Bordered on two sides by the Ionian and Adriatic seas, Puglia is a long sliver of land that stretches along Italy’s heel. In between, you'll find some of the best riding in all of Italy along peaceful backroads. All around, fields and orchards deliver the tastiest ingredients for traditional dishes. The countryside is also rich in history, with the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans and many other leaving their mark.
Start from the picturesque Polignano a Mare, once a fishing village and now a lovely seaside resort town famous for its dramatic vistas of limestone cliffs and whitewashed houses, as well as for its gelato.
After Polignano, we'll stay at a beautiful Masseria resort in the countryside of Savelletri among olive groves, fig trees, blooming cacti, and herb gardens that fill our cycling routes with delightful fragrances. Finally, we ride through one of the gems of Puglia: the Valle D’Itria. In Alberobello, the trulli region, you'll be captivated by clusters of fantastic conical dwellings surrounded by enormous, gnarled olive trees. Spicy handmade orecchiette, bruschetta covered with juicy tomatoes, roasted red peppers and grilled calamari satisfy our palates. Warm hospitality and friendly conversation greet us at every turn.
While many regions of Italy boast of having “the best food,” Puglia could humbly claim this title due to the use of simple preparations that allow the true flavors of the food to stand out. Slow Food has over 300 chapters here (called Presidi) to protect biodiversity and traditional production.
Not sure if you can do it? Contact us to schedule a call about how demanding the rides are. E-bikes available.
Chef Mary Sue Milliken participated in the inaugural Chef Bike Tour in 2017, in the Sicily one in 2018, in the Piedmont Chef Bike Tour 2019, in the Friuli Venezia Giulia one in 2020. In 2021, she was on her fifth Chef Bike Tour with Tourissimo in Sardinia and that's when the idea of Puglia for the next one came together.
She is as happy in the kitchen as she is on the bike and she jumps at the opportunity to come back with Tourissimo for the sixth time! Of course, we are flattered. Her charm makes our trips come alive and she humbly shares her wealth of knowledge with guests.
Mary Sue has co-authored five cookbooks, co-starred in nearly 400 episodes of the Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales.” In 2018, Mary Sue and her friend and business partner Susan Feniger became the first women to receive the Julia Child Award for their contribution to the way America eats and drinks.
Charming Polignano a Mare
Spectacular fields of ancient olive trees and a visit to an olive oil producer
Cucina povera and the Mediterranean Diet
Beautiful countryside riding among the groves and
Two nights at a 5-star Masseria country resort
Polignano - San Vito - 13 miles warm-up ride
Our tour starts with a shuttle from the Bari airport to the seaside village of Polignano a Mare (40 min drive). The Mediterranean Sea is the protagonist of this first part of the tour and there’s no better place to enjoy its beauty and to taste its products. Sitting on a cliff as high as 70 meters (230 feet), Polignano is a fortified center of Greek origins. The maze of streets and alleys sometimes ends at lookout points where you can enjoy the view of the coastline and cliffs perched with caves. The stark white of the buildings contrasts with the deep blue and turquoise of the water. Next to the city center, the beach of Grotta Piana is worth the short hike.
We’ll do an overview of the tour and introductions over lunch. Next, we’ll take care of bike fitting before our quick spin up the coast to reach the picturesque fishing village of San Vito where the tiny harbor is dominated by a benedictine abbey dating back to the 11th century. Those fishing boats that are now resting peacefully landed this morning with some of the fish for our seafood dinner.
Early evening aperitivo and a leisurely walk around this lovely seaside town precede our first dinner. Welcome to the Chef Bike Tour of Puglia!
Polignano loop - 27 miles - Rolling
Six miles from the sea, surrounded by the countryside and the karst plateau, rises Conversano. It’s our first stop and a chance to check how everyone is doing after the first climb. Cappuccino or gelato are waiting for us in the main square, of course! The historic center was built around the Acquaviva Castle. It's an imposing construction with a trapezoidal plan, with four towers in the corners corresponding to the cardinal points. It’s a piece of architectural mastery and a symbol of feudalism, the political and socioeconomic system in place from the Middle Ages until modern times (French Revolution). If you step back, it helps to understand what exclusive rights over land and farmers meant and the social implications of such a huge imbalance.
We soon reach a small masseria surrounded by lush vegetation and a colorful orchard. Our hosts, coordinating with our chef, will show us some pugliese recipes. You’ll be able to participate in the preparation as well.
Back in Polignano, follow the guides for a stop at the one and only Mago del Gelato. Once at the hotel, we’ll have a Q&A aperitivo with our chef. Have your questions ready.
Polignano - Savelletri - 23 miles - Rolling
We change locations today and our destination is the fertile plain between the coast and the Selva di Fasano ridge. It's farmland comprised of patches of fields of tomato, arugula, lettuce, artichokes, broccoli, and fava beans. Sparse almond and fig trees are also part of this peaceful landscape while olive trees are a constant and reassuring presence. We make a stop in Savelletri to see the fishermen at work with fishing nets and boat prep. Optional: Egnazia, ruins of a Messapian and then Roman town along the ancient Via Traiana.
Our accommodation is in a 5-star, fully-restored masseria (farmhouse) set amid ancient olive groves.
Savelletri - Cisternino loop - 27 miles - Rolling and hilly
In the morning we will ride to Cisternino, which is on the curated list of “The Prettiest Hamlets of Italy” (Borghi più Belli d’Italia):
“There is a suggestive atmosphere in the borgo, among houses, tiny streets and courtyards. There is a ‘spontaneous architecture’ designed not by architects following a pre-established plan, but rather by human relations to be fit together, among white painted houses and narrow streets, tiny courtyards and outside stairs, arches and flower filled balconies: spaces where people can meet and gather.”
Cisternino is also where the tradition of fornelli pronti (ready grill) started: butchers grill and serve meat - in a simple and informal way - after closing hours. While in town, we’ll have a cappuccino and save the best-selling bombette (mini wraps of meat filled with provolone cheese) for a future meal.
Soon after leaving Cisternino the whitewashed town of Ostuni will come into sight. Enjoy this view before descending to pedal among olive trees that are like amazing natural sculptures. We are in a very special area that is now part of a natural preserve. We’ll visit an olive oil producer and of course have a tasting, however, the most impressive part of the visit is the walk among the pre-Roman (yes, over 2,000 years old!) olive trees. Just imagine how much those trees have witnessed and, by the way, they still produce their fair amount of olives! Needless to say, every Pugliese cook considers olive oil the foundation of the regional cuisine.
In a few more miles we reach the coast. Lunch is a seafood lover’s delight right by the water at the Pugliese version of a seafood shack. Sardines, shellfish, octopus, and sea urchin are on the menu.
You will be back at the hotel for a free afternoon to take advantage of the swimming pool and the spa facility, or head to the private beach.
Savelletri - Alberobello - 35 miles - Rolling
Today’s ride starts with a hill climb to reach the Selva di Fasano ridge and continues downhill into olive groves and vineyards until we reach our lunch spot at a working farm (masseria). The fertile landscape and the warm and authentic hospitality of the Pugliese people are enough to lure in any visitor. Pugliese cuisine offers abundant seafood, fresh vegetables, homemade pasta, and outstanding breads. It is delightfully satisfying and healthy. We know, and you must know it as well, that the secret of such incredible food lies in the care for the farmland and the respect for traditional, simple recipes. You’ll be tempted by fresh mozzarella, bruschetta covered with sun-dried tomatoes, lots of orecchiette pasta, and abundant wine. Enjoy life the Pugliese way!
Our destination is Alberobello, where our hotel stay is as unique as the town itself. The rooms are scattered throughout the original Aia Piccola quarter in what is called an albergo diffuso (scattered hotel): everyone will get their own trullo apartment!
Before dinner we will gather for a walking tour of Alberobello with a local guide. The origins of trulli architecture used to be debated. Now we have a fairly good idea of the why and the how of trulli and you’ll find out, too.
Alberobello Valle d'Itria loop - 30 miles - Flat
Today we ride through a fantasy land of trulli via tiny roads that roll through Valle d’Itria (Itria Valley) to arrive in Locorotondo, one of our favorite whitewashed southern Italian towns where we will have lunch in the charming village center. Locorotondo also gives its name to a white wine (a blend of local varieties) and you’ll ride through many vineyards dotted by clusters of trulli.
We will then continue our ride to Martina Franca where we’ll get to enjoy some of the best examples of Italian Baroque architecture (it is also possible to skip Martina Franca and shorten the ride back).
Back in Alberobello, you’ll have free time to continue exploring this magical city on your own. Dinner is at l’Aratro where Chef Domenico Laera will partner with our chef for a selection of traditional dishes. Domenico was the first one in town to serve what was local and in season, buying into the Slow Food philosophy early on while other restaurateurs were still catching up after the sudden popularity of Alberobello once it became a UNESCO site. Rediscovering ancient - almost lost - ingredients and recipes is what Domenico’s cuisine is all about.
Puglia is predominantly an agricultural region, producing around 40% of Italy's olive oil and a large proportion of its wine (more than any other region in Italy).
This essentially agricultural nature influences the region's cuisine. Home cooks and restaurant chefs predominantly use the abundant local produce, such as durum wheat, tomatoes, artichokes, fava beans, fennel, peppers, onions, beef
The most widely grown grape variety is Negroamaro (literally black-bitter). Almost exclusively cultivated in Puglia, Negroamaro is used to produce some of the region’s best wines, including Salice Salentino. The title of most famous grape, however, goes to Primitivo, whose wines are generally high in alcohol content and full in body. White wines count for less than 20% of the overall production but are gradually growing in importance. Local grapes such as Bombino Bianco, Bianco d’Alessano, and Verdeca rub shoulders with international varieties including Chardonnay and Sauvignon to produce some excellent results.