It’s quite a regular occurrence for us to do a quick recce of an area for a week and try to fit in as much as we can. That way, if and when we want to return, we know exactly where to head for so we don’t waste any time.
Puglia is somewhere we’ve wanted to visit for a while. With more and more visitors each year, and it fast becoming a place for celebs, to hang out, (Madonna recently celebrated her birthday in Lecce), we wanted to see it before it gets too busy and too commercialised. Which, sadly, won’t be long.
The landscape is almost Cotswold like with the thatched cottages being replaced by the easily recognised trulli building, a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof. These seem to be widely dispersed around the area, surrounded by very old olive trees with their beautiful thick trunks. But the sparse area in between is very rustic, almost deserted, with very little respect for it’s beauty, and lots of rubbish at the side of the roads.
Weekend in Polignano a Mare, click here for my blog.
Day trip to Matera for beginners:
To visit Matera for less than a day is almost a sin. Sadly this is all we had time for here, it was a spontaneous trip due to rain in Polignano a Mare, but I’m so glad we made it. Each time I researched Puglia, everyone kept saying, Matera is a must, but as it wasn’t part of our direct route, I didn’t think we’d have time.
It’s where the scenes of a few bridge jumps in the latest James Bond movie were filmed, Matera is the third oldest city in the world, set in Basicilata, Southern Italy, it’s not really in Puglia, and for heavens’ sake, don’t say that it is! You’ll likely get a telling off, as Italians are very territorial and there’s even a rivalry between one village and the next!
We had been warned by my ‘friends in my phone’ about the parking and speeding nightmares in the centre of Matera, so after a bit of Googling en route, I found us a fabulous secure car park just outside the ‘stones’ with a shuttle bus that took us straight to the bottom.
When you get there, you’ll realise what I mean by ‘stones’ and ‘bottom’ but for now it will be like another language to you.
Tip 1: Park in the Parcheggio Sadale, enter via a barrier which has a camera and takes a photo of your license plate, then get the shuttle bus straight to the stones. It will say ‘Liven stassi’ on the front. This is the route you want to get there as well as back to the car park. Don’t get the Belvedere route!
Now, that’s what you should do, we however make the error of going in at a different entrance, thinking we had been flashed by the NPR cameras, so didn’t pay. Realised on our return that there was in fact no barrier, and we’d parked there for hours for free. Time will tell if we get a ticket, it can take up to 12 months for Italy to get round to letting you know. If you do park on the level we did, you’ll need a pay and display ticket.
Before you even step off the bus, you get sight of this magical yet sad place. When you discover how the people here lived until the early 1950’s you can’t help but feel angry. Families of 7-8 and a donkey to boot, all living in the same space, with no more than a tiny window for air, and drawers for the babies of the family to sleep in. The government finally put stop to these terrible conditions, and moved all 300,000 inhabitants out of the caves and into new accommodations further out of town.
Tip 2: You need flat shoes with a grip, the steps and stones are uneven and steep. You must have comfortable footwear to prevent injury, on dry or wet days.
Tip 3: Make sure you are fit before you go. I wish I had at least prepared in some way, but I reckon even if I’d done a marathon, it would still have been a challenge. Luckily the day we went wasn’t so hot, and it had rained that morning, so I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have been to climbed and descended all day without at least a medium fitness level. Don’t take buggies and it definitely isn’t wheelchair accessible.
Tip 4: Find a guided tour. We had wanted to find someone to take us in the caves to see the churches and mosaic ceilings we had read about, but I think we started at the bottom rather than at the top of the town, which meant we missed the little tour huts, so we just went off piste and wandered round ourselves. I’m sure we missed a lot, so would highly recommend organising a guided tour.
Tip 5: Go mid afternoon, the shops will be open and you can be there long enough for night shots. Its a photographer’s paradise, and if we hadn’t spent 5 hours walking and walking, with an hours stop for a quick lunch in a gorgeous little cafe hidden away somewhere, then we may have hung around long enough to see it at night, but after a long and arduous afternoon, my OH got a bit grumpy and wanted to sit and chill. Apart from eating or drinking in the quaint little places that are hidden round corners and up hills, there’s not really anywhere else to rest, so we got back on the bus and made our way to Monopoli for sunset at the beach. (we weren’t there long enough for any review, although we ate at a bustling bar right by the water. I wished we’d stayed overnight in Matera, although we would have had to pop clean underwear in my handbag and take minimum toiletries, there were a few people wandering round with wheelie cases, but they were all under 25!
One night in Alborabello
A beautiful little town, you don’t need more than 24 hours here, we had originally booked a trulli to stay in but similar to what we witnessed in Matera, unless your a ‘pants and deodorant only’ kind of girl, luggage is not really an option due to the excess energy needed to get it to your chosen establishment. Second time of planning and we booked somewhere called La Corte Dell’Astore, the ‘Wild in Style’ resort. I didn’t realise what that meant until we got there!
A beautiful building made up of both trullis and standard style buildings, it had a pool, a big bonus for us, a small farmyard, with a zebra, a few ostriches, a donkey, some lamas, and my OH thinks he spotted a few wolves but I’m not so sure, a bald eagle, and 2 parrots!
The room was delightful, innovative design with hanging branches to put your clothes on and a small kitchenette hidden in the corner, my favourite was the heart shaped stone sink in the bathroom. Now that I want one of those for myself!
After an afternoon by the pool, we drove into the Center (only a 2 minute drive but too many main roads to navigate by foot). Parking in one of the many small car parks outside the Trulli centre, it’s another magical place to wander and wander. Tiny winding streets off the main drag each trulli different in shape and size, adding to the beauty of the place. We were trying to imagine what it must be like to live in these small buildings, with few windows and no outside space, not sure how many locals are left as there were a lot of Airbnb signs outside most of them.
Lovely little bars and restaurants lined Main Street. We ate a bit further out at place called Gli Ulivi. A Trip Advisor find and a very lovely one. Although it was definitely a local for those who live there, it was also the first place we seemed to hear a number British expats with the only English speaking waiter in the restaurant assigned to their tables as well as those of the tourists. Puglian food is slightly heavier than the Tuscan cuisine we are used to. Lots of puréed bean dishes and baked rice with potatoes and mussels.
The red wine can be heavy, but it’s where my favourite grapes are grown. Primitivo and Nero D’avola, alhough we opted to try a rose as we’d already had had a few spritzes before dinner. Incidentally, Aperol is the most famous Italian spritz, another is Campari spritz, but my favourite and I think German based spritz is a Hugo, becoming more well known in Italy as well. It’s a combination of Prosecco, elderflower, soda, mint and lime.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, breakfast the next day was in the nicest place I’ve sat for breakfast in a long time. beautiful big room, which I think doubled up as the lounge in the Winter months, beautifully presented and we didn’t want to leave! However, we felt we’d ‘done’ Alborebello, so packed up soon after breakfast and went on our way.
A beautiful area to drive through with lots of little villages not too far away to stop at. We drove to Lecce, via Ceglie Messapica, a hilltop town with views of the trulli landscapes, with homes owned by Donatella Versace and the late Sean Connery close by. We didn’t stay long enough to enjoy any of the highly recommended gastronomic restaurants, and like any of these towns, they probably come alive at night, once everyone has had an afternoons sleep and is ready to enjoy the rest of the day.
The usual array of shops and artisan stalls, it’s another place I’d recommend spending 24 hours in. Beware, all the buildings are white which makes for a very hot walk in the mid summer months. So if you can find somewhere to stay which has a pool to dip in, that’s my tip for this area.
Don’t got to Puglia if you don’t like wandering. That’s all we seem to have done is wander here, there and everywhere. It’s a great way to eat and drink your way round an area without adding on the pounds as they’re all burnt off before or after lunch.
We also visited Cisternino, a very pretty village.