Trigger warnings: 11 fantastic days on the bikes in southern Italy! Outstanding views! Gratuitous bike porn! Fantastic food! Open containers! You may need a double expresso to get all the way through this post!
In 2005 we considered taking the Ciclismo Classico (CC) Ride Across Italy for our 25th Anniversary. We had seen great reviews about the route and the tour company. Alas, the offered dates would not work due to scheduling conflicts with the kid's schedule, so we ended up taking their Tour de France trip, and had a blast!
|We should do that Italy trip!|
Pre-rideThe tour started in Polignano al Mare, about 100 kilometers south of Bari on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy. We decided to spend two nights before the tour to assemble the bikes, adjust to the time change, and tour Polignano and Bari.
|Arriving at FCO airport in Rome|
|We found it!|
We planed to assemble the bikes and take the train back to Bari and ride back for a shakedown ride, but with a steady morning rain, we decided to go on foot into the old town of Polignano.
|From our hotel, old town in the background|
|Typical alley in Polignano|
|A wedding was happening in the church on the main square|
Day 1 - PolignanoThe tour officially started at lunch, so after breakfast, I headed to the garage to assemble our bikes. I met our CC guides, Enrico and Henrick, who were assembling the rental bikes for the rest of the tour guests (11 guests, 2 guides).
|Debby and Richard inspecting the bikes|
|Regroup #1 on the way to Conversano|
|Castle at Conversano|
|Enrico preparing a toast prior to the trip brief|
|Back into Old Town for another fantastic meal!|
Day 2 - AlberobelloRolling narrow roads through a strange fantasy land of conical-shaped houses called 'trulli' on the way to Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is what the trip itinerary said was in store. It did not disappoint!
|Check out the Trulli!|
|Rolling hills and narrow roads|
After a lunch stop in Locorotondo, we arrived at the hotel in Alberobello. We arrived to find our bags in the room, and after we cleaned up, we walked into the historic area of the town for a guided tour which included visiting a trulli restored to its historic condition.
|Inside a restored trulli|
|Our tour guide arranged for us to enter this restored trulli|
Day 2 Route
Day 3 - MateraToday's destination is another UNESCO World Heritage site, Matera. One of the oldest continuously inhabited town-sites in the world. But first we need to get there, today's route will be relatively flat, but cover 52 miles!
|Our trusty steeds, tires pumped, wiped down, and ready to go!|
We rode through farmland and orchards on lightly traveled roads. The soil was very rocky, and over the years the farmers created dry-stacked rock walls from the rocks removed from the fields. At the base of a descent, we stopped to photograph some beautiful wild flowers. Enrico noted that it was very unusual to see these flowers in bloom in the fall.
|Short punchy climbs along dry stacked stone walls|
Luckily for us, lunch was at about the 2/3rds point of the ride. While most of the day was relatively flat, the last few miles into Matera included a mile of climbing at 7.5-10% grades. At the top of the climb we entered the new part of Matera. Not at all noteworthy, and I wondered what the big deal was! We would soon find out as we entered old town.
|Matera's historic Sassi Distric, from our hotel room!|
|Our room at the Matera hotel!|
|Cave Church and Convent at night|
Day 3 Route
Day 4 - Montescaglioso LoopDay 4 is a rest day with an optional out and back ride from Matera to Montescaglioso, about 22 miles round trip. After breakfast, with Debby staying at the hotel and getting a massage instead of more miles, I headed out. It was a perfect morning on a great route.
|Tree lined road to Montescaglioso|
|Light Italian Lunch|
|Inside the church near our hotel in Matera|
Day 4 Route
Day 5 - CastelmezzanoToday is the longest stage of the tour at 64 miles, with 6,700 feet of climbing. No wonder Day 4 was a rest day. The route descended from Matera and entered rolling farmland, lakes, and forests.The fleas and horseflies were out in full force. At one point they were so bad that I rode right by Deb's side, waving my arms like a madman in an attempt to shoo them away!
|The CC van bringing up the rear|
|The lake was beautiful, the flies were terrible!|
|Chef Murphy prepared a picnic!|
|Goat on the balcony|
|On the climb to Castelmezzano|
|Bike storage on the patio!|
Thankfully dinner was at the hotel, so after a long day in the saddle, we had another wonderful meal and retired early!
Day 5 Route
Day 6 - PadulaAnother day of climbing, 47 miles and 5,550 feet. We left Castlemezzano and the climbing started right away. The morning was cool and the grade was steady for about 6 miles. Once we reached the top, the forest opened up and we enjoyed long rollers with great views.
|Enrico at the first regroup|
|Top of another climb|
|Some double digit grades here!|
|The top of the climb|
Our hotel was a small Roman style inn centrally located in the historic section of town. After we arrived and cleaned up, we piled into a van and negotiated the very narrow streets to the La Certosa Monastery. There we were met by a local guide that gave us a fantastic tour of the grounds. Since it was the end of the day, we had the whole place to ourselves!
|Chapel at La Certosa monastery|
Day 6 Route
Day 7 - PalinuroGood thing we ate all that pizza last night, day 7 is another long day (58 miles) with lots of climbing on the day's agenda. We left Padula and headed back into the forests. Lots climbs and descents kept us on our toes all day!
|Jeff Lockwood's cornering drills really paid off!|
|Typical trail head in the National Forest|
|Note: Southern Italy is not flat!|
|Lunch in Montano Antillia|
Once we left Montano Antillia, we were treated with great views of the Mediterranean Sea and our destination in the distance. After two long days of climbing, the last 20 miles of rolling descents were very welcome indeed!
|View from our Hotel|
|Approving invoices in Italy|
Day 8 - Palinuro LoopDay 8 is a rest day. There were options to ride a 15 mile out and back ride up the coast, go for a boat tour of the local grottos, or just sit on the beach. I of course opted for all three! Since the boat trip was planned for 10am after breakfast, my ride would have to be early. Debby was up for the boat trip, but said "you have fun with that" when I suggested the early ride option!
Up before dawn, and with lights blazing, it was back into town for the run up to the coast to Pisciotta. Some coastal rides are flat affairs that wind along the coast, neither gaining or losing elevation. This run was nothing like that. It was either up or down, with winding switchbacks and great views along rocky shores!
|Sunrise on the road|
The cove was protected from the wind and the water was perfect for a swim!
|Walking into town|
|Mussels and pasta at a hotel restaurant in town|
We returned to the room to wash a few day's worth of cycling kits and put them out on the terrace to dry. Exhausted from the 'rest day's' activities, we decided on a short nap. We were awakened by a thunderstorm that added a natural rinse cycle to the laundry.
We hiked back into town for Mass and light dinner. We returned to the room to pack, dry the kits (the hair dryer in the room worked great), and get ready to head south along the coast.
Day 8 Route
Day 9 - MarateaWe enjoyed breakfast under a symphony of thunder, heavy rain, and a lightning show. Not the best conditions to get on the bikes. The guides decided it was too dangerous to start in the storm, so we move the departure time back an hour and we waited for the storm to clear.
It did and we set out under blue a sky!
|A warm-up ride along the coast|
|Hills above the water|
|"The other Almalfi coast"|
We stopped for lunch in Scario at a restaurant with outdoor tables under a large awning. It was good that we stopped here for lunch, because the clouds, thunder, and lighting arrived for an encore performance. We were not going anywhere fast, so we enjoyed a leisurely lunch while the next band of storms passed.
It was a 90 minute lunch break, and we pushed out as the trailing edge of the storm moved through. Again the sky cleared and we enjoyed perfect conditions for the run along the coast, through Sapri, on our way to Maratea.
|Up, down, stop for great photo, repeat!|
|Do not enter for cars..., OK for bikes|
I continued up as other members of the tour were heading down.
|Christ the Redeemer|
|Views on the climb were fantastic|
Day 9 Route
Day 10 - Morano CalabroBack into the mountains featuring 3 long climbs with 6,500+ feet of climbing over 58 miles! Day 10 and 11 were billed as the hardest on the tour, so we decided to cut breakfast a little short and head out 30 minutes or so before the rest of the group. The route started with a few downhill kilometers as we rolled out of town, before the first climb of the day. We were riding in the shade and getting a little chilled, so I rode on ahead to warm up while Deb continued at her pace.
|Deb hoped I took this picture!|
The route left the forest and started up switchbacks on a grassy hillside. The rest of the group caught and passed us as we continued on at our own pace.
|First regroup in Lauria|
|The old Lauria train station|
After a long morning in the saddle, and many times thinking that Henrick would be just around the next corner, Enrico exclaimed, " this is the best sandwich I have had in my life!' Well it certainly was tasty, and after weeks of large mid-day meals, and wondering where Henrick parked the lunch wagon, it was like an oasis of nourishment in the Italian mountain wilderness!
We cleared the top of the climb in a light drizzle, and were treated with another spectacular descent. Luckily the rain passed us by and we soon rolled into town and another fantastic hotel.
We were the only guests in the hotel and before the formal cocktail hour, the owner provided a great history of the building. We gathered in the garden where local musicians entertained us with local folk music and the chef prepared fresh mozzarella by hand.
|Henrick introduces local musicians|
Day 10 Route
Day 11 - Cittadella del CapoRolling hills and one last long climb to finish the trip. The last day of the tour would take us out of the mountains, and back to the sea. 5,000 feet over 58 miles, better get started!
|Back and up into the Pollino National Park|
|At the summit!|
|Its all downhill from here!|
|Our hotel on the beach|
Dinner would be at the hotel, so we were able to enjoy a few post-ride libations during a beautiful sunset that provided a proper exclamation point to a fantastic trip.
Day 11 Route
Post-rideAfter breakfast, we took the hotel shuttle to the train station and took a local train to Sapri to connect to a fast train to Rome. We arrived at the hotel (Marriott Park, about half-way between downtown Rome and the airport) in the early evening and decided to plan our last day in Rome from the comfort of the hotel restaurant.
We took the early shuttle into town. It dumped us off at the Piazza dei Tribunalli. We had mapped out a fast tour of as many sights we could squeeze in. Here are a few highlights:
|St. Ignazio de Loyola|
|Piazz Mignanelli (Spanish Steps)|
|End of a full day in Rome|
|One last birra in the departure lounge|