Puglia: Cycling, Cuisine and Culture - Skipping About the Continent - CycleBlaze

April 27, 2022

Puglia: Cycling, Cuisine and Culture

Some final thoughts

It’s unusual for me to give a summary or tour wrap-up, but in keeping with the theme of this journal - here goes:


What can I say – I found Puglia to be a fantastic destination for cycling. The terrain and landscapes are interesting and varied – from dead flat stretches along the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, to rolling terrain over headlands, to some modest climbing up to and on the Murgia Plateau. And if you want a greater challenge, nearby Gargano Peninsula and the southern Apennines Mountains can easily scratch your elevation itch.

Though you may spend hours, or days, without a discernible gain in elevation, you are never bored. Few things can match the joy of cycling along a coastal road, with the seas stretching to the horizon and waves crashing against a rocky shoreline. As wonderful as the coastal route is, the smaller state provincial highways and local roads provide a wealth of low-traffic, scenic route options for exploring the interior of Puglia, especially the Itria Valley and the Alta Murgia National Park. Nearly all of my cycling was on paved roads, which were generally in pretty good shape. However, there are several unpaved roads and trails for those interested in hiking and/or gravel riding.

Winds were also a factor - sometimes causing a change in plans, more often just one of the unwelcome challenges of cycle touring. I’m not sure if winds here are particularly strong in the spring, or if they blow from a particular direction at certain times of the year. Whatever the case, I wish tailwinds for everyone.

Along the Adriatic Sea, on the way to Otranto
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In Alta Murgia National Park
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Puglia has a very long and strong ethos of what is now fashionably called “eating local.” Most of the cuisine is based on food harvested from the sea or grown/raised on local farms. Mussels, octopi, sea urchins and fresh line fish were prominent, especially in the Salento. Broad beans and other legumes were common and used in a wide variety of ways, from pasta dishes to hearty soups to a puréed base for grilled octopus or other seafood accompaniment. Locally pressed olive oil and Martina Franca hams were ever-present, as were vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant and artichokes. The food is not heavily seasoned, relying on the freshness of ingredients to impart taste and texture. There are a number of high-end restaurants in the tourist towns of Puglia, but apart from my “foodie lunch” in Matera, my meals were at moderate priced restaurants serving traditional, and sometimes rather simple, fare. Two of my favorite dishes were Crapiata, a peasant bean soup, and Orecchiette Alla Materana, a baked pasta dish meant to evoke home-cooked meals of your childhood. Finally, food items not to be missed are Margherita Pizza and cream-filled pasticciotti.

Margherita Pizza
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 The scope of human culture in Puglia/Basilicata dates from the at least the 3rd millennium BC to the present day. It is a land that has been settled/conquered by troglodytes, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Germans and Spanish. Influences of those prior inhabitants remain today - in the layout of the ancient cities, in the adornments of palazzos or churches, in the fortresses and towers erected to defend against another onslaught of would-be conquerors. The area abounds with wonderful medieval towns such as Ostuni and Lecce, magical towns such as Arborobello, and jaw-dropping towns such as Matera. It is a land that has long been a mixing pot of cultures, through war, conquest or trade. The people are friendly, welcoming to strangers. While English is not common and I had limited interactions with those outside of tourist venues, I found everyone to be warm, helpful and enjoying life.

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Alex, a friendly Puglian cyclist
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Another friendly Puglian cyclist - who stopped to chat but we basically just smiled and waved across the language barrier
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In short, it was a wonderful tour in an area I highly recommend. 

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