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.
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.
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.
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.
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.