Our Italian Product Manager, Stevan, recently got back from his trip around Puglia (and he’s been raving about it every since). Read on to discover the highlights of his trip, a few tips to navigate through the region and his foodie favourites.
Tell us where you’ve been
Puglia! And if you’re not sure where that is, it’s in the very “heel of Italy’s boot”. The distance from one end to another is just over 4hrs driving, but for this trip, I have focused on “Central Puglia”, the area between the two main cities Bari and Brindisi.
Favourite property that you saw and why?
That’s a toughie – most of our properties in the region have been recently redeveloped and refurbished so they all look incredible. But if I was pressed hard enough, I have to admit that I adored the opulence of Villa Giuseppe, simply because of its blend of accommodation – consisting of the original “Trulli” houses and wonderfully designed modernised stone-mansions, all around beautifully landscaped and skillfully manicured gardens.
What was the highlight of the trip?
I was most impressed by the inland hilltop towns and villages which are oh so unique. The UNESCO-protected town of Alberobello has a central cluster of cone-shaped “Trulli” stone houses and I relish the chance to see them again. I found myself returning here both during the day and night, just to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the wonderful architecture.
Returning down to the coastline via Itria Valley awarded me with most spectacular views of Puglia – the day was so clear, I swear I could see silhouettes of Albanian mountains some 150miles across the Adriatic!
What and where was your best foodie moment?
Puglia is the spiritual home of “cuccina povera” (poor person’s cuisine) and I sampled some outstanding dishes made from ingredients costing no more than £2!!!
A €15 antipasti-set at Alberobello’s centrally located tavern offered endless cold and hot bites that filled two of us. And although I have encountered the famous “Primitivo di Puglia” red wine on many occasions, “Salice Salentino” is a full-bodied red bursting with flavour!
Any stand-out traditions or cultural observations made in the area you stayed?
Every town and village has a Saint who protects its inhabitants and that day is always celebrated in style – a religious procession to start with, followed by a large outdoor “festa” with music and fireworks. Most places are virtually desolate between 1-4pm when local residents take their afternoon “siesta”, so if you can handle the heat, it is the best time to move around. Oh, and how could I forget, ordering a cappuccino in the bar in the afternoon or having it as an accompaniment to your main course is the ultimate “no-no” and will be frowned upon!
For anyone travelling to Puglia, what can’t they miss?
The baroque city of Lecce is an absolute hidden gem and it’s not often on the tourist itineraries. Lecce is bursting with local atmosphere, outstanding architecture, amazing squares and alleyways, it certainly lives up to more than 10x the expectation. And if you venture to the very tip of the Italy’s “heel” at St. Maria di Leuca offers a wide-open view of sea-confluence between the Adriatic and Aegean!
Most major UK carriers fly to Bari or Brindisi airport, which offers access to the most important resorts and sights. Book early if you’re travelling during the high season as the fares tend to go up near the date (flying mid-week offers lower fares).
Hiring a car is the best way to get around and exploring – I found “low-cost” options slightly deceiving when using comparison sights as they offer cheap pre-booked daily rate, but carry huge local insurance cost. Unexpectedly, unlike many areas in Italy, driving in Puglia is effortless, either on “high-speed” motorway or virtually desolate inland country lanes winding through olive groves.
If you’re ready to fall in love with Puglia, take a look at our nifty travel guide packed with more inspiration. And if you’re still itching for more, we’ve designed three itineraries that will cover all the sights and foodie delights.