We booked this trip pretty last minute (early August, for departure September 7th), so I didn't have much time to do research. Tripadvisor, Fodors and a Belgian travel site have been a bit of help, as well as the rare guidebook I found in our bookstore.
Our flight to Bari - on a warm and sunny Belgian morning - was uneventfull until the last half hour when turbulence, due to thick grey clouds, made the flight a little bumpy. The clouds got thicker and thicker and when we landed it poured. By the time we got to our rental car we were drenched. Not a good start of our holidays. And the forecast was more rain and thunderstorms for the next five days.
We settled in in our masseria (a fortified country house on a country estate producing olive oil) amidst 40 ha of olive trees, in the Valle d'Itria. This area is known for its thousands years old olive trees.
From here we would visit the towns and sights in Central Puglia, such as Monopoli.
Next town was Polignano a Mare. I think all of us know the song 'Volare'. Well, the singer, Domenico Modugno, was born in Polignano and his statue takes a prominent place in town. There's not much more to say about this town by the sea, though it was pleasant to stroll.
A few days later, on September 11th, my husband and I celebrated our 40th anniversary. We did so with a lovely lunch at the 1* Ristorante Angelo Sabatelli. Excellent fresh and tasty food. Angelo Sabatelli is loyal to the Pugliese cucina povera using only local products of the season: pasta, seafood, fish, and local vegetables. A lovely lunch, ended by an extra dessert, a nice gesture from the chef.
Next towns to visit were Alberobello and Locorotondo: trulliland! A trullo is a traditional Pugliese dry stone hut with a conical roof. These trulli are specific to the Valle d'Itria, and trulli cannot only be seen in Alberobello or Locorotondo, but all over the valley. I’m not going to bore you with the 124 photos I took, just a small selection. In the second picture you see the trullo church of Alberobello.
Taranto, an important commercial port city, has also been explored. The new city is nice, with wide boulevards and good shopping (as per my husband who bought a whole new winter outfit) but part of the centro storico reminded me of the worse parts of Napoli. Dirty, deserted, neglected. Italy as I remember it from 50 years ago.
Oh, Amboseli -- this is fabulous! I've been interested in Puglia as an off-the-beaten-track destination, but what I've read about it makes it seem simultaneously crammed with tourists and hard to get around with public transportation. I'm assuming that the masseria was your base and that you all rented a car. Is that correct?
Your pictures are gorgeous and informative. I adore the one of the ancient olive trees and all of the trulli, too. Really, I'd have been happy to look at all 124 of them! Very much looking forward to more of this report.
bixaorellana We stayed in four different places because we covered the whole of Puglia, including the Gargano in the north which is so often forgotten. And yes, we always rent a car. Me too, I had no idea Puglia was so touristy. I thought it would have been the same as Calabria which - in 2006 - was pretty unspoilt. Not so!
bjd Alberobello has two 'settlements' (if I can call it like this) of trulli. On one side of the main road there are the clean white trulli (tourist trulli) where the bars, restaurants, shops are. On the other side of the main road the trulli were more real. People still lived there and there were no tourists at all. My first four photos are from the touristy trulli, the next ones are the non-touristy trulli. We visited late afternoon, no tourbuses in town anymore. Most of the towns are very tidy, the historical centres all brushed up. Taranto was the exception, but this also had its charms. I have no idea whether Taranto gets less visitors than the other towns. Maybe it's a bit out of the way.
Later that afternoon we had the worst weather ever: heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. The roads were inundated and washed away, the olive trees were standing in the water, and we could hardly get to our masseria again. Coming there, the electicity had fallen out and we would be without electricity until the next morning. Really lousy weather.
On this video you can see the road to our masseria. If you look until the end, you can see how bad it had gone. No wonder that insurance premiums for tires, wheels and bottom of the car are so high in Puglia! (Don't know if it's visible, it's from my google drive).
The clouds that we have seen during our trip were sometimes spectacular (but there could have been less of them).
Okay, back to the towns. The white town of Ostuni, Martina Franca, Ceglie Mesapicca, ... we visited all of them.
And Italy wouldn’t be Italy without cats and vespa’s.
After the central part of Puglia, we drove further south to the Salento area. We wanted some beach time but the weather decided against it. Okay, there were some more towns to explore. And the odd afternoon at the beach and the pool of our next masseria.
We drove the coastline from Santa Maria di Leuca, a nice town with beautiful villas where the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea meet, upto Otranto.
Amboseli, your pictures are fabulous, and I could see the video just fine. Stones everywhere, and some very impressive washouts on the road! I'm enjoying seeing the different types of architecture, too.
Otranto was nice. It’is a lovely town by the sea with a well preserved borgo antico with its Castello Aragonese and Byzantine basilica. Notice the mosaics in the roman cathedral.
Gallipoli, a coastal town on the Ionian Sea, was also visited. Its old centre is on an island. We were there in the morning when the fishermen were doing their work. Very nice to see! I don’t usually dare to make photographs of people but these men were so friendly. When I pointed with my camera, they said: sì, sì!!
Lecce, everyone wants to see the baroque town of Lecce. It’s called the Firenze of Puglia which is somewhat exaggerated but Lecce is very nice. We went there on a late afternoon after the tourbuses had gone (and after the humidity had lowered). Despite no more tourbuses, it was very crowded in Lecce. I really liked the atmosphere.
On day 12 we said goodbye to our masseria in Specchia and drove all the way to Matera, in Basilicata. It’s not a long drive in kilometers (230 kms) but, including lunch in Taranto, it took us more than four hours to get to Matera. The fastest way was to go all the way to Brindisi on a fairly slow road (max. speed 80 km/hr and sometimes only 50 km/hr), then the highway to Taranto, then again a slow road to Matera. Roads are in extremely bad condition and in the countryside 40 km/hr is mostly the absolute maximum. The landscape wasn’t very interesting, either. Olives, olives, and more olives and the last 50 kms vineyards, vineyards and more vineyards.
Matera was the highlight and the most interesting part of our trip. We had booked a ‘hotel’ in the sassi. For two and a half days we walked and walked and walked, getting lost in the labyrinth of the sassi. I’ve never done so much stairs in my life. In the small museum in Sassi Barisano we could watch a video about the story of the sassi. The next part is copied from Wikipedia. Will be clearer than the translation of my own description in Dutch: “The Sassi originate from a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and are suspected to be among the first human settlements in Italy. There is evidence that people were living here as early as the year 7000 BC. The Sassi are houses dug into the calcarenitic rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia. The streets in some parts of the Sassi often run on top of other houses. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the ravine created by a river that is now a small stream. The ravine is known locally as "la Gravina". In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Riddled with malaria, the unhealthy living conditions were considered an affront to the new Italian Republic.”
The Sassi remained uninhabited until the ‘80s. In 1993 UNESCO put them on the World Heritage List and since then life returned in the Sassi. Just *somewhat* more exclusive than it used to be, with art galleries, winebars, restaurants, small luxury hotels, etc.
In 2019 Matera will be European Cultural Capital. Well deserved! Matera was really very special.
The first three pictures are from our hotel. Did you ever sleep in a cave? We did!
After Matera another long drive to Vieste in the north of Puglia, in the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. A different landscape, somewhat mountainous, different flora. The landscape was definitely more interesting than what we had seen before.
Vieste is a coastal town with long stretches of sandy beaches. Excellent to spend our last days. The historical centre was one of the prettiest we have seen, full of excellent restaurants high on the rock, dining 'under the arches'.
After 17 days our trip came to an end. We had a late flight, so we took the opportunity to visit Trani on our way to the airport. Lovely city on the water with a nice marina. Lively, yet not very touristy as far as I could see.
Oh yes, we always ate and drank well ... as you can see.
It looks like you had a great holiday. All very interesting but for me, those stone towns lack greenery. I understand the towns were built with the houses all close together because of local topography and perhaps for protection, but other than the plants in pots, it's just too stark. Your photos of water or on the road with some green scenery provide a nice change.
Don't apologize for "too many pictures"! There is no such thing, especially of yours, which are so lively and excellent. You really saw and captured an enormous variety of terrain and experiences. Somehow those jumbled together all-white towns brought home to me how many centuries people have lived there. That and the pictures of the fisherman at their tasks really made it like being there. Can't believe you had to maneuver that river road to your first masseria -- probably more adventure than you'd bargained for. So many fascinating things in this thread -- the different styles of dwellings, the just-caught seafood, the wedding cake church facades, the groves, the coast road, etc. And you all ate so well! What are the rectangular things in the bottom right of your last picture -- some kind of kidney?
Happy anniversary and thanks for sharing the sights with us!
Super report. This is an area of Italy that gets overlooked a lot and looking at these luscious photos one cannot help wondering why. It truly looks like another country from even Lazio or Tuscany, never mind Northern Italy. You covered a lot of the same areas that have become off-season favorites for car touring for my father and his wife, the towns with the trullis are pretty amazing, and indeed the whole region is obviously quite special. You are the first I've heard report positively at all on Taranto, Italians treat it less kindly, although most will still recommend a couple of outstanding seafood restaurants if one must go there. Lecce, on the other hand, nearly everyone falls in love with. One of my regular friends from my Italian-English conversation meet-ups in Anghiari is from Lecce and he's convinced me I must go see it.
Bixa, those rectangular things are red tuna strips. De-li-cious! The chunk of tuna is grilled on all sides for a minute or so, then cut into strips. Drizzled with some good olive oil, et voilà.
Fumo, I think this area of Italy will be getting more and more popular now that Ryanair has cheap flights to Bari and to Brindisi from all over Europe. Don't know if that's a good thing. And do as your friend says: go see Lecce!
You are very close to Greece there: a famous ferry sets off from Brindisi.
I loved the coy photo of the young couple at their wedding, 40 years later!
I've only been briefly to Bari, stopping off on my way to Lecce. Indeed I'm afraid it might be difficult to the other destinations if one doesn't drive.
Fumo, what little I saw of Puglia was not only different from northern and central Italy, but even Campania and Calabria.
In the small towns I visited in Calabria, there was architectural evidence of Italian emigrants to the Americas. There were dwellings similar to the rather kitschy white brick houses with columns and such popular among the less sophisticated Italo-Montrealers, and a fellow called "il Gaucho" had set up a grill restaurant equipped as in Argentina, where he'd spent most of his working life.
Nice to see somewhere different with such variety. These old hill towns, which look like a pile of childrens' building blocks thrown in a heap are always fascinating. And some of the stonework is exquisite.
Man is not lost, only temporarily uncertain of his position
I've really enjoyed your holiday report Amboseli - the photos are wonderful! Just to make sure I know where all the towns are I will be getting out my map of Italy and then re-read everything as I like looking at photos more deeply.