Hello everyone! I’m so sorry it’s been so long since I actually WROTE a whole article on my blog. The thing is, my current plan at the time was limiting my photo uploads, and I really can’t write anything without sharing my photos. I love writing, but sharing my shots is my real joy. I’m no pro, but my travelling photos do really make any trip worth while. Anyway, I’ve now upgraded (been long coming), and can upload more photos, so I’m going to write about one of my all time favourite travel destinations… You’ve guess it… ITALY! Very Maltese of me isn’t it?? I mean, if you ask any random Maltese person on the street which their favourite travel destination is you’re likely to get one of two answers… The ever classic “Londra hi, għal shopping!!” (that is “London, for the shopping!!” Yes, us Maltese have a guilty, guilty pleasure… Oxford Street… Specifically the Primark zone…). The other half of the population will quickly quip in “Italia hux!” (Italy, of course!!!) Who can blame the latter… Gorgeous sites, an impeccable history, great weather (most of the time), and delicious food!! Southern Italy (most often Sicily) is especially loved by the Maltese. It feels like home I guess; and even though I love visiting exotic and different new locations, good old bella Italia keeps pulling at my heart strings, willing me to visit her time and time again.
Last October I had the opportunity of visiting the Apulia region (Puglia to us Mediterraneans) with a few friends of mine. This region is teeming with gorgeous places to visit, great authentic Italian eateries, and just a hell of a lot of magnificent scenes to take in. It’s just beautiful… Seriously… It’s the home of the cutest village in the world, Alberobello, the ornate and very Baroque Lecce, the whitewashed Ostuni and magically picturesque Polignano a Mare, amongst so many others. We only had a few days there so we had to make the most of our time, and whilst Puglia in itself is an absolutely amazing region, the highlight of the trip for me was actually driving to the region of Basilicata to see Matera. I remember seeing Matera for the first time about five years ago online and I couldn’t stop thinking about the place ever since. It’s so unique and majestic, sitting atop its rocky hill, with its sassi and rock churches and a jumble of building atop building, making for a hodge podge of life and colour and warmth. I could go on and on about it…
Anyway so Puglia in about four days, with a side trip to Matera isn’t easy… But it is doable!
First things first… If you are visiting Puglia from Malta. Just get a flight with Ryanair! They fly Malta – Bari three times weekly, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. So even if you don’t have five days to see the region, just take a short weekend break and travel Friday on to Sunday! Flights are generally pretty cheap as Bari is quite close to the island, so you’re sure to find a good bargain if you play around with your dates! I actually bought my ticket for about €40.00 (including return and a shared luggage with my partner)… Not bad huh!!!
Second point to make. You need to hire a car… I would say this is important, although not essential. There are bus services and trains, which are pretty efficient, but driving around the region really does add to the overall Italian experience. Plus it’s much more flexible than using public transport because you can work out your own itinerary times etc., making it easier to see more in a little bit of time.
Third vital component… Accommodation… Now if you want the AUTHENTIC Puglia experience, you simply MUST stay in a trullo! And here is where I highly suggest contacting the wonderful guys at Puglia Paradise to book your own rustic (or not so rustic in some cases) abode for the trip. It really is worth it! After travelling all over the region during the day, getting back ‘home’ to your own little slice of paradise is what really puts the proverbial cherry on the cake… Just imagine it… Lighting a fire in an authentic wood fireplace… Pouring a glass of Primitivo, engulfing a whole platter of antipasti and cheese you bought from the food market earlier, then finally falling asleep under your own little trullo roof. Perfection. ❤ We stayed in the gorgeous Trullo Badessa and loved every second of it. It was in a quiet area between the villages of Alberobella and Martina Franca, with nature all around. The place was beautifully finished with underfloor heating, an amazing outdoor area (with a pool!), the cutest bedrooms ever (with original tiling and of course, the trullo roof), a fully equipped kitchen (dishwasher and all) and a cute neighbourhood kitten who decided to share our accomodation for the next few days! Every bit of the place was oozing rustic charm!
As I said, we stayed in Puglia for about four days. We arrived on the 18th October and had to leave on the 22nd, which actually sums up to five days; but of course, the first and last days have to be treated as half days, since we were travelling to and from Italy on the 18th and 22nd. This is how I split up our itinerary:
Arrival in Bari and pick up of rental car. The drive to our little trullo house took about an hour. Our lovely host, Massimo from Puglia Paradise was waiting for us on site, with a welcome pack and information about the property at hand. After looking at our wonderful temporary home, off we went to explore! We didn’t have much daylight left so we visited the closest village to the property – the lovely little Martina Franca! The old quarter of the village is full of winding little alleys, ornate ironwork balconies and bright white houses. A pretty little piazza marks the centre of the village; flanked by graceful baroque buildings and quaint eateries. A stroll around the place, and a glass of wine in the picturesque square was just what we needed after a day travelling.
Off we go to the famous and oh so pretty Alberobello!!! This village is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its gorgeous little white trulli. The zona dei trulli on the westernmost of the town’s two hills is a dense mass of 1500 beehive-shaped houses, white-tipped as if dusted by a layer of snow. We spent the morning strolling around the area, visiting the local market (which is coincidentally open Thursday mornings) and exploring the little white trulli. Most of the little white houses are actually gift shops nowadays, all patrons invite you in to have a look at the view of the town from the roof balcony. Make sure to sample the local liqueurs while you’re there. All the shops sell them in little trullo-shaped glass bottles. They make great souvenirs and are delicious! I especially liked the ones made of pistachio and cactus leaves!
If you want to have a truly authentic Apulia dining experience, look no further than Ristorante La Cantina!! This quaint little restaurant is exactly what its name implies; a little underground cellar with an open kitchen and only about five of six tables. The atmosphere is cosy and inviting, with the staff being very friendly and welcoming. The food – one word – AMAZING. All ingredients used in their menu are locally grown/produced. Because of this the menu is quite small, with daily specials featuring ingredients currently in season. All the food was delectable (you simple must try the antipasti platter), the service on point, the wine perfection. Just what a hungry traveller needs after a morning exploring! Make sure to call in advance to reserve a table. The place is small and very popular with tourists as well as locals, so if you don’t make a reservation you might not get a table!
In the afternoon we decided to visit the Grotte di Castellana, just a few kilometers away from Alberobello. These caves are magnificent! Entry is only available via paid tour, which costs €16.00 and lasts around an hour and a half and winds along a distance of 3km, more than 60 meters deep underground. The caves are about 90 million years old and a magnificent natural wonder! Definitely worth a visit.
Bellissima Matera!!! About an hour’s drive away from our accommodation, we headed out early to make the most of our day. I was so excited about visiting this majestic city and it surely did not disappoint! The city itself looks like it just popped out of a fairytale book. Sitting on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by lush green valleys and hills; a jumble of fascinating yellow limestone buildings sitting atop one another. The sassi and rock churches just add to the uniqueness of it all! It may in fact be the third longest continuously inhabited human settlement in the world! The natural caves in the area’s tufa limestone attracted the first inhabitants perhaps 7000 years ago. More elaborate structures were built atop them with the passing centuries. Today, looking across the gorge to Matera’s huddled sassi it seems you’ve been transported back to the ancient world. The sassi, most of which are tiny one room caves, once contained such poverty and unthinkable living conditions that in the 1950s Matera was actually denounced as the ‘Shame of Italy’! Far from the case now. This magnificent city is today celebrated as the jewel of Basilicata, and is due to be Europe’s city of culture in 2019! You could easily spend days exploring Matera and its surroundings… Unfortunately, we only had one day, so we had to make do.
A little break from the exploring took us to La Finestra sui Sassi (delicious pizza and pasta options) where we enjoyed a lovely lunch with the best views of the city before continuing with our meandering.
On our way back we decided to take a little detour to visit the little seaside village of Polignano a Mare, home of the famous Grotta Palazzese Restaurant, a great place to spend a romantic evening with your significant other… Not such a good idea with a rowdy group of friends so we decided to pass, this time around ;). This village is such a pleasure to see. It’s very small so you don’t need much time to see it all, although I would definitely revisit if I had to go back to Puglia, just to spend a lazy morning wandering through the idyllic white alleys and enjoying those gorgeous sea views!
Our final full day in Puglia was spent in the beautiful historical town of Lecce; also known as the Baroque masterpiece of Southern Italy. It’s located about an hour and a half drive away from Trullo Badessa, so once again, we were up and out by 8:30AM. The city in itself is fairly compact and easily explored by foot. It’s chock full of ornate palazzos and churches; the town’s great artistic treasure being its rich architecture. Start your exploration of Lecce by finding your way to Piazza del Duomo. The town has a fairly unusual interpretation of the familiar Italian cathedral square because in Lecce, the cathedral in fact sits in a corner of the theatrical piazza, alongside a high campanile. There are loads of points of interest and museums to see here, but of course, the cathedral and its underlying crypt should be very high on the list, along with the campanile, as well as the ancient Roman Amphitheatre and Piazza Sant’Oronzo.
*** Foodie Alert***
Yet another eatery to sample the delicious local food and wine is Volo Restaurant. Combining classic and modern design, this restaurant is just a great place to have a quiet lunch after exploring the sunny streets of Lecce all morning. Providing a traditional Italian menu along with a delicious selection of wines, everyone is sure to find something to suit his/her culinary needs.
Ostuni was an obvious detour on our way back to our temporary home. This white, hilltop town is absolutely adorable and strolling through its winding alleys is an ideal way to wile away a few hours at the end of a long day of site seeing.
Our final morning in Puglia was once again spent meandering through the quaint village of Alberobello before heading towards Bari to catch our flight back home.
So there you have it! Puglia in four days!!! Would I have spent more time there if I could? Definitely. There are so many other places I wish I’d seen: Monopoli, the elusive Castel del Monte, Salento, Gargano, Otranto, and the old town of Bari itself! So much to see, so little time!!
Well, I guess that is a good excuse to revisit, isn’t it?
Have you been to Puglia? What was your experience like?? Please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section sharing your own experiences of travelling in this beautiful region! Thanks for following and I promise to try to be more regular in my posts 😉