Our Epic Adventure In Puglia ~ Days Ten to Thirteen

This is the fourth and last installment of my four part journal sharing our amazing adventure in Puglia created for us by Southern Visions Travel. What started out as an simple cycling trip through Puglia, ended up as an epic adventure for both cyclists and non-riders like myself. The plan was to meet in Bari, ride around the tip of Puglia, breeze through Matera in Basilicata, ride through Abruzzo, Le Marche, and finally, end up at our home in Umbria. I want to thank Southern Visions Travel for the great app that they shared with us which included all of our trip information. That and the daily snapshots, (a sheet of paper left in our rooms overnight that chronicled the next day’s activities) made writing this post much easier!

Day Ten ~ Mattinata To The Tremiti Islands

Today was going to be our last full day in Puglia, and it was the cyclists second day off for the trip. Although some folks were thinking of taking the day off and simply hanging around the hotel, Antonello, our fearless leader, host, cycle van driver, and all-around cheerleader for the group, managed to talk everyone into taking part in the day’s activities. By the time the day was completed, I am sure that they were all glad that they did. For me, it was probably my favorite day of the entire trip. It was also Mother’s Day, and if I couldn’t spend the day with my family, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect day in Puglia.

The only tricky part of the day was that we all had to get up and out of the hotel very early to make the ferry in Vieste to take us to the Tremiti Islands for the day. It was a fast and furious ride from the hotel to Vieste but we made it intact, and just in time to board the ferry. The boat ride from Vieste to the islands is over two hours in duration, so those that were unhappy about getting up so early were able to nap. Gaetano was our guide for the day as he is very familiar with the islands and met us at the ferry that morning. After arriving in the port, Gaetano gave us a quick synopsis about the islands, and we then boarded our private boat to tour the various sea caves around the islands.

The Tremiti Islands are a group of small islands sitting off the coast of the Gargano peninsula that belong to Puglia. The islands were used for the internment of political prisoners during Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime, but are now an important tourist attraction, particularly during the summer season as they are famous for their crystal clear waters. Despite staying on the Gargano peninsula, I had never visited the Tremiti Islands before so was quite excited to spend the day there.

The boat we boarded to tour the islands was spacious with a great upper deck covered in lounging pillows. We headed out to explore the islands by water, and the day couldn’t have been more perfect. It was very warm, and the skies were bright blue with no clouds in sight. While coasting along the shore visiting the various sea caves and admiring the clear blue water, Antonello broke out the bubbly because we all had the day off and no one had to worry about getting back on the bike or into the car and driving to our next stop. We finally anchored the boat in a secluded sea cove for lunch, and the captain and his mate prepared a simple yet delicious meal for us. We started off with toasted bread and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil harvested on the islands. Apparently, cuttlefish were in season, as we then had pasta with cuttlefish and peas, and then cuttlefish stuffed and braised in tomato sauce. We even had a lemon cake to round off our meal baked by the captain’s wife because it was after all, Mother’s Day! A couple of the more adventurous guys in our group went for a swim, but the water was still too cold for most of us.

It was a lovely, lazy day on the water, but by mid afternoon we had to head back to the port to make the ferry back to Vieste. Because it is still early in the season, there were only a couple of ferries scheduled each day. We were told to bring a change of clothes for our next adventure that day, but it was kept a secret until we reached Vieste. We were eventually told that we were headed to a trabucco, in fact, one of the few working trabucchi left in Puglia.

A trabucco is a massive wooden construction built for fishing which consists of a platform anchored to the rock and juts out into the sea. Two or more long wooden arms stretch out above the sea and support a large net called a trabocchetto. The net is raised by manual labor requiring two or more fishermen to operate the winches raising the net. A smaller net is then lowered to scoop out the fish caught in the trabocchetto. Trabucci can be found along the coast of Abruzzo and Molise, and along the Gargano peninsula in Puglia. Most of the trabucchi remaining today have been turned into restaurants or novelties, or are just not active, although there are still a few working trabucchi still found today. The trabucco dates back to the 18th century, and were created by fishermen of the Gargano peninsula so they could still fish even during inclement weather. My husband and I discovered trabucchi a number of years ago when driving down to Puglia along the coast of Abruzzo, and have always been fascinated by them. To spend time on one learning how they were used was a real treat for us!

We arrived at the trabucco and were greeted by two musicians, a group of fishermen who were there to teach us how the trabucco operated, and a lavish aperitivo table covered in fresh seafood appetizers for us to nibble on while enjoying this unique experience. We watched the fisherman catch nets full of anchovies, and other small fish before some of our group joined in the fun to help operate the winches. We spent a relaxing couple of hours sipping bubbly and enjoying some more yet unusual tidbits prepared for us by a chef from Vieste while the sun set over the sea. It was an absolutely perfect day and a Mother’s Day that I am sure we will all remember!

Day Ten Photos

Lighthouse On Tremiti Island

The Docks

Looking Up From The Dock

Looking Down At The Clear Blue Waters Around The Tremiti Islands

Local’s Transportation Vehicle Parking

Elephant Drinking Water Rock

One Of The Sea Caves Around The Island

Where We Anchored For Lunch

Tremiti Islands

Walking Up To The Trabucco With Musicians Serenading Us

Watching The Nets Being Raised

Taking Turns Operating The Winches To Raise The Nets

The Trabocchetto (Large Net)

Scooping The Fish Off The Trabocchetto

Some Of The Fish Caught

Sea Urchins or Ricci di Mare On The Menu On The Trabucco

Sunset On The Trabucco

Day Eleven ~ Mattinata to Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo

This day was the start of our journey back to Umbria, and although we were sad to leave Puglia, it was time to head back home. To do so, we had to go through Abruzzo and eventually Le Marche. The riders started the day in the van before riding into the Gran Sasso di Monte della Laga National Park and eventually to our accommodations for the night.

The ladies or non-riders had a chance to repack and organize our belongings before heading up to Abruzzo. It was our longest drive of the trip, and it was soon apparent when the scenery changed to the mountains and rolling green pastures that we had left Puglia. We stopped for gas once we hit Abruzzo around lunch time, and I noticed a lot of trucks and cars parked at the adjacent bar with a sign outside advertising Tavola Calda. It was readily apparent that local workers were dining there which usually equates as good, cheap food! Usually when you see the name Tavola Calda, which literally translates as a ‘hot table’, it is a place that sells mostly pre-made food that you get in line for, usually with a tray, cafeteria style. The place was packed with workers, and we all had a great meal including drinks for ten euros. I think we surprised the workers however as we turned down the additional bowl of pasta, the salads, and even dessert which of course would have all been included in the meal. We each had vegetables and some meat, and it turned out that the roast chicken was delicious!

After lunch, we headed off to Santo Stefano di Sessanio just as the rain moved into the region. The tiny medieval village of Santo Stefano was all but abandoned with many of its ancient buildings in ruins and only 70 inhabitants until recently. Now, many of the village’s buildings have been restored, including the hotel where we were staying that evening, the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso. The village had been damaged by the 2009 earthquake and was finally under restoration, so it was somewhat difficult to find. We finally realized that we needed to park in the lot at the top, and then made our way down to the main office. The hotel has restored rooms throughout the village, retaining many of their unique historical qualities. Our room was in a building shared with two others in the group, and it was divided over two levels and included an ancient working fireplace.

After settling into our rooms, we made our way down to the office to meet our local guide who took us to an antique working kitchen where the six of us ladies learned how to make traditional Abruzzi cookies. They even had gluten free flour for the one in our group who was on a gluten-free diet. We mixed the first cookie batter and used the hot press to create Ferratelle, flat, crisp cookies that I have always known as pizzelle. We were shown how to fill the cookies with jam or chocolate spread, and we enjoyed tasting our cookies with glasses of chilled Prosecco. Our second cookie we made was a simple ring cookie or Ciambelline Abruzzesi. These cookies we had fun shaping in different ways, and they were then cooked in the wood-burning oven just as they did in the old days. We all thoroughly enjoyed learning how to make traditional cookies of the region, and we made our way back to our rooms to freshen up for dinner.

Dinner that night was at the hotel’s restaurant Locanda just down the narrow road from the hotel and serves very traditional Abruzzi cuisine. The dining rooms were kept int their original state and were furnished with antiques. Overall, it was a unique stay in Abruzzo, and I am sure that once the restoration has been completed, it will be a gorgeous place to stay less than a hundred miles from Rome.

Albergo Diffuso Sextantio 
Via Principe Umberto,
Santo Stefano di Sessanio, 67020, AQ
+39 0862 899112

Restaurant – Locanda sotto gli Archi

Day Eleven Photos

Rolling Hills of Abruzzo

Landscape From Sextantio

Santo Stefano di Sessanio

Getting Our Luggage To And From The Rooms

Santo Stefano di Sessanio

Cyclists Getting Ready To Ride

Santo Stefano di Sessanio

Antique Kitchen Set Up For Our Abruzzo Cookie Class

The Ladies Enjoying The Class

Cookies Ready For The Oven

Me Making Ferratelle

The Chef Helping Fay Make Her Cookies

Gorgeous Corner In Our Kitchen

Day Twelve ~ Santo Stefano di Sessanio to Ascoli Piceno

We left Abruzzo for Le Marche this morning before reaching Umbria the following day. The non-riding ladies forgo the cheese making demonstration scheduled for later that morning as there was nothing to do in the small village we were staying at, and we thought Ascoli Piceno would have a lot more to do as it is a fairly large town. The riders left to tackle some major climbs, while those of us driving headed out towards Le Marche by road, none of us realizing that we would all come into contact with the Carabinieri, or Italian police, that day.

The cyclists came across a road completely blocked off by trees on their scheduled route, and in trying to determine the best way to circumvent the obstruction, they climbed down a muddy hill with their bikes only to realize that they had come across the location where the hotel had been wiped out by an avalanche, killing many. It was still guarded by Carabinieri who chased the cyclists away telling them they could not be in that area and forbid them from taking photos.

The Carabinieri also stopped one of our cars coming through the toll booth on our way to Ascoli Piceno. There was a group of about eight policemen standing there while one demanded the registration, insurance papers and driver’s license. After a lot of going back and forth, the policeman stated that he was giving the driver a four hundred euro fine because she did not carry an international license or a translated license. He said she would have to follow him to the police station to pay the fine. Not only was the situation one I had never heard of in all my years in Italy, the other policemen standing around watching this transaction all seemed to think the whole situation was very funny. I called Antonello our host from Southern Visions Travel, and he spoke to the policeman explaining our situation and stating that the group would be leaving Italy in just two days. He also expressed that is would be a bad ending to our wonderful Italian experience. After going back and forth a couple of times with Antonello and then speaking to his partners, the Carabinieri finally let us go without paying a fine, though we were warned that that it was indeed the law in Italy for licenses from another country to be translated into Italian when driving in Italy. Lesson learned!  Lost cyclists, and non-riders being threatened that they would be dragged off to the police station. Poor Antonello had quite a morning getting us all sorted out!

When we were finally on our way, we made it to Ascoli Piceno in good time, checked into our hotel Palazzo dei Mercanti, then headed out for a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant. Everyone was worn out by this time, so we headed back to the hotel for a nap with plans to meet later that afternoon when the stores reopened at four. Ascoli Piceno is a beautiful town with lots of shops, quiet walking streets, and gorgeous historical buildings. After exploring the city on foot, we headed back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.

That evening we headed across the border in Abruzzo to Emidio Pepe winery. Emidio Pepe is a unique example of a man who developed his vineyard management and winemaking philosophy alone, starting in 1964 with one single hectare near the village of Torano Nuovo. The estate which covers over 15 hectares is considered one the best cantinas of the region. Emidio Pepe’s father and grandfather had been winegrowers as well, but Emidio Pepe was the first in his family to bottle and label his own wine. We arrived at the family compound and were greeted by Chiara, Emidio’s granddaughter, along with her Mother. It was quickly apparent that the entire family was involved in the winery and each and everyone of them was very passionate about their label. The ladies arrived at the compound first, and we were treated to the cantina’s famous white wine, made with Pecorino grapes. We were surprised to learn that it was a white wine created to be aged, even as long as ten years. Once the rest of the party arrived, Chiara took us on a tour of the winery, and we were amazed to learn that they still pressed their grapes by foot, though they were not barefoot and instead wore rubber boots. Chiara’s exuberance and passion for her family’s wine were contagious, and after the tour, we headed over to their terrace where an elegant table was set up for us overlooking the fields of grapes. We were served course after course of traditional dishes prepared by the family with ingredients either grown on the property or produced locally. We even had the privilege of having Emidio Pepe himself sitting at the table for dinner with us. He made a striking figure in his hat and suit, and all the women couldn’t decide if he looked more like an Italian movie star or a politician. Once the sun went down and the wind picked up, it became quite cool on the terrace, and the family kindly offered all the ladies shawls to keep warm. Dessert was enjoyed inside before we made our thanks to the family for a truly unforgettable evening, and made our way back to our hotel in Ascoli Piceno.

Palazzo dei Mercanti – Dimora
Corso Trento e Trieste 35,
Ascoli Piceno 63100, AP
+39 0736 256044

Emidio Pepe Cantina
Via Chiesi 10,
Torano Nuovo 64010, TE
+39 0861 856493

Day Twelve Photos

The Emidio Pepe Family With Antonello of Southern Visions Travel

The Landscape From The Pepe Terrace

The Darling Chiara Discussing Their Wines

The Pepe Vineyards

Pepe Vineyards

Pepe Grounds

Table Set For Our Dinner

AMAZING Pecorino Wine

Another Glass?

Emidio Pepe and His Son-In-Law (Our Chef That Night)

The Pepe Wine Storage

Day Thirteen ~ Ascoli Piceno to Piedicolle Umbria!

After twelve days on the road (thirteen for my husband and I) it was time to head home that day. There were just three cyclists that wanted to complete the last day of riding, so we divided the rest up into two cars after carefully rearranging luggage. Before leaving Ascoli Piceno, we had a walking tour of the town, and although it was very informative, we were all anxious to get on the road. We drove along the coast towards Umbria, and when stopping for lunch were surprised to find the other car stopping at the same service station. We made it to Umbria promptly before dropping off some of the group at their hotel. Late afternoon, we all got together at our home in Umbria and toasted a very successful trip. We all thanked Antonello, and his team at Southern Visions Travel for their dedication to detail and for creating this once in a lifetime trip for us.

Antonello had to leave with the van and drive back to Puglia that night, while the rest of us headed up the hill from our house to our local favorite trattoria Al Leone in Collazzone for a celebratory dinner. This time there was no seafood, it was instead all dishes typical of Umbrian cuisine. At the end of the evening, we all said our goodbyes to those heading back to North America the next morning, while the rest of us came back to our place.

I have been to Puglia many times in the past and thought I knew Puglia fairly well before this trip. I experienced so much on this adventure in Puglia with Southern Visions Travel that I never would of on my own, and each day’s activities made me fall in love with Puglia even more. I thank Southern Visions Travel for creating the trip that the cyclists asked for, while still creating a memorable trip for us non-riders. Antonello promised us a trip of a lifetime, and I must say that Southern Visions delivered on that promise, and I am sure that both the cyclists and non-riders will always remember our “epic adventure in Puglia”!

Day Thirteen Photos

Church in Ascoli Piceno

Main Piazza In Ascoli Piceno

Market Day In Ascoli Piceno ~ After Twelve Days Of Eating & Drinking We Are Still Looking At Food!

Market Day

The Cyclists Make It Home To Umbria

Home At Last!

I Loved Puglia, But It Is Wonderful To Be Back In Umbria With This View!

Grazie Mille Antonello Losito & The Whole Team At Southern Visions Travel 

Check Out Days One To Three!

Check Out Days Four To Six!

Check Out Days Seven To Nine!

Deborah Mele
May 2017

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