Sneak Peek at the Sicily Avid Cycling Itinerary!

Hop on your bike this morning and stretch your legs on a fun uphill toward San Corrado, arriving at the ruined site of “Ancient Noto” which was leveled by the 1693 earthquake. Here the landscape begins to change, now dominated by “Sicily’s Grand Canyon,” the deepest canyon in Europe, whose steep walls descend 800 feet to a picturesque river below. The land is protected both for it’s fascinating geology and for it’s architectural remains. We then continue riding up the coast toward Syracuse.
– From the Sicily Avid Cycling Itinerary: Day 5 – PANTALICA & SIRACUSA

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Sicily Avid Cycling: Day 2 – ANAPO VALLE

Sicily Avid Cycling: Day 2 – ANAPO VALLEY

After a cappuccino and fresh-baked Sicilian breads, head out to explore the Valley! You’ll see some of the most scenic spots in the region, pass some breathtaking vistas of the Anapo Canyon, and visit several tiny, but beautiful mountain villages. We have some tough climbs today, so we’ll have a support vehicle out on the road for assistance. Return, victorious to Palazzolo and relax before an evening on the town. Ride: Anapo Valley Loop, 52 miles. Accommodations: Hotel in Palazzolo Acreide http://ow.ly/i/5hNAF

Peperonata – luscious cooked peppers

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A flavorful stew of cooked peppers and tomatoes, peperonata can be eaten hot or at room temperature as a flavorful side dish or with slices of crusty Italian bread. It’s flavors meld perfectly with a mild hard cheese.

INGREDIENTS

1-2 large onions
8 large bell peppers – red, yellow, orange, green
Optional: spicy chilies (jalapenoes, red fresno chilies, thai chilies, etc)
1 28oz can of chopped tomatoes (preferable unsalted, organic)
1-2 bay leaves
Italian Parsley
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Optional: 1-2 tablespoons sugar and 1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

WHAT TO DO

1. Wash the peppers. Chop them into quarters or large wedges and remove the seeds. Chop the spicy chilies into rounds. Chop onions into half rings about 1/4 inch thick.

2. Heat olive oil in large pot or dutch oven. Add onion slices and cook uncovered over medium heat. Stir only to prevent from burning.

3. Five minutes later, add 1 pepper chopped into quarters.

4.  When onion browns (generally, after another 5 minutes) add the rest of the onions and peppers. Cover. Cook until peppers wilt (but don’t brown) and don’t stir too often – this usually takes a good 20-30 minutes. Once there is enough liquid, add the bay leaves.

5. Now uncover, add tomatoes, cook on medium-low heat until wilted and much of the watery liquid evaporates, leaving a slightly thicker, more dense liquid. Generally, this takes about 10-15 minutes. Add salt.

6. In the final 15 minutes of cooking, add chopped parsley, and  – if you wish – the sugar and vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings.

7. Enjoy! You can eat hot from the pot, but for best flavor, let it sit for 24 hours (refrigerated) and serve at room temperature as a side dish or on bread with a good hard cheese and a bold red wine!

Biking adventures in Puglia – by Alex Sheldon

by Alex Sheldon
Submitted to The Union
March 30, 2013

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Whizzing down the coastal road, I gaze out and marvel at the shimmering sunlight reflecting off the clear blue water of the Adriatic Sea.


Our eight-person fellowship is nearing its next destination outside the small town of Otranto in southeastern Italy.


The terrain begins to flatten out and we enter the home stretch of our ride cruising at a comfortable pace that allows us to soak in the dramatic Mediterranean scenery.


The lonely road winds along craggy, rocky cliffs offering spectacular views of the sea extending to the coastal mountains of Albania far off in the distance.


The lonely road winds along craggy, rocky cliffs offering spectacular views of the sea extending to the coastal mountains of Albania far off in the distance.


We are halfway through a dynamic 10-day bike trip that began in the ancient city of Lecce. Leading our pack is the founder and owner of Piccolina Adventures, Laura Frew.


A former Nevada Union student and valedictorian that grew up in the small town of Oregon House (about 30 minutes from Nevada City), she has close ties to the local community.


Frew, an energetic and eternally upbeat character, started her travel company from humble beginnings with nothing more than a laptop, a love of Italian culture and a genuine passion for travel and adventure.

Frew with a tray of handmade pasta during bicycle tour in Puglia

Frew with a tray of handmade pasta during bicycle tour in Puglia


During her junior year at the University of California, Berkeley she took her first foray into real Italian life with an 11-month study abroad program in Bologna, Italy and became fluent in Italian.


After graduating in 2005, she journeyed back to Italy to live, work and continue exploring the country. She returned home to Northern California a year later to begin pursuing her dream of creating beautiful, personal, unique and unforgettable travel experiences for others.


“The focus of Piccolina Adventures is to lead active vacations that integrate cultural exploration with activity,” said Frew. “Each tour explores a destination’s beautiful landscape, while delving into the rich history, traditions, culture and local cuisines found there.”


The “Biking Puglia” trip focuses specifically on the region of Puglia, which is located in the southeastern corner of Italy. Widely unknown outside of Italian vacationers, Puglia (see the heel of the boot on the map of Italy) is a unique region with a distinct personality all its own. When compared with the iconic and heavily trafficked tourist destinations of cities like Rome, Venice or Florence, Puglia feels like a small country unto itself and almost completely independent of greater Italy.


It has a robust character all its own. The pace of life here is intoxicatingly relaxed and the people exude warmth and friendliness. The countryside is open, free and relatively unexplored by most outsiders.

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Rounding the Cape of Otranto


We are stopping overnight to stay in a rustic agriturismo overlooking the sea and will soon be enjoying a well-deserved dinner and a night’s rest.


You might ask, “What’s an agriturismo?” The format combines the best amenities of a countryside inn, an organic farm, and a gourmet restaurant into one amazing establishment.


An agriturismo typically features an in-house restaurant serving meals prepared with organic produce and food grown on the establishment’s private land. Accommodations are conveniently awaiting you on site and you can leisurely return to your room after dining and enjoying a few glasses of the local wine.


The result is a thoroughly relaxing way to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and see a different side of Italy that one may not glimpse visiting larger cities and more populated areas.


A refreshing aspect to Piccolina Adventures and Frew’s business approach is that the trips cater to a balanced cross-section of people; From working professionals in their 20’s and 30’s escaping the daily grind of city existence, to students and recent graduates looking for a new adventure between semesters or following graduation, to free spirits in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s eager to enjoy a new experience they may have missed out on in their youth.


As far as the biking and physical demands of the trip are concerned, an average day’s ride between destinations ranges from 20-45 miles, with one to two days interspersed where no ride is scheduled and free time is available to explore on one’s own.


“Many Piccolina trips aren’t created for avid cyclists looking for endurance rides.” said Frew. “The tours are designed to provide an active and engaging way for adventurous and reasonably healthy people to truly experience Puglia in an authentic, comfortable and exciting way.”


After cleaning up from the day’s travels, we all gather at a long table on the patio outside the restaurant and sit down for a well deserved and anticipated dinner.


Our meal begins with a first course known as “antipasti.” This varied selection of appetizers is possibly my favorite part of an Italian meal and Frew has taken the liberty of selecting an array of local specialties.

 

Adriatic Sea Caves. photo by Margaret Huang

Adriatic Sea Caves. photo by Margaret Huang


Some favorites include: grilled homegrown eggplant, peppers and zucchini, calamari salad with tomatoes and cucumber, marinated anchovies, pepper stew, and tomatoes with “Frise”(a twice baked bread which is dipped in water to soften and covered with chopped red tomatoes, basil and olive oil).


The second course of pasta is almost an afterthought given the amount of antipasti that we have indulged in on this occasion.


Following the two-course meal and several glasses of locally grown red wine, we relax and listen to a group of local singers and musicians play “Pizzica,” a traditional folk music of Puglia employing acoustic guitar, tambourine and vocals.


We eventually retire to our rooms relaxed, with full bellies and more than ready to hit our pillows to get ready for another day of riding, new faces and new experiences.

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When all is said and done and we prepare to board our respective flights back to the States, we have enjoyed guided tours of historic cities, taken a cooking class with a local chef, made our own pasta, enjoyed a winery tour and tasting, stayed the night in ancient stone dwellings, visited a Mozzarella factory, relaxed at an agriturismo, taken a boating cave tour, lounged on spectacular beaches, enjoyed exhilarating bike rides, indulged in a multitude of Italian foods and cuisines, and shared the experience with a group of newfound friends and fellow adventurers.


If you’re looking for a way to shake up your routine, put yourself in a new and vibrant setting and enjoy a vacation from atop a bicycle, expand your horizons and book a trip with Piccolina Adventures. Looking back, this will be a trip like no other.

Piazza del Duomo in Lecce by Puglia_Lecce2_tango7174

Piazza del Duomo in Lecce


Ciao!


San Francisco resident Alex Sheldon grew up in Oregon House.

Check us out in Grass Valley’s The Union!

Alex Sheldon, a 2009 Puglia guest had so much fun, we wrote an article for the local Grass Valley newspaper about the trip. Check us out in The Union!

Alex published an awesome account of his Piccolina Adventures bike tour!

Alex wrote an article about his adventures on Piccolina Adventures’ 2009 Puglia bike tour. It was published in the local Grass Valley newspaper, The Union, over Easter weekend. Score!

View The Union article at:

http://www.theunion.com/news/5770191-113/puglia-italy-frew-trip

Or View the full article:

here: http://www.theunion.com/news/5770191-113/puglia-italy-frew-trip

Acqua e Sale – a refreshing summer raw-veggie soup

This is a refreshing summer dish made with raw vegetables in a simple broth of water, salt and olive oil. It is similar to a cold gaspacho and is great with stale bread.

INGREDIENTS

2 ripe tomatoes
1/4 to 1/2 red onion
1/2 cucumber
1 green pepper (bell or other)
good extra-virgin olive oil
salt
hearty stale bread, sliced (you can use any hearty country bread with a nice crust, though Pugliese frise are the best)

WHAT TO DO

1. Cut the tomatoes, onion, peppers and cucumber into small pieces and place in a medium bowl.

2. Add lots of water, abundant olive oil and salt.  Refrigerate for 1 hour. The end result will be almost like a cold soup or gaspacho.

3. Eat in bowls, over slices of stale bread.