Bike Tour Through Italy
by Susan Van
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
with the sparkling
sea on one side and on the other groves
of old gnarled olive trees, bursting
with buds of spring.
Puglia Premiere Inn Tours take place
in the Spring and Fall
here to see Susan's must-have packing
list for this biking trip.