Stage 38: Cuturi to Martina Franca

Distance: 56 km

Time: 3 hours 44 minutes

Speed: 15 km/h

Ascent: 577 metres

Total distance: 1926 km

Total time: 103 hours 38 minutes

Wordle scores: Captain 3, Stoker 4

Word of the day: “fermata” (fair-mah-tah) – closed

The Stoker writes:

The masseria we stayed in last night was fabulous. The staff spirited the tandem away to a small building on the estate that they described as a ‘church’ – that’s a first! We came out to dinner in the courtyard facing one part of the vineyard, what a view!

The masseria dates back to 1881, when Don Tumà, a rich Manduria landowner, married the Countess Sabini of Altamura (where we were cycling two weeks ago!). Her dowry comprised rooted cuttings of primitivo vines, which Don Tumà used to start the vineyard. I got the impression it had fallen somewhat into disrepair at some point, as the current owners acquired it in 2008 and set about replanting the vineyard and renovating the masseria. They’ve done a lovely job.

The lady who served us explained that alongside their primitivo and negroamaro red wines, they made only one white wine, from ‘minutolo’ grapes, they’d planted it experimentally, not knowing if it would be successful in the heat of their locality, but it had done really well, and our aperitivo glass of it was delicious. I asked if the heatwave had had any effect on the vines, and the lady said it was very likely they would harvest early this year because of it. Primitivo grapes, for which the wines produced around Manduria are known, are always harvested first, she said, at the end of August, but this year it would be done very soon if the hot weather continued.

We had a really great dinner, as the sky darkened over the vines, and enjoyed a bottle of their inky Monte Diavoli primitivo, which was incredibly good. We wandered back to our room, having really enjoyed the whole ‘masseria’ experience.

After breakfast, and having collected the tandem from its devotions, we were loading up the bags when a lady came flying out to ask us if she could take our picture for their Instagram! We chatted for a while, and she made us promise to come back one spring, the most beautiful time of year, she said.

We set off out on the dusty track out of the estate, and then headed north towards Manduria, ‘Primitivo central’!

We knew today was going to be hard, almost sixty kilometres, likely into the wind, and uphill pretty much all day, with the hardest climbing at the end. We set off steadily, knowing we had to measure our effort carefully, eat properly and at the right time, and keep up our water intake, otherwise we risked running out of strength before we arrived at today’s destination of Martina Franca.

The wind wasn’t too bad, at least to start with, and we started well. Once we escaped Manduria, the road became quieter, and we pedalled along, concentrating on not pushing too hard, watching the clock for the first hour drink, and so on. There wasn’t much to see, we kept our heads down and our cadence in a sensible range.

By noon we’d made it to Francavilla Fontana, hoping that it would have a water fountain, for a fill up. It had a spectacular arch going in, and a lovely piazza near the ornamental fountain and the clock tower, where, yes! A water fountain! Hurrah.

We had a drink and filled all our bidons back up. Whilst we were drinking and filling, a couple of other touring cyclists rolled up, with the same intention. A father and son, they were properly loaded with panniers and route instructions, just like us. We chatted about our various routes, they’d started in Treviso, where they lived, very close to Trieste. As we chatted, we realised we’d visited a lot of the same places along the way. They’d ridden around the Gargano peninsula, visited Pescara and Ostuni, and even Monopoli. I was not brave enough to ask them if they had visited the big bum mermaid… 😊

I asked them where they were going today, and they said ‘home!’, it was the last day of their trip. They were making for Taranto, where they would get a train home to Treviso. They also took our picture before we left!

It was too early for lunch at Francavilla Fontana, and we knew there was a town about ten kilometres further on, called Villa Castelli, which looked like it had plenty of eating places. We pushed on, watching the kilometres tick down, and then climbed up the hill into the town on the lookout for a suitable café or restaurant. They were all closed. Every one! As we rolled up to one near the top of town a man on the opposite side of the road called over to us that it was shut. We asked him if there was somewhere we could get some lunch and he directed us to a place at the bottom of the hill (sigh!) where they did panini and the like. Great, we thought, and, stifling the annoyance at having to go down a hill we’d just come up, we coasted back down to it. There was loads of stuff to put in a panino, cheese, meats and so on, but when we requested one, we were told they were ‘finito’. None left.

This was not going well!

We had to eat something, so we grabbed a big bag of crisps, some chocolate biscuits and loads of water, and that was lunch!

It was pretty weird, calorifically enough, but it really didn’t feel like we’d actually had lunch! We saddled up again, regained the height we’d lost, and set off once more, into the wind, up the next hill. There were only around twenty kilometres to go, and we stopped after ten at a bar (open!) for more water and some of the chocolate biscuits.

We’d started to see trulli again.

Our route today brought us within a scant few kilometres of Alberobello, where we stayed on the way down, and the landscape was very familiar.

As we neared Martina Franca, we hit the last several small but tough hills to get us into town, and finally rolled up exhausted at our lodgings, a beautiful little apartment in the historic old town, with barrel ceilings and a bath! A bath! If there was a day on which a bath would be a real treat, it was today.

Despite our lunchlessness and feeling very tired, we’ve been out for a look round and to shop for dinner. The town is gorgeous. And I’m told it’s pretty much all downhill tomorrow!

Here’s today’s route and a short video

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