the coast - the most beautiful beaches of Salento
However, the sea is the sea and when you are near it, you want to taste it. I went down to the coast, this time of the Ionian Sea near Porto Cesarea. In the town itself I did not find anything interesting (except the bakery, where I bought a wonderful focaccia covered with sauce and handmade orecchiette pasta – local specialties, but just outside Porto Cesarea I had to get off the bike and despite the cold wind go into the sea at least a little. City beach and the color of the water, its transparency delighted me completely. I'm sure, that the beach is very crowded in summer, but apart from me they were on it 3 people.
Towards Taranto, to 30 km before the city, several dozen kilometers of uninterrupted adventure with the sea awaited me. This is the most beautiful coastal section of Salento (except the aforementioned Otranto - Leuca) leading along the coast. The number of beaches and the possibility of bathing are endless. At some point, some protected dunes intersect - you cannot camp there overnight, but it is the most beautiful, because wild terrain.
How to arrange a bicycle route when you arrive / taking off from Bari? Suggested tour program
From what I see, most cyclists choose the route only along the coast. Error. I understand the desire to commune with water, bath and that, it's hard to combine the two, but the Apulian interior is an authentic place, with lots of towns – pearls and roads between olive groves, where it is safe to go.
The Adriatic coast and the Ionian Sea are completely different. On the Adriatic side, there are cliffs and caves, however, there are few beaches, especially sandy ones. What is important, the road by the sea between Bari and Brindisi often runs right next to the motorway. No pleasure. So I suggest you take a bike to the "obligatory" Polignano a Mare / Monopoli, from there turn in the Highlands to the Itria Valley (Alerobello, Cisternino, Locorotondo and lots of lanes in between), Ostuni and from there you reach Brindisi and Lecce.
Then you can repeat the program of a week-long trip around Salento that I suggested earlier and go back to the sea in Porto Cesarea, heading for Taranto. Over there, if time allows you to go back to the famous rock beauty, the city of Matera carved in the rock, try the famous Altamura bread. If there is a need, you can use local railways (zobacz mój post na temat przewożenia roweru pociągiem we Włoszech), which in Puglia take bikes free of charge.
Practical tips for cycling in the Itria Valley – Itria Valley by bicycle blog post, of one of the most interesting regions of Puglia and a description of bicycle routes in Puglia you will find in the previous post.
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