Since we’re in the middle of cloudy, chilly Northwest weather, longing for the sun, it’s a good time to share moments from my recent trip to Italy. Our trip last fall centered on a bike tour in Puglia, Italy’s southeastern region.
It was a fantastic journey filled with sunshine, gorgeous sights, warm seas, good people, cultural riches, incredible food and fine wine.
The first night we were in the port city of Bari. How glorious it was to arrive in Italy after a long flight.
We took an evening walk to see a nearby castle and the huge public square where people of all ages, shapes and sizes strolled and ate and listened to music. The air was warm, and the light from the blue Adriatic Sea reflected off Bari’s ancient buildings. We were in heaven.
At breakfast, a formally dressed older gentleman served us lattes and americanos. He kept gesturing toward the breakfast buffet (a delicious selection of meats, cheeses, fruits and pastries) as if he thought we didn’t know we were supposed to help ourselves. We chuckled and tried to explain that we just wanted to savor our first Italian coffees before we ate.
With our traveling companions Bob and Donna, we took the train south to Monopoli, then a taxi to Hotel Masseria Donnaloia. The Masseria hotels are considered the Italian equivalent of French chateau. Working-class Italians used to live there and farm the land.
Even though our Masseria had been transformed into a five-star hotel, its courtyard still had an old olive press that used to be powered by donkeys.
We met up with two other friends, Steve and Sandy, at the hotel, along with new friends Vince, Pearl, Steve and Janice from Canada, and our Italian guides, Inga and Gabrielle.
For seven days, we rode together through Puglia. We saw old but still-productive olive tree groves where the trunks resembled giant pieces of upright driftwood whose intricate hollows could easily serve as playhouses for small children.
We explored ancient ruins and pristine seaside towns where fisherman spread their nets on the paving stones.
Some riding went through long stretches of flat terrain where farmers tended their crops. At other times, we rode up steep hillsides with stunning views of the sea.
When time allowed, we refreshed ourselves in the gentle waters of the Adriatic.
Throughout our travels, hotels and restaurants invariably served more food than we thought we could eat, but we suffered through it. We couldn’t push away the fresh mozzarella and numerous cheeses made in the region. There were ripe tomatoes, basil, eggplant and arugula. We were served pastas with unique sauces, local meats, fresh seafood, sweets and area wines.
We visited the town of Alberobello, which looked like a fairyland with its landscape of historically unique buildings. It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site because of these round, whitewashed structures with cone-shaped slate roofs. They’re called Trulli, and they serve as restaurants, shops and homes.
If you want to own a Trullo, you have to adhere to strict guidelines for its upkeep and maintenance.
The town of Ostuni is called the “white city.” Perched on a hill above the sea, its buildings gleam against the blue sky. That’s where we attended a cooking demonstration in which female chefs fashioned various shaped pastas. Later, we dined at that very restaurant and appreciated the food all the more.
We celebrated our last night at the Masseria Bandino restaurant near the coastal town of Otronto. There was lively Italian music accompanied by a sensuous female dancer who tempted us all onto the dance floor.
It was a perfect conclusion to our cycling adventure.A Time to Talk columnist Mary Magee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.