Day 5: Polignano a Mare and Alberobello
Today we took the day off from biking to go on some sightseeing visits. One of our regular drivers had fallen ill and couldn’t come, so I got to demonstrate my awesome driving abilities on the nail-biting mountainside road to Polignano a Mare. This gorgeous city is built atop cliffs that jut out into the beautiful turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
We had lunch at a cute waterfront bistro with spectacular views. I was worried that, with my shellfish allergy, I wouldn’t find anything to eat, but there were plenty of delicious items on the menu for me.
Our group had some scheduled free time this afternoon, and several guests asked specifically if we could go see Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its unique architecture (the cone-roofed Trulli).
Many wondered why this spot isn’t part of our included itinerary. Our host, Paul, told us that, while the town is charming, it has gobs of tourists everywhere, and we certainly found that to be true! Our Puglia trip is special because it focuses on the genuine “slice-of-life” Italian experience, and stays away from touristy throngs. We were very happy to return to the tranquility and intimacy of the villa.
Tonight we had a pizza party at “home”, as we’d come to think of our private estate.
Steven had spent the afternoon making dough, and chopping toppings. When we all got back, he had the wood-fired pizza oven up to temperature. The oven in the villa has been in operation for over 600 years… and, like grandma’s cast iron pan, it’s never been washed! Everyone had fun creating their own authentic Italian pizza.
Day 6: Matera and its Preserved Passion
We drove to Matera today, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the village. I felt like I’d traveled 2000 years back in time. Matera is often used to depict ancient civilizations in movies, perhaps most famously featured in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” We went into several well-preserved cave dwellings to see how the local people once lived. The entire city is essentially built as one giant cistern that funnels all the rainwater that falls on the city into each individual house.
The houses are carved out of the mountainside, and their entryways are all built from the excavated stone. The roads drive right over peoples’ roofs. It’s an amazing feat of engineering.
We had lunch at an agriturisimo, enjoying local delicacies produced right on the property. The food was delicious, and the only complaint (my absolute favorite customer complaint) was “I ate too much.”
From here we cycled back to the villa through some absolutely spectacular countryside. Our group split in two, and our faster riders went on a challenging custom route, while the rest of us took a shorter, more leisurely route back to the villa.
Day 7: Trani!
Today marked the final day we could all bike together. It made me awfully sad to realize the trip was going to come to an end. I really loved the time I spent getting to know these guests in the peaceful country villa. Our route was absolutely spectacular. We spent about an hour and a half riding through gorgeous olive groves and past the amazing villas until we came to the seaport town of Trani.
Right on the waterfront is a giant, austere cathedral (Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino).
The most fascinating part of this building was the tour underneath the structure, down into the catacombs and through the layers of excavations that are still uncovering collapsed churches that the cathedral was built upon.
We stopped for gelato afterward, where I tried to flirt with the help behind the counter. I have zero command of Italian, so I kept trying to get Paul to translate for me. Paul refused, saying he would only translate if he could say inappropriate things. In the end, I gave up, but on my way out the door got a big “thank you for the compliments,” from the barista who, apparently, can speak perfect English. Gah!!!
Tonight we had a big farewell dinner at the villa (again eliciting complaints of too much delicious food!), with wine and candles, laughter and memories. The beautiful region, lovely accommodations, and our warm hosts come together to make the Puglia Villa Bicycling Experience one of our most popular tours. We offer a spring departure and a fall date, with each season offering its own flavor of fun.
And if you would like to explore the region further, please check out our new Italy Unveiled cultural tour. On this trip you can actually spend a couple of nights in Matera, gazing up at the ceiling of your room in a former church – built into the hillside! Along with Matera, the tour starts in Rome, with stops in Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Capri and several locations in Puglia.
We love Puglia so much we can’t wait to go back! Here are links to some upcoming tours:
Puglia Villa Culinary Tour (All of the sites and culinary delights by van, with optional biking)