I think I know what makes good tourism: In the last 30 years, I’ve travelled extensively and worked for some of the biggest tourism brands on the planet. Along the way I've probably created 1000 different itineraries for some of the pickiest folks around: the travel journalist.
Puglia Cycle Tours was hands down the most wonderful trip I have experienced. Right from get go when I asked the team to come up with a six-day custom celebration tour for four people who haven’t really got on a bike since high school - they got it. We travelled along country trails, we stopped at charming towns, we ate local produce at awesome restaurants and we laughed non-stop. We did all this knowing that there was someone to pick up our luggage and a backup should we tire. The team also changed the length of the course to suit our in/ability (and our birthdays! Less kms the day of our 50th birthdays!)
What sets Puglia Cycle Tours apart is their rare ability to resolve problems with grace and without guilt. We only had one issue; one of the six hotels we stayed at had all the charm of Stalinist Russia (not their fault, the G7 was in town and Matera was teeming with important administrators) so Emanuela and the team went into overdrive to find a home more quaint and memorable. It was great.
So how did it work? We were met by Antonio – a larger-than-life guide and a driver-slash-entertainer. He adjusted our bikes, showed us how to work the gears and like a mother duck, made sure his four ducklings followed him until we were comfortable. At one point, he even sang to us: Domenico Mondugno’s Volare for Puglia and BeeGees' How Deep is Your Love for Brisbane. Then we were on our own, following the GPS navigation system around country roads (some cobbled, some quite steep, most through pretty landscapes) to the next location - Matera, Alberobello (much of it by car), Locorotondo, Cisternino, Ostuni, a gorgeous castle-turned-farm and then Polignano Al Mare. We were given tips on where to stop for a bite to eat or a coffee or a view and they were spot on!
By the time we rode to the next town, the hotel staff was expecting us and our bags were in our rooms. All we had to do was snooze, shop, sightsee and find a place to eat. It was seamless, painless and tonnes of fun. And the choice of hotels (apart from Stalin's friend) was outstanding and historical. We also knew that any problems and punctures and Antonio was one phone call away.
I would recommend this tour over and over. It was the best way to celebrate a big birthday. And to be honest, cycling 40 km was a huge a achievement.
Tip for anyone doing this: buy yourself some of those lycra puffy pants. Your tushy will thank you for it.