Abruzzo & Puglia by Tandem by Allan and Konrad

Thursday 2 September 2010, Filed in: General

An account of a two week tandem tour in May 2005 from Pescara, through the Abruzzo e Molise region (Campo Imperatore etc), the Gargano Peninsula and down into Puglia, returning from Bari.

An account of a two week tandem tour in May 2005 from Pescara, through the Abruzzo e Molise region (Campo Imperatore etc), the Gargano Peninsula and down into Puglia, returning from Bari.

This was our first tour on the tandem, and very enjoyable it was too (you still wouldn’t get me on the back of one though!

The Tandem
Tandem: Santana Arriva Cromoly
Gearing: Shimano 105 9-speed Gear ratios: 50/36/24
Brakes: V brakes front and rear plus a ‘dinner plate’ sized disc brake on the back.
Tyres: Continental Gatorskin (700×28)

Day 1 – Wednesday 11th May
Pescara to Penne (55 kms)

An uneventful flight and we arrived at Pescara airport on time. The airport is very small and no doubt because of the time of year was very quiet. The tandem appeared, unscathed, so we made a quick dash to the loo, got changed, sorted the panniers out, pumped the tyres up and we were off – well sort of.

Outside it was very humid and looking ominously grey. We tried to work out which way we should be heading and agreed that we were heading towards ‘that very big black cloud over there’.

Getting out of the airport proved difficult. We asked the guy on the car-park barrier which road we should take for Penne. This seemed to cause a lot of confusion and as usual several people weighed in with various routes. As most of the discussion was in Italian, we nodded knowingly, and decided to head for a road we could see just beyond the car park. We set off down the road, which got busier and busier, lots of road works, no signs that meant anything to us and, after a while, decided to retrace our steps to the airport! I’m sure the guy in the parking booth had a quiet chuckle to himself as we rode past in what he presumably thought was the wrong direction.

After a few minutes more riding (and around 1 hour now since we first left the airport), we were headed back – to the car park. However, we then saw a sign which looked promising and after consulting the map we were sure we knew where we were. After another bit of back tracking and a ride through an industrial complex that resulted in a dead end, we eventually found our way out. All I can remember (for anyone else arriving at this airport) is that when you leave the airport building, turn right, and that’s about as much help as I can be!

Once we got on the right road, it was all obvious of course. The road was good with moderate traffic, but the weather ahead looked ominous. We passed through Pianella, climbing steadily. Just before Penne, the rain started and it went very dark as the cloud dropped – along with the temperature. Entering Penne, we were now in thick fog with visibility down to about 20 metres. It was only 3pm, but it was almost dark. So dark in fact that we put the lights on the tandem at this point. We looked around for a hotel as the rain was now lashing down. We followed a sign from the main road (Hotel Vestina) but due to the fog we rode past the hotel twice (couldn’t see the sign on its roof!) I’ve hardly been more pleased to get into a hotel. The double room with breakfast cost us 60 euros.

Due to the bad weather, we stayed in the hotel to eat and had a good meal of ravioli and omelette washed down with plenty of red wine, and prayed the weather would improve tomorrow.

  • Got to be the most difficult escape from an airport we’ve had to date
  • Disgusting weather at the end of the day.
  • At least the food was up to its usual standard.

Day 2 – Thursday 12th May
Penne to Paganica (via Campo Imperatore) (82 kms)

After a good nights sleep, we were both anxious to see whether the weather had improved. Well, at least it wasn’t raining, but the clouds were still very low. We talked about changing the route for today, a bit concerned that going over the Campo Imperatore in this foggy weather might not be a sensible idea. I’m glad to say recklessness prevailed, and we decided to go for it anyway.

We left the hotel for an easy start to Farindola where we stocked up on paninis and sports socks. Yes, the ubiquitous sock seller was there – in the middle of nowhere and as soon as we stopped outside the panini shop in as quiet a place as you can imagine, he swooped on us. Ever the suckers, we bought a pack each from him (about 3 euros for 3 pairs of socks) and I have to say – they were good socks. I still have mine.

So, suitably attired and with the paninis in the panniers, we started the climb through Vado di Sole up to the Campo Imperatore. This is a big climb of around 35 km’s we reckoned. Slogging away, with the heavy panniers, we were soon in dense cloud, with a long way to go. The bravado earlier in the morning didn’t seem so sensible now, as we made small talk as we climbed about the number of wolves and bears in the Gran Sasso. This really is a great climb. A very steady gradient that goes on and on and on. Nearing the top, we started to get above the cloud line and we were in and out of the clouds for the last half an hour. It was about this time that we noticed the back tyre was looking a little flat. Definitely a slow puncture but we decided to pump it up and plough on to the top, not wanting to stop so near the summit.

As we came over the top, we were out of the cloud and the sun started to appear. A tremendous plain stretched before us and we could just make out the ribbon of road stretching away in the distance. It had been a fabulous climb. To say the road was quiet is an understatement. We were passed by a total of 2 cars on the climb. That was in just under 4 hours. A few more cars (lets say 6) came down in the opposite direction. It was as if the road was closed!

We rode down onto the plain and stopped by a closed Refugio with some picnic benches outside, to change the tube on the rear wheel. While we were doing this, 4 Italians drove up in a car. They were obviously set for doing some hiking, but first of all, they sat down at one of the tables, got the picnic out, and uncorked a bottle of sparkling wine. Class or what!

Once repaired, we headed off along the plain (not as flat as it looked), and eventually started a brilliant descent through Fonte Cerrato and on to the SS17 to Camarda. We stopped for a coffee there, and it was just after we left that we punctured again – front wheel this time, after I ran over a stone in the road.

Originally we’d intended to head down into L’Aquila, but we liked the look of Paganica and found a great hotel (Hotel Rosa) which cost us 85euro’s a night (including breakfast). As it turned out, we were probably wise to stay here, as we were told that L’Aquila was full of TV crews and the like who were following the Giro d’Italia. Once in the room, we patched the 2 inner tubes, and then went down for dinner, with 2 litres of wine. Finally turned in at 12:30 after a great day.

  • Glad the weather didn’t put us off going over Campo Imperatore. A magnificent climb.
  • The roads today were superb. Hardly any traffic in the first 5 hours or so.

Day 3 – Friday 13th May
Paganica to Celano (51 kms)

It was raining when we woke, but luckily had stopped by breakfast, the roads dried out rapidly, the sky cleared and we were soon in blue sky and sunshine. That’s more like it.

We headed down toward the main road to L’Aquila, crossed it and headed out toward Monticchio and on small roads through the Valle d’Orca to join the No.5 bis for Celano. We had a long steady climb along the side of the valley with fantastic views of the mountains on our left. It was quite warm now, as we pushed on through Font Avignole, Terrenera (where we stopped to get some panninis), on to Rocca di Mezzo, Rovere and Ovindoli. Shortly after this there was a steepish climb of around 800 metres before we started a huge descent to Celano. I’m glad to say the brakes on the tandem handle these long descents very well, and it’s absolutely rock solid when descending at speed. Even loaded with panniers.

It had been another great day. Sunny, wonderful scenery and a great climb/descent. We booked in to the Hotel Lory at the end of the main street in Celano for 62 euros for a double room and breakfast. The hotel had a great backdrop of the high mountains. We had the best food of the trip so far in a restaurant next to the hotel (Bruschetta, Zuppe, and Ravioli e Scampi – with wine of course).

  • Another great day for scenery, climbing and descending.
  • Great food !

Day 4 – Saturday 14th May
Celano to Scanno (68 kms)

We left Celano in warm sunshine after lots of breakfast.

The first 16 km’s or so was the descent from the town and across the plain to Pescina. This was a pretty town and we found a good cafe where (after more coffee) we stocked up on panninis for later.

We took a wrong turn heading out of Pescina. As we were climbing, we assumed it was the right general direction, but on reaching the top, it led on to the autostrada so we returned back down the hill to Pescina and found the right road. This too was a long steady climb up the valley. It ran parallel with the autostrada which we got a glimpse of from time to time. As the autostrada was so close, it made this road virtually traffic free. At around Cesoli, the climbing got a lot more intense and there was a long pull up to Monte de Selva. On the way up, we could see the autostrada down below disappearing into a long tunnel which takes it through the mountain. At the top of the climb was a short tunnel, and emerging on the other side, the landscape had changed considerably. It looked very barren and desolate on this side.

From the tunnel it was a long, long descent to Cocullo and on to Anversa degli Abruzzi. This is a wonderful looking town, and the road leading out and up the gorge to Scanno was equally wonderful. Again, a very quiet road. It’s a gentle climb through the gorge and the road clings to the rock side, occasionally entering a very short tunnel (no more than 20 yards or so) as it meanders around the contour of the hillside. It really is a fantastic road. We passed the town of Castrovalva, perched high up on a rock promontory on our left. I’ve no idea how the locals get up there. We couldn’t see a road up to it.

We carried on through the gorge past San Domenico and on to near Villalago, where we continued on the road that runs around the east side of the Lago di Scanno. We soon reached Scanno which by the looks of things must be quite touristy in summer, but I’m glad to say it was very quiet at this time of year. We headed in to the main square in the town, and booked ourselves in to the Hotel Centrale (50 euros for a double room and breakfast). Spent the evening sitting in the square in the last rays of the sun watching the world go by. Bliss.

It was a fun evening meal at the Albergo Centrale. There was no menu (i.e. no choice), but that didn’t bother us in the slightest. In fact, it was quite exciting not knowing what was coming next. The food was great and I have to say it was rounded off with a tiramisu you could have lived in! Absolutely huge. The waiter was really friendly. I think they were understaffed and basically he was doing everything, but it’s nice to see somebody with a sense of humor, and while we may have been lucky, I can recommend these ‘mystery meals’.

  • Another good climb and descent today (Monte de Selva).
  • The road from Anversa degli Abruzzi to Scanno is wonderful.
  • A waiter with a sense of humor – marvelous. He made the evening (and everything else I suspect)

Day 5 – Sunday 15th May
Scanno to Isernia (96 kms)

We left Scanno at 9:30am in wall to wall blue sky and sunshine. We could tell it was Sunday as we saw several people (mainly passing us) out on their bikes. The climbing started immediately and it was a relentless climb to the top of the Passo Godi (1,630m). At the top, it opened out into a huge valley which was very pretty and looked very alpine. We stopped at a cafe up there for a drink and to pick up some panninis for lunch.
We headed along the valley and started a huge descent which took us down to Villetta Barrea, then along the side of the lake to Barrea where we stopped for our lunch. Barrea is a very pretty place and has an enviable position. Fantastic views down the turquoise lake with the mountains as a backdrop.

After lunch, we climbed out of Barrea then a descent to Alfredena, another climb out of Alfredena and a descent to Cerro. At Cerro we took a wrong turn and did a huge climb along a very quiet road to Aquaviva d’Isernia. To match it’s name (I guess) there was a great fountain of ice cold water in the village and as it was now very warm (and we were very warm) it was much appreciated. We carried on climbing past Aquaviva to join the main road No.17. This was a very quiet road too, but the descent was absolutely vicious. The disc brake faded on the descent, but luckily the rear V-brake was more than up to the job of stopping us. After this very steep descent, there was an equally vicious climb out of the valley (small ring!) to Macerone. Finally, we had a very fast descent down to Isernia, where we found the only hotel (Hotel Sayonara) where we booked a double room with breakfast for 70 euros.

The hotel was very good, and we had a nice meal in the old town that evening in a pizzeria. The staff were once again very friendly, and the chef even decorated our dessert plate with chocolate bicycles!

  • Lovely quiet roads all day again.
  • The Passo Godi is a gem of a climb, with a stunning valley once you reach the top.
  • Barrea is a lovely town in a great position.
  • That descent just past Aquaviva was unexpectedly steep.

Day 6 – Monday 16th May
Isernia to Sepino (88 kms)

We left the hotel at around 9:30am and found the road to Longano without a hitch.

It was a long climb to Longano and the morning was very hot. Thankfully there was a welcoming fountain in the main square at Longano (and we’d only done about 8 miles!). We bought our panninis here and got chatting to some locals sat in the shade around the fountain. One of them spoke perfect English and it turned out he had lived in Preston for a while (Preston is about 65 miles form our homes).

We explained that we were heading for Sepino via Gallo which raised a few eyebrows. We were told that the road was very tough (and rough). Whether we took a wrong turn (more than likely) or not I don’t know, but the road climbed quite steeply, and then – disappeared (the black bit on the map opposite!). It turned into a dirt track which was un-rideable, especially on a tandem. We looked at the map again, but this definitely seemed like the right road! We got off and walked the tandem and were about to turn around when we met a chap walking his dog. He said that if we carried on we would meet the tarmac road soon. 2 miles later, he was right. It really was quite a job pushing the tandem on this track. We tried riding from time to time, but some of the rocks were quite large and there were ruts and potholes all over the place. Not wanting to risk a puncture at best or a broken rim at worst, we decided to take our time and walk.

We eventually reached tarmac again, hot and dusty. We headed for Vallelunga, but just before it, the road was closed and we were sent on a detour, a very makeshift and very tough road. Some wickedly short sharp steep sections on it. Eventually we reached Gallo where we stopped for a breather and some water and coffee (just in time as the owner was shutting up shop for a long lunch). After lunch we started a steep climb out of Gallo into the Parco Regionale del Maltese, on to Lentino and past Lago di Gallo. We dropped into the valley and then climbed gradually to Lago del Maltese. It was a lovely ride along the lake and then a wooded climb to Passo di Miralago. From here we took the road signed Campobasso and climbed to Sella d’Perrone. From here it was an absolutely huge descent (16kms) through Guardiaregia and on to join the No.17 road. This was a busier road, but with a good shoulder to ride on, and we soon found the turn off (easy to miss – it’s just a lay-by with a track off it) for Saepinum, an old Roman town. We pushed the tandem along the track, through the ruins of the old town and back on to tarmac again headed for Atillia and on to Sepino. The only hotel in Sepino was closed. We asked some locals (after climbing half-way up to Sepino old town), and they suggested trying a place near the station. We still haven’t found the station, but we did find an agroturismo about 5km out of the town near a railway line. I guess that’s what they meant.

The agroturismo was out of this world. Absolutely stunning inside. Rough stone floors, old wooden doors, stone troughs with water flowing. For a start, the owner was super friendly, he persuaded the chef (I presume) to stay and cook us dinner. After such a long hot day, we were both so relieved to find this place. The meal that night was something else. I’ve never seen so much food. I thought what turned out to be the starter was the meal. Not at all. It was followed by a huge pasta dish, which in turn was followed by a meat and potatoes dish which had at least 4 different kinds of meat (pork chops, chicken, a small bird of some kind etc etc). All this was washed down with a very large jug of red wine.

The total cost for a double room, evening meal and breakfast was 70 euros.

  • Never trust a map, and when the locals say it’s rough, believe them – it’s rough.
  • What’s that they say about a ‘country mile’? I’m glad we never did the sensible thing and turned around though.
  • Lovely ride through the Parco Regionale del Maltese.
  • What a meal! What value for money. A superb day.

Day 7 – Tuesday 17th May
Sepino to Lucera (122 kms)

We left Sepino early (for us) and went back down the main road to have a good look around Saepinum. It was about 9am when we arrived there and we were the only ones in the place so we spent a good hour looking around the ruins which are very impressive. We left the ruins and headed back on the main road toward Sepino. The road was very quiet at this time in the morning, nothing like it had been the previous evening when we arrived. We climbed for a while up to Cercemaggiore where we bought some very refreshing oranges from a van by the roadside. We swooped down to Riccia where we sorted out our lunch and then headed off for Castelvetere via Sella Canala (a long climb of around 12km) and Decorata before a final descent into Castelvetere.

From Castelvetere there was a huge drop into the valley where we started an equally huge hot climb up to San Bartolomeo. As we approached the town, we could see a very steep hill going on up the hillside at the back of the town and joked that that couldn’t possibly be our road. After ice creams and a drink in San Bartolomeo, and a chat with the local cafe owner, we found to our dismay that that was indeed our road.

We rode back down the street, chased by the cafe owner with my wallet clutched in his hand. Thank you, oh thank you for that! Even before we turned the corner, we put the tandem in the lowest gear we had and braced ourselves. This road had to be 30%. We know steep climbs well, with Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass on our doorstep, and this certainly ranked with the steepest parts of those. The steep bit wasn’t very long (300 metres?) but with a fully loaded tandem and a long climb in your legs already, it hurt like hell. We reached the ‘top’ and saw that the road went on climbing (not as steeply) for a long way into the distance. Eventually we reached the top (Mt Pagliarone – 1029m), and here I think we got a bit lost. We swooped down (and probably missed a turning) and then climbed hard again. The road deteriorated, still easily rideable, but very potholed and stony in places. We did see the odd car, and were just beginning to worry that we were lost, when we reached the main road again, where we turned left, climbed a bit more and then descended for miles to Alberona which seems to be famous for wind turbines and environmentally friendly energy (solar powered streetlights for example). There were loads of wind turbines up on the hilltop where we’d come from. The huge descent continued through Alberona, C.Civetta, then a short rise to Tertiveri where we joined a long straight road heading into Lucera. We had a good tailwind on this section and were flying along at 40kph with very little effort.

We arrived in Lucera at 6:30pm and booked in to the 3 star Hotel Balconetta (60 euros). It had been a very tiring day. Very hilly, very hot. We had pizza for tea, then it was an early night where we slept the sleep of the dead in a very hot room.

  • Saepinum is worth a visit.
  • That climb after San Bartolomeo was hard.
  • First good tailwind of the trip after the longest descent yet down through Alberona

Day 8 – Wednesday 18th May

Lucera to Rodi (93 kms)

We left Lucera at around 10am headed for Rodi Garganico and the Gargano peninsula. After dropping down to the very straight No.160 for a phenomenal wind assisted ride to San Severo (around 25km’s in 35 minutes – not bad considering we’d just got up!

San Severo was a busy bustling town, market stalls on the street, and what seemed like hundreds of greengrocers. We stopped and bought some oranges in one shop and the locals were very curious about us, the tandem, where we going etc etc. Lovely friendly people.

We left San Severo and headed for Apricena (another fast wind-assisted ride, where we surprised the driver of one of those 3 wheeler all purpose vehicles that abound in Italy when we overtook him). We stopped at Apricena for a coffee and again, the locals were very interested in where we were going etc. Apricena is a nice looking town. The owner advised us to to take the coastal (flatter) route, but we declined and carried on to San Nicandro. It was an easy climb, but seemed strange that when we reached the very top, we crossed a railway line.

We bought panninis at San Nicandro and ate them there before setting off on a long wind assisted descent to the coast at Torre Milleto. From here, we followed the coast road to Rodi. A long, flat, straight road, again wind-assisted which meant that our speed didn’t drop below 25mph and was frequently above. A very easy ride, and although the road was very quiet, it wasn’t as picturesque as we hoped it would be . We’d hoped to have good sea views, but there’s a strip of not very interesting woodland which runs along between the sea and the road.
We arrived at Rodi at around 4pm and booked in to the Hotel Americana (50 euros).

This had been a nice easy day after yesterday but would have been a very different ride with a headwind (long straight roads and no cover). It had also been very hot today – the hottest yet.

We ate in the hotel and had an interesting chat with a travelling salesman from Milan who sold dishwashers!

  • Some effortless speedy cycling today.
  • Nice road between Apricena and San Nicandro.
  • Disappointed with the stretch of road along the coast. Quiet, but uninteresting.

Day 9 – Thursday 19th May
Rodi to Vieste (44 kms)

This was to be a short easy day, and when we went down for breakfast we were quite glad. It was absolutely pouring down. We took a while over breakfast, and as luck would have it, it stopped raining just before we left at 10am though the roads were still very wet.

As I say, this was to be a short easy day. We started with a run along the coast headed for Peschici. The beaches were deserted and the sand was blown all over the road, but it was quite windy which meant the sea looked quite spectacular. It was a nice climb up to the town of Peschici where we headed up to the top of the town and had a coffee. Peschici is perched on a promontory, and had a very ‘Greek’ look about it, with its white buildings and flat roofs. After leaving Peschici, the road heads inland over a short climb, before a very fast wind assisted run into Vieste.

Every now and again along the coast road, we’d seen some strange looking wooden structures by the sea. A sort of wooden box with long poles sticking out of it with a net strung between them. Apparently they’re used for catching mullet.

Vieste is a very ‘Moorish’ looking town, extremely exposed and windy! There are great sea views and windy narrow streets. We sat in what was left of the evening sun in the central piazza (which is lined with palm trees) before heading back to the hotel (Hotel Seggio – 70 euros) for a good evening meal.

Looking back, today was too short and we should perhaps have headed back on the SS89 to Peschici and then gone inland from there the next day, but it was an enjoyable day and the sea looked great

  • Perhaps today was too short.
  • Some great sea views today.

Day 10 – Friday 20th May
Vieste to Monte Sant’ Angelo (61 kms)

This was a day we’d been looking forward to. A ride through the Foresta Umbra to Monte Sant’Angelo.

We left Vieste at around 9am into a strong headwind along the coast road to Spiaggio Scialmarino where we headed inland. Thankfully, we were now sheltered from the headwind. We both commented on how hard some of the previous days rides would have been into that headwind.

From here we headed up through the Foresta Umbra. This is a long but very well graded climb of about 15 miles. It’s a lovely road, and on the day we were on it, very quiet, though we did see more cyclists today than we’d seen all trip. It was deceptively cool riding through the forest.

We stopped at the summit for our lunch (pizza slices bought in Vieste) in a lovely sunny break in the trees. Could have stayed all afternoon. Very quiet, warm and relaxing.

We left on a short descent, and then onto a rolling road (still very quiet – not traffic to speak of at all). After a few km of undulating roads, we started our descent through Masseria Paolino to a cross-roads. We stopped here and ate a couple of oranges, looking at the climb up to Monte Sant’Angelo. The climb actually looked a lot harder than it was and it seemed like no time at all before we’d reached the summit and were in the town itself. I’d guesstimate that the ascent is about 300 metres.

It was very windy up in the town but the sun was warm. There were fantastic views off the top down to Manfredonia and the coast sweeping round to Trani and beyond.

We booked in to the Hotel Palace San Michele (110 euros a night!). We had a fantastic room which opened up onto a huge sun trap sun terrace with those amazing views down to Manfredonia and the coast.

There was a group of SAGA holidaymakers booked in to the hotel, and we got chatting to an English couple who seemed to be covering some of the ground we were. This was their ‘welcome’ night and I suppose we could have stayed around and bummed a few complimentary drinks and things, but that felt mean (and I like to think we wouldn’t fit in ‘cos we don’t look old enough. Of course another reason we wouldn’t fit in is because we tend to look like a couple of vagrants after 10 days in the same shirt and trousers)

This was certainly a swanky hotel. The waiter had a uniform complete with epaulettes, and in the morning when we asked if he would fill our drinks bottles, he asked if we wanted ice in them!

  • Wonderful ride through the Foresta Umbra. Lovely road, very quiet and shady.
  • Monte Sant’Angelo may be touristy, but it’s well worth a visit.

Day 11 – Saturday 21st May
Monte Sant’ Angelo to Trani (96 kms)

Great descent this morning on a lovely road (around 13 miles) heading for the Adriatic coast. We were headed for Trani today, but first we had to navigate our way through the centre of Manfredonia, a busy bustling city, which called for some very ‘assertive’ riding. Thankfully, we came through it unscathed, and remarkably with out getting totally lost!

After Manfredonia, we hit the long, hot, straight and very boring coastal road. The sad thing was, we saw very little coast. It always seemed to be ‘just over there’ (which it was of course). There was no respite from the sun, which was beating down with a vengeance. At one point we crossed a bridge and we saw our first herd of water buffalo, wallowing in the river and in the mud on the river bank. For large stretches, this coastal strip seems to be heavily used for agriculture (fruit/flowers etc?) and I can’t say it inspired me much. When you’ve seen one plastic greenhouse, you’ve seen them all.

We did find one place where we managed to take a side road down to the beach and we sat there to eat our lunch. Not much else to say about today’s ride really. It won’t be one that goes down in my memory banks. However, things looked up as we entered Trani. This is a very pretty town, and looks very ‘well heeled’. The harbour area is lovely, as is the main piazza with the duomo.

The hotels in town were very busy – some sort of conference on. We were offered a room at 145 euros, but declined as we thought that was a tad steep for us. Eventually we found the Hotel Royal where the staff were very friendly and we got a room for 85 euros.

Had a great ‘fishy’ meal that evening at the Ristorante Caruso near the hotel. The town was certainly busy tonight!

  • Missing the hills already! The ride to Trani was very hot and boring.
  • Trani is a lovely town.

Day 12 – Sunday 22nd May
Trani to Acquaviva delle Fonti (87 kms)

The hotel staff in Trani were very friendly and told us to take food with us from the extensive selection they had at breakfast! So, we loaded the panniers up with cheese, salami, oranges, bananas, yoghurt etc).

We had a bit of a struggle getting out of Trani and ended up on the main road to Bisceglie. Perhaps because it was Sunday, it was nice and quiet, so not that bad. From Biscegli we headed inland to Ruvo di Puglia on long straight roads. The roads got a bit busier as we neared Ruvo di Puglia and at this point it was absolutely scorchio.

After Ruvo di Puglia, a friendly cyclist (aren’t we all? put us on the right road for Palo delle Colle. The roads were a lot quieter from here but we got lost again getting out of Palo delle Colle when the signs disappeared. We wandered around aimlessly for a while, until we came across a chap taking two of his young kids for a bike ride. After trying to explain the road we should take, he took pity on us and told us to follow him. So, we set off in convoy, headed for Bitetto (or at least near enough so that we couldn’t miss it!)

From Bitetto we headed up to Grumo Appula and Cassano delle Murge. It was mucho scorchio now and thankfully it was an easy last 8km to Acquaviva delle Fonti, where we visited the main piazza for drinks and ice creams.

We booked in to the Hotel Regge San Paulo just off the main piazza. We had a lovely room on the top floor with a balcony on two sides. We could see three bell towers from the balcony, and spent an hour or so watching two hawks flying around upsetting the swallows which were darting about. One was caught eventually and we saw the hawk settle on a TV aerial and start to eat it.

So, feeling hungry ourselves, we headed out for a great meal in a local ristorante (Bruschetta, Proscuitto e ananas, Risotto salmone, followed by various meats – and a complementary grappa!).

  • Roads were a ‘bit’ more interesting today.
  • Nice room in the hotel. Great watching the hawks.

Day 13 – Monday 23rd May
Acquaviva delle Fonti to Conversano (80 kms)

Great breakfast in the hotel at Acquaviva delle Fonti, and left in good time for us (9:30am) – well we are on holiday!

Had no problem with directions today. We headed for Sammichele di Bari and on to Putignano on lovely quiet roads. After a short break at Putignano where we watched some workmen fitting new doors to a house (strange how we seem to get into the swing of doing nothing rather too easily). Once the doors were fitted, we pressed on for Alberobello. We found the ‘Zona delle Trulli’ easily enough. It was very hot by now so we parked up the tandem and went for a tour around these strange structures. They’re certainly different, and look quite impressive. Must be murder to wallpaper inside! Even at this time of year, we were surprised to see how many visitors there were. It must be bedlam in the height of summer.

When we were well and truly ‘trullied out’, we sat outside a cafe and had panninis and lemon soda. While there we were accosted by an American lady (slightly inebriated I think!) who was convinced I was a policeman! While I was very flattered to be mistaken for an Italian (shows how drunk she was, I’m still baffled as to how she equated lycra cycling shorts and a Eurobike jersey to the uniform of the Italian police. Funny what drink can do. While sitting at the cafe, we were amazed to see the couple we’d chatted to at Monte Sant’Angelo a few days before. After a quick chat, we braced ourselves to move out from the shade of the umbrella and into the full sun. It was extremely hot now, and the tandem saddle was so hot as to be uncomfortable at first! Plenty of interest in the tandem again, from some German tourists (one of whom had a tandem back home) who wished us well.

We left Alberobello and headed off for Noci and back to Putignano, and saw lots of trulli scattered around the countryside. We stopped at a bar in Putignano, where we met a wonderful old chap called Joe Fabriano (I think that was his surname). His eyes lit up when he heard us speaking English. He was the only one who spoke any English, and was in his element translating to the others in the bar. We really had a great time in there, covering all sorts of topics from cycling to football, George Bush to the Mafia! They were really a great bunch in there. Apparently, Joe had lived in Canada and from what we could gather now lived in rooms in a church nearby (or something to do with a church). I have to say that I was sorry to leave. I love it when this sort of thing happens on these trips. If anyone reading this knows Joe, then please give him our regards.

We weren’t really sure where to head for today, and it was the bar owner who suggested Conversano, and what a good choice it was. It was on the fast run in to Conversano that disaster almost struck. We were fairly shifting on a gradual descent, when we hit a pothole (well it was a bridge expansion joint on the road actually). One of the rear panniers jumped off and we ended up dragging it along for quite some way before the elastic strap holding it finally snapped. Luckily, there was no damage to the tandem (thoughts of it going into the rear wheel made me feel quite sick!). After some quick running repairs, we secured it and were on our way again. A lucky escape.

The old part of Conversano is very nice and we booked in to the Corte Atta Villa. A very impressive looking old building. We asked for a standard room, but when we got to the room, realised they’d given us a suite! Anyhow, no harm done as they let us have it for 95 euros. We had a great meal out (there was a fiesta of some kind on in the town that night). It was extravagantly expensive (for us) so I’m not putting the cost here in case my wife reads this, but the food and wine was absolutely superb.

  • Nice roads today – much quieter.
  • Lovely time in the bar at Putignano. Joe made the day for me.

Day 14 – Tuesday 24th May
Conversano to Giovinazzo (64 kms)

We left Conversano for an easy day today, bound for ‘somewhere near Bari airport’, ready for tomorrow’s flight home. I knew Bari was the biggest place we’d ride through on the tandem to date and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it.

Just before we left, we asked the receptionist if she could recommend any hotel in Bari thinking that she could probably book it for us. We were a bit alarmed when she told us of the impending Papal visit to Bari this coming Saturday and that some of the roads may be closed already for security. On top of that there was a week long cardinals conference taking place this week in Bari, so hotel rooms would be thin on the ground (and how right she was!).

We set off bound for Rutigliano which we reached without problem, and then headed on for Noicattro and Triggiano. At Triggiano we stopped for a coffee where we got chatting to the local dustman. He’d asked me if I spoke English? I said I did and he then proceeded to give us directions in Italian, advising us on small roads into Bari. Having looked at the map, we decided to ignore this advice as he seemed to be taking us way off course. So, with a ‘we know best’ attitude, we left Triggiano and headed for a place called San Giorgio. About 1km before the road meets the superstrada near the coast, we turned left onto a very small road. We missed this the first time and had to backtrack. This small road had no traffic on it whatsoever, and it came as a bit of a shock when it suddenly joined the start of a main road into Bari. When I say ‘start’, I mean the start. To the right, the tarmac just stopped and disappeared into the grass. To the left it was a major road heading in to Bari. At first it was very quiet, but as we got nearer the centre and as other roads joined it, the traffic built up, though it was nowhere near as bad as I’d expected it would be. Once into Bari proper, the traffic was very heavy, but it was pretty slow moving due to all the traffic lights, and seemed to give us a wide berth. Maybe they sensed we didn’t have a clue where we were going! It was pretty amazing that we managed to navigate right into the centre without any problem.

Had lunch in a cafe and the owner gave us instructions on how to get out to Bari Palase which we thought would be a good place to start looking for a hotel. By a stroke of luck, we were only about 2 blocks down from the road we needed to be on. His instructions were perfect, and after a short stretch of busy main road, we turned off onto the ‘complementare’ a sort of service road that runs alongside the main road. This took us right into Palase.

We tried 3 hotels here – all full. The cardinals conference and papal visit! We headed right out on to the coastal strip but couldn’t find anything open here at all and it looked extremely run down. At the last hotel we tried (full) the receptionist kindly rang a hotel in Giovinazzo, about 6km up the coast and thankfully they confirmed that they had a room available. The hotel was ‘very nice’ and sadly that reflected in the price – 180 euros! But, it was that or sleep on the beach, so we paid the 180 euros. There seemed little point in going back and trying to find others (if we could find any). Bari was obviously THE place to be this week. There also didn’t seem much point in going further up the coast as a) there didn’t seem anything particularly near, and b) we were getting further away from the airport.

After a shower and a couple of drinks, we readied the tandem for flying. The very friendly hotel manager said that they would transport us (and the tandem) free to the airport in the morning. We weren’t convinced the tandem would fit in the estate car, but it did – just. It did mean that we’d have to take 2 cars to the airport though, but again, they were very obliging.

The meal that night in the hotel was superb. Once again, I’m not going to divulge the cost. Lets just say it added substantially to the total bill! Definitely not the cheapest bike holiday I’ve been on. I feel like we’ve been a tad reckless these last 2 nights, but I’m not sure what else we could have done (I don’t do camping.

So, that was it. The Italian riding was over for another year. Another enjoyable tour. I loved the Gran Sasso and Gargano Peninsula areas, they were all I hoped they’d be and more. The jury’s still out on Puglia. It certainly has some lovely old towns, the food and wine was great, the people very friendly, but I found a lot of the roads there a bit boring for cycling. Once you’ve ridden past several miles of olive groves, you start to hanker for something else. We would have perhaps been better starting in Puglia and finishing in the Gran Sasso. Maybe next time.

  • The ride through Bari was nowhere near as bad as I’d feared.
  • Lucky to find that hotel!

Allan and Konrad


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