Puglia’s most striking tourist attraction – because it is so unique – is the trulli district, around Alberobello (a UNESCO World Heritage site). A trullo is a simple dry-stone-walled building with a domed roof. They are dotted around the green Valle d’Itria, and in Alberobello the town’s large clusters of white-washed trulli create a memorable scene that is quite magical. Also striking, in a more sophisticated style, is Lecce, a town famed for its baroque beauty: all golden stone and elegant seventeenth-century architecture with riots of cherubs and foliage. On the whole, the smaller towns of Puglia, and the countryside, make better holiday destinations than the big port cities. Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Cisternino and Ostuni are all picturesque hilltop towns scattered around the Valle d’Itria. Along the coast, Otranto is one of the most attractive seaside resorts, with a picturesque old town and blue waters. Around Taranto there are fascinating underground sanctuaries and churches, while at Castellana Grotte, close to Alberobello, there are impressive natural caverns offering guided tours.
‘Puglia, stretching out beside the sea, a peninsula in the peninsula, land between two seas, balcony over the Mediterranean, crossed by a thousand routes, which remind us of memorable pilgrimages in myth and history […] A thousand stratifications and threads which have produced a land in which the whole of Europe meets the civilization of the south […] the gold heirlooms from the civilization that was Magna Grecia glitter in the museum in Taranto. Its splendid cathedrals, which were built “on the sacred roads” which join Europe to the orient, make up one of the most fascinating itineraries in Italy’.
The Castellana Grottoes
The complex of karst’ (limestone) ‘formations in the Castellana grottoes is one of the biggest in Italy, a sight of incomparable beauty, discovered by speleologist Franco Anelli in 1938 and so beloved by the inhabitants of Castellana that in 1950 they decided to change the name of their town to Castellana Grotte.
‘Castellana Grotte unwinds amidst caves and chasms with fantastic mythical names: Le Grave, La Grotta Nera, Il Cavernone della Civetta, il Corridoio del Serpente, la Caverna del Precipizio, il Piccolo Paradiso, the splendid Grotta Bianca, considered by some to be the most beautiful grotto in the world […] stalactites and stalagmites of myriad colours, alabaster fluorescence, subterranean lakes.’
Apulian olive trees, ancestral and contorted, cover the area with a cloak. Puglia is one large extension of olive trees; a single enormous olive-mill.
Trulli, houses built around courtyards and linguistic minorities. According to some, the property tax on houses had risen too much for the farm workers, so one of them thought of building a dwelling which would have, as a keystone, a single block placed at the top, with a metal eyelet attached to it. So, when the king’s inspector came to visit, all the owner had to do was pull on a rope, pull away the stone and the whole thing would come down.‘………..you can take a look at these conical roofs, the concentric tiles covering them, their Mediterranean character and the magical symbols painted on them. Amidst the trulli cones and the pinecone type roofs lies an enchanted valley, the product of an imaginative mind is now the symbol of Puglia….’
FOOD & WINE
‘Apulian cooking is at its best when it produces the traditional regional dishes, made from the durum wheat, the local tomatoes, olive oil and locally-grown vegetables, brought together and flanked by tasty cuts of meat or quality fish […]the smell which wafts on the air in the country towns at the time of the pressing is the smell of Puglia’s gold. A gold which is exported from Puglia to tables all over the world.‘
For millennia Puglia has been predominantly an agricultural region, producing around 40% of Italy’s olive oil and a large proportion of its wine. Vast tracts of the region’s territory are given over to farming, whether it is crops or livestock, and many inhabitants continue to grow their own produce.This essentially agricultural nature means that the region’s cuisine is home-country inspired, predominantly using the abundant local produce such as durum wheat, tomatoes, artichokes, fava beans, rocket, courgettes, beans, fennel, peppers, onions, beef and lamb.In terms of pasta, Puglians pride themselves on their orecchiette, little ear-shaped shells that are still produced by hand on a dailybasis by many signore. It is usually served with tasty sauces such as pomodoro (tomato) meat ragu, broccoli and chard or mushrooms. The pasta itself is made from durum wheat flour, water and salt. Eggs, once considered a luxury, are not used in traditional Puglian pasta-making.
Puglia’s comforting country cuisine may not be as famous as that of some other Italian regions, but it is full of goodness and genuineness and thoroughly local, a pure expression of popular traditions and the natural bounty of the land.
‘Orecchiette al Pomodoro’ (pasta in the shape of little ears with tomatoes)
0.5kg fresh tomatoes – skinned and chopped
50g Pecorino cheese
2 garlic cloves – finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil salt & pepper to taste
Bring a large pan of salted water to boil and cook the orecchiette until ‘al dente’ and drain.
In a separate pan heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and gentle fry the chopped garlic, add the tomatoes, season with salt & pepper and simmer slowly for at least 20 minutes.
Add the orecchiette to the sauce, stir and serve. Top with the Pecorino cheese and season with pepper.
‘Fave e Cicorie’ (purreed beans with ‘turnip tops’ –heavenly)
200g shelled and dried broad beans
2 potatoes (optional)
700g of turnip tops/chicory/pak choi or similar green leaf
6-8 fl.oz extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Soak the broads beans for 6 hours or overnight in cold water. Strain & put into a large pan. Add the sliced potatoes, if using, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 1 hour until the water has been absorbed & the beans are soft.
Rinse & chop chicory and briefly blanch in boiling water. Refresh in cold water and put to one side.
Puree the cooked beans with 4-6 fl.oz of the olive oil & season to taste.
Heat the remaining oil and sauté the chicory.
Serve on individual plates with the beans on one side & the chicory on the other. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve.
This is one version of this recipe. It alters from household to household. Some prefer to omit the potatoes and others like to add chilli oil, top with fried green peppers or even cubes of deep-fried bread.
Cheese of Puglia
Gioia del Colle (tiny mozzarella balls)
Burrata – made to age-old recipe – firm on the outside but soft & creamy in the centre
‘Real wine, as red as blood, as dense as ink, product of the blazing sunshine and the Mediterranean fragrances [...] speaks of gods and heroes, saints and mariners like the infinite story of a region of peace which welcomed the sacred guests like divinities’.
If Italy is the largest producer of wine in the world, it is largely thanks to Puglia, which produces more than any other Italian region, about 17% of the total!
Viticulture is deeply rooted in local traditions but until 20 or so years ago a large proportion of Puglia’s grapes were used to add “substance” to wines produced in the rest of Italy and France. Thankfully this is no longer the case and Puglia now boasts 25 different DOC areas and some excellent vintages of its own.
The most widely grown grape variety is Negroamaro (literally ‘black bitter’). Almost exclusively cultivated in Puglia, Negroamaro is used to produce some of the region’s best wines, including Salice Salentino. The epithet of ‘most famous grape’, however, goes to Primitivo, whose wines, including the Primitivo di Manduria, which are generally high in alcohol content and full in body. Curiously, the Primitivo grape shares its genetic make-up with California’s Zinfandel. White wines in Puglia count for less than 20% of the overall production but are gradually growing in importance. Local grapes such as Bombino Bianco, Bianco d’Alessano and Verdeca rub shoulders with international varieties including Chardonnay and Sauvignon to produce some excellent results.
Alberobello is home to one of the most famous Italian Folk Groups. Every year a Folk Festival is held inviting international folk groups from all over the world to perform. The festival concludes with a performance by Alberobello’s own group “Gruppo Folkloristico Citta dei Trulli”. The festival is free and is set against the picturesque backdrop of the Trulli panorama. When: 1st weekend in August Where: ALBEROBELLO
Locus Festival The 7th edition of this music festival is dedicated to Gil Scott Heron. Performers include Jazzanova and Dustin O’Halloran. When: 15th July – 7th August Where: Locorotondo.
The Festival della Valle D’Itria
Classical music concerts and a cinema festival that has been running since 1975.
When: 15th July – 2nd August
Where: Martina Franca.
Sagra Pirotecnica della Valle d’Itria As part of the 5-day celebration of Locorotondo’s patron saint, San Rocco, 3 or 4 of Italy’s most renowned firework specialists come together for a competition in pyrotechnics. The townsfolk turn out en masse accompanied by droves of curious tourists. At midnight the action begins and it is certainly worth staying up for! When: 16th August Where: Locorotondo.
Various care hire services are available at both Brindisi & Bari airports including; Budget, Autoeurope, Avis etc . These can be pre-booked on-line or through the flight companies.
Directions to trullo on application – agent will advise meet & greet.
For a selection of traditional recipes look out for ‘Savour Apulia’ by Nicola Sbisa e
Puglia Doc 2005 Progetto Puglia Doc – Net Community Intervento Cofinanziato dall’U.E. – F.E.R.S. sul POR Puglia 2000-2006 – Misura 6.2. Azione C Aiale Ugo Foscolo 51 – 73100 Lecce – Italia.