2 aussies, 1 wedding, 1 van, 3 months... what have we done?

2 aussies, 1 wedding, 45 aussie guests, 3 months, 1 wicked campervan. Oh dear...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My other love

I love Puglia. Yes I know it sounds like a t-shirt slogan, and it is, but I genuinely love it.

My father is from the region so my ties to this part of Italy run very deep but my honeymoon was the first time that I was to explore this less known part of Italy. I had been to Puglia many times before when I was young with the folks but my parents were old school travellers then and it was about returning to see family and friends and not venturing off to unknown territories.  I had returned to San Severo many times to see Aunties, Uncles and a plethora of very loud cousins, I had even ventured to San Marco in Lamis to see the tiny two room house that my father was born in and shared with his 6 siblings (seriously that's two rooms not two bedrooms!!). I had climbed the narrow rickety stairs where my father had been pushed down as a baby by his loving older brother (glad my brothers weren't this loving!).  But this time I needed to see more.

A little OTT?
Facades of Lecce

Lecce was the first stop on our tour of the heel of Italy. I had read that Lecce was the 'Florence of the South', I wasn't sure what that meant but I was hoping it was going to be special. I wasn't disappointed. This Baroque old town is stunning. Every building is made out of what is known as 'Lecce stone' a type of limestone which is soft and easily carved thus explaining the over the top facades on some of the churches, museums & basilicas. The town centre has a sandy glow about it and the best way to explore it is by bike. Which is exactly what we did after checking in to our hotel.

There seemed to be a lack of tourists when we visited (although we did see a hideous mini train ride for the tourists?) and it seems that this part of Southern Italy still make good use of the traditional siesta. As we rode around exploring the old town we saw maybe a handful of other people. I was beginning to get concerned. Was this area 'out of bounds'? Was it a public holiday? Had the whole town contracted some type of disease and all died? A little dramatic? Sure, it's the Leo in me! But as soon as the clock ticked towards 7pm the streets started to fill up and within an hour we had to get off our bikes and walk as it was impossible to ride through them due to the pedestrian speed humps. Ahh an old fashioned local passigata (the walk to be seen not actually for the exercise), I had forgotten that when you visit the smaller cities and those not just for the tourists you can actually watch the town come to life right before your eyes.

All this riding and worrying about cities wiped out by alien diseases had made us a little peckish. We stumbled across Mamma Elvira an enoteca just off the main street, a fabulous wine bar stocking local wines, beers and snacks. We enjoyed a gorgeous array of local meats and of course the much heralded burrata, a typical cheese from Puglia which has an outer layer of mozzarella then is filled with oozy cream and mozzarella. All with a side of taralli, local savoury cracker seasoned with fennel seeds. Heaven.

Otranto with jade colour water
Two towns we explored from Lecce were the gorgeous Ostuni, known as the white town and Otranto, a beautiful beach resort town which was a welcome visit in the middle of a hot day. Otranto was a great spot for swimming whilst Ostuni was a great spot for exploring. Ostuni looks like a mirage in the middle of the dry Pugliese landscape. Peeking up over the gigantic pillars of olive trees was a whole town so white that one needed sun glasses from the glare.  It's very 'Greek Islands' but at the same time brings you back to the hilltop villages that are dotted throughout the countryside in Northern Italy. When you walk through the town to the outer walls you realise the view stretches all the way over the olive groves to the shimmering aqua coast and no doubt was built to keep an eye out for unwanted visitors. This little town has an abundance of shoes selling locally made sandals. Very well priced, I unfortunately was having one of those 'I can't decide, I'll get them in the next town' days. A day that I now would rather not think about (as she sadly looks at her sandal bare cupboard).

So we've established that I love Puglia, taralli, burrata and now for the other thing I love about this region... trullis. I have been dying to see one ever since my last extensive trip to Italy (6 years earlier), these cylinder shaped houses are made out of white limestone and the grey roof is cone shaped with a stone peak. No one really knows why these houses were made like this, though it is thought that the inhabitants would pack them down when the tax man visited, then put them back up when he left to avoid paying taxes (I love this story as I could imagine my dad's ancestors being this tight, so I'm sticking with it). These trullis are dotted throughout the countryside in Puglia but are mainly condensed to the town of Alberobello. The best way to get here is to travel along the Strada dei Trulli where you can see the trulli sprinkled throughout the countryside in their natural environment. Even the church in Alberobello is a trulli!

Next stop was the area known as the 'Gargano Promontory' where we stayed a night in Trani, a beautiful port town which boasts itself as a 'Slow city' (a town where you're encouraged to take the time to smell the roses, so to speak). A picturesque stop-over with some great restaurants and bars along the waterfront, I was keen to try the Slow food restaurant Le Lampare al Fortino but it was closed. Further along the coast we stopped in to Vieste and enjoyed a gorgeous carb loaded lunch at Il Capriccio (Turk picked the restaurant after consulting Trip advisor and what a magnificent find it was). Situated on the water front at the marina our seafood laden pastas were delicious. Mine was an orrechetti (of course!) with pumpkin flowers, mussels and anchovy crumb whilst Turk enjoyed a fresh calamari, pine nuts and basil spaghetti.

Just like mum makes!
We decided to stay just near Vieste at one of the resorts. Given the amount of carbs and wine I'd just consumed, my Italian and reading skills were not at their sharpest. I made the rookie mistake of assuming that the price I was given by the lovely lady at reception were for the room and not per person. Every where else in Italy had always given us the room rate not the per person rate. I had forgotten that this place was offering half and full board so naturally it was per person. Of course it wasn't until after making use of their private beach with the gorgeous views along the jagged cliff of the prom and enjoying a three course dinner that included  delicious stuffed mussels that my mother makes, I realised my mistake. It was too late. I admitted my error of blowing out our budget to Turk who naturally wanted to discuss punishment. Apparently sleeping outside of the soon to be picked up wicked van with only three items of clothing, and socks counted as two pieces, was the one that most suited this crime (I'm happy to report he didn't enforce it!).  

Our time in Puglia made us realise that we love the small towns with more local experiences, we love the towns that are off the tourist track and we love the towns that are considered 'Slow towns' because we like stopping and smelling the taralli, burrata and Trulli.

Puglia, I will always love you.

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