Combining daily exercise and fine Italian food and wine, Headwater’s self-guided cycling tour across Puglia also takes in the Adriatic coast and the best of the region’s countryside. Ellie Ross takes it for a spin
Filippo De Miccolis Angelini cups the shot glass in his hand and examines its contents carefully.
Inside sits liquid gold – though not the limoncello or laurel-flavoured liqueur that might usually conclude a meal in this part of Italy. Instead it’s his homemade extra virgin olive oil, made using the fruit of 400-year-old trees scattered through the pretty gardens of the Masseria Salamina, a restored 17th-century fortified farmhouse in Pezze di Greco, a village in Puglia.
“First you warm the glass to release the aroma,” he says, rubbing its rim with the palm of his hand. Next he sips the oil, slurping loudly to draw in air and heighten the flavour, before swallowing. “Bitter and pungent,” he concludes, satisfied. “If it leaves a film on your tongue, it’s not extra virgin. It should be completely absorbed. Now you try.”
I suck the oil noisily through my tongue and feel the hot, peppery flavour kick in. It’s delicious, and tasting four varieties in the Masseria’s vaulted restaurant is an excellent way to start my four-course dinner of aubergine roulade, organic pasta, veal chops and an almond milk dessert topped with homemade mandarin marmalade.
With such good food in front of me, it’s a good job I’ve earned it by cycling. I’m on Headwater’s Contrasts of Puglia Cycling trip, a self-guided, seven-night holiday that begins and ends in Monopoli, a loop taking in both the rugged Adriatic coastline and countryside dotted with farming hamlets, almond orchards and dry stone walls.
With a daily average of about 26 miles, on mostly flat terrain, it’s not hardcore cycling, though clients do need a reasonable level of fitness. Add in the option of e-bikes and the trip becomes more accessible, opening up the possibility of multi-generational travel and mixed abilities travelling together. The itinerary also includes two rest days, at the Unesco World Heritage Site Alberobello and Pezze di Greco, so clients can take time to explore some of the region’s highlights.