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Riding through the Countryside

A Bike Tour Through Italy

by Susan Van Allen

Andiamo! That's Italian for "Let's go!" And that's how my mornings began last spring when I joined up with a Backroads group for a week long cycling adventure through the farm lands and hill towns of Puglia, Italy - a region in the heel of the boot bordering the Adriatic.

A Bike Tour through ItalyMy maternal grandparents were Italian immigrants, and have inspired me to travel to Italy often. I've seen the country on foot, by train, bus, car, ferry and gondola, but never on two wheels. In fact, this was my first time taking a bike trip anywhere.

I took spinning classes at the gym to prepare, but still was a bit apprehensive: Would I be the only newbie, trailing far behind the others? My fears were immediately put aside when I met the six other couples in the group. Two of the women were also first-timers. Others had taken trips with Backroads before and were excited to initiate us into the joys of seeing the country by bike.
"I chose this trip because it looked like the flattest part of Italy on the map," joked Dick, from Seattle, as he pointed out to me that the Puglia terrain was rated "Easy to Moderate."
"And don't forget, the van is your best friend," Bonnie, another Backroads veteran, advised me.

Every day one of the guides drove the Backroads van along our route, offering us snacks and rides up difficult hills or back to our luxury accommodations if we'd had enough.

We all took on the 20 to 40 miles of cycling a day according to our own style. There was Patsy, who'd hop in the van after the morning ride, opting to spend the afternoon relaxing by the hotel's pool. On the other end of the spectrum, Laurie and Bob would be the first ones out in the morning, loading up on Backroads snacks, speeding away, skipping lunch and taking the most challenging afternoon routes for uphill workouts. My approach fell somewhere in between.

I found it exhilarating to keep up with the gang in front, improving my skills at getting into just the right gear and learning how to keep a consistent cadence as the week progressed. There were also times when I enjoyed lagging behind to take pictures or wander the small medieval towns where we'd stop for lunch.

There, I'd poke around the whitewashed alleys and spot natives who were look-alikes for my grandmother, who was born in Bari, Puglia's capital. I'd speak to the old signoras using the little Italian I know and they'd welcome me with warm smiles and begin to babble away, too fast for me to understand every word, as I'd smile back and nod, feeling a deep-in-the-bloodline connection.

Our rides took us through fields of crimson poppies, golden zucchini flowers, cherry trees heavy with deep red clusters and hills of vineyards. Olive trees were being pruned and the smell of their burning branches mixed with blooming jasmine was sublime.

We rode past trulli - small white cone-shaped houses from the Middle Ages which transformed the green rolling hills into a fairytale landscape. Farmers along the way gave us friendly waves and beeps, unaccustomed to seeing strangers in their quiet territory.

Every day's adventure finished with the relief of a long soak in the tub before we joined up for evening feasts. One night began with a mozzarella-making demonstration, giving us the chance to taste fresh, creamy cheese that had been stirred up right before our eyes.

Another dinner took place at a farmhouse where we toured terraced gardens of herbs and lemon trees, tasted olive oil from the fall harvest and then indulged in a three hour meal which featured greens from the property's fields, homemade pasta and local wines to match each course.

Though I gorged on all the delicious specialties of the region for the entire trip, when I got on the scale back home, thanks to the cycling, I hadn't gained a pound.

Our last day of riding took us to the ruins of Egnazia, a 5th Century port town. Tracks of the Appian Way remain there, which once took travelers from Brindisi to Rome. I traveled the 21st Century coast road back to the hotel extra slow, savoring the final moments of the experience.

Along the way I spotted a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mother, pure white against the blue Adriatic and sky. I stopped and said a silent prayer in gratitude for the maternal line that pulls me back to Italy again and again. And feeling strengthened by the days of cycling, the wind at my back and the connection I'd once again made to my ancestral home, I said, "Andiamo," as I picked up speed… with the sparkling sea on one side and on the other groves of old gnarled olive trees, bursting with buds of spring.

If You Go...

Phone: 800-462-2848
Puglia Premiere Inn Tours take place in the Spring and Fall

Click here to see Susan's must-have packing list for this biking trip.