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Experience Plus - Bicycle Tours since 1972

The Shapes of Puglia

by ExperiencePlus! - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 travel-stories

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The Shapes of Puglia

Some of us might not be able to point out every European country on a map, but Italy’s distinctive contours make it easy to spot. When we imagine traveling there, we often think of Tuscany, Venice, Rome, or other famous locations in the north, while the southern regions are forgotten. Making up the "heel" of Italy’s famed boot, the lesser-known agricultural region of Puglia is an area full of mysterious and unique shapes, and it’s definitely worth a visit.  Join us for our Puglia – Cycling Southern Italy and Puglia – Cycling Southern Italy Plus! the Ionian Seaside tours and see for yourself.

You’ll be intrigued by the Castel del Monte, an octagonal castle built in 1240 by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Eight eight-sided towers connect the eight walls of the castle, which each hold eight rooms! The castle’s pure geometry has puzzled mathematicians for years, while others have speculated on the meaning of the repeated octagonal shape. Some think the eight sides represent a fusion of the square (which represents the earth) and the circle (which represents the sky). But no matter where Frederick II got his inspiration, you’re sure to enjoy wandering about the extraordinary castle, which is featured on the Italian euro cent.

Even more distinct architecture can be found in the city of Matera, where you’ll be amazed to see a labyrinth of cave dwellings that have been layered upon one another since prehistoric times. Called the "Sassi di Matera" (Stones of Matera), the foundations of these caves are thought to be some of the first human settlements in Italy. Today you’ll see a jumble of houses that reflects the passing of time. Upon entering one of these caves you might be standing on the roof of the cave below, and above might be a street, a stairway, or even a garden. As you walk though the old city you’ll even see chimneys popping up out of the road! Matera’s rare caves are so exceptional that they have served as the location for multiple films, including "The Passion of the Christ," "The Omen," and "The Nativity Story." In the 1950’s the Sassi were so dilapidated that the government forced all residents to relocate, but now the renovated caves are so popular that there’s a years-long wait list of people hoping to move in.

In addition to a castle of eights and a tiered cave city, you’ll find oddly shaped houses sprinkled throughout the countryside of Puglia. Known as trulli, these conical buildings with gray stone roofs and whitewashed walls are characteristic to the area. To add to their strange shape, trulli are often decorated with painted symbols, including planetary signs, malochio (the evil eye), the cross, hearts, and crescents. Like the Castel del Monte and the Sassi of Matera, trulli are somewhat of a mystery. One theory on their origin looks to the Middle Ages, when property taxes were extremely high: some think that the residents of Puglia created a dry stone construction that could easily be dismantled when tax inspectors came to collect! Our tour stops in rustic Alberobello, where you’ll have the chance to stay in one of these peculiar houses yourself.

Even Puglia’s pasta takes unique forms, where the specialty isn’t the conventional spaghetti, but ear-shaped orechiette instead. And no matter the shape, the food in Puglia is an experience in itself. The fresh seafood on this coastal tour makes for great meals, especially when paired with wine made from the grapes grown in the area. You can also try burrata, Puglia’s specialty cheese, which has a solid mozzarella shell and a soft mozzarella and cream center.

Puglia offers gentle terrain with some hills, or more challenging rides for those who wish, making it a great trip for all cyclists. And if you join us for the longer version of this tour, you’ll have the chance to dip a toe (or take a dive) into both the Ionian and Adriatic seas. So come explore Puglia with us; discover an unusual area of Italy and your cycling adventure is sure to "shape up" fast.

Our fall tours in Puglia start on September 25 and October 9. Check out full itineraries for both the Puglia – Cycling Southern Italy and Puglia – Cycling Southern Italy Plus! the Ionian Seaside tours on the web or call us at 1-800-685-4565 for more details.