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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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.