Think you know Italy? Discover more in Puglia
Recently I attended a research trip to Puglia
(pronounced Poolia – silent “g”). I am sure that all of you well-travelled people out there know where Puglia is, but for those of you who don’t, Puglia is the area often referred to as Italy’s “heel of the boot”, because of the way it is shaped and because it is located in the most south eastern part of the country.
I was convinced that I had never been to Puglia, but then I dug out a memory from when I was an impressionable young thing in my early 20’s, travelling around Europe. I arrived in Brindisi on a night train from Naples (it had wooden seats – that is giving away my age!) and spent the day hanging around Brindisi waiting for the night ferry to Corfu. (Talk about wasting a day, but I was an uncultured youth!) So I hadn’t actually seen anything except perhaps a bar or two and the town centre and port of Brindisi. Years later I was about to make up for that!
Part of my trip was arranged by the local tourist authorities to show off the best of the region to the travel industry. I flew into Bari, Puglia’s capital and immediately got whisked off to a welcome reception with all the high-falutin local officials attending, plus a 100 or so tour operators and travel agents from places such as India, Tajikistan, France, USA and South Africa. The next day we attended a business meeting, then we got bussed out of Bari with our various groups to our differing areas of exploration. About 15 others, plus me, were heading to the Gargano region, an area with a national park, a beautiful coastline with amazing sea cliff and caves, and trabucco, traditional wooden structures used for fishing that jut out to sea. The next two days were a frenzied whirlwind of activity. We took a helicopter ride up and down the coastline, a jeep ride through an ancient forest, a boat ride up the coast and into sea caves, ate about 6 meals a day in the grounds of castles and in agriturismos, and stumbled upon (I personally think it was set up!) a local folk band playing their music in a cobbled back street in the town of Peschici.
One of the girls from Germany I was travelling with made a very good observation on the first night at the welcome reception…” where’s the pasta?!” (I think she may actually have even sworn at the same time because she was SO disappointed!). Interestingly the only pasta that is really eaten in Puglia is orecchiette, a traditional ear-shaped type. People have an idea in their mind of what Italy should be like. Puglia is definitely dissimilar to other places in Italy, such as Tuscany. The landscapes are different, as is the food, the history and the culture. It is like travelling through an open-air museum because it has been inhabited by so many different civilizations, including Messapians, Romans, Normans and Byzantines. In one area they even speak a dialect that is called neo-Greek. Incredibly cool.
After the trip, I did get to go cycling too…through Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site bursting with trullis, the traditional white-washed farmhouses with conical roofs. It felt so peaceful whizzing along on my hybrid bike down quiet back roads with stone-walls and past fields of a deep ochre colour. I found people to be particularly friendly and welcoming, always shouting “buongiorno” as I cycled by. I was there at the end of October and the sun shone every day and warmed my bones, preparing me for a winter in the UK!
So, if you have “been there and done that” in Tuscany, Umbria and other parts of Italy, and even if you haven’t, why not try one of our new cycling trips to this glorious, unexplored region? Ok, you may not get to eat pasta every day, but under sunny blue skies you can discover golden sandy beaches, the largest megalithic garden in Europe and sip the local wines, Primitivo and Negroamaro to your heart’s content! Ciao and arrivederci!