Stinky cheese. Lunch with TWO Marias. Circular city plans. Sunkissed seaside. What else happened this summer in Puglia!?
I’m writing from the only air-contitioned cafè in Specchia. It’s 5pm and the sun outside is still strong and hot. The white stones reflect bright sun and heat, though a light breeze brings some relief, rustling the leaves of the peach and lemon trees growing in the courtyards around town.
The heat has finally cooled enough where people will venture out of their houses after the long Mediterranean lunch break. They are just starting to filter into the cafè. Normally we pass the midday heat with the shutters drawn and the house dark against the sun. After Maria’s wonderful lunches of garden veggies and pasta, Luigi sleeps on the couch, Maria watches TV and feeds the dogs, and I escape to this air-conditioned cafè for an espresso.
I’m looking through my photos. Wow! This is the fifth time we’ve done the Puglia Bike Trip, and it’s wonderfully different every time. There’s always a new mix of adventures, of people, of hosts, of guides, of places and activities. Steve who was on July’s trip concluded: “every day was so intense – each one had a beginning, a middle, and an end.” It’s true. As I think back, each day feels packed with activities, experiences, scenery, people; and each was vibrant and colorful in its own way.
I wanted to share some pictures with you.
We started in Lecce with an explanation of the city’s Baroque architecture, its history, and its fascinating use of papier-mâché. In poor times, the people of Lecce didn’t have enough money to commission fancy statues sculpted from stone, so they began to make look-alikes out of straw, paper & glue: papier-mâché. They formed and painted with such detail, that, even when placed next to real stone statues, you actually can’t tell the difference!
Of all the times I’ve visited Lecce, I have never had the opportunity to see the Masters at work. But this time our guide Simona walked us right into an open shop. “Hurry – the master’s dressing the statue!” We rushed in to find the master at work with wet, brown, thick sheets of paper, “dressing” the foot-tall statue in a paper robe.
Our first ride – through Lecce’s olive orchards on the way to the coast!
Rosa’s farm. She’s making fresh ricotta – the breakfast of champions!
We rode to Signora Rosa’s small farm just outside Uggiano La Chiesa. We found her stirring a pot of boiling milk with an old wooden stick. She greeted us and cut up a fresh primosale wheel just was minutes old, for us to taste. “Before the salt” primosale is a fresh cheese formed just from milk and rennet – no salt. It squeaks on your teeth. They rub most primosale rounds with salt and leave them to age on wooden shelves for 15 – 90 days. Then they get really interesting. We tasted all several different variations, and then the ricotta was ready. Strained from the reheated whey (ricotta means re-cooked) mixed with boiling milk, Rosa’s ricotta is so rich it tastes almost like salted cream & eggs – and gives you enough energy to ride to Croatia and back!
The grand finale was the powerful RICOTTA FORTE – a fermented ricotta cheese, stirred by hand every day for 90 days until smells like a hundred sweaty gym socks steamed in a jar. And it tastes like pure heaven. Really.
If you don’t believe me, check out the video: Ricotta Forte!
(Reactions captured on camera!)
On the road to Otranto!
Learning traditional pizzica pizzica.
We stayed up late that night, dining and dancing at the farmhouse, and – oh the pain! – rose early the next morning to leave for Specchia. Well-known as one of the most beautiful villages in Southern Italy, it’s less known as home of some of the best cooks in the south!
Tricase Porto – meeting spot before the turnoff to Specchia
We rode up to a small green door of a simple house – parked our 14 bicycles outside – and the door was opened by dear Maria, who invited us in for cold drinks… fried dough balls… pasta-making… and an incredible zucchini-based lunch made purely from her homegrown veggies. Two Marias (neighbors!) presided over our lunch passing dish after dish of cooked peppers, zucchini-cream pasta, pickeled zucchini, toasts with zucchini pâté, strong red wine, then homemade limoncello and to finish…
…they each whipped out a cake!
“How’s the cake Bob?”
A picture’s worth a thousand words.
We wound our way to Leuca that night, and set out to visit the Adriatic sea caves by boat the next day.
Gelato at the “Academy of Flavor” in Gallipoli!
Views of the sea from the Ponte Ciolo
Gallipoli – the historical center actually on island with a fortified castle at its entrance and it’s own mini-beach below the the city walls.
Sailing in Gallipoli!
Then we hopped the train north toward the Valle d’Itria, an area that’s hillier, cooler and full of trulli!
We’ve talked about trulli before. They’re conical limestone houses with funky mortarless peaked rooves. People have been building round structures from piles of stones since prehistoric times, but they continue to use this technique even today in the Valle d’Itria. Legends also say that in the 1600’s a huge tax was levied on permanent structures, so every time the tax collector came by from Naples, the people dismantled their stone rooves, simply to build them up again as he rode away. The trulli are also recognized as World Heritage Monuments by Unesco. Read more on their site: Unesco World Heritage Center.
in the Valle d’Itria
Riding along the vineyards near Locorotondo
We stayed in one of the official “Most Beautiful Villages In Italy”(there is an Italian organization dedicated to categorizing and determining these): Locorotondo. A small, round, white-washed town where every street leads you back to the same place. It’s the perfect city for travelers because, having circular streets, it’s impossible to get lost here!
I feel so lucky to have been able to share Puglia with such a wonderful group of people. You can choose the trip, but you can’t choose the people. I’ve been continuously blessed to take such awesome travelers. It their presence, it was impossible not to have fun!
What a crowd!
I have more pictures & a collective photo journal on Flickr: September Adventures.
Thank you so much for allowing me to use your beautiful photos! Photos of Road to Otranto, Diving from Boat by Steve Sundstrom, photos of Smiling Maria & her Cake, Gallipoli, Music in Uggiano, Cocktails in Locorotondo by Anna Morgan; photos Magda on Sailboat, Ponte Ciolo, and Locorotondo at Night by Sarah McIndoe.