Puglia on My Mind – by Thereza Morris
February 26, 2019
About the author: I grew up in Switzerland and spent many childhood summer vacations and adulthood trips in Italy. I now live in Richmond, Virginia, and travel regularly to different places in Switzerland, Italy, and France, always looking for a little adventure off the beaten path paired with good food and wine!
It is a real treat that Claudia has included Puglia as a new Adagio Travel destination. You will be charmed by the beauty of this region of Italy and everything it as to offer from its rich history, architecture, and culture, to the landscapes, and to the cuisine and wine.
I visited Puglia for the first time in the month of July about 30 years ago. We stayed with the family of my sister’s husband. The memories I have from that vacation are the lazy days spent on Lido Conchiglie beach, evening strolls in Gallipoli, gelato in Galatone, market day in Lecce, getting around on a Vespa, and singing to that year’s summer hit “Felicita”.
Fast forward to September 2018. I returned to this beautiful part of Italy for a vacation with my husband, who had never visited Puglia before. We spent five days exploring the Valle d’Itria and Salento regions. The Valle d’Itria is just south of Bari, and includes Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Cisternino, Ostuni, Polignano a Mare, and Alberobello. The Salento region makes up the heel of the boot of Italy, and includes Lecce, Brindisi, Taranto, Gallipoli, and Santa Maria di Leuca. Both regions are known for their pasta, seafood, olive oil, wine (Primitivo), Greek and Arab past, green rolling hills, picturesque towns, Trulli houses, and beautiful seaside.
Most towns, such as Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Cisternino, among others, are hilltop towns that—The Thinking Traveler couldn’t have described them any better—offer “narrow, shady streets, historic churches and elegant central piazza open out onto a series of panoramic view points from which visitors can take in the surrounding countryside.”
Ostuni “the White City” is one of the most stunning hilltop cities and famous for the dazzling effect of its whitewashed houses, sea green and blue doors and shutters. The top of the town offers a spectacular view of the Adriatic sea and the olive groves that surround the hill. Don’t miss the 15th century Gothic cathedral on the way up (or down)!
Alberobello is a nice stop on the road to see the Trulli up close. The main artery through Alberobello, Via Indipendenza/Lago Martello, divides the Trulli zone in half. If you have time, after touring the Rione Monti area, cross Lago Martello and take the steps up to the church to reach the Rione Aia Piccola area, and walk around the streets on that side of town. It is just as charming, lined with Trulli, but less crowded. One of the highlights this side has to offer is a beautiful view of the Rione Monti area.
On this trip, we went to visit my sister’s in-laws, whom we had not seen in several years, near Gallipoli. They opened their home to us for Sunday lunch, which is always a special time for Italian families to gather around Nonna’s table. After a copious feast and lovely time catching up, we drove back along the heel’s West coast and, on the way, stopped at the beach in Sant’Isidoro for a late day swim and watch the sun set over the Gulf of Taranto.
We stayed in the lovely boutique hotel Leonardo Trulli Resort situated in the countryside outside of Locorotondo. It was centrally located for our stay in Puglia. Our room was in a Trullo, charming with its old stone work and completely refurbished with all the modern amenities. The hotel offers breakfast and dinner with locally-sourced fare and produce from the garden, ricotta made daily, fresh figs from their own trees, and a serious wine list. The hosts couldn’t have been more gracious. The pool among the rose garden with a view of the rolling hills was a perfect place to return to after a day of sightseeing.
Must do in Puglia: Enjoy the fresh pasta (handmade orrechiette), fish and seafood (tuna, swordfish, branzino, octopus, shrimp), sample the various olives and olive oil, visit a pastry shop (at least once!), eat friselle with your aperitivo, try Caciocavallo cheese, talk to the locals (they always have something interesting to share), have a caffè at an outdoor table and watch the world go by, and don’t miss out on Primitivo wine.
My regret: We did not have time to visit Matera. This will be for our next trip!
Much has changed in 30 years and at the same time it has not. Puglia may be somewhat more prosperous now. The locals are no longer working in other European countries for part of the year to make a living, and are instead working at reviving their own economy taking advantage of the growth in tourism by investing into their local agriculture, wine making, fishing, and hospitality.
This trip has given us so many memories. My last one was on the early morning drive on the winding road leaving the Locorotondo area when the first sun rays were just reaching the olive groves, and we drove on listening to the local radio to songs by Fedez and Paulo Conte. We knew then that we would be coming back soon. Ci vediamo presto Puglia!