Cycling Southern Italy, through some beautiful surprises! (Pulgia, Italy)

Italy is renowned for bike touring (obviously not as much as France) so with a few days on hand I decided to check it out. I had 4 days after my mom went home and decided to use those for cycling. I am headed to Africa next so who knows when I might cycle for real again (i’ll let it surprise me)… 

Most tour the northern route, the rolling hills of Tuscany or the Lakes even further North. As usual I chose the opposite,  heading South instead. I mean Italy is just gorgeous…you can’t really go wrong anywhere and this was no exception. 

I saw my mom off early in the morning (4 am), stayed a few more hours, then took an am bus from Napoli (where we were based between tourist jaunts) to Matera where I would start my cycling. I had researched quite a bit and already had a local bike shop with a bike set up (high season for biking is fall and spring, reserve ahead!).

After a 5 hour bus ride from Napoli I found myself in Matera. I arrived with a few hours to ride but was delayed in getting the bike and actually leaving…so my first day was cut short because I didn’t want to cycle in the dark. I managed 2 hours of cycling to get to the next town, passing farmlands which are probably prettier in spring as they were now barren (being fall) but all was great as the first town of Gioia dei Colle was a charming surprise. Luckily it has plenty of places to stay as I had no reservations. Upon arriving though I actually found many hotels closed because they were full…ha but was lucky to get help from a receptionist at one hotel I found open (but full) to call around for me…and what a nice place she found for 40€ with a nice breakfast included. The town was quaint and charming but I was too tired to even go out…instead I ate some small pears I had and passed out! 

I wasn’t about to miss seeing this charming town though so I got up early, ate breakfast and wandered it’s cute streets full of artwork all focused on kings and queens since a big Norman castle takes main stage here (which is now a museum that I later visited to learn about the past Greek civilization in the area…yes you don’t have to go to Greece, S. Italy also has plenty of lesser visited ruins!).

From Gioia I cycled to Martina Franco…a long ride…some 50 miles that day! Normally it isn’t that far but this included the return to Albertobello for the night – now with reservations 😉 lol – which added nearly 20 miles ha. All well worth it as from Gioia onward the scenery/route was very entertaining and quite beautiful with olive trees now taking over the landscape.

Alberobello is famous for these cute pointy houses (conical as they say) made entirely out of limestone without mortar (small stones are used instead) called Trulli that dot the countryside and a big portion of this town itself. The original use of these unique homes were created to avoid taxes from a king back in the day…ha ha as they can easily be torn down should the inspector come…smart, right? While in the meantime these structures provided extra space on the land which seems even today to be used for storage and animals (general farm life)…from what I saw peeping into them lol. They are also obviously used as homes which off set well the temperates occurring outside (cooler in summer, warmer in winter). Additionally the design of these homes has made the town a Unesco site…heritage preserved and well worth a visit!

Although this town is very intriguing my favorite, a complete surprise, was a stop over in Locorotondo! The most charming town of them all with the tiny tiny streets in it’s center and little nooks and crannies all filled with plants, flowers and surprises at every turn…not to mention the food was delish here and white wine fantastic too…Plus the views as you leave heading to Martina Franco were Amazing! Town on a hill dressed in all white buildings with a towering church poking out above it all is a head turner…not to mention it’s outskirts are dotted with plenty of those trullis I mentioned…Gorgeous! 

Most towns here look similar though each had it’s own personality. All were perched on the tops of hills with their center entwined among many small streets so so so easy to get lost inside yet somehow the small center is always keeping it new…and then the more modern sprawl of them found just outside their core. I was happy to pass through quite a few of them over my 3 day cycling journey each time getting happily lost among their small, if not, tiny streets :D.

My route was as follows:

Day 1: 

Matera to Gioia dei Colle

Day 2: 

Gioia to Albertobello

passing through in this order: Noci, Alberobello, Locorotondo, Martina Franco, Locorotondo, Albertobello

(could have/should have added on Cisternino some 9 km more from Martina Franco and easily routed back to Locorotondo again but I was tired and my bum…sore)

*if you have extra days many do Ostuni and/or head to the coast (Polignano a Mare).

Day 3: 

Albertobello to Matera 

Via Putiganano (a deviation from the same route toward Noci) and Gioia.

I choose my last night of the ride for Matera because it is also a crazy cool town(city)! If you have heard of Cappadoccia in Turkey, this place is similar in that it also had cave dwellers. Very happy I choose to stay here but sad I had only a night as this place was jaw dropping. From what I saw of my visit to the caves…their home/farm life was very interesting in that all was one inside the cave and they even cultivated ice! The views were something else being a city built into the rocks…a gorge below it…visible traces of it’s history everywhere and symmetrical stairs, stairs, stairs as if in an MC Echer drawing…a must visit! In addition, in the more modern section above the cave dwelling part, besides the views, well worth a look at are the unique churches…the Purgatory one definitely caught my eye as I walked along the slow paced lamp lit streets (it was night time, what can I say).

Believe me, the route I did and it’s towns will soon be the next Italy tourist craze…Ridiculously charming and beautiful places…so much so that my last night I thought I’d explore quicker running so I headed out. I started my run but after 5 minutes realized I would rather walk and take it in slowly, it was that beautiful and striking!!!!…I made it a mile in the end only because I got lost on the way back…ha ha

Just a taste of Matera…go discover the rest yourself!
MC Escher in real life maybe…

If you do go to this region (Puglia; Apulia in Italian) and are not keen on biking I still totally recommend doing a little cycling from Alberobello as the countryside is something not to miss and way different than just staying in town. By the way plenty of companies rent bikes (ebikes too) in Alberobello so don’t second guess…just do it! 😉 Also do not miss Locorodondo and do stay a few days in Matera…there are some lovely trails across the gorge worth checking out (that I missed…). Do eat the big green olives they sell on the streets….To Die For!…and I am not an olive fan at all (come on it is olive region of course I tried them!)….oh and the cheese and wine…ooohhh pasta and bread…meatballs…don’t miss them either…ooooh Italian food…everything simply muuah👌🏽! 

If cycling, know that the roads you take or are directed to take are not perfect roads, there are potholes, rocks and such in parts but otherwise they are perfectly fine paved roads. You can take the state route roads (autoestrada – highway you can not), I took a few, they are faster, generally in better condition but many lack shoulders and cars come close and are plentiful (most do respect cyclists). For a relaxing holiday ride I suggest staying off them and sticking to the rental companies routes which are very pleasing or maybe try early morning if you must use them.

In general the companies you find here are well set up for cycling…aka you are in great hands! I went with the company Ferula Viaggi, with over 20 years experience in the area, out of Matera (closest airport is Bari). They offer quality bikes and equipment. You can choose from gravel bikes, mountain bikes and regular tour style bikes. You could also go on a tour with them in a group or just rent the bikes and go on your own (you still get access to pannier – other tools, etc. – , maps/odometer, bike maintenance check and all services needed obviously except a guide and your food/lodging planned out – this though you can ask for if you prefer). They were super friendly, knowledgeable, helpful (left baggage with them, etc), spoke English…even Spanish and were well prepared for everything. I was also pleasantly surprised that they even had all routes mapped out for you to easily follow or even program onto your watch. I enjoyed following the route as I didn’t have to look at maps (on my phone) the whole time like I normally do…this service and many more were really top notch especially compared to what I’ve seen renting bikes for trips like this elsewhere. You can also leave bikes in a few cities along the way through the company and continue without them for an additional cost, trains will let you take bikes onboard if needed,

My rental company – Ferula Viaggi

Other suggested regions to 🚲 in Italy

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