Salento is in the most south-eastern region of Italy lying in the so-called “heel of the boot”. Situated in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, this region is filled with memories of the different civilizations that inhabited it, from the Messapii, to the Greeks, followed by the Romans and then the Normans. Crossing Salento with a bicycle is like cycling through an open-air museum. Prehistoric Dolmen, Byzantine shrines hidden in the caves, Baroque cathedrals, secluded corners of the coast… are all but a few of the things you can see when visiting this area. Salento is famous worldwide for its traditional cuisine, which combines marine and earth flavours, and for its wine production, particularly of Primitivo and Negramaro grapes. Its unique combinations will delight all food and wine lovers. Salento is a region that is almost completely flat, making the ride a pleasant journey for any level of rider. We will be cycling between 30km and 60km a day, mainly crossing secondary roads, with sea-breaks and guided visit, also walking, to different places. We follow the philosophy of “slow moving” to fully enjoy the surrounding landscape and culture with all its different aspect.
Day 1: Arrive in Lecce
Arrive in Bari/Brindisi airport and transfer to Lecce. Meeting in Lecce. Bicycle delivery, Briefing about the route. Welcome dinner
Day 2: from Lecce to Otranto (58 km)
Flat route, with many interesting cultural and naturalistic sights. First we visit Acaya – a fortified city with a huge castle – and then we plunge down to “Le Cesine” – a WWF protected area, crossing point for many species of migratory birds. Stop in San Foca for lunch. From there we head to the coast, along the ruins of Roca Vecchia – an ancient Bronze age city – and ‘Alimini’ Lakes. Some more kilometers and we are in Otranto, where narrow streets reveal wonders at every corner: the San Peter church Byzantine frescoes, a walk along the ramparts overlooking the sea and finally the cathedral with his paved mosaic, a sort of figurative Middle Age encyclopedia.
Day 3: Otranto’s surroundings (29 km)
Exploring Otranto’s surroundings. Ride along the little river “Idro” (“water”), which gave its name to the city, you arrive in Casamassela, where ancient looms are still being used nowadays at “le Costantine” foundation. After a guided tour we move towards Giurdignano, crossing a Bronze age megalithic area containing huge stones (“dolmen” and “menhir”), then we will have a tasting lunch in a characteristic stone-made oven, enjoying typical products and local wine. Further we go back to Otranto and we are free to enjoy the afternoon in the shop area, swimming in a little beach close to the town or doing an horse ride along the cliffs at sunset (suitable also for beginners).
Day 4: Otranto-Leuca coast (52 km)
Today we cycle along the wildest Salento coastal stretch: the ‘Palacìa’ lighthouse (far east point of Italy) and a little red lake surfaced in a disused bauxite quarry are between the most interesting spots. Nestled among the cliffs above the sea, this road is a huge balcony that looks onto Otranto Strait. With a little bit of luck we will able to see the mountains of Albania and Greece. On the way we can also admire some terraces and dry walls, the ingenious devices of peasants to get arable land in barren and impervious areas. After crossing the bridge over the “ciolo” (a small and rich in rare flora canyon carved by the waters,) we reach Santa Maria di Leuca where you visit the sanctuary, following the ancient pilgrims’ footsteps.
Day 5: The Ionic coast (61 km)
Little cycle route discovering Leuca Cape, the southern part of Apulia. After an astonishing defense tower – situated in the centre of a small village – it is time to visit an ancient olive mill, dug into the rock, and then an enigmatic funerary monument made by big stones (its name “centopietre”, means “hundred stones”), coming from Vereto, an ancient pre-romanic town situated nearby. In Giuliano we’ll find a castle and a X century church. Finally we visit Leuca piccola (‘little Leuca’), an important pilgrimage station which still maintains a vast underground area. After some km we are again in the countryside, through olive groves and dry stonewalls and we’ll reach a Gallipoli where we’ll enjoy a rich aperitif. Located on an island, this small fisherman village is striking by its light, its alleys and its fish market.
Day 6: Gallipoli’ s surroundings (35 km) – Cooking Class
We start in the morning from Gallipoli; in a few kilometers we will reach Alezio (ancient Messapian city, where there is an interesting museum on pre-Roman civilizations) and then Sannicola. Then we reach “Tenuta mamma Anna” – a family-run “agritourism” where cooking class will take place. The products are harvested directly from the family garden and then move on to the preparation: “pitta di patate” (a kind of potato gateau, with a stuffing of tomatoes, olives, capers, onion and tuna), “pittule” (some fried dough balls), filled with tomatoes and capers, or empty to taste with honey) and hand-made orecchiette (a typical local pasta, shaped like an ear, prepared with fingers and a knife), the “pasticciotto cake” (a cake made with shortcrust pastry, filled with chantilly cream); These are some of the dishes that will be prepared. Following family lunch and way back to Gallipoli.
Day 7: way back Lecce (52 km)
Last day of our trip. We will admire many XIX century fortified farmhouse and villas we will meet on the way back to Lecce. We will stop in Nardò to visit its decadent baroque style historical center. Next stop will be in Copertino to discover its impressive Norman castle and listen to stories about Sant Joseph of Cupertino, “the holy of flights”.. By the end of the afternoon, we will have a long dinner in one of the best restaurants in town.
Day 8: Onward travel
After a guided walking tour of one of the most beautiful town in Italy it’s time to say “goodbye” Salento!