120 Hours in Puglia – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

One glance at Puglia, and all you can see is a sea of green. Olive groves stretch as far as the eye can see, a precursor to the cerulean beaches that embellish the rocky boundary meeting the Adriatic Sea. Here, the green scent of olives dances through the air, lending the region its characteristic charm. Waist-high wild grass accompany narrow roads, leading to sleepy hamlets and farmhouses. Puglia is a countryside haven – all food, all beach, all cobblestone towns and all Italian

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THE TOWNS

Puglia glows in the daylight, where pearly white towns rise above the olive groves. Ostuni, also known as The White City, is the fairest of them all – white cobbled streets, beige-coloured churches and a majority local attendance. While there, Sapori D’eccellenza does panini-to-go, with octopus panini being a specialty. Alberobello also gained traction for its conical-roofed houses that looked like they walked straight out of a fairytale book. Mellow afternoons are for sunbathing in Cala Porto in Polignano a Mare, where pasty buildings punctuate the beach that curves into this coastal town. In the capital city of Bari, roam the famed pasta alleys in the morning. This unmarked back street is located in Bari Vecchia, an unassuming spot where nonnas knead out orecchiette so nimbly they can rival pasta machines. 

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DAY TRIP TO BASILICATA

Less than two hours away from Puglia is Basilicata, the often overlooked wine region of Italy. Cantine del Notaio is home to the Aglianico del Vulture wines and a trip there would be accompanied by a tour to its grottoes where wines are stored for ageing. In Venosa, the stunning grounds of Cantine Re Manfredi make it worth a visit. At the centre of the wineries in Basilicata is Matera, a town of centuries-old caves and rock churches. At dusk, the warm glow emanating from the caves makes for a contemplative evening best spent with a glass of Basilicata’s finest wine. 

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THE FOOD

The eating table of Puglia is scattered all over its hamlets. Butcheries are an institution in Cisternino. At Rosticceria L’Antico Borgo, the butcher grills the meat in a down-to-earth fashion. Just salt, pepper and its juices. Bombettes are the bomb there. The meat encases provolone cheese, herbs and sometimes, salami, before being placed on the grill. Closer to the coast, seafood rolls in in abundance. Go with raw seafood here, preferably at La Tana Del Polpo in Bari. Also situated in the capital city, Mastro Ciccio needs no introduction. It’s fast food meets luxurious ingredients. The sandwiches displayed alone are visually tempting and its taste does not betray. For prim food at casual fare prices, Primi & Vini in Polignano a Mare does a standout gnocchi vongole and prawn orecchiette. 

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THE ROOMS

Bari makes for a good start off point for day trips to the Pugliese countryside. Near the old town, Palazzo Calò’s minimalist decor stands out from the surrounding old-world cobblestone alleys. While lacking a dining area, the hotel does a breakfast in bed, fitting for a morning of loafing around in your pyjamas. Doubles start at €120. 

Spend the night in a masseria, Puglia’s rendition of a farmstay. Masseria Celentano is a converted Apulian manor farm with five rooms. Other than exploring the nearby Lucera and Troia towns, you can take the masseria’s sailboat and cruise along the Gargano while seafood is freshly prepared. Doubles start at €70.

Stays at the Masseria Torre Coccaro are a sociable affair. Children get to bake panzerotti, harvest olives and bike through the country. In summer, communal tables are pulled out for dinner feasts and live Puglia music dance. Doubles start at €300.

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120 Hours in Tuscany – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

It’s a clear day in Tuscany as warm sunlight blankets a stretch of chartreuse green. Italian cypresses line the roads, curving through hilly grasslands to unending vineyards, solitary hilltop towns, and saffron-coloured farmlands. At the brink of twilight, a nonna (Italian grandmother) is calling out to her family for dinner as she brings out the feast.

Tuscany is the crown jewel of the Italian tourism scene, and many have swamped the accessible cities where the tourist buses go. Yet, there is an understated beauty that still lurks in uncharted territories that surprises at every bend of the road. 

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THE WINERIES

Many associate Tuscany to its thriving wineries – after all, the undulating countryside of well-manicured greens are a result of vineyards and wineries that have been around since the 8th century. Drinkers and non-drinkers alike wine trip through this hilly region in search of the Tuscan reds. Castello della Paneretta stands tall in the Chianti region, where you can take a tour through the castle grounds. A wine tasting there includes pairing the wines with bread, cheeses and cold cuts.

Drive through the cypress-lined path to Poggio Antico for their Brunello di Montalcino wines. If you can spare a meal in the country, head to the winery’s restaurant to feast on Tuscan flavours and uninterrupted views.

For the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, head to Azienda Agricola Poliziano. You will be taken through the vineyards and cellars before the wine tasting. 

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THE TOWNS

Pecks of old-world towns dot the hilltops – a stop at any one of these is a must, to get acquainted with the Tuscan vibe. Many speak of glorious towns like Siena, Pisa and Lucca, but it’s the unsung hero towns that give you a peek into the people’s everyday lives. A long way down south of Florence is Pienza, home to pecorino cheese. Pienza has some of the best views of the Val d’Orcia due to its high vantage point. A visit to any of the cheesemongers there will get you stocking up on a plethora of cheeses (truffle cheese, pistachio cheese, and what have you). Just a few kilometres east and west of Pienza are the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino for impromptu wine tastings at bars and more stunning views. 

Hands down, the best way to stumble into an obscure town is to drive aimlessly, not caring where you end up in. That is the spirit of exploring Tuscany – to let it surprise you. 

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THE FOOD

When it comes to Tuscan food, it has got to be meats, cheeses, olive oil, and plenty of good wine. Tuscany is one of the few regions in Italy where you can find Chianina cattle. This fabled beef is what makes a mouthwatering piece of Florentine steak. Ragus (meat based sauce) are what Tuscans pride themselves on. Ground meats are stewed for hours with tomatoes, celeries and carrots, and served spooned over homemade pappardelle sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese. For more on what to eat here, check out the eating guide

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ROOMS

The expanse of the Tuscan countryside means that there is plenty of room for country houses, which were erected during the days of old. Over time, these copious dwellings have been converted into swanky bed and breakfasts for travellers. On top of being a winery, Castello della Paneretta has a villa that can house ten to eleven people next to acres of sprawling vineyards. Never mind the sheer size of the villa or the glistening swimming pool, it’s the ambrosial meals cooked by the hosts that guests rave about. If you want to take home a recipe or two, you can always go for the cooking class. 

For those who love the city and everything abuzz, Le Tre Nonne in Florence is an affordable accommodation with antique rooms and a hearty Florentine host who’s more than happy to share with you every nook and cranny of the artistic city. 

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The Eating Guide to Matera, Italy

Italy

There’s something about Matera that makes the town an enigma; church bells ringing poetically at the crack of dawn, dusty alleys leading to houses carved into rocks, the haunting silence when the town lights up for the night. Either way, its presence draws outsiders in like a moth to a flame.

Once shut out to the outside world, Matera has been gaining traction as a tourist spot since biblical movies – and one popular film The Passion of the Christ – made the town its setting. Dig deeper into the intricate network of cave dwellings (Sassi) and you’ll see that the town is littered with trattorias and restaurants. Tourists have yet to discover Matera in full, so the food is still steeped in tradition. 

Look forward to: Sausages, lamb and salumi

Kapunto 

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Where: Via Lucana, 178, 75100 Matera MT, Italy
What: Raviolis
For: Affordable lunches

In traditional Matera, Kapunto shines bright in its modern approach to serving fresh pastas. Every morning, pastas and raviolis are handmade and laid out in all shapes and sizes. Pick the pasta that catches your eye, followed by the sauce (butter and sage, bolognese, pomodoro, rapeseed, or black chickpea and octopus cream) to go with it. If you ask the waiter, he would recommend the right sauce for your choice of ravioli. 

Il Cantuccio 

Where: Via delle Beccherie, 33, 75100 Matera MT, Italy
What: Specials of the day
For: Lucanian cuisine

Lucanian food is the bread and butter of Il Cantuccio, a small-scale restaurant holed up in a back alley. The seasonal specials are the ones to watch – minced meat ravioli with senise peppers, chickpeas with porcini mushrooms, or goat’s milk ricotta with fig. One of the restaurant owners tends the tables, and he would gladly share the origins of their seasonal ingredients from the region. 

L’Abbondanza Lucana 

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Where: Via Bruno Buozzi, 11, 75100 Matera MT, Italy
What: Pistachio pasta
For: Smart dinners

You might have to crouch a little to get past the entrance – L’Abbondanza Lucana is housed inside a cave structure. Impeccable service and an exquisite menu reimagined from traditional Lucanian cuisine are what makes this restaurant favoured for corporate dinners and fancy dates. Meals normally start with a glass of prosecco and the chef’s seasonal appetiser, before you indulge in dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. 

I Vizi degli Angeli

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Where: Via Domenico Ridola, 36, 75100 Matera MT, Italy
What: Gelato
For: An ice cream stop

If you have ever stepped onto the main square of Matera, you would have wandered into I Vizi degli Angeli after witnessing the periodic queues. Delightfully rare gelato flavours are what you’ll get at this gelato laboratory – apple and celery, pineapple, avocado and lemon, red wine, and ricotta. The gelato comes in a cup, cone, soaked in coffee syrup, or even wedged between a slice of bread. 

Trattoria I Due Sassi 

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Where: Via Ospedale Vecchio, 1, 75100 Matera MT, Italy
What: Lamb
For: Affordable dinners

Eat well and affordably at Trattoria I Due Sassi, an old-fangled trattoria that does homely Lucanian food that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. A platter of local cheeses, salumi and pickled vegetables (the best way to taste Basilicata’s produce) will set you back €12. For the best lamb, this trattoria’s version falls right off the bone.