Summer in the South: Puglia – June 2023
With Optional Visit to Matera: "City of Stones" and 2019 European Culture Capitol
Clearly, everything the Italophile craves is here in abundance: ancient towns with the tangible past right in your face; ornate churches dreamt up by Europe’s finest architects; the footprints of an endless procession of conquerors and cultures, stamped in stone, gold and marble; seas of olives; olive-green seas; and fish and veggies the envy of most other regions of Italy. You’ll start out by the crystalline sea, visibly rich in Arabic, Byzantine, Spanish and Norman traces. Restful and life-affirming after that long trip across the Atlantic. Each day will unfold new secrets of Italy’s heel. Open Day-by-Day below to discover more.
We’ll explore several Pugliese towns, with an optional visit to Matera, the 2019 European Cultural Capital. In fact, three days of excursions – in italics below – are OPTIONAL — enjoy them, or enjoy more time at ease in Puglia’s brilliant sunshine. We believe that Puglia perhaps shines brightest outside its larger cities. In the villages and countryside – the source of its food, its wealth and its culture — you’ll find the region’s soul.
DAY 1 : June 13th – Tuesday : ARRIVAL – SAVELLETRI DI FASANO (D)
Arrive Bari international airport and await our early afternoon private transfer to 4-star Hotel La Sorgente in Savelletri di Fasano, our home for the entire week. Our simple hotel is right on the sea, yet also walking distance to the restaurants and bars in the little seaside town of Savelletri. Check in and free time at your disposal to relax and enjoy dinner al fresco (weather permitting) in the hotel.
DAY 2: June 14th – Wednesday : ALBOROBELLO AND EVOO! (B, EVOO tasting)
Sleep in if you wish (jet lag!) and enjoy breakfast at leisure, served daily at the hotel from 7:30-10am. In the late morning we will depart for a visit of a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Alborobello. This hill town is the capital of the Trulli (small, white buildings with conic roofs that have become the symbol of Puglia). Guided visit of the Trulli. Free time for lunch and departure to visit a local olive oil mill. The farmers will teach you everything you need to know about olive oil, and you will taste some of their best oils produced at the mill. Mid-afternoon return to hotel and remainder of the day free.
DAY 3: June 15th -Thursday : OPTIONAL FULL DAY EXCURSION TO THE CAVE CITY: MATERA (B, bread tasting)
Today is a free day, with an optional full-day excursion to Matera, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cross the “border” into the Basilicata region, arriving in the late morning to Matera’s “Sassi district”. This is the ancient heart of the city and still has existing prehistoric dwellings from thousands of years ago that are carved out of the face of the calcareous rock. Your tour leader will guide you through the labyrinth of Sassi, to learn more about these fascinating dwellings. You can grab lunch on your own and have free time to wander through this magical town. On the way home, we’ll stop in Altamura, a town famous for making perhaps the best bread in Italy. Here you will have the chance to visit a 100-year-old bakery where you will see (and taste!) how bread, focaccia, and other delicacies of the region are made. Return to the hotel by early evening. Free night for dinner. We suggest Pescheria 2 Mare for fabulous raw fish eaten right on the sea!
EXCURSION COST (8 MINIMUM: $150PP; PRICES ON REQUEST FOR FEWER THAN 8)
DAY 4 : June 16th – Friday : POLIGNANO WITH GELATO (B,Gelato tasting, D)
After a leisurely morning, depart at midday for our favorite sea side Pugliese town, Polignano a Mare. Built on the edge of a craggy ravine pockmarked with caves, the town is thought to be one of the most important ancient settlements in Puglia and was later inhabited by successive invaders ranging from the Huns to the Normans. The centro storico is a great place to discover Puglia living like a local, with the romantic natural port of San Vito very close by. Lots of fun and authentic local crafts to purchase. There’s even a “fish bar” for lunch that is adored by the locals! Short guided walk through the town after lunch on your own, ending with a fabulous gelato tasting at an iconic ice cream shop that’s been there for ages. Back in the late afternoon, and dinner at the hotel tonight.
DAY 5 : June 17th – Saturday : OPTIONAL EXCURSION TO SOUTHERN PUGLIA: GALLIPOLI AND OTRANTO (B)
Many call the Penisola Salentina, better known simply as Salento, the crown jewel of Puglia. Strongly retaining a flavor of its Greek past, this southernmost stretch of Italian terra leaves behind the lush greenery of Valle d’Itria (where we are staying) for ochre-colored fields hazy with wildflowers in spring, and endless olive groves.
We will explore two wonderful towns of this area. First, the centro storico of Gallipoli, on a small island that juts out into the Ionian Sea. With a raft of serene baroque architecture, it is, arguably, the prettiest of Salento’s smaller settlements. We’ll move on to Otranto, bloodied and bruised by an infamous Turkish massacre in 1480. This city is best appreciated in its amazing cathedral, where the bones of 813 martyrs are displayed in a glass case behind the altar. Less macabre is the cathedral’s other jaw-dropper, its medieval mosaic floor, which rivals the famous early Christian mosaics of Ravenna in its richness and historical significance. Lying deep in Italy’s stiletto, Otranto has back-heeled quite a few invaders over the centuries and been brutally kicked by others – most notably the Turks. Sleuth around its compact old quarter and you can peel the past off in layers – Greek, Roman, Turkish and Napoleonic.
Return by early evening; dinner on your own this evening.
EXCURSION COST (8 MINIMUM: $150PP; PRICES ON REQUEST FOR FEWER THAN 8)
DAY 6: June 1t8h – Sunday : MONOPOLI – COOKING, EATING AND DRINKING IN THE COUNTRYSIDE (B,L)
After breakfast, transfer to the charming whitewashed seaside town of Monopoli. Guided walk through town with some free time; then on to a nearby farmhouse (agriturismo) that also produces some excellent wine. Learn how to make the local pasta “orecchiette”, then enjoy lunch with wine of course, and local folk music. Return by late afternoon and remainder of the day free.
DAY 7: June 19th – Monday : OPTIONAL EXCURSION TO THE CASTELLANA CAVES (B,D)
The Castellana Caves are among the most spectacular in Italy. Those who choose today’s half-day excursion will enjoy the 3-km guided walk “from the Grave to the White Cave”, the latter perhaps the most beautiful in the world! Return by early afternoon after time for a quick lunch in a nearby town.
Final dinner at the hotel tonight.
EXCURSION COST (8 MINIMUM: $145PP; PRICES ON REQUEST FOR FEWER THAN 8)
DAY 8: June 20th – Tuesday: ARRIVEDERCI ITALIA (B)
After breakfast, depart to Bari airport to catch your flight back home. (One transfer to the airport will be provided, corresponding to the earliest flight out. We can arrange other transfers for later flights or other connections for an additional fee.)