Savoring Puglia – October 2020
With a 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.
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, wealth and culture — where you’ll find the region’s soul.
We strongly suggest that you arrive on October 1 in order to rest from the journey. Our activities begin at 10am on October 2!
PRE-TOUR DAY: ARRIVAL IN TRULLI VALLEY
Independent arrival to our favorite seaside 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 intimate spa. There are loads of fun restaurants and shops to explore, and our boutique hotel is right in the town center. NOTE: We are happy to arrange for an additional fee, private transfers to Polignano from the Bari airport (about 40 minutes away) or other arrival points.
Lodging for the next 4 nights: Giovi Relais & Spa, Polignano a Mare
DAY 1: VINO PRIMITIVO, MONOPOLI, AND OPTIONAL E-BIKING (B, winery visit and tasting with lots of snacks, welcome cocktail with hors d’oeuvres, D)
A locally-sourced breakfast will be served each morning this week.
Morning meeting (10am) with local tour manager Giovanni, fun-loving expert who will accompany us this week through Puglia. We’ll tackle the hills aboard e-bikes, winding through olive groves with gorgeous views to the Adriatic Sea. Our two-wheeled journey will end at midday with some excellent wines (including Primitivo) at the Tenuta GEMI, a local farmhouse which will also serve enough homemade goodies to count as a light lunch. We’ll continue on to the white-washed town of Monopoli in early afternoon, enjoying a guided stroll and perhaps an espresso or two. The old town is a typical Apulian gem replete with quaint narrow streets, pretty squares and a picturesque harbor; old world charm makes it a photographic dream. Time to rest back at the hotel before evening cocktails on a dreamy rooftop overlooking the sea, a spectacular introduction to the region. Finally we’ll indulge in some very special local food at our welcome dinner. Of course, quality local wines will be paired with the various dishes at all included dinners.
DAY 2: BARI – GIOIA DI COLLE (B, L with wine tasting)
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, we may meet women in the streets making strascinati and orecchiette (little ears), two typical pastas of the area. We will be amazed at how fast they make these foods!
Our lunch stop is near Gioia del Colle at a small and highly-respected winery. We’ll taste more Primitivo (we’ll hear about the Zinfandel connection!) and other indigenous wines, all perfectly paired with a homemade lunch. Al fresco, of course, weather permitting. Back to town by late afternoon and independent dinner tonight in Polignano.
DAY 3: ALBEROBELLO – MATERA: A TALE OF TWO UNESCO SITES (B, D)
Departure after breakfast for 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 in this area. Guided visit of the Trulli and free time for 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
Arrive Matera in mid-afternoon: this city is also 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. Giovanni will immerse us 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.
DAY 4: MARTINA FRANCA – OSTUNI (B, EVOO tasting, D)
Check out and head to the elegant little hilltown of Martina Franca; enjoy a brief walk through the baroque and rococo architecture, getting lost in the old quarter’s winding alleys, blinding white houses and blood-red geraniums. Here are 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. Stop to sample Martina’s famous Capocollo (a divine salume), then move on to briefly visit a local olive oil mill operated by the same family for over 100 years. Fun learning experience (think “EVOO 101”), followed by a tasting of their top oils.
The afternoon continues in Ostuni. This is one of the magical white hilltop towns that feels very Greek, with its sunbleached streets and cobble alleyways. There’s time for lunch and wandering before our brief walk through town with Giovanni. Shopping’s good here — the linens here are not to be missed! By late afternoon everyone’s ready for the short ride to our “one night stand”, in the middle of the olive groves. 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 tonight. After checking in, there are nature trails to explore; drinks at the friendly little bar; or photos that adorn the walls, which we can study and discuss with management. Because, there’s been a radical transformation here, from deserted farm to fabulous! Dinner in house tonight.
Lodging for tonight: Masseria Grieco or similar
DAY 4: BRINDISI – GROTTAGLIE – MANDURIA – LECCE (B, wine tasting, aperitifs, D)
Check-out and begin our southward journey to the Salento area. We’ll briefly visit Brindisi (the temple of St. Giovanni – Saint John Sepulchre, Original Capital of Roman Column at Palazzo Granafei-Nervegna) followed by time at leisure for lunch and independent shopping. In the early afternoon continue to Grottaglie for a demo of unique hand-made ceramic production at a shop (featured in Architectural Digest, among many other publications) that’s been around for 18 generations! A final stop will be Manduria, with a visit to a local cellar where we’ll come to understand the differences in these southern Puglian wines. Continue on to vibrant Lecce, the region’s most prominent city. Check-in to our 5-star urban resort (think of a discrete — and very roomy — abode with lots of eccentric history!). We will occupy several of the 16 unique guestrooms built around a 17th century private home in the heart of Old Lecce. After checking in, we’ll have a “brindisi” (toast), enjoying aperitifs followed by a tantalizing dinner.
Lodging for the last 3 nights: La Fiermontina Urban Resort or similar
DAY 6: GALLIPOLI – SANTA MARIA DI LEUCA – OTRANTO – LECCE (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 spent the first half of our trip) for ochre-colored fields hazy with wildflowers in spring, and endless olive groves.
We will explore two wonderful towns today. 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. Free time for lunch and then panoramic transfer along the coast with a special stop in Santa Maria di Leuca, on the southernmost tip of the Salento peninsula where the waters of the Adriatic Sea mingle and merge with those of the Ionian. 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.
DAY 7: LECCE (B, culinary experience and D)
Lecce: 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. Giovanni will show us the ins and outs of Lecce this morning: visit the central food market and other major sites, and then we can GO FREE: enjoy shopping, lunch and strolling in the lively city center. In the afternoon, we will have a super fun culinary experience, creating local specialties that will delight us in tonight’s farewell dinner.
DAY 8: ARRIVEDERCI ITALIA (B)
Our services end after breakfast, but NOTE: we are happy to arrange, for an additional fee, private transfers to the Brindisi airport (about 40 minutes away) or other departure points.