The heel of Italy is fast-growing in popularity, and little wonder given its tempting mix of sandy horseshoe bays, distinctive traditional architecture and refined yet authentic cuisine. With their fingers crossed for October sunshine, our Bookings Consultant Ben and his girlfriend Joe packed their shorts, donned their shades, and set out to discover the very best of Puglia.
To get the most out of this part of the world, we decided to take a week-long road trip. We found the region blissfully easy to navigate, though the Italian drivers did seem to enjoy playing ‘chicken’…
On our first day, we hit the sunshine jackpot and made a beeline for the coast. Desperate for a late-summer swim, the town of Polignano a Mare came up trumps. We pottered around the historic centre – eating gelato, browsing boutiques and sampling fragrant coffee – before heading down to the snug beach cove for a dip. The sea was calm, turquoise and still beautifully warm; we swam, we lazed and we admired the beautiful Italian bodies on show. Handily, it’s only half an hour’s drive from Borgo Egnazia and Borgo san Marco.
Puglia is famed for its distinctive trulli buildings (whose roofs resemble little wizard hats). They’re dotted all over the countryside, but the small UNESCO-listed town of Alberobello is the granddaddy of all places to admire them. I had been warned it was a tad Disneyesque and, though the pedestrianised area makes for a pleasant afternoon wander, most of the town’s trulli are now tatty gift shops smothered by tour groups. That said, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, check out the Martinucci Laboratory Café, which has been serving up the most delectable pasticciotto since 1950. I went for a pistachio cake, complete with pistachio nuts on top and pistachio cream in the middle. Yum!
Next, we continued south to the wonderful village of Vignacastrisi. This area has a much more traditional feel than northern Puglia, and we were lucky enough to visit during the village’s annual 3-day celebrations. The locals were out in force honouring their founding fathers: lights adorned the streets, food stalls were overflowing with delights, and a local orchestra played traditional Italian classics. With its imposing façade overlooking the central square, magical Palazzo Guglielmo couldn’t have been better placed. We loved having the best of both worlds: authentic Puglian village life out front giving way to a beautiful manicured orange grove and swimming pool inside.
Last, but by no means least, we stopped off at the stunning cave-town of Matera. Whilst definitely on the up, it retains the air of a hidden gem, with unknown layers still to be explored, from troglodyte cave dwellings to higgledy-piggledy honeycomb-like valleys. Like a little boy in a sweet shop, I took around 1,000 photos – all roughly the same, but taken from slightly different angles. Then there was the gelato… My eyes are always on the prize and Matera’s little hole-in-the-wall gelato shops answered all of my cravings. We stayed at L’Hotel in Pietra, a converted 12th-century church with serious wow factor. Each room has been carefully fashioned out of the original building and ours felt like a James Bond-style lair – save for the fantastically indulgent Jacuzzi mega-tub. It was the cherry on the cake.
For anyone feeling lazy on the beach, wondering whether they should make the detour inland – just do it! Matera is my new favourite place in the whole of Italy.