Overall this was not the trip I expected and I am disappointed. There were many pros but a lot of cons too. Starting with the good points:
-the guide Michele Q was excellent. He guided us safely, was enthusiastic, knowledgeable about the places we visited, encouraging, funny, very supportive. He went above and beyond trying to find places for us to eat (more about that in the 'cons') and dealt with last minute problems smoothly. Even though he didn't need to, he stayed out with the group and socialized. On a horribly rainy/thunderstorm/lightning day he called ahead to make sure our hotel rooms would be ready when we arrived soaking wet and freezing cold. I rate him 11/10.
- bikes: were very good for this type of terrain. The gearing was excellent, we could climb steep gravel hills easily. Comfortable. I liked having a waterproof pannier. The brakes were good.
- the agriturismo olive farm was the BEST day/night. It was luxurious (the pool, the terrace, our suite), the olive oil tasting and education was so interesting, the food was delicious. Very peaceful and elegant.
- the hotel in Osturia was also lovely. Cons:
- we did the first trip of the 2019 season, beginning April 8, 2019. Now that I have done this, I think it is too early in the season to do this trip. It was sometimes a challenge to find cafés or restaurants open to eat at during the day. At a couple of hotels, we were the first guests of the season, and it was clear they were not really ready for us.
- dinner: It is the Italian custom to eat dinner(supper) at 9 pm at night. This is not the custom in North America or England, and as people who had been cycling all day and who needed to be awake fairly early the next day, this didn't work. After two nights of eating very late, Michele would call ahead to the next town and try very hard to negotiate a fixed-price 2-choice menu, and tried to convince the restaurant to open at 7 pm for us to have dinner. Mostly he was successful, but it often meant we didn't get food until around 8 pm at night. As well the afternoon siesta made finding food a bit challenging at times.
- picnics: many of my friends have taken this trip, and other trips with Exodus. Their experience was: a pot of money was collected from the guests and the van driver would purchase food for "a fabulous picnic" which would be waiting at the lunch stop. This was not offered, and it would have been a very nice option.
- my own problem: our Italian hotels didn't have in-room coffee. I'm not a human until I have coffee. I did not like having to get dressed and wait for the breakfast to be served to have coffee. I admit, this is my problem.
- group riding. I found out that I really don't like riding in a group. I felt that 90% of the time I was watching the bike in front of me, and making sure the bike behind me didn't do something stupid. I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy the scenery as much as I would have liked. I felt that if I stopped to take a photo (which had been a very important goal of mine - photography!) that I would be slowing down the group. Thus, not many photos taken to my disappointment.
- the van: the van was for luggage, and not a support van for injured or tired riders - that was made clear at the start - no problem. However, we were told by our guide that if we wanted to skip a day of riding, and take transit, just tell him in the morning. So we decided to skip day, told him at 0700H as required, and we were told we would have to pay for the bikes to be transported to the next town. We said "but can't you put them in the van?" No, the van is full. "Can't you put them on the roof racks of the van?" No, the roof racks are broken. In the end, the bikes WERE put on the "broken" roof racks, but I recall thinking 'it's not my problem that Exodus hired a van with inoperable roof racks. Fix this problem'.
- some of the hotels were quite basic, and one hotel had broken air conditioning, which made the night absolutely intolerable.
- on a day with horrific rain, I felt it was dangerous to continue riding. The water was inches deep on the road, we were riding in traffic for about 30 minutes, and we could not see the road under the water. One of us could have hit a pothole and been thrown off the bike into traffic. The traffic also made "tidal waves" as it passed us.
- automobiles: Near Matera and one other town it was very clear that the car and truck drivers HATE cyclists. Sometimes they would pass very close to us, dangerously so. What I thought were friendly waves were in fact the exact opposite.