Head of Business Intelligence Peter Crane has been taking his family on Explore trips for years, and they're big fans of our self-guided collection. Here's how they fared on a family cycling holiday in Puglia.
Having cycled from the Dolomites to Lake Garda in northern Italy last year the vote from the whole family, three teenagers included, was to go back this year and cycle a different region. We decided to head south to Puglia, in the ‘heel’ of Italy with the Ionian Sea on one side and the Adriatic on the other, on Explore’s seven day Self-Guided Puglia Cycling route.
We loved everything about Puglia, its beautiful rolling olive groves and vineyards, white sand beaches, fabulous hilltop towns and villages, its remarkable architecture and history stretching back to the Normans, Byzantines, Romans, Greeks and beyond, and some of the best food and wine we’ve tasted anywhere. It wasn’t expensive either, with generous pizzas or pasta meals for around €6-€8 and wine rarely more than €10 a bottle.
The route was excellent, well planned and full of variety, with every day taking us through different terrain and landscapes. These were some of our cycling highlights:
Setting out from Alberobello with its picturesque, whitewashed ‘trulli’ (conical stone dwellings) and riding through fertile, rolling olive groves lined with immaculate dry-stone walls. Just beautiful.
The approach ride to Ostuni, a glittering white city dramatically perched on a hilltop overlooking the coastal plain and the Adriatic; or better still, cycling out early the next day through cobbled squares and backstreets before the tour groups arrived.
Our first view of the startling blue Ionian Sea, en route to the fortified coastal town of Gallipoli, with its amazing baroque cathedral and web of cobbled backstreets and tiny piazzas.
Cycling the blissfully deserted coastal route from Santa Maria di Leuca, on Puglia’s southernmost tip, heading north to Otranto, with occasional swim stops along the way; we had a few challenging climbs this day but they were more than worth it for the wide-open clifftop views.
Arriving by bike into Lecce (the so-called Florence of the South) at the end of our ride and enjoying a well-earned ‘spritz’ in the main square, surrounded by the extravagantly ornate Lecce baroque architecture.
We also loved all the little encounters along the way (often food related!) like stopping for cappuccinos, freshly squeezed juices, home-made gelati or buying delicious, made-to-order panini at lunch from local ‘salumeria’ delicatessens.
The hotels were a highlight for us too, each special in its own way and all family owned and operated. Our favourite was Hotel La Terra, a converted 13th-century palace in the heart of Ostuni’s historic old town, where the medieval wine cellar doubled up as a bike store. We also liked Hotel l’Approdo in Santa Maria di Leuca, with its lovely pool and terrace, fresh seafood pastas and views out over the Mediterranean.
We cycled on lightweight 27-gear hybrid bikes fitted with thin road tyres, front and side panniers, locks and spare inner tubes. These were ideal for the 250 kilometre route, all of which is on tarmac. Most of the cycling was on quiet, rural backroads but occasionally we had to use busier routes. Here we found the Italian drivers very respectful of cyclists, much more so than in the UK, giving a wide berth and often a friendly toot to let you know they’re coming past. Route finding was easy, using the printed notes and maps and occasionally resorting to the GPX files. Our luggage was ferried between hotels by a local representative who was also on hand to help with mechanical problems, a reassuring back up even though we never needed to call on him.
The ride ends at Lecce, whose fabulously well preserved baroque city centre feels like a film set. We’d recommend staying on an extra day or two to enjoy the architecture here and explore the maze of tiny backstreets connecting piazzas, palaces and the exuberantly carved cathedral. Staying at the stately Grand Hotel di Lecce, this is the perfect place to round off your ride and enjoy a well-deserved, end-of-ride celebration.