Posted by Tony Flanagan on 6th Sep 2019 -- Read Time: 4 minutes
Puglia’s particular charm
I love Italy: its culture, its climate, its scenery and of course, its cuisine. So, it’s always a pleasure for me to explore an area of Italy that I’ve not been to before, and in this case, Puglia certainly did not disappoint. Looking at Italy’s boot-like shape, Puglia is located in the ‘heel’ and is a very rural and unspoilt area, laced with dusty country roads and blessed with miles of glorious coastline. Idyllic villages are scattered along the shore of the Adriatic, and hilltop towns spiral out of the landscape like jewels on a crown. However, one of the most captivating features of Puglia is its singularity: when you’re in the region, it's so unique that you know that you couldn’t be anywhere else.
A unique spirit
Historically, the traditional dwellings in Puglia are the trulli: remarkable conical huts, built from limestone using a drywall technique and topped with a pointy roof. The richest collection of these uniquely Puglian buildings that remains today can be found in the charming town of Alberobello, where the oldest of the houses date back to the 1300s. We visited the ancient heart of the town, exploring the quaint streets and climbing some steps to admire a panoramic view of the old quarter, Rione Monti. The view of these quirky huts spread against a backdrop of rolling hillside was truly inspiring (or should I say, trulli inspiring…) as it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Built in the same simple style, the white curves and pointy roofs of the Parrocchia Sant’Antonio church were striking, and the inside was beautifully calm.
Our next visit took the concept of ‘ancient’ to a whole new level. The Castellana Caves were formed over 90 million years ago, and exploring this subterranean natural wonder made a fascinating change from the human-built structures above ground. Our informative guide introduced us to stalactites, stalagmites and grottos that took my breath away.
My favourite location of the trip, though, was Locorotondo which was quiet and stunning. Known as a borgo più bella d'Italia – that is, certified as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy – Locorotondo is named for its round centre, and perches prettily at the top of a hill. I felt that I could spend hours simply wandering the winding streets of the old town, lost in time.
Food, glorious food
Another aspect that defines Puglia is its delicious food. Two very typical dishes of the region that I particularly enjoyed are orecchiette and puccia. Named for its shape like a little ear, orecchiette is a pasta often served with plump, juicy vine tomatoes ripened in the sun and sharp, creamy ricotta forte. Tasty puccia is a kind of flatbread sandwich – made of pizza dough and stuffed with meats, cheeses and vegetables, it was really yummy.
A highlight of the trip for me was the wonderful lunch we had in the coastal town of Monopoli, a lovely town dominated by its 17th century bell tower. Our handpicked trattoria served us some fantastic seafood accompanied by crisp, locally produced white wine. We did have a bit of a hairy moment on our way to this lunch, though – whilst driving in to Monopoli, we took a wrong turn on to a pretty, pedestrianised area that was restricted to traffic, bringing beads of sweat to my panicking brow! We quickly withdrew to a car park on the outskirts of town. Thank goodness our groups have professional coach drivers with local knowledge…
A distinctive hotel in a distinctive region
The Grand Hotel La Chiusa di Chietri is a true gem (and a bit of a tongue-twister!), which really adds to the enjoyment of this region. Situated just 5km away from Alberobello, the hotel sits amongst glorious countryside and is surrounded by flourishing olive groves. Sprawling and spacious, this relaxing hotel has a delightful outdoor pool, plenty of seating areas both indoors and out, a wonderful atmosphere and a selection of trulli dotted around the extensive grounds.
This was my first visit to Puglia, but it certainly won’t be my last. Puglia has all the pleasures of Italy’s history and culture, but with its own unique twist. Quiet and ancient, it is a place of simple pleasures – motorways are limited in this region and it was lovely to drive along roads with little traffic and admire the views. I loved the innocence of the area, and I suggest groups visit there before that is lost.