I have a special birthday coming up next month, a perfect occasion to celebrate biking in Europe, but March is still too cold, windy and rainy in France. Where could I go that would offer many of the same benefits as France, just warmer and hopefully drier? Sicily was a possibility, but I wasn’t excited about the hilly terrain. Majorca was also a possibility. Then there was Puglia in the heel of Italy’s boot. I love Italy, but was completely unfamiliar with this region. So a few weeks ago, I began pouring through old bike and guidebooks, learning everything that I could about this relatively unknown region of Italy. The more I read, the more I realized that Puglia was the perfect choice for my birthday biking adventure. While I will miss spending time this spring biking in France, I will have an incredible new opportunity to explore the backroads of rural Puglia.
So what is it about Puglia that makes it a perfect choice for my birthday biking trip? There is a Italian saying that was passed on to me by a new Italian friend, Loredana D’Ambra: Lentius, Soavius, Profundius. The literal English translation is slower, deeper, sweeter. The better explanation offered by Loredana is: the pace of life in Puglia is slow and meaningful, thus making life so much sweeter. Life centers on family and every part of life’s daily ritual is savored here, from the morning expressino and pasticciotto to the afternoon passeggiata with friends and family. Puglia is a perfect region to savor Italian life and customs far beyond being a mere tourist.
I have learned that Puglia is a very unique region in Italy, and its people are just as unique. Here are just a few of the facts about Puglia that sealed the deal for me:
- Puglia is the world’s leading producer of olive oil. There are more than 50,000,000 olive trees in the region! Olive oil production can be traced back to the time of the ancient Greeks.
- Puglia has more than 200 preserved 13th to 17th century castles and watch towers.
- Puglia produces 17% of the wine in Italy, on a par with Sicily as Italy’s top wine producing region. Vineyards cover over a quarter of a million acres of land in Puglia.
- Puglia is a cyclist’s paradise, flat with many local agricultural roads perfect for leisurely biking.
- Puglia is a food-lover’s paradise with specialties ranging from world-famous burrata cheese to focaccia to calzuncieddi, panzerotti and sfogliate, and biscuits by the name of frisedde and taralli. There is even a bread from Altamura that has received a DOP seal(similar to that given wine), the first bread in Europe to be so designated.
- Puglia has more sunny days than any other region in Italy.
- Puglia has more than 30 varieties of pasta that are unique to the region. Puglia has numerous pasta factories that are producing artisinal pastas the way it was made hundreds of years ago.
- Puglia is rich in archeological findings, settled from the 1st millenium BC. The area has been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, and the Spanish, just to name a few.
- Puglia is home to Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site with more than 15,000 trulli in the surrounding Itria Valley
- Puglian cuisine is regarded as one of the healthiest in the world with strong Mediterranean overtones–homemade pasta and cheese, fresh vegetables, beans, hearty grains, seafood and of course, olive oil.
I could keep going on, but I think you probably get the picture. Puglia’s history, geography, customs, people and food are unique to Italy. It is a region where it is still possible to experience adventure in areas where few tourists visit. I hope that you will follow me in late March, when I take a short holiday from biking in France to visit this captivating region of Italy. I am hoping that “Buorgiorno” becomes as endearing of a greeting to me as “Bon Jour” is in France.