In the deep south of Italy, surrounded by crystal-clear waters and 500 miles of Adriatic and Ionian coastline, is the enclave of Puglia that sits on the sun-baked heel of the Boot. I first visited years ago and fell in love with its sleepy whitewashed villages, colorful folk traditions, its unique trulli set amongst olive trees, endless plates of mouth-watering food and some of the most gracious people in all of Italy.
More than 800 of the gargantuan trees at the ancient olive farm, Antica Masseria Brancati, near Ostuni, are considered natural monuments. With their gnarled and knotted trunks, many are upwards of 3000 years old.
The city of Lecce dates back to Magna Graecia, but because of its exquisite Baroque architecture it is known as the Florence of the South. The architectural style in Lecce is so distinctive that it was given its own name – “Barocco Leccese.“ The city’s opulent palaces and churches are built with Lecce stone, which has been used since ancient times.
Food is a surefire way to get to the heart of a culture and makes travel to Puglia ever-rewarding. Puglia’s tradition of rustic “cucina povera” centers around freshness and simplicity. The cherries are amazing, as is the burrata, focaccia and the orecchiette con cima di rape (with broccoli rabe), just to mention a few.
Puglia has plenty of charming towns ideal for leisurely wandering including Martina Franca; the labyrinthine whitewashed streets of Locorotondo and Ostuni; and the hobbit-like trulli of Alberobello (along with the stunning seaside towns of Polignano a Mare, Otranto and Gallipoli).
The town of Polignano a Mare has dedicated a statue and waterfront to the great Italian singer Domenico (Mimmo) Modugno (popularly known as Mr. Volare) who was born there in 1928. Mimmo was a singer, songwriter, actor, parliamentarian and three-time Grammy award winner.
His song Nel Blu Dipinto De Blu, popularly known as Volare, became a huge international hit in 1958 and sold over 30 million records. It also won him his first Grammy award (and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show 😉
But what makes Puglia so appealing is its authenticity. Things move at a slower pace and people will always make time for you. Everyone is so proud of their region; they don’t mind when you take photos and are keen to help in any way they can.
Everybody falls in love with Italy. For some, it happens on the streets of Florence or Rome, or on the sun-soaked Amalfi coast, or perhaps over pizza in a small trattoria or on a misty morning in Venice. Once you’re smitten, it then happens over and over and if you haven’t yet discovered the beautiful region of Apulia, Italy’s “heel,” you must, for you will fall ever more deeply in love.
For decades, Puglia has been a popular summer destination for northern Italians and, still thankfully, it remains a place unmistakably by Italians and for Italians. Without the flashy jewelry, La Bella Puglia nonchalantly showcases her unique cultural identity and spectacular coastline bathed by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Home to the Boot’s most ancient olive groves and the Baroque jewel of a city, Lecce, (deserving of a separate slideshow that’s coming soon!), Puglia basks in Italy’s southern light and is a land of extremes. Deep sapphire waters offset intensely white towns; miles of olive trees cover the horizon, sprinkled with compact villages. With the heat and sun comes the region’s propensity for languid living . . . time seems to pass more slowly, giving one the opportunity to appreciate every detail and richness of la dolce vita.
[Towns featured here include: Alberobello, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Ostuni, Gallipoli, Ortranto and Polignano a Mare.]