Two weeks after returning from my recent bicycling trip to Puglia, I am still in awe of the experience.
I love bicycling for major birthdays and 2016 was a major one for me. Unfortunately my birthday is in March, a challenging time of year to find a place to bicycle in Europe where the weather will be pleasant. Five years ago, I celebrated my last major birthday in the northern part of Puglia, so it seemed logical to spend this birthday in Puglia’s southern section, called the Salento.
I was able to develop an itinerary with the help of Carlo of Salento Bici Tour in Lecce, one of the most knowledgeable cyclists in the Salento region. My tour began in the gorgeous Baroque town of Lecce and traveled south along the Adriatic coast to the beautiful town of Otranto. From Otranto, the route followed often steep and winding roads through the volcanic region to Santa Maria di Leuca and its famous lighthouse and Italy’s southern tip. The route then turned north, following the heel’s western coast and the Ionian Sea to the charming fishing town of Gallipoli and then back to Lecce via the towns of Nardo, Galatina and Galatone.
This was one of the most breathtaking, arduous and life-changing bicycling adventures I’ve ventured. It was a cruel twist of fate that our first day challenged us with near 20 mph winds the entire day, requiring a level of effort I never recovered from. The second day was equally breathtaking and physically demanding as we navigated up…and down unending hairpin turns. Most vacationing cyclists would do this stage in 2 parts. Unfortunately I didn’t. The cumulative effect of 2 consecutive hard days left me doubting if I would be able to finish the day’s stage…a first for me.
The good news, I did finish this stage, I enjoyed the most gorgeous scenery of any bicycling trip ever, I met some of the most memorable people of any vacation and I experienced an incredible sense of accomplishment in completing this birthday challenge. The end result? I cannot wait to do this bicycling trip again, but this time, slowly and leisurely, perhaps with a couple days of cooking classes in Lecce thrown in for a treat.
Would I recommend this region to recreational cyclists? Without reservation, just in shorter stages. Hopefully you’ll understand why when you look at some of my favorite photos!