A bike tour among the olive trees of Monopoli Italy
This is a post written in partnership with Apulia – la Finestra sul Mare.
Riding a bicycle is one of the best ways of exploring a new location, even more so when you are are away on holiday. Better still when it’s on a guided bike tour through quiet country lanes among 1,000 year old olive trees. We did just that on a bike tour in Monopoli, Italy through the delightful Puglian countryside at the start of their season in April.
If you haven’t been to this “heel” part of Italy before then there’s no better time to visit than in the shoulder season before things start ramping up, or in September when the crowds start dying down. Both times will allow you to have more of this delightful region to yourself.
Everybody’s welcome on this gently paced bike ride
Having sweated up Alpe d’Huez in the past and biked casually along Cornwall’s Camel Trail in the UK our trip with Antonella from Apulia le Finestra sul Mare was thankfully much more like the latter. Don’t worry if you’re not particularly “bike-fit”. The pace was gentle, the roads were quiet and our bikes had front suspension to take the sting off things + rear panniers to store our various bits and bobs. So what it was it like discovering hidden masserias (fortified farms), ancient olive trees and underground olive mills?
Your bike tour starts in the Old Town of Monopoli, Italy
First up kitting ourselves out. I love ALL bikes so was happy with my Legano mountain bike which are all housed opposite Antonella and Gianni’s shop in the centre of the Monopoli Old Town. Bikes sized up and helmets fitted Antonella then leads you out of the Old City through narrow winding alleyways, out towards a short stretch of dedicated cycle track (although the mayor’s looking forward to extending this 25km east along the coast). From there it’s a leisurely ride out into the Puglia countryside.
You might be wondering whether you could just hire bikes yourselves, but as you will see, the joy of being on a bike tour is meeting other holiday makers. In addition, on this tour, you get to visit private Masserias (fortified farms) and hidden olive mills while learning many interesting facts along the way. Without your guide you would pretty much miss out on all of this!
One clear benefit of visiting at this time of year is having lovely beaches like this one at Porto Ghiacciolo to yourself! Apparently it can be rammed in the summer but here we felt almost “VIP”. If it had been only slightly warmer we could have sunbathed on our own private beach.
Fact #1. Duran Duran performed at a wedding in the Saint Stephen castle adjacent to this beach back in 2012.
The first off-the-beaten track masseria
At the first masseria of the tour you will visit a private underground grotto church with frescoes made during the Middle Ages. It’s completely separate from the house above, later as we found out for security reasons. Any invaders wouldn’t be able to get upstairs. Any wrong-doers trying to enter the main door might get a barrel of hot oil poured onto their heads from the opening directly above it.
Olive oil trees for the nature lovers
Fact #2. The trees of Puglia can be over 1,000 years old. There are current laws to prevent foreign customers trying to buy them!
Unsurprisingly 1,000 year old olive trees don’t take kindly to being uprooted after so long in one place and rarely survive the trauma. You can actually walk inside one special tree within their private garden. It may be a hollowed out tree but it’s very much still alive. Subsequently you can’t use the standard technique we all learnt in school of counting the tree’s rings as the central rings aren’t there anymore!
Later in the tour we were surrounded by them as we cycled through an estate to see a restored 13th century olive oil mill. One which had been excavated into the rock.
Fact #3. You can’t actually eat olives straight from the tree as they’ll have a very bitter taste.
There’s quite a process they have to go through before olives become edible. However if it’s September time you can eat carob fruit straight from the tree, but only if they are completely black though. The ones we bought later in the week in Alberobello from last year’s harvest were delicious and tasted just like chocolate!
Fact #4. 2018 was a particularly bad year for the olive harvest as it was too wet, which in turn attracted mosquitoes.
Visit a working olive oil farm with its old hidden mill
A bonus detour on our trip was out to the Sorelle Barbaba olive farm. It’s been in the family for 3 generations and is now run by three sisters. Sorelle Barbaba is a live farm and produces 50-70k litres of olive oil a year. Hearing how the process works by someone so passionate about the subject made for a very interesting visit.
Fact #5. There are three types of olive oil that are produced. Extra virgin oil has a free acidity between 0-0.8%. Virgin olive oil has a content between 0.8 and 2.0%. Finally lampante oil is anything with a measurement above 2%.
The return leg into town was all downhill and I’m sure we had a tailwind too. All in all we’d cycled 15 mile, climbed just 120 metres and had seen masserias, secret grottos, hidden olive old farms and fancy beaches too. All with the benefit of some healthy exercise thrown in as well. Our bike tour in Monopoli Italy was everything we expected. It will give you a great sense of the region and all it has to offer.
We had the most enjoyable time and took a lot away with us. If you want to take a bike ride or even find out lots more about Monopoli, Italy and the wider region of Puglia then get in contact with Antonella and Gianni at Apulia – La Finestra sul Mare. What more proof do you need than lots of happy campers. I spotted this photo wall when we returned out bikes. Maybe our pics will get added at some point?! 🙂