Saturday 29.09.2018 – Taranto to Polignana a Mare (346 km)
Our room faced slightly to the south of east, so we were woken in the morning of our final day of real riding, by bright sunshine. The view from our little balcony was not picturesque, just a view over a dry, scrubby plain, but it was already quite warm, even at 7 a.m.
One thing we always try and do, when we are on the road, is to start the day with a big breakfast. The veritable feast on offer was as eclectic as everything else in the hotel. There was also the kind of coffee that sets Lucie up for half a day.
Here might be the point to mention that breakfast is not a big thing in Italy. What we had enjoyed at B+B Adele, the day before, was adequate, In Sun and Wine it was practically sumptuous. More than we needed – and all of it delicious.
The place had quite a seductive air and we had to steel ourselves to leave – staying would have been easy. As I wheeled the Harley out from the safety of the yard, I could see the Gulf of Taranto glistening in the sunshine, through a few stunted pines on the other side of the road. The description “as smooth as a sheet of glass“, tends to be overused, but it genuinely was. The few ships in the bay almost looked as if they had been painted there.
Time to be moving !
After a quick snap, taken by the owner, of us by the Hotel sign (an enduring reminder of my inability to spot it four times …), we headed off south.
If you have already read some of our earlier adventures, you will definitely have surmised by now that our behaviour tends to be slightly eccentric. If this is your first reading of our antics, I will tell you straight away that our behaviour tends to be slightly eccentric. We, although, in fairness, as I am our driver, I really mean I, have quite a set of things that we attempt to “shoehorn“ into our activities. Going to the “end“ of places is one. A lot of our travels could be condensed into a catalogue of “most xxx points“ where “xxx“ is some cardinal point on the compass rose.
On the Italian mainland, the town of Melitto di Porto Salvo is the most southerly point. Sadly, a visit that far south was precluded by the tightness of our timeframe or you can bet your boots we would have been paddling in the sea there at some point.
What we could do, however, to pander to my obsessive/compulsive tendencies, was to go to the very tip of the “heel“ of Italy’s “boot“. This is to be found in the small town of Santa Maria di Leuca, so that became our first destination.
Getting to Santa Maria took most of the long, hot morning. We were now riding through quite a sparsely populated part of the country and so the roads were fairly narrow and not so well maintained as they had been elsewhere. Quite deliberately, we hugged the coast, my thinking being that, if I kept the sea on my right, we could not really get lost. South of Nardo, we came to what was obviously an area where people must go in some numbers in the summer, as all the beaches were laid out to cater for sunbathing, etc., This, in turn, as it was after the end of the season, meant that although there was plenty of bars and cafes to be seen, none of them were open. By the time we got south of Gallipoli (not the historic one), Lucie began to get ristretto withdrawal symptoms (I could hear growling the intercom) and it was with some relief that, in the end, we did find a cafe by a rocky and picturesque beach.
The scenery had a dry, windswept and slightly bleak feel to it as we droned remorselessly southwards. Many tiny towns, such as Torre San Giovanni, included the word “Torre“ because it possessed a once sturdy, but now often a bit dilapidated, tower (torre) on the headland there. These were, no doubt constructed as a defence against one, or more, of the rampaging armies that have passed this way over the centuries.
Finally, we crossed the last headland and made our way down into Santa Maria. As we rolled down the hill, the tip of the “heel“, the headland of Punta Ristola, was clearly visible ahead and to our right. To the left of the point was the Adriatic Sea, to the right of it was the Gulf of Taranto. Not quite so dramatic as the Cape of Good Hope, for example, but a geographical division point nonetheless.
From our slightly elevated position, as we descended the incline, it was just possible to divine the faint, slightly darker “smudge“ of a coastline, across the sea to our left. It might have been Albania, it might have been Corfu, it is impossible to say.
Ever keen, I hurried us both up to the promontory of Punta Ristola. It is definitely a place that people come to visit and there were several cars in the easily located parking area.
As ever, once we got there it was a tiny bit anti-climactic. We walked to the furthest point at which Lucie felt safe (she does not like heights) and got another visitor to take our photograph. Then, as I always do, I moved as near to the edge as I could get before Lucie’s pleas for me to return turned into threats. I know that, in her heart, she fully expects that, one day, to have to arrange recovery of my tattered corpse from underneath some far flung global outcrop. As I could probably fall over on a smooth surface, on a calm, clear day, (indeed I actually have), I suppose she may have a basis for that belief. I stood there, briefly, savouring the sensation of being at the edge of the world – and then it was back to the Harley for a ride back down into the port and some lunch.
The Italians really know their food and our lunch fully lived up to our expectations.
We could see, from our terrace close to the water’s edge, all the way to Punta Ristola and a small, but steady flow of other tourists came and went on the rocky headland. I imagine it does get quite crowded in peak season.
The weather had turned blustery and it was not really very warm. Lunch over, we headed out of town again, finally turning to the north to seek out our lodgings for the night. Sadly, after the beauty of the scenery during the morning, there was nothing noteworthy to be viewed, at all, as we headed towards Maglia and then Lecce. It was an unremarkable road, through unremarkable countryside.
There was still nothing to see as we bypassed the largish port of Brindisi and headed towards Monopoli, which sounded more interesting than it is. It was a little warmer, by then, but very overcast and the sea, as ever to my right, was a drab and steely grey. So dull was the ride that the mobile photographer, on the pillion seat, was not troubling herself to capture any “moments“ for posterity. She was, however, getting a little uncomfortable.
I have extolled the virtues of the SportGlide at some length already and, for one person, it is a fine machine. Sadly, for two people, over a distance, it is not quite such a good proposition.
The seat is an inch or two shorter than on our FatBoy and, worse still, an inch or two narrower. When you ride a distance, these inches, particularly the width ones, become quite significant to the passenger. Lucie is pretty slim, but the seat was simply not wide enough, to put it delicately, for her behind. In addition, she is slightly taller than average and the pillion footrests seemed to be a little to high for comfort – maybe accentuated by the lack of support from the seat. With nothing scenic to occupy her attention, all this rose in significance. She is pretty stoic – and we are not talking agony here – but I was firmly instructed, by a voice on the intercom, to discount this model from any purchase decisions we might make in the future. I suppose that, as an owner, these shortcomings could be addressed, but it would be difficult to make the seat longer.
The day was starting to draw to a close and the watery sun, to my left, was rapidly approaching the top of the ridge. With Pogliano indicated on the signposts as being little more than 30 minutes away, we made our final stop for petrol for the Harley, ristretto for Lucie and, more importantly, a chance for her to stretch her legs.
As Lucie sat sipping her drink, I snapped the Harley against the setting sun on the horizon. Although a SportGlide will never feature on my “Bikes I have owned“ list (Yes I have one, complete with all the mileages ..), it is a handsome beast. The HogBlog thinks so too as that photo, shown here, has figured in the “Ride of the week“ section….
Technology is a wonderful thing and, although it got dark, really rapidly, Lucie’s iPhone guided us to our lodgings (Antica Pietra, 205 Via Pompeo Sarnelli, Poglian a Mare) with the accuracy of a Reaper Drone.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing with the owner, by ‘phone, she appeared with her daughter and we were admitted.
I have mentioned before that we like the idiosyncratic – and this place had been chosen on that basis – and it was right up there !
Two “mirror“ apartments appeared to have been constructed by simply building a dividing wall down the centre of a courtyard, putting a roof over it all and then getting busy with the plasterboard or dry-wall. That bald description in no way accurately describes the cleverness of thought that had obviously gone into that process, nor the simple, yet pleasing loveliness of the result. For what it was, it was stunning. The only element of real “weirdness“ was a high level “window“ between the two apartments. This in no way detracted from the overall feeling that whoever had built them was pretty smart, the clever use of space was particularly laudable in my estimation – but it did allow us to see that the couple next door, who were Japanese, left the light on all night. We could just about hear them talking too. I do not speak Japanese (obviously) but there was no mistaking the wonder in their voices when they beheld what I can only presume was an equally charming apartment on their side of the wall.
We were parked directly opposite our doorway and the owner’s daughter got a little agitated by this because apparently street parking had to be paid for. This is pretty unusual for motorcycles but, as they say “When in Rome“ (or Pogliano a Mare, for that matter …) so we set off, found a meter and loaded in the Euros. Needless to say, having done that, we discovered we had entered the “overnight“ period, when parking was free ! Ah, well !
In order to return the Harley and make our return flight in good time, we would need to leave fairly early the following morning. So in the knowledge that Italians can be somewhat tardy first thing, our next task was to buy our breakfast.
It is amazing how quickly things become “the norm“. We easily got our breakfast, but it was placed, without consultation, in a plastic bag ! Even in Prague, not exactly a frontline “eco“ place, that would NEVER just happen ! Lucie was quite shocked – how quickly we adjust !
Then it was time for our last meal out.
A short while before went, in one of those weird co-incidences that pepper our existence, I had chatted with a guy from America’s west coast about biking in general and Italy in particular. He had mentioned, in passing, that a friend of his had recently moved back to Italy and had opened a restaurant in, of all places, Polgliano a Mare …… This had, to a point, influenced the location of our final night’s stay. I had the name and the address in my pocket. We found it easily enough and the menu, whilst inviting, was horrendously priced, even allowing for the restaurant’s quaint, waterside, setting.
We consulted trusty old Trip Advisor and the consensus appeared to be that the quality (sadly) did not justify the cost. We tiptoed on by.
We soon found a cheaper place in a little side street (La Locande Porta Picc, Via Anemone 34) where the quality of the fare and our consequent high level of satisfaction more than justified the (far smaller) bill.
It was a warm, balmy evening as we wandered the historic little streets back to our room. Another holiday all but over.