Savoring Puglia – October 2019
With a Visit to Matera: "City of Stones" and 2019 European Cultural Capital
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.
Tired of hearing about Tuscany? Come take in the baroque splendor of Lecce, ‘Florence of the South’, and the many lesser (but no less remarkable) Pugliese towns. But it’s perhaps outside of its cities that Puglia shines brightest. For it’s in the countryside – the source of its food, its wealth and its culture — where you’ll find the region’s soul.
DAY 1: ARRIVAL IN TRULLI VALLEY (Welcome cocktail, D)
Arrive Bari airport and meet your local tour manager; transfer to tranquil Cala Ponte Hotel by our favorite sea side Pugliese town, Polignano a Mare. This is a great place to discover Puglia living like a local, with the romantic natural port of San Vito very close by. Check in and free time to relax, perhaps spending an hour in the hotel’s spa. Cocktails by the dreamy illuminated pool, followed by some very special local food at your welcome dinner. Of course, quality local wines will be paired with the various dishes.
Lodging for the next 3 nights: Pool view rooms at Cala Ponte Hotel
DAY 2: BARI – ALBEROBELLO (B)
A rich breakfast will be served each morning this week.
Today will begin with a guided walk through the beautiful city of Bari, capital of this region. Think of it as the Bologna of the South: a historic but forward-looking town lent vigor by its plethora of young people. More urban than Lecce and Brindisi, with grander boulevards, a large university, and a historic opera house. While strolling through the old town, you may meet women in the streets making strascinati and orecchiette (little ears), two typical pastas of the area. You will be amazed at how fast they make these foods! Independent lunch, then travel toward Murgia, between the Ionian and Adriatic costs. This oddly beautiful landscape, riddled with holes and ravines through which small streams and rivers gurgle, creates what feels like a giant sponge.
Soon you will reach Alberobello, capital of the iconic Trulli (small, white drystone buildings made from local limestone with conic roofs that are unique to this region and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site). A bit touristy but a must-see when you’re in this area. Guided visit of the Trulli and free time. Dinner on your own tonight in the gorgeous seaside town of Polignano al Mare.
DAY 3: MARTINA FRANCA – LOCOROTONDO – FORNELLO – CISTERNINO (B,L,D)
Morning visit to a local olive oil mill operated by the same family for almost 100 years. Fun learning experience (think “EVOO 101“), followed by a tasting of their top oils. Onward to the elegant little hilltown of Martina Franca; meet your local guide for a brief tour of the town’s baroque and rococo architecture. The old quarter of this town is a picturesque scene of winding alleys, blinding white houses and blood-red geraniums. Airy piazzas and curlicue ironwork balconies that almost touch above the narrow streets. Altogether a delightful blend. Martina was founded in the 10th century by refugees fleeing the Arab invasion of Taranto. It only started to flourish in the 14th century when Philip of Anjou granted tax exemptions (franchigie, hence Franca); the town became so wealthy that a castle and defensive walls complete with 24 solid bastions were built.
Savor Martina’s famous Capocollo (a divine salume), followed by many other specialties for lunch. We’ll chat about coming attractions this afternoon: two of Italy’s borghi piu’ belli, designated as the country’s most gorgeous villages.
After a short rest at our hotel, it’s on to Locorotondo, a jeweled hilltop town considered to have the best views of the Valleys of Itria and Murgia. The day will end in Cisternino, with its kasbah-like knot of streets and stunning views. You will indulge in the town’s traditional dinner, which is held at the butcher shop complete with wooden oven. Lamb, veal and sausages will be cooked “al Fornello” just for you. An experience you can only have in Cisternino!
DAY 4: MONOPOLI – OSTUNI (B, wine tasting, D)
Check out and then “check in” — to a cheese producer, where the mysteries of fresh mozzarella and other cheeses will unfold before your eyes. After lunch on your own, stroll through Monopoli in the early afternoon. Your visit will end with some excellent wines at the Tenuta GEMI, a local farmhouse offering homegrown products and typical local wines.
A “Masseria” is Puglia’s take on the hacienda in Spain or plantation in the Deep South. They are spread throughout the region and we’ve picked one of our favorites for the next two nights, near the magical town of Ostuni. After checking in, relax a bit before enjoying a fabulous fish dinner.
Lodging for the next 2 nights: Masseria Grieco or similar
DAY 5: GIOIA DEL COLLE – ALTAMURA – MATERA (B,L and wine tasting, D)
Lazy late morning departure, with a stop in Gioia del Colle at a terrific winery to taste Primitivo (who said a morning glass of wine isn’t good for your health? Plus, you’ll hear about the Zinfandel connection!) and other indigenous wines. Lunch at the winery and then continue to Altamura, a town famous for making one of the best breads in Italy. At the 100-year-old bakery you will see how bread, focaccia, and other delicacies of the region are made. Afterwards, a WOW moment taking in the unique architecture of a beautiful nearby cathedral.
Arrive Matera in the early afternoon: this city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located in the Basilicata region that borders Puglia. The Sassi (literally, “stones”) district is the ancient heart of the city and still has prehistoric dwellings that are carved out of the limestone face. Your local guide will immerse you in the history of the Sassi, up through their modern transformation into 4 and 5-star luxury boutique hotels. Dinner in Matera at a charming restaurant, enjoying the foods unique to the Basilicata region.
Return to the hotel after a wonderful, full day of adventure!
DAY 6: OSTUNI – BRINDISI — LECCE (B, wine tasting, D)
You are southward bound to the Salento area today. Here, vibrant Lecce is the most prominent city. But first: Ostuni, a gleaming white hilltop town with sun-bleached streets and cobbled alleyways. Continue toward Brindisi, where you will visit yet another fabulous winery. Independent lunch.
Arrive Lecce in the early afternoon. We may have saved the best for the last. This lively university city is considered to be the most interesting in the region for its typical seventeenth century architecture and rich history. It is often called the Florence of the South for its monuments, mansions, and ornate buildings. It’s a lively, graceful but relaxed university town with some upmarket boutiques and a strong tradition for papier-mâché making.
Your deluxe hotel in Lecce is right in the city center. After checking in, have a “brindisi” (toast) as you enjoy aperitifs followed by a tantalizing seafood dinner.
Lodging for the next 2 nights: Risorgimento Hotel 5*or similar
DAY 7: LECCE (B, culinary experience and D)
A local will show you the ins and outs of Lecce this morning: visit the central food market and other major sites, and then GO FREE: enjoy shopping, lunch and strolling in the lively city center. In the afternoon, you will have a super fun culinary experience at an organic farm near Lecce, creating local specialties that will delight you in tonight’s farewell dinner.
DAY 8: ARRIVEDERCI ITALIA (B)
After breakfast, depart to Brindisi airport to catch your flight back home.