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Genuine Italy

To keep our travelers well-informed about VBT vacations, we’ve introduced a great tool, our Traveler Reviews. We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback through this new channel and we just couldn’t resist sharing this testimonial about our Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast vacation. Enjoy!

Did we know about Puglia before we chose this VBT bike tour? Not really. It is off the beaten path for tourists. But that is what we loved about this trip. The landscape, people, food, towns are so like the Italy one imagines. I was fascinated by the masseria – the self-contained walled compounds dotting the countryside. I was thrilled we had a chance to stay in two remarkable examples of masseria during this VBT trip!

Italy Vacations, Italy Tours

We biked every day along olive groves on quiet roads edged with low stone walls. It was a full sensory experience: seeing the individuality of the twisted, ancient olives; smelling the sweet wild fennel and oregano along the roads; feeling the sound-wave chirr vibration of cicadas; breaking open fresh green pods to find sweet, tender almonds inside; feasting on olives and cheeses and seafood and the local Primitivo red wine made locally. Did I mention I learned to make pasta with the master chef at the amazing masseria where we first stayed?

Italy Bike Tour

We were drawn to Puglia because of the charming, quirky conical dry-stone Trulli houses found in this region. I delighted in every one of these amazing structures I saw, whether the vast numbers in the World Heritage site of Alborobello or the unpretentious homes we rode by. My curiosity was satisfied by our opportunity to see the inside of a Trulli and how the architecture perfectly suited the environment.

Italy Bike Tour

And to cap it off, biking along the Salento coast looking out towards the Adriatic. Monopoli! Ostuni! Lecce! Each town magical in its own way. Do I want to go to Rome and Venice? Probably. But maybe I’ll just come back to Puglia.

-Anne M., Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast

Italy Bike Tour

Thanks Anne! To give our travelers the opportunity to enjoy even more reviews, we’ve got a great contest. If you submit your own review about a previously taken VBT vacation by October 31, 2012, you’ll be entered to win $1,000 in Travel Credits!* Head to www.vbt.com, find a tour that you’ve taken with VBT and click the Traveler Reviews tab to fill us in on your experiences.

*Contest rules: VBT travelers who post a review by Wednesday, October 31, 2012 will be entered into a contest to win $1000 in Travel Credits. This prize is non-transferrable and not redeemable for cash. Respondents must be 21 years of age or older and must have taken the VBT trip that they reviewed. Entries must be posted by Wednesday, October 31, 2012 and a winner will be drawn on Monday, November 5, 2012. To obtain the name of the winner, send your name and address to Paul Williams, VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations, 614 Monkton Road, Bristol, VT 05443. You may contact VBT with questions or concerns related to customer support and satisfaction.

Beautiful Tuscan Countryside

As you know, we love hearing from our travelers. One of the best ways to let us know about your travels is through VBT’s Traveler Reviews. On each tour page at www.vbt.com, you’ll find a Traveler Reviews tab. The following testimonial was submitted on our Tuscan Coast tour page. Enjoy the review and be sure to stop by our website to read more or to submit your own.

The Tuscany bike tour vacation was amazing. I will remember the biking in Tuscany as much or more than the pre-trip to Florence or the post-trip to Rome. Yes, seeing the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel was a memorable experience. It was amazing to think I was seeing the paintings of Michelangelo. But, the beauty of Tuscany was comparable.

The biking immersed us in the countryside, the community, the culture, and the people. We passed through and stopped at a dozen small towns in Tuscany.

On our first night in Tuscany, we stayed at the Agrihotel Elisabetta. The owner’s son took us on a private tour of the wine cellar, and served us some of their wines along with some traditional Tuscan appetizers. The next evening, we got to meet the owner of the property. He is a self-made multi-millionaire, but very hospitable. He talked to us about his career starting out working in a restaurant kitchen, graduating to chef, finally starting his own restaurant and growing that to multiple restaurants before opening a hotel. He now owns several hotels and restaurants in several cities in Italy.

At the Agrihotel Elisabetta there was an open air patio area (about 200 feet long by 75 feet wide). I looked up and noticed what looked like a mini-version of tank tracks laid just inside what looked like a tongue and grove construction between the inside of the roof and the outside (upper side) of the roof. It was a retractable roof over the whole patio area. Later that night when the temperature dropped, I got to see it in action when they closed the roof panels.

In the dining area of the Agrihotel Elisabetta, there were hundreds of pictures of the Italian and U.S. celebrities the owner had met or who had visited his restaurants. The meals were amazing. The wine was enjoyable. And, we started to develop friendships with some of the other 14 people on the biking tour. Every night was great food, wine, and storytelling about the day’s bike ride; what we saw, where we missed a turn, what interesting stuff we found in the Tuscan towns.

The next night, VBT arranged for the tour group to have dinner at a nearby resident’s home; Chicca. Chicca (pronounced key-ka), is a chef, author of a cookbook, and a sort of celebrity chef of local renown. She opened her home to the 16 of us in the bike tour group and allowed us to help prepare the meal. There were folding tables set up in her living room. Plain but nice table clothes laid out, with a pitcher of local wine on every table. (That is not something one would normally experience on vacation).

Chicca’s home was apparently typical of the area, built shortly after WW2, small but comfortable inside, family pictures on the wall, paintings Chicca and her daughter had painted. She had a wonderful porch out back and some acreage outside with plants and gardens. It was an experience I won’t forget.

Two days later we had lunch (these were all part of the VBT bike tour package) at a wonderful olive farm. The owner and his two son’s gave us a 15 minute history of his farm and how they had resurrected it from previous owners 40 years ago and made it into an internationally known, prize-winning olive oil producer. The owner spoke in Italian, and Franco, one of our bike tour guides, translated. We bought a couple of small cases of their olive oil and brought it back.

VBT saved the best for last. The Agrihotel Montebelli was the most beautiful and lush place we stayed. The farm was a little over 250 acres of olive trees and vineyards. There were majestic views over the valleys below. There was a 500-year-old Oak tree at the highest point on the property with benches in its shade. Teresa and I took a bottle of wine and did the climb one afternoon with Carla. Carla was on the bike tour with her friend Janet. Carla was in her early 50’s. She was in great shape, but she said she was not an avid biker. We made friendship’s with another couple John and Patty. John is an avid biker, but Patty was not. John said he does 40-50 mile bike outings about 3-4 times a year. His wife Patty just rides with him occasionally and never for those same distances. There was a group of three couples from Burlington, Vermont. One of the wives, Tia, a mother of three boys all of whom were of college age or older, had not ridden a bike in years. If you asked Tia and her husband Peter what the best part of the trip was, I am sure they would say biking in Tuscany.

Teresa and I enjoyed the biking. It was not overly difficult. The first full day in Tuscany was a long ride, 33 miles I think. I had never biked that far in a day. At the end of the day, I was tired and little bit sore from sitting on a bike seat, but I was fine the next day (it was a shorter ride the next day, 27 miles I think). There was one day where we decided to take the van from the morning starting point to the mid-morning break location, because our guides said it was 16 kilometers of uphill to get to the mid-morning break location. Then it was 18 kilometers of downhill from that point and level riding for the rest of the trip that day. It worked out perfect. The downhill was a blast, and we still got to see all the towns and sites from the break location on. Our guides Franco and Matello were wonderful. They knew the terrain. They quickly gauged the capabilities of everyone in the group. And, they did everything they could to make each day’s experience good for each individual. I can’t say enough about how wonderful Franco and Matello were.

Around 6:00 p.m. on our first might at the Montebelli, the owner Allessandro took the whole group of us (16 in the bike tour and our two tour guides) up to his “outdoor office.” It was a group of benches strategically placed at a high point on the property looking out over vineyards on one side and olive trees on the other. Allessandro and our guides opened a couple of large coolers and pulled out plates prepared with prosciutto, melon, bread, and olive oil. They opened several bottles of Allesandro’s top wines and served it to us. All the while Allessandro is describing the history of Montebelli. His parents were from Italy, but travelled the world. Allessandro was born in South Africa. At some point, I think he said about 25 years ago, they decided to go home to Italy and bought the property in Tuscany. Allessandro said the property was in very bad shape when they bought it, and it took 5 years before they had grapes of decent quality to produce wines. At that point, I looked at one of the bottles of wine he had served us and recognized the label Fabula Riserva. I told Allessandro that I had tried his wine before, but I had no idea it was grown in Tuscany at Montebelli.

Montebelli was our favorite spot. Great food, good wines, ample breakfasts, and beautiful property that we could wander about. Teresa spent a few hours at the pool one afternoon. I enjoyed the sauna one afternoon. Montebelli has horses available for riding.

Our room at the Montebelli had an amazing view of the vineyards and mountains in the distance. The first night at Montebelli, they prepared a huge barbeque with all kinds of locally grown and raised foods. The chef personally served all the guests dining that night. It was very memorable.

-Wayne W., The Tuscan Coast

Let us know how your vacation went and submit your own Traveler Review!

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