We love any opportunity to boast about the amazing food experiences you'll enjoy on all of our trips. There are some, however, that are exceptional. From Puglia to the exotic islands of Sardinia and Sicily, these Ciclismo tours are chock full of delicious and unforgettable moments.
A taste of Tuscany! In Italian, we refer to Tuscan cooking as cucina rustica (rustic, country cooking) and it's characterized by simple food that's not overpowered by heavy sauces. In this region, all the cooking is done with olive oil (no butter, which is used mostly in northern regions). Olive oil crudo is used as a salad dressing, poured over raw veggies and bread, and in soups and stews. Beans are also a staple. Sage, rosemary, and basil are popular spices. Grilling over vine embers and chestnut wood is preferred. The Florentine steak, grilled flat over an open fire and served rare, is a tradition tracing back to the Etruscans. There are paintings from as far back as the eighth century B.C. showing this practice. Chicken is also split, spiced, and broiled. Other meats and sausages are skewered before broiling.
Vegetable and bean soups like ribollita are very popular in Tuscany, as are bread porridges such as pappa al pomodoro.
Tuscan food: freshness and simplicity at its best
When cycling along gorgeous Tuscan roads on our Assaggio Toscana trip, guests often ask, "What kind of crops are grown here?" For centuries, the farmland surrounding Florence produced olive oil, wine, wheat, corn (though this was a new-world crop that probably didn't become popular until the late Renaissance period) and fruit. Farms grew vegetables like artichokes, asparagus, spinach, cardoons, beans, and peas. Small estates also raised chickens, ducks, rabbits, and pigs, with locals making small hams and boar hams. Finocchiona (salami flavored with fennel seeds) is still a favorite. You would have found cows in the valley of Chianti and Maremma (closer to the sea). But because Tuscan cows are not raised to produce milk, there is little local cheese, other than pecorino (which is made with sheep's milk). The surrounding woods are home to truffles, and a great quantity of mushrooms, including porcini, ovoli, and morels.
Tuscan cooking really began to develop in the 1300s with the introduction of new spices. It soon became some of the most elegant in all of Europe. King Henry IV of France married Maria d' Medici in 1599. Supposedly, Maria brought the secrets of Italian cooking and dining customs with her to France. Although the specifics are hard to pin down, there are some obvious Italian influences in French cooking (Shh! Don't tell anyone). Sorbet, ice cream, fruits in syrup, pastry making, pasta forks, linens, and crystal glasses—these delicacies and details of everyday life are still important to modern Tuscans today.
La Bella Puglia
Let's start with "La Bella Puglia." We're not exaggerating when we say that the foodie experience on this trip is over-the-top awesome. As we roll into tiny villages on this tour, guests quickly notice the nature of the street food and restaurant food alike: it's top-quality in every way imaginable. The antipasti tend to be a marathon of never-ending small plates spilling over with fresh, veggie-infused local delights. The fruit and vegetable shops are bursting at the seams with wholesome, freshly picked fare. We often stop just to feast our eyes on all that color. No problem getting your "five-a-day" here: the rich, red soil yields its vitamin-filled bounty with gusto!
Cows and sheep are bred on the higher parts of the Murgia, the plateau which reaches from north of Bari to the "white city" of Ostuni. At the lower end of the Murgia is the Valle d’Itria (Itrian Valley). Martina Franca is the highest town in the valley and is famous for its capocollo di Martina Franca. Capocollo is a traditional dry-cured, cold-cut made from the neck of pork. It is, typically, sliced very thin and is absolutely delicious. As our route circles down and closer to the sea, we enjoy local seafood dishes.
Guest favorite: Cime di Rape (turnip tops) with orecchiette (little ears pasta). You'll find this snappy dish—spicy, garlicky, and bursting with flavor—on almost every menu in Puglia.
Amalfi Stroll & Cilento Coast
These two wonderful trips can be taken individually or together—back-to-back—combining hiking on the Amalfi Coast with exhilarating cycling along the southern Cilento Coast. Although both coastal areas are situated in the region of Campania, they're quite different in terms of landscape, culture, and more specifically, food. Both have uniquely local dishes and their own cuisine.
Photo by Frank Yantorno
Considered foodie heaven, Amalfi and Cilento are all about appreciating simple recipes that highlight the freshness of local ingredients. Some dishes, especially those that involve rich tomato sauces or rice, have trickled south from Naples. Others combine a few super-fresh ingredients to create a masterpiece of flavors. You'll find vermicelli with anchovies and wild fennel; linguine with lemon; spaghetti with clams—pasta in this area is eaten very al dente, so expect to be served pasta with a serious ‘bite’ to it—or pesce all’acqua pazza, local fish cooked with a dash of white wine, a couple of cherry tomatoes, and a little garlic and parsley. Simplicity rules, as local cooks are convinced that fresh ingredients and a light hand yield unbeatable delicious plates. Other examples include sea bream cooked in a hard shell of salt or fish soup with mussels and scorpion fish heaped atop garlic-scented toasts that absorb the delicate fish broth.
Piedmont: Barolo and Truffles
There's an old Italian proverb that says, "When dinner is served, there is no left or right anymore."
Because of the physical diversity of the Piedmont region, la cucina Piemontese is a mosaic of more than a thousand recipes from the diverse areas and tiny valleys found in Piedmont. The cuisine is often tied to the history or character of a specific area.
In Piedmont, there are two types of foodie experiences. There is the cucina casalinga, which refers to what most most local restaurants or trattorie serve: local dishes handed down from moms to daughters made in the same way they are served at home. The other kind of cuisine uses the same ingredients and recipes, but involves a higher level of culinary experience, as everything is presented on a more refined level. Certainly, foods and the art of cooking and eating were influenced by important Royal Savoy chefs and food writers of the past. When Turin became the capital of the "new" Italy in the 1860s, and consequently, the seat of Parliament, this clearly had an effect on local food and the general gastronomic experience.
A lot of young people in modern Piedmont are creating special locande with a fresh and modern look—serving up authentic dishes, but with a slick, innovative, and beautiful presentation. There's no lack of creativity, for sure.
The exact origin of the Nebbiolo grape, the most important grape in Piedmont, is unknown. Some sources say it was first planted there more than 2,000 years ago. Until the second half of the eighteenth century, wine consumption was mostly territorial. In fact, when the Milanese first began drinking Nebbiolo wine, it was considered exotic at the time. (Key wine notes: Sangiovese grape = Chianti. Nebbiolo = Barolo).
Sardinians greet each other by saying a kent’annos (“May you live to be a hundred"). The island's large population of individuals who are more than 100 years old has to be connected to their incredibly healthy diet. You'll fall madly in love with our Sardinian foodie trip experiences. Our bike tour highlights the region's scrumptious dishes and much more.
Oddly enough, Sardinians didn't eat a lot of fish until relatively recently. Today, however, the fish in Sardinia is a delicacy not to be missed. At the very least, you should try Burrida a Sa Casteddaia (Burrida alla Cagliaritana), an antipasto of fish that's served in Cagliari. Its main ingredient is dogfish, which is marinated in walnuts, vinegar, and spices for twenty-four hours.
Lobster is in season from March to August. It's a specialty in Alghero, where it's served as Aragosta alla catalana with tomato and onion. Cassola and zuppa alla castellanese are fish soups, the latter with more than a dash of tangy tomato. If you want something more unusual, you could try fried sea anemones (orziadas) or sea urchins (ricci).
Sardinians eat a lot of meat and it's hardly surprising, given the quality and variety of the products on offer. Favorites include suckling pig (su porcheddu) with myrtle leaves, roast baby lamb, mutton, game birds, rabbit, wild boar, and yes, horse meat. Traditionally, meat is cooked on open fires or on a spit.
There are more than 200 types of bread in Sardinia alone! And, of course, an endless array of fresh pasta specialties. Excellent wines, including Cannonau (the long-life wine), Vermentino, and Carignano, are among the many wines that have put Sardinia on the international wine map.