Vacation rentals in Italy (villas, farms, estates, agriturismo, apartments)
Puglia and Matera in 10 days
Puglia is a region in southern Italy, at the "heel" of the boot. Puglia is sometimes called "Apulia". We visited Puglia in the last half of January 2005. The region is very large and we did not manage to see all we wanted, even though we skipped the seaside resorts (e.g. Gargano area) as they would have been deserted in the winter.
On our way back we drove into Basilicata, the region located at the instep of Italy's boot. There we made a stopover in Matera, which is a UNESCO world heritage site because of the extraordinary cave dwellings, called the "Sassi".
The landscape of Puglia is fantastic, very green at that time of the year. Mostly flatland or low rolling hills with literally millions of century old olive trees carpeting the land as far as the eye can see. Properties are fenced by dry stone walls. There is not a stone below the olive trees. It looks like the farmers have been collecting every single fragment of the yellow-red material for centuries to construct a gigantic labyrinth of walls that dissect the landscape in every direction.
The best known areas for a first visit to Puglia are:
Map of the Puglia Coast
The towns we visited are truly ancient, mostly early medieval, with the exception of Baroque Lecce and Martina Franca. The historical cities are very well kept, generally safe, pleasant to walk around and basic services are available everywhere (restaurants, supermarkets, internet cafe's, banks) may be a little less in the small villages of Salento (they do not have ADSL - fast internet connections - yet).
The coast line to the north (the Gargano peninsula) and to the south (beyond Lecce down to Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca) is very attractive. The Valle d'Itria, inland, offers the best rural landscape, dotted by "trulli", cylindrical buildings with conical roofs often adorned with painted symbols.
What to Eat
The food is very good in Puglia. We had one meal per day in simple trattorie (restaurants), where we could have a large home-style dinner for 15 to 20 euro per person.
We often ordered only one portion of the antipasto misto (mixed appetizer), as that was more than enough for two. The classical antipasto misto consisted of grilled, stuffed and/or fried vegetables, some cheese like the famed Burrata, a little seafood salad may be a few slices of local salami or a piece of quiche.
The homemade pasta is lovely. The ear-shaped orecchiette is often fresh and served with tomato sauce or broccoli rabe and garlic (orecchiette con le cime di rapa). Cavatelli is a rounder variant of the orecchiette and they are delicious with seafood or with the local mushrooms, cardoncelli. The omni-present fave e cicoria, a broad bean puree served with blanched chicory, is filling but light at the same time, a healthy alternative to a pasta or meat course.
Lots of grilled meats are available as second course, often accompanied by blanched vegetables (broccoli or chicory tossed in olive oil). We tried also the traditional involtini al sugo, rolls of meat stuffed with cheese and garlic and slowly braised in tomato sauce.
This was the itinerary we planned for our January 2005 trip. We live in Umbria and drove down to Puglia. This is a good itinerary but it would need more days and better weather than what we had. Even though Puglia has a mild climate, winter days can be very cold because of the strong winds.
On this page, I have listed several towns in Puglia. I have given some description and listed some accommodation and restaurants. I have marked with an asterisk the towns which we visited, the hotels we stayed in and the restaurants we ate at.
I have also included some information on places we did not visit. Places where we did not visit but I have contacted the owners are marked with a (V), meaning that prices and address are verified. For accommodations, please keep in mind that the prices I have listed are for January, so certainly the cheapest in the year.
This is by no means comprehensive of the many attractions of the region. Opening hours have not been verified, so they have to be taken as an indication.
Places to see in alphabetical order
Alberobello is the best known village of the Valle d'Itria because the buildings are mostly trulli, 1500 of them. It is very touristy, dotted with tacky souvenir shops and signs in Japanese. It is worth going to only because the drive through the area is fantastic. Leaving from Cisternino in the morning, we first went to Alberobello through Locorotondo. After visiting the village, we followed signs back to Locorotondo, and turned right following a white sign pointing to Agriturismo Green Park. That's one of the most panoramic and rather deserted roads of the Valle d'Itria. It's narrow and fenced in by stone walls almost all the way but easy to drive. Follow signs to Agriturismo Green Park and as soon as you see them, follow signs for Martina Franca. On the East side of the valley, the road from Ostuni to Locorotondo is also quite spectacular.
In Alberobello, visit the trullo sovrano (sovereign trullo) at Piazza Sacramento in Alberobello. The 15m (50 ft.) structure, the only true two-story trullo, was built during the 16th century as headquarters for a religious confraternity and became later the private house of a rich family. The trullo sovrano is open daily from 10am to 1pm and 3 to 7pm, charging 1.50 euro per person, which includes an interesting short guided tour.
Hotel dei Trulli, Via Cadore 28, tel:+39-080-932-3555, fax:+39-080-932-3560, Book thru Venere
Hotel Lanzillotta, 31, Piazza Ferdinando IV, tel:+39-080-4321511
Trullidea Case Vacanze: www.trullidea.it
The first town worth a stop after the Gargano, Barletta has a Romanesque cathedral that is greatly overshadowed by the town's most famous monument, a 5 meter tall Colossus statue cast in the 4th century. A relic of the sack of Constantinople by the Venetians (along with the four bronze horses that now top St. Mark's Basilica), its identity is still a mystery.
Castel del Monte
The extraordinary 13th-century Castel del Monte, is one of the finest existing examples of Swabian architecture. Frederick II's favorite hunting lodge, it is an octagonal stone castle with eight towers and eight trapezoidal rooms on each floor. Stunningly geometric and purely Gothic, it dominates a lonely valley outside of Andria. Open Monday - Saturday, 8:30am - 7pm from April to September and 9am - 2pm the rest of the year.
This is a small town, home to a series of caverns that have been carved out over the centuries by water streaming through the rocky soil. A wide stairway leads you down through a tunnel into the largest of the cavern labyrinth called the Grave. From here, a series of paths winds for over a kilometer through other underground rooms filled with fascinating shapes of stalagmites and stalactites. The journey into the earth ends with the majestic Grotta Bianca.
You can visit the Grotte di Castellana only on guided tours, usually one per hour until early afternoon, at 8 euro to 13 euro; tel: +39-080-4998211 for a schedule. Bring a sweater because the average underground temperature is 59 F (15 C), all year long.
(V) Agriturismo Montepaolo, Contrada Montepaolo 2, Conversano, tel:+39-080-4955087,
This village is mentioned in several guides and websites only because of this restaurant.
Al Fornello da Ricci, Contrada Montevicoli, tel:+39-0831-377-104
Recently declared one of the most beautiful villages of Italy by the National Association of Italian Municipalities (www.borghitalia.it), Cisternino has a tiny historical center of whitewashed houses. Conveniently located between Ostuni and Locorotondo, the village makes an ideal base to explore the Valle d'Itria.
*B&B Masseria Marangiulo, Contrada Marangiulo, tel:+39-080-444-8722, www.masseriamarangiulo.it
*Ristorante Pizzeria Da Tonia, Via Locorotondo, tel:+39-080-444-8301
Macelleria Demola Vincenzo and Arrosteria del Vicoletto,
Via Giulio II, tel:+39-080-444-8063
Gallipoli is a picturesque fishing port, a medieval town reached by crossing an ancient bridge.
(V) Bed & Breakfast Sosta a Levante, Viale Panorama 37, Matino,
tel/fax:+39-0833-507149, www.bebsostaalevante.com, Book thru Venere
Gravina in Puglia
A Castle town built on the edge of a deep ravine. Of interest are the cave churches of San Michele dei Gratti and the Madonna della Stella in the archeological area of Botromagno.
Osteria di Salvatore Cucco
An ancient Albanian settlement and the centre of Puglia's earthenware production since the 10th century.
If you have the opportunity to visit this lovely city, you cannot fail to be impressed by the exuberant decorations on its facades. The local honey-colored sandstone is so soft to work with that the local artisans created in the past a local Baroque style (barocco leccese) as ornate and intricate as some of the spectacular work seen in Noto and other locations in Sicily. The better known and more flamboyant of the local architects Antonio Zimbalo, also called the Zingarello (gypsy), crowded the facades built under his supervision with bizarre cherubs, monsters, flowers, fruits, beauties, and beasts.
Start your visit at Piazza Sant'Oronzo, site of the most important local Roman ruins, a 25,000-seat amphitheatre from the 1st century BC and a column which originally stood in Brindisi to mark the end of the Appian Way. St. Oronzo, for whom the square is named, now stands atop the column guarding the area.
From the piazza, walk through Via Umberto I to the Basilica di Santa Croce. This ornate display of Leccese baroque architecture took almost 1 1/2 centuries to complete. While it had been started in the mid-15th century, it was not completed until 1680. The top part of the facade is a classical example of Antonio Zimbalo's work, decorated with a mix of pagan references and Christian symbols, including dragons, cherubs, winged Harpies, and pot-bellied mermaids. Atop one column is an ancient symbol of Christ's Passion, a mother pelican pecking at her breast, the blood flowing down to feed her fledglings. In stark contrast with the outside "stone population", the interior is laid out in a simple and austere Renaissance style.
Adjacent to the church is the richly ornated Palazzo del Governo (Town Hall). On the other side of the church is the Celestine monastery, which is far more restrained.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele I and Via Palmieri are the two main streets of Lecce's city centre, where most of the other monuments are concentrated. Down Via Vittorio Emanuele, the Duomo stands in one of the loveliest piazza of Italy. Curiously, the Cathedral has two facades. On the opposite side of the cathedral is the Bishop's Palace (Palazzo Vescovile) and the Seminary, built between 1694 and 1709 by Giuseppe Cino, a student of Zimbalo. Make sure to go to see the delightful baroque well, in the seminary's courtyard (admission 1.50 euro).
Stroll down Via Palmieri, stopping to watch artisans working on paper mache or on the local sandstone in their shops. Eventually you will reach Piazza Falconieri, dominated by the splendid Palazzo Marrese, whose portal is flanked by two caryatids and whose balcony rests on gloriously carved shelves.
*Centro Storico B&B, Via A. Vignes 2b, tel:+39-0832-242727, www.bedandbreakfast.lecce.it, Book thru Venere
(V) Bed & Breakfast Prestige, Via Santa Maria del Paradiso 4, Book thru Venere
Cameracaffe, Via Papatodero, 27 (Angolo Piazza Partigiani), tel/fax:+39-083-245-8200, Book thru Venere
(V) Setur B&B, Viale O. Quarta, 21, tel:+39-0832-309797, fax:+39-0832-309770
(V) Bed & Breakfast Villa Diana, Strada Provinciale Merine-Lizzanello
1, www.villadiana-beb.it, Book thru Venere
Bed & Breakfast Cavallino, Piazza Virgilio Marone 8, Book thru Venere
Hotel Delle Palme, tel:+39-0832-347171, www.hoteldellepalmelecce.it
Hotel Risorgimento, Via Augusto Imperatore 19, tel:+39-0832-42125,
Hotel Orsa Maggiore, Litoranea per Santa Cesarea 303, Castro Marina,
Hotel Panoramico, Via Panoramica, Castro, tel:+39-0836-943007
*Alle Due Corti, Lecce, Corte dei Giugni 1, tel:+39-0832-242-223
(V) Trattoria Cucina Casareccia, 19 Via Colonnello Costadura, tel:+39-0832-245-178
Villa della Monica, Via S.S. Giacomo e Filippo 40, closed Tuesday
*Panetteria Valentina, Via Petronelli 3
Salumeria, Via Fazzi, near Piazza Sant'Oronzo
*Il Fornaio, Piazza Sant'Oronzo 23, www.salentostore.it
*Automat Service, Via San Lazzaro 15
Locorotondo is nicknamed "the balcony on the Valle d'Itria" because of its spectacular valley views. This small village of concentric streets lined with whitewashed buildings is well known within Italy for its wines. Primitivo and Salice Salentino are rich and complex robust wines, costing a fraction of the better known Tuscan wines of similar quality.
Trattoria Centro Storico, Via Eroi di Dogali 6, tel:+39-080-431-5473
A lovely little town scattered with Baroque palaces and endowed with one of the most romantic piazzas in this side of Italy.
(V) Villaggo e Ristorante In, Via Arco Grassi 8, www.villaggioin.it
*Ristorante ai Portici, 6 Piazza Maria Immacolata, tel:+39-080-480-1702
An atmospheric old town on the sea with remnants of its Venetian past.
B&B Onofrio Contento, contrada Cristo delle zolle 227, tel:+39-080-777472, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ostuni, known as the White City, is definitely one of the most stunning towns of Southern Italy. Clinging onto three hills at the edge of Le Murge, the old centre is a spiral of whitewashed houses with dramatic views towards a sea of olive trees and farther away the blue Mediterranean. For the beach, the natural reserve of Torre Guaceto is not far away.
Osteria del Tempo Perso
(V) Agriturismo Masseria Salinola,
l’Ospitalità in Puglia c.da Salinola - Strada SP 29 per San Michele Salentino 1,5 Km 72017 Ostuni (Brindisi). tel/fax 0039 0831 308330, email: email@example.com
75 euro for the triple room.
An ancient coastal town famous for the mosaic floor of its cathedral, a phantasmagoria of fantastical creatures: elephants, peacocks, mermaids, cats with human feet, centaurs, and a horse's body with three human heads.
Ristorante Da Sergio, Corso Garibaldi 9, tel:+39-0836-801-408
(V) B&B Antico Camino, Via Tripoli 35, Muro Leccese, tel:+39-0836-343023, www.anticocamino.it
Polignano a Mare
A small port with a tiny medieval centre on the edge of the limestone cliffs. Try the caffe-nocciola gelato at the Super Mago del Gelo ice cream shop.
Another small seaside resort.
Hotel Lo scoglio, Piazza N. Sauro, Porto Cesareo, tel:+39-0833-569079
*Santa Maria di Leuca
The only reason to go there is to see the place that was formerly named the end of the world as this is the southeastern tip of Italy and nothing else was known beyond this landmark in ancient times. It's a small village with a nice marina and few bars and restaurants completely shut off in the winter when it was only populated by windsurfers
Comparisons between historical towns in different regions of Italy are not very meaningful , however if Lecce is to be called the Florence of the South, certainly Trani could be named the Gubbio of Puglia. An immaculate medieval town with an attractive fishing port, lovely medieval quarters and, literally perched at the edge of the water, one of the most spectacular cathedrals of Italy, dedicated to San Nicola Pellegrino.
We stayed two nights at B&B Centro Storico. The building is stunning, but we were unhappy with the service so we do not recommend it.
*Trattoria da Miana, Via Sinagoga, 54, tel:+39-0883-589794
The mixed appetizer consisted of 8 different warm entries, the pasta was fresh and fragrant, the sweets delicate but unpretentious. All for 30 euro per person including also a cup of Moscato, coffee and 1/2 liter local red. Very highly recommended.
Vieste e the Gargano
Vieste, with its excellent beaches, is the holiday capital of Gargano. If you're here in summer, visit the Gargano on weekdays to avoid the crowds; the towns of Rodi Garganico, Peschici or Mattinata might be fractionally less crowded, except in August when all Italians are on the seaside.
From Rodi Garganico begins one of the most spectacular Italian roads, the coastal route around the Gargano promontory. As you drive up to heights of 1000 mt, to your right will be the Foresta Umbra (Shady Forest), a natural reserve harboring ancient pine, oak, beech, chestnuts and thousands of other species of plants. To your left will be one of the most pristine stretches of the Adriatic Sea, lined with crystal-clear waters, gleaming white beaches, and many trabucchi, rustic fishermen's taverns serving freshly-caught fish. Heading east, stop in Siponto to see the 11th-century church of Santa Maria, situated in a quiet pine grove surrounded by Roman ruins. Continue east, past Manfredonia, embarkation point for the Crusaders, and on to Monte Sant'Angelo, one of Europe's oldest and most revered Christian shrines. On the road from Peschici to San Menaio, you'll will admire Lo Zappino dello Scorzone, Italy's tallest Aleppo pine. Seven hundred years old, it measures several meters around at the base.
As a day trip inland from the Gargano, drive to Lucera, dominated by Frederick's massive Fortezza Angioina, a pentagonal castle with 24 defense towers studding its half km of perimeter walls. The simple Gothic cathedral is one of the few intact examples of Angevin architecture in Italy, and the amphitheater, dating from the 1st century BC, is among the oldest Roman ones in existence. Troia, only 25 km away, has a fine cathedral, combining classic Romanesque architecture with detailed Oriental carvings.
Hotel del Seggio, v. Vesta 7, Vieste,
tel:+39-0884-708123, 0884-708124, fax:+39-0884-708727, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hotel La Bufalara, Via Uria, Isola Verano, Ischitella, tel:+39-0884-97037,
Hotel Apeneste, Piazza Turati 3, Mattinata, tel:+39-0884-4743, fax:+39-0884-4341
Matera: The Cave City
Visiting Matera is a unique experience. For millennia, people of this area has carved dwellings directly into ravines and gullies made of tufa, the characteristic honey-colored soft stone. Most cave cities are in Puglia, including Ginosa, Massafra, and Muttola. But Matera, the most dramatic, lies 20 km across the border in Basilicata, the instep of Italy's boot. Up to the 1950s people lived without electricity or running water in the cave-homes in Matera. Some had constructed front-room facades onto their cave entrances, but despite the squared-off front rooms, the homes inside were true caverns. Between the '50 and '60, the population was relocated en masse by the government to a modern town on a plateau, just above the ravines. The old town became known as I Sassi, "the Stones".
Most of the houses are excavated on two ravines and are named the Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso, the more rugged and untouched of the two. Visitors might spend an entire day wandering the Caveoso, getting lost in the maze of alleys, stairs, dead ends, and courtyards. Certainly the people of the Sassi needed much help form the sky, as every few cave-houses there is a cave-church. The rock-hewn churches are very ancient, often Byzantine. Santa Lucia alle Malve has frescoes of the 10th century. Santa Maria de Idris is carved into a huge rock pinnacle overhanging from the lip of a gorge.
We stayed one nights at B&B Domus del Barisano. Again a fabulous building with bad service.
(V) Hotel Sassi, Via S. Giovanni Vecchio 89, tel:+39-0835-331-009, www.hotelsassi.it
www.bed-and-breakfast.it: List of accommoations in Matera
Il Terrazzino, Vico S. Giuseppe 7, tel:+39-08353341149
Termoli is in Molise and we made a stopover there as it is half way between Assisi and Puglia. We were attracted by some good looking pictures in a glossy magazine and were badly disappointed. Expect a concrete laden lungomare with dispiriting block shaped hotels and a run down town.
Hotel Garim, Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo 132, tel:+39 0875 708242
Thanks are due to the following sources of information: Slowtrav.com and Slowtalk.com, Newsweek Budget Travel, Venere.com, Tripadvisor.com, Initaly.com, The Rough Guide, Viaggiare bene del Gambero Rosso, The Touring Club Guide to Farmhouse Inns, Conde Nast Traveller magazine
Letizia owns the Agriturismo Alla Madonna del Piatto, near Assisi. www.incampagna.com
© Letizia Mattiacci, 2005
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