The province of Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot is not so well known to most Australians but that’s all changing. The time to go is now, before it changes…with many of us Seniors looking for new pastures to explore. You won’t hear many Aussie accents in Southern Italy, yet. Even fewer Americans.
So, what’s the attraction? Well, Puglia encompasses several distinctly different regions ranging from the Salento in the deep south, to the Valle d’Itria in the middle and Gargano in the north. They’re all different, and when contemplating a holiday in Puglia you need to do your homework and research what each region offers. Look for the major areas around Monopoli, Polignano, Brindisi, Lecce, Otranto and Gallipoli (not the one in Turkey!)
Our choices were the Itria Valley and the Salento for the contrast, and frankly, to compare for future holidays. Here are a few suggestions depending on what kind of holiday you have in mind:
For us, this is the ultimate Puglia experience. You can find a villa for any number of people from two upwards and of course the more guests, the cheaper it gets on a per-person basis. Most villas are rented in weekly blocks, Saturday to Saturday but in the off-peak seasons you may be able to negotiate shorter stays. However the joy of not packing and moving every few days can’t be underestimated.
Most villas have everything including the kitchen sink…including English satellite TV and a pool. Or a fireplace for the cooler months. Many villas are renovated trulli (renovated conical stone houses) which are delightful to look at and comfortably furnished. Cooking lessons can be easily arranged (great fun for a group) or better still, a dine-in chef will do it all for you. And there’s always a great restaurant or trattoria not far away…this is Italy!
There’s a villa specialist company called The Thinking Traveller who specialise in rentals for English-speaking guests and they do an incredible job organising everything to your specific brief. They booked us at Terrarossa near the town of Fasano, close to Monopoli
and it was perfect…we were met by the villa owners and presented with “goodie boxes” of fresh produce, pasta, cheese, wine, bread and everything to set us up for a few days.
After that, the local markets were a real treat, especially in Fasano.
A masseria is usually a converted farmhouse ranging from fairly basic to 5 star luxury. The difference is that they mostly have a restaurant and include breakfast, and can be booked for short stays. Some are working farms and you can get involved in olive or grape picking as well as learning how to cook with the wonderful produce abundant in the region.
Our choice was Masseria Salinola near Ostuni, the “white city”. Definitely upmarket, very friendly and an optional 45 euro set course dinner by the fireplace. Top cuisine.
B AND Bs
These are everywhere in Puglia, as you’d expect. In places like Lecce, Ostuni, Martina Franca and Alberobello you may be better off staying just outside the city walls if you have a car, owing to parking restrictions inside the old town with its narrow lanes. Lecce is a definite must-see city for its Baroque architecture, Roman ruins… and great coffee at Cittadino. Ah, and gelati!
Roberto and Stephanie are the ones to contact for a B&B: www.labellalecce.it
Lecce also has a great cooking school presided over by the charismatic Silvestro:
http://awaitingtable.com for a fun-filled and informative day.
That’s just a small taste of what Italy’s boot has to offer…it’s far from down-at-heel, but Puglia is earthy, authentic, engaging and a haven for good food and wine. Best time to go is in the shoulder seasons April/May and September/October to avoid summer crowds, traffic and prices! www.viaggiareinpuglia.it
Main Picture: Sponge shopping in Gallipoli