Something you’ll see a lot of in Puglia is olive trees. Everywhere. Some really young, and some, revealed by their oversized, gnarled, and intricately twisted trunks, really really old. The oldest ones, clocking up some 3,000 years, are deemed archaeological monuments. We passed a sign saying “olivari monumentali” (monumental olives) – I guessed some of those ones were there. Anyhow, it turns out that Puglia is Italy’s biggest olive oil producer, cranking out some forty percent of the nation’s production, explaining their dominance in the landscape.
Something you’ll also see as you drive around Puglia is a multitude of towns you want to stop at or unusual buildings. “Stop the car!” I’d yell at the marito, which sometimes got a positive result, and sometimes didn’t. Oh for more time. So many more places to go back and see. This little town, from a distance, looked like some kind of Disney fortress holding a princess. Not as much close up, but I want to see what is behind those walls next time.
Once we checked out of Don Ferrante in Monopoli, we had a few hours before we were due at our masseria, Critabianca. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to detour to Grottaglie, a town renowned for it’s ceramics. The Fasano family, the best known studio, have been in operation since the 1700’s. There was plenty to like as we wandered from studio to studio, a few little things we bought home and others we bookmarked with photos – they happily ship to Australia. By the way they all shut down at 1pm for the afternoon siesta, so do come in the morning or after 5pm and stay for dinner. After a wander we headed to Cutrofiano where our beautiful farmhouse awaited (post on that coming soon!).
The next morning we headed to Grotta Zinzalusa. The photos here completely understate the magnificence of this rock formation. You can go in the cave for a wander, or hire an umbrella and chair for a day, or just lay your town on rocks and some did and jump into the sea from there.
But we were after a sandy beach and headed further to Baia dei Turchi (Bay of the Turks). You park your car and then walk a few hundred meters through thickish foliage down a narrow path, eventually emerging to a large stretch of sandy beach with a bit of wave. There are chairs and umbrellas for hire, but a large public stretch if you prefer not to. Beautifully clean and very enjoyable.
That night we headed to the nearby small town of Galatina. Like almost every Italian town, there is a piazza of sorts. This one has some pretty greenery and lots of benches, where armies of Nonnos were gathered for a post siesta chat. I came here to try the pasticciotti at Pasticceria Ascalone, the supposed inventor of the treasured Puglian sweet, back in the 1700’s. And the pasticceria has been owned by the same family all this time, handed down generation after generation. And it was a damn fine pasticciotto, but my favourite was still the one at the Gran Forno Santa Caterina.
We asked the lady behind the counter where we could head for a pizza, and she sent us to a place nearby called Goji. I was a little dubious with a name like that, but it was great food with an even better ebullient owner who made us feel so welcome. The Small People demolished everything. There were also some expert dough throwing skills on display.
One night we went for a wander in the town of Nardo’, where we ate at a pleasant trattoria who’s name escapes me (and there was a great gelato shop and pasticceria nearby too). Here I had to have orecchiette with cime di rapa (chicory), a signature dish of the region. But this one came with some beautiful silky burrata which balanced out the bitterness.
We stopped by Santa Maria di Leuca, the very bottom tip of Puglia. It’s a pretty little town too with some luxe day beds to spend the day if you like.
But we were headed to Pescoluse, a lovely stretch of coastline. It’s a large sandy beach where you can walk and walk quite far out, the water remaining shallow. We relaxed here quite happily.
That evening we headed to Otranto, another seaside town. There is a huge castle and some lovely churches, but the laneways were very crowded and it was the one place I found rather touristy with an overload of gift and food shops and spruikers out the front. I’m sure there are some good places to eat here but I think you need to do your homework beforehand.
So we hopped back in the car and headed to the town of Maglie where we stopped at Il Fusticino. The Small People happily devoured pizza daily, whereas my standard order was whatever fresh seafood pasta was available, not yet over the fact that I could get a pasta with a generous amount of seafood for 10-12 euro. After dinner we popped in at the pasticceria next door (completing my daily pasticciotto fix) and handed over an embarrassingly small sum of money for four sweets.
I did really like Gallipoli (yes Italy has one too) a charming fishing village. There was a seafood market here where the fish was so fresh that most of it was still alive. Plenty of lanes and buildings to wander here, restaurants and cafes and market stalls. We stopped at a hole in the wall which was part deli and part bakery, where several locals were packed in buying stuff to take home for lunch. We figured it had to be good and squeezed in to get some panzerotti. So good.
Lecce, often called “the Florence of the south” was also on our visit list. Though our time here was shorter than we wanted with the GPS sending us around in dreadful circles. Near the large piazza you’ll find some Roman style ruins, a castle or two (castles are du jour in Puglia, no town is complete without one), a lovely park, a good bit of shopping, and sweet shop after sweet shop! The tools made from chocolate were very cool indeed.
For dinner we went to Trattorie Le Zie. This was one of those places where the simple appearance of the food totally belies it’s taste. Absolutely delicious. I finally ordered a “tiella” which is another local dish of baked mussels, rice and potatoes (I had tried to make thiss before our trip and failed miserably) which was just so flavoursome, I did email them and ask for the recipe but didn’t have any luck. I must try and make this dish again.
It was unfortunately at the end of our stay when we discovered the beautiful Melendugno coast. The stretch here from Sant Andrea to San Foca is gorgeous, which beach after beach and stunning rock formations. The area around Grotta della Poesia (Poetry Grotto) is particularly beautiful.
Here you’ll see lots of mad Italians jumping off a cliff several stories high into the grottos (there is a smaller one for the less adventurous!).
More Puglia to come!