Pearls of Adventure from Sicily

Ciao Tutti!

I’m sitting in the living room of our apartment on the Ionian sea in the town of Riposto. I hear the waves crash outside my window, an occasional vespa vroom by, and the sound of laughter as a family heads out for breakfast.

It’s a holiday. A sacred don’t- do- anything- but- hang- with- friends- and- family day. A go- to- the- beach- and- play day.

We just finished our fullest season yet, and I am looking forward to a day of rest.

As the morning opens, I wanted to share a some stories from the season’s grand finale: the Sicily Avid Cycling trip.

Memories return as colors and images, then form into emotions, then solidify into moments … pearls of adventure … that call to be shared.

Enjoy!

Photo by Zakistudio

We paused in Piazza del Popolo early one morning on our way out ofPalazzolo Acreide. I was floored by the grandiosity of the architecture in this tiny town.

Palazzolo, along with every other city in the region, was completely destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1693. To rebuild, the noble aristocracy invited talented architects to come re-design their hometowns in the style of the time: Spanish Baroque. They planned the city, streets and structures with care. The result is a strikingly harmonious and well-organized town with stately palaces and magnificient churches.

Photo by Ed Cornelius III

Our first ride through the scenic Anapo Valley. We traversed rolling hills, passed flat-topped mesas, peered down into Pantalica canyon, spotted necropoleis dug into the walls, and conquered some crazy climbs into the hilltop villages.

Here, we’re triumphantly descending out of Cassaro. See route.

It didn’t take much to make us happy: beautiful views, bicycles and a sense of adventure.

And good food.

 Photo by Ed Cornelius III
Nella, our talented and generous host in San Giacomo, runs an agriturismo with her daughter and mother. All three generations spent a morning teaching us to roll cavatelli, make focaccia ragusana and zucchini sauce. They make their own cheese on the farm and … there is no cheese like fresh ricotta!
Photo by Zakistudio

Yes, this is real. Rounding the south eastern point of Sicily.

This may have inspired the buzzword of the trip:

Amazing!

Photo by Zakistudio

Don’t tell the nutritionist, but gelato is the best energy bar ever invented.

Photo probably by Ed on Zaki’s phone!

Zaki on his third cappuccino and twelfth fig.

Puglia & Sicily Lists  

We’re putting together trip-specific mailing lists to keep you informed about reservations, travel updates, discounts and real-time information about the trip you’re interested in. We’ll also put you in touch with our local guides.

Also – We miss you. Come hang out with us on facebook or twitter.

Love!

Laura

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

We had so much fun this year, we didn’t want it to end!

Between wandering the streets of Lecce at night, getting stopped mid-pedal by an Alberobello farmer offering us fresh figs from his garden, dancing with the mayor of Castrignano Lo Capo, sampling green raw olives straight from the tree (an experience we all need to have once … and … once is enough!), and visiting Carlo’s mamma‘s house in Seclì for a 3-hour Sunday lunch (a meal so authentic, fresh and and delicious, I’ll never forget it) – we had some amazing adventures in Italy.

 We’ve been busy in California too. We’re launching a series of weekend adventures in the foothills of Yuba County. Every season we’ll take a small group of travelers to enjoy some of the best artisan foods, wines and cheeses available in California (and, yes, we know that’s a tall order!). If you’d like to join us (the next adventure is Valentine’s Day weekend) sign up for California Undiscovered Gourmet’s mailing list or email me directly.

But what really made 2014 such a special year – was you. Your fun-loving presence while traveling, planning, dreaming, dancing, toasting, storytelling and laughing through the year.

Strolling through Lecce on the Puglia Biking trip this SeptemberEnjoying the streets of Lecce before saying our goodbyes

To express my thanks for making 2014 so awesome, I got together with the Piccolina family (from California to Italy) and made you a little video.

Enjoy.

Happy new year.
I hope it’s full of exciting adventures!

Laura

What’s happening in 2015?

Biking Puglia’s Dazzling Coast  

 Puglia is a fairly-tale region of fanciful conical stone houses, dazzling Adriatic coastline, whitewashed limestone cities and it’s heart beats with the authentic. Here you’ll still find scarf-covered nonna chatting in her chair on the cobblestoned streets at night. Here they still cook a pot of tomato sugo for 8 hours. Heremamma still gathers wild chicory, onions and herbs. Here they still dance in the piazzas all night long. And the land beats with traditional music that is still very much alive. You travel back in time when you come here. And you will never forget it.

Itinerary: Biking Puglia 

Avid Cycling Sicily    
Yes! A trip for avid road cyclists! This itinerary rides 45-70miles/day on aluminum or carbon road bikes.

At the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East and Europe, Sicily is pure magic. Cycle the breathtaking landscapes around Mt Etna & Taormina (an active volcano, sweeping coastal views and ancient history create a unique atmosphere in Taormina, which is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen!), Syracuse (a Greek-Roman-Byzantine-Bourbon-Arab-Norman-Aragonese-Italian city with an island historical center), and Val di Noto (a valley of lovely towns built during the flowering of the European Baroque and surrounded by wine-rich countryside).
Email for info.

Walking Undiscovered Puglia & Basilicata
Byzantine cave frescoes in MateraOr, you can explore Puglia, enjoy great cuisine, drink wine, swim in the Mediterranean, and not get on a bike!

Guided by a certified “Naturalist Tour Guide,” this trip explores unique aspects of Puglia with a series of walks encompassing its historical, natural, geological and culinary best. Mamma mia!  You’ll spend most mornings hiking, enjoy a delicious lunch, then have the afternoons free to visit nearby towns for a stroll, shopping, museums or, simply, to linger over glass of local wine.
Itinerary: Walking Puglia

And MORE!

We have some exciting and completely new adventures under construction. That’s all we’ll say for now. 🙂

Stories from the Road – Salento

Stinky cheese. Lunch with TWO Marias. Circular city plans. Sunkissed seaside. What else happened this summer in Puglia!?

Hello All!

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.
Camera Tales

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.
     
Yipee!
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.

Trulli 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.

Cheers! Laura

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.