A Birthday Cycling Adventure in Southern Italy

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.

The Salento Region is the yellow at the end of the boot

The Salento is the end of the boot in yellow

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!

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. Hello Maggie,
    I was surprised and intrigued by your most recent trip. For a number of years, I have fantasized about traveling to the “heel of the boot”, just to go to a relative obscure location and also experience an unvarnished Italy. I look forward to reading more of your trip details and experiences. Maybe biking it is a possibilty for and “old guy” although the window is getting smaller.

    Looking forward to next post.

    Regards,
    John Soehnlein
    Janesville, WI

    1. Thanks so much for the very nice note! My 2 trips to Italy were two of the best trips of my life! While I love bicycling in France, my birthday trips to Puglia were both fantastic. Hopefully you’ll love my next post detailing the top 10 reasons for cycling this area. Italy in general does not have a lot of what I would call recreational cycling, but in Puglia it is possible to cycle on quiet backroads through vineyards and olive groves with century old trees. The coastline is spectacular, the food to die for and an area with few tourists in the off-season. If you are seriously considering a journey to this area, definitely read my upcoming posts, and send me a note too. I will publish an e-book on this region, but probably not until 2017. Thanks again for your note and for reading Experience France By Bike!

      Maggie LaCoste