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Trip Report 10 Days in Amalfi and Puglia

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We only had a few weeks to put this trip together and would never have as good a time as we did without the help of this forum. Thank you to all.

We flew economy from JFK on March 26 to Milan via Al Italia and onto Naples on Air One. While we didn't get much sleep during the flight the service on both airlines was quite a bit better than we remembered from the past. The food on Al Italia was actually pretty decent and we we were served wine. Round trip tickets for two was $1110, although had we moved the date by even one day it would have been much much more.

Anyway we arrived in Naples on Friday a little after 11:00 am. It didn’t take long at such a small airport to realize our bags didn’t make the transfer to Naples with us. We filed a report, got our rented Fiat Punto and set off for Amalfi. It felt good to be back in Italy. A little tip: we knew we would be returning the car around 5:00 AM when no attendants would be around, so we took a photo of the drop box. It was useful 10 days later to see exactly where the spot was.

I had purchased a GPS that was preloaded with both North America and Europe, so we fired it up and followed the directions out of the confusion of roads and onto the A3. We passed Vesuvius and made quick time to Vietri sul Mare with its thousands of stores all with beautiful and colorful pottery. The first thing that caught our eye was the colorful tiles on the church dome, something we were to see up and down the coast. A second later, however, the real driving began. Imagine a road just wide enough for two cars with about three inches of space on each side and which has very sharp turns about every 50 feet. On your right is the rocky side of the mountain and on your left is oncoming traffic driving faster than anyone in their right mind should drive. At first it’s hard to believe you won’t crash – my poor wife was terrified. But then you realize there is enough room, the authorities have cleverly put up mirrors before each turn so you can see if someone is coming, and you get with the program. Little by little we went faster and eventually we came to Amalfi.

We were able to park right in front of our hotel, the Luna Convento, we had no bags so getting to our room was easy. We had reserved a superior double room, which was spacious and quite nice in an old convent kind of way. Along with high ceilings with hand painted scenes It had two great features, a huge balcony with a full size table and chairs and, for my wife the best thing she could ever find in a room – a large soaking tub with a full view of the water and the town. (room #19 if anyone is interested).

We rested up a bit and then went wandering in Amalfi looking for a bite to eat and a store we could buy some clothes and other necessities. Most everything was closed and we had to settle for Caprese salad and a terrible piece of pizza. Anyway we enjoyed walking through lots of by-ways, up and down side streets and so on. What struck us immediately was that Amalfi was made up of real people who lived there and worked there. (of course it was the end of March and there were few tourists)

That night we made reservations at A Paranza in Atrani ( I had ekscrunchy’s trip report with me). As our hotel is practically on the Amalfi/Atrani border the restaurant was only a few minutes walk away. (Trav. Dragone 2 tel. 089.871840) Dinner was excellent, with good food and service and we had a nice time talking to the brother that handles the front of the house. We shared bruscetta with olive oil and grape tomatoes, fried zucchini flowers with ricotta and tuna fish (excellent), whole local white fish (double portion) baked in olive oil and a little wine, sparkling water, a bottle of Marisa Cuomo’s Costa d’Amalfi Furore White ( a nice blend of Falanghina (60%) and Biancolella (40%). We also had a lemon cake and two coffees – 84 euros. Lemoncello came gratis.

Day 2 – Breakfast at the Luna Convento is held in the dining room which has a nice view of the water and the beach area. When the weather is warm you can eat outside. They put out a nice spread of cheeses, salumi, pastries, yogurt, fruit, cereals, tea, and great coffee anyway you want it.

The early part of the morning was spent trying to find out about our luggage. It had not arrived the previous night as we were told it probably would. After a number of calls to various offices, and with the help of a few people translating, I finally found out Air One was responsible, they hadn’t located it yet, there was nothing we could do but wait, and that we could spend 50 euros each as compensation.

Off we went to do some more exploring. Amalfi is full of narrow side streets and passageways where the residents live, that wind up and down the side parts of town. They are full of charm and surprises and they were great fun to explore. Sometimes behind a simple door you’d catch a glimpse of a beautiful courtyard. There are even some long tunnels that connect different parts of town that we heard were used in the past to hide from attackers. We had coffee and some pastries at small shop (I don’t remember the name). The pastries were excellent and they had a clean bathroom. We returned there a couple of days later for all these reasons. We bought some leather gifts for the kids a good way up the hill and headed back to the hotel.

One great thing about the Hotel Luna Convento is how close it is to the town. Within three or four minutes you’re there. We had no hesitation to go or return to town or the hotel because of the distance.

After a brief respite we drove to Ravello. The drive up was only about 15 minutes but one of the steepest, narrowest, and most winding section of road we encountered. It was either exciting or terrifying depending on which one of us you asked. Ravello was stunning. The view is extraordinary. You’re up high with a great expanse of coast in front of you and snow capped mountains in the distance. The town is small and has a few streets with shops and stores, pretty churches and lots of steps. It also has many beautiful and expensive hotels. We found it to be the most charming of villages we saw on the Amalfi Coast. We visited the Villa Rufolo one of two large villas in Ravello which has an extraordinary mix of architectural styles and a commanding view looking down the coast. Ravello is known for the music outdoor concerts that it holds in the villa overlooking the towns in the distance.

After spending some time walking through the villa and talking to a couple from Venice, who were also at A Paranza the night before, we meandered around the town. We came to a sign pointing the way to Ravello’s other major attraction, Villa Cimbrone. We were quite tired at this point from walking up and down the streets and steps and weren't sure how much more we wanted to explore. I left my wife at the bottom of another long line of steps and took off to see how far away the villa was. It quickly became clear that it was a longer walk than we wanted to undertake and I returned. That’s where I met Antonio. He was a striking, tall, and rather noble looking man, probably in his mid-seventies, who lives across from where my wife was waiting. He had seen her alone and kept her company while I was away. As we started to talk he insisted that we had to visit Villa Cimbrone since it had the “best panorama in Italy and maybe in the world”! He recounted how he would see Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis?) walk past his home two or three times a day on her way to Villa Cimbrone to sit and look at the view. I liked him immediately and promised that we would return at some other point with more strength and see if we shared his opinion. In the meantime we asked if he could recommend a restaurant. He told us to go to Trattoria da Cumpai Cosimo and tell them he sent us. We did and everyone we mentioned his name to immediately smiled – just as we did on meeting him. Little did I realize at the time that this was another ekscrunchy recommendation and a very well respected place to eat. We just wanted a small bite to hold us until dinner so we ordered grilled provola and a pasta fra Diablo and sparkling water. The waitress talked us into a half liter of wine and Netta, the owner, kept coming over and making fun of the fact that we ordered, as she put it – “fried cheese”. The cheese, however, was delicious, served with chopped and fried zucchini and the pasta was wonderful. The waiter gave us a piece of the most delicious almond cake and as we left Netta handed me an orange from her garden ( I don’t know if this had anything to do with the fact that I asked her if the picture on the wall of Jennifer Jones was her when she was younger). The bill a little over 30 euro and worth it not just for the food but because everyone in the place was having such a good time.

We made it down to Amalfi much faster than we had made it up and found that our luggage had arrived. That wonderful bathtub was put to good use and then dressed we celebrated on the balcony with the bottle of Fiano d’Avellino that I had bought earlier in Amalfi. A very fragrant and smooth white from a little north of Salerno.

Happy in our clean clothes we both wanted a light non-fish meal. We asked the hotel to recommend a nice place for pizza and he recommended Maria’s. It on the main drag just a bit past the duomo. We had good bread, a mixed salad, eggplant parmesana, pizza primavera, lemon cake, sparkling water, and a nice bottle of white wine from Ischia, a Biancolella called Casa’D A’mbra – total 49 euro. Again lemoncello was on the house. Maria’s is a comfortable family restaurant popular with locals with good – not fancy food. Exactly what we wanted.

...more to come

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    Blej this is wonderful! You are really bringing Amalfi to life and I can relive my own trip! I am very much looking forward to reading more!

    I hope to return to the area in the late summer, and had not considered the Milan connection on Air One. Did you book this through Alitalia or did you need a separate ticket? (I had thought that the Iberia flights via Madrid were the best connections, but you arrived in Naples earlier by your route..)

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    Hi ekscrunchy. I took your trip report, narrowed it down to essentials and brought it with us as a guide. It helped us feel comfortable as we began to explore and gave us options. I think you should write a travel guide that is made up of itineraries.

    We booked the trip through Expedia and had one ticket. We only had 50 minutes from the time we were supposed to land in Milan to our Air One take-off. As it turned out the Alitalia flight arrived forty minutes late so they rushed us through security and we had to run to get the plane. The Alitalia plane was empty. On the Milan flight it didn't occur to us to separate and take a middle seat each in an empty row - as many others did. They all lay down across three seats and slept, while we squirmed.

    That said, the service was friendly and they made you feel cared for. The Air One flight was basically a commuter flight of an hour and a half. It was fast, efficient and helped wake us up enough so we could drive. Capodichino is small so you're off the plan, with your luggage and on your way quickly.

    I'm not sure when our next trip will be, but as you'll read we would definitively consider Puglia again.

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    Many thanks, Blej! I will look into the Alitalia-Air One combination, although that short connection time makes me nervous! The Iberia flight routing has an hour connection time on the way home, from Naples to Madrid and on to JFK--we made this last time but it produced a lot of anxiety!

    I am really looking forward to the rest of your report! I should be packing, because we are leaving tomorrow for Piedmont, but as usual, I am spending far too much time dawdling here!!

    You are very courageous to have attempted all of that driving! I would love to rent a car next time we visit that area... I can't wait to read a bout Puglia, an area that I have not visited (yet!!)

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    Day 3 –

    We got up a little later that morning, took our time at breakfast, and spoke to some friends of ours who had just arrived the night before. They were going to be with a guide for the day and so we decided to drive to Positano. It was a gray day with an on-and-off rain and very rough seas. I felt much confident driving at this point and we made good time. We parked the car at what we thought was the beginning of town. Luckily we asked someone who happened to be walking past and he told us we had at least a 20- 30 minute walk down to the center. So we tentatively drove the car through the upper reaches of the town, through crowds of people, and through narrow roads that become almost impassable with cars parked at any and all angles. After a few minutes we found a parking spot that you pay for. During the trip we always found that the pay parking was the most convenient, and easiest to park in.

    Positano itself is big and very beautiful with houses in all colors spilling from on high down to the sea. The upper part of town is where the residents live and you find businesses related to life and business in general. The lower part of town (which still starts a bit high up) is the main tourist area and is made up of store after tourist store filled with high style clothes, expensive artwork, a selection of the areas better pottery and, of course restaurants and hotels. We called it the most beautiful center center in the world.

    We walked down the main street and explored some of the antique stores and art galleries. For antique lovers there certainly are beautiful pieces available that would be hard to find in the US. Prices are good but, of course you have to get it home. The road split we went down to the left and nearer the water we wandered into the hotel La Sirenuse to take a peek, it was pure luxury. Then down to the beach which had huge waves crashing against the ferry dock and shooting 20-30 feet into the air. It was a bit cold and threatening rain so there were very few people on the sand.

    From there we walked back up and around the high road towards the east. A toy fox terrier tagged along with us and led the way. There were more antique stores on the inland side of the road while on the other side was a sidewalk and a railing. The view from up here and looking west down the coast was amazing. We found a restaurant that was open and had tables against the railing so we decided to have lunch and look out. Unfortunately it started to rain just as they set the table so we went inside. I had pasta with pesto made from arugula and my wife had spaghetti with vongole, zucchini, prosciutto, and pecorino. We shared sparkling water, bread and a bottle of Corte dei Papi Colle Sape. The wine, from Lazio near Rome, is a blend of Malvasia, Trebbiano, and Chardonnay and was almost amber in color. It was very good with wonderful tropical fruit aromas and flavors. The food was excellent and the total for lunch was 33 euros. Bar Bruno, via C. Colombo 157. During our conversation with the waiter we mentioned that we were heading to Puglia in a few days. He closed his eyes, made that “mmm” sound we all make when eating something delicious and said, “You will love the food there.” We smiled unknowingly and went on our way.

    All in all we weren’t very impressed with Positano as a place to stay, although we could certainly see how it is in a perfect location for day trips to other areas. We were happy we visited and enjoyed walking through the town and into some of the stores which had very beautiful items. But we walked back to the car agreeing that we were happy we were based in Amalfi. Positano is certainly very beautiful and impressive looking, but even before Easter it was filled with tourists (who were far younger and more stylishly dressed than in Amalfi or Ravello) and since the residential part is apart from the tourist sections we didn’t get a sense of the real town. In Amalfi they’re intertwined, which I guess we like more. Of course all this was decided in three hours which really isn’t fair.

    We decided we would drive to Punta Campanella, the tip of the peninsula. However, as usual we underestimated how long it takes to go what in a straight line is just a short distance. We only made it as far as Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi. This little town has a commanding view from high in the middle of the peninsula where you can see both the Golfo di Napoli and the Golfo di Salerno at the same time. It was an impressive sight with Sorrento spilling out over the land in the distance. It was already 4:00 pm and we knew we had over an hour’s drive back. The drive along the coast and through the small inland towns provided amazing sea views, mountainsides pocked with huge caves and ravines, beautifully tended fields of olive trees, and colorful churches. Even though the weather was rough we returned happy to have taken the drive.

    I’m sure not everyone would like to drive on the coast and it does take some getting used to. However, whether you drive or are driven the ride is well worth it.

    That night we had our best meal in Amalfi at da Gemma. It’s located across the street from da Maria’s although the entrance is on via Fra Gerardo Sasso, 11, a side street a little further on the left. The meal started with the most delicious bread basket we have ever been served. It had about six different types of bread stuffed or studded with cheeses, herbs, fruit – hard and soft. It also contained some extremely thin breadsticks which looked handmade and also rather puny. What a surprise! Each tiny little bite was filled with amazing flavor. I ordered the tuna with endive, olives and capers and my wife had pasta with braised meat and onions – both excellent. The wine was from Sicily, another golden white made from the Insolia grape – Consumano Insolia Cubia – very good. We also had sparkling water and a cherry pastry made in both a traditional and modern version. Total 96 euros. A very nice restaurant with excellent service. Like our last meal in Amalfi it was more expensive, but this was due in large part because we ordered more expensive wine. As may be apparent I was hoping to try wines made from as many different local grapes as possible – although in this case I did stray a bit south.
    …More to come after the weekend…

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    Blej: You see I am supposed to be packing but am continuing with your excellent report, instead! We do not have time to visit Lake Orta because we have only one week..but I will be sure to take notes on Alba and around, and Turin!

    That is a very good point about the residential and tourist areas being combined in Amalfi and separated in Positano. As I am sure I said in my report, probably more than once, I liked Amalfi so much better than Positano..

    I have to go back to Amalfi and sample Da Gemma--I had read a lot about it and we passed it, but we just did not have enough dinners to try all the places we would have liked to try!

    Please continue!!

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    Here's a little more.

    Day 4 – After breakfast we drove across town to the beautiful Santa Caterina Hotel, where we met our friends. They were staying in one the best rooms in the hotel. It was in a separate small building on the side of the hill which you walked down from the main building and through gardens to get to. The main room was huge with artwork and a large Jacuzzi near the bed. The room had a spacious patio surrounded with flowers and facing the water and Amalfi. It was every bit as beautiful as the hotel itself, which is gorgeous. We had to consider for a moment our hotel decision since initially we were leaning towards the SC. However, we would not have had a room like our friends and we would never have gone back and forth to the town as often as we did. The SC, I think, tempts you to spend more time in the hotel due to its luxury and its distance from the town. Anyway, we decided we were pleased with our choice.

    After a quick tour of the hotel we got in the car and drove to Ravello. The ride this time went much more smoothly and we arrived and parked in short order. We again parked in a pay lot which was about 4 euros for at least four hours and is a very short walk up some steps to the center. After walking around the piazza for a bit we heading straight for the Villa Cimbrone. The Villa is private and is an active hotel. This means that you are touring the grounds and gardens not the house. You never miss it. The grounds are spectacular with amazing views, sculptures and plantings everywhere. Eventually you come to the edge of the property which is a point from which you can see both up the coast and down. As Sr. Antonio insisted this is the most beautiful panorama I’ve seen in Italy and perhaps unsurpassed anywhere. It is the kind of view you find yourself not wanting to move away from. Eventually we did, finished touring the Villa and walked back towards the town. I stopped at Antonio’s house, knocked and thanked him for insisting we see views from the Villa. We had a nice conversation and we moved on to walk through the town.

    Most of the village shops were closed but we found a nice little “deli” that was open. We bought sandwiches that the shopkeeper made for us after giving us a taste of different cheeses, a bottle of white Tufo de Greco and some dessert and sat down in the main piazza to eat – a lovely impromptu picnic. One thing that caught our attention was at a building right in front of us that was undergoing some renovation. There was a young, handsome and strong man on top of a truck filled with sand. From time to time he shovelled some sand into bags held by a much older man who would then carry them into the building and up the stairs to the second floor. Since it took awhile for the man to return he spent most of his time relaxing and kind of posing for the young girls in the piazza. It seemed to the four of us that the tasks should have been reversed (minus the posing). It echoed the fear that we had heard about how the seniors were the ones who were tending to the lemon and olive groves and basically were doing most of the work caring for the very things that made Italy so wonderful to visit. The fear was that when that generation dies out there will be too few who will want to do that work. The young, and there are much fewer of them now, mostly flock to the cities. We were told that this was a major concern of the Slow Food movement.

    As we drove back we agreed to have dinner the next night, dropped our friends off at their hotel and took a short rest before exploring a little more in Amalfi. We were curious about the little wooden model villages that we saw up the main road in Amalfi and in many other places. We forgot to ask. Does anyone know what they represent or how they started?

    That night we returned to A Paranza where we were warmly welcomed back and had another fine meal: bruschetta with tomatoes, sparkling water, bread, fried zucchini flowers (we had to have them again), risotto in scampi crème sauce (excellent), and a filet with potatoes (it was good but understandably not up to the seafood which is their specialty), a shared tiramisu, a nice bottle of Villa Raino Fiano d’Avellino, no coffee – total 67 euro.

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    Last Day in Amalfi

    Day 5 – This was the last full day we had in Amalfi and the one thing we really wanted to do was to take a boat ride and see the coast from the sea. The ferries to Positano and Capri were not operating yet and we were told by the hotel that there were no excursions yet either. The weather, except for one day, had not been very good – mostly cloudy with spotty rain and rough seas. As we had breakfast we could see that the sky was still cloudy but that the sea was reasonably calm. Just as we finished we saw an excursion boat pull up to the Amalfi pier. I left the hotel and went down to the boat. They were waiting for a tour group to arrive and expected them to arrive in about a half an hour. I asked if they had room for two more and they said yes – 10 euro each. So I went back to the hotel to get my wife and we went to the pier to await the group. After a long wait and no activity another boat pulled up and a German group with a guide got onboard. I asked the mate on the first boat when his group was due and he didn’t know, but he asked the other boat and they let us on for the same price.

    The ride was well worth the wait. The view from the coast was spectacular. Not only the gorgeous views of the towns spilling down the mountainside but the amazing ingenuity of homes and hotels that were built into the cliffs. Many of them are below the level of the road and are invisible except from the water. One very large and beautiful structure that the boat pulled close for us to see was an ever-changing mix of natural mountain and constructed stone. Pieces of it seemed to disappear and reappear as you looked – an amazing piece of architecture. We also saw emerald grottos, huge caves, ravines and almost secret town that is situated on the sides of a narrow split in the mountain and accessible only by a small boat or path. It started to rain before we reached Positano and the boat turned back. We were a bit sorry because you can’t really get a full view of Positano when you’re there – you’re too close. We were hoping to see that picture-postcard view. All-in-all the boat ride was one of the highlights of our stay in Amalfi.

    We left the pier and walked past all the buses into the town. Facing the water near this entrance (on the left with your back to the sea) is the Hotel Lidomare. It caught my interest because it was recommended in one of the guide books I had looked at. We didn’t go in but it appeared very nice from the outside; sparkling clean and with very inviting balconies. It also has very reasonable prices. (http://www.lidomare.it). If we returned and wanted to save a little we would consider it.

    As we started to explore this part of town we came to an exquisite shop called La Scuderia del Duca. They carry very fine paper and leather products, antique and newer Italian art pottery, 19th century paintings and a host of other items all in very good taste. While I admired an oil painting from the mid 1800’s of two older gentlemen on a bridge in the midst of a conversation and in which the light behind them was exquisite and ethereal (30,000 euro), my wife had spotted a beautiful but huge vase by Giovani De Simone, a potter who studied under Picasso. The vase being about 16” high and 13” wide I couldn’t help imagining the difficulty it would cause to carry this around with us through the next five days and how to get it home in one piece. I pleaded for her to select a smaller piece, but my argument was only reasonable while her’s was full of her love of the piece – I didn’t stand a chance! The shop owner kept reducing the price until we both knew he couldn’t go any lower. Shipping it to NY was possible but it raised the price a bit too much. I said we would think about it.

    We decided to explore further up the town than we had so we walked and meandered. We stopped at the little pastry shop we had gone to before, had her make up a nice sandwich, select some pastry and off we went. Our friends had told us the history they heard of Amalfi and the river that flows through the center of town, just underground. We had heard the water running before and seen all the metal covers but it had not registered until we reached the point where you can see the water spill down from above and run underneath that there was actually a river. We stopped there and had our lunch Italian style, standing. It would be a nice place to have a café. The rain started in earnest as we finished and we found shelter in the paper museum. We both admire finely made books and paper so we took the tour. It was a wonderful and interesting tour. There were only four of us on it and one of us actually made paper in the museum. Amalfi paper is among the finest made anywhere. It is made from crushed cotton and linen and is still used by the Vatican for official writings. The museum, which was a working mill, has different machinery that was used to crush the rags – all fed by the river. We bought a few gifts there, had some gelato in the piazza and went back to the hotel.

    A little later in the early evening I returned to the town to pick up some laundry I had left to be done. On the way back I stopped at La Scuderia del Duca, bought the vase and arranged for it to be packed in a way that would insure its safety. Later that evening we drove the car to the store and picked up the package - one of us smiling ear-to-ear.

    That night we arranged with our friends to meet for dinner at 8:30. We arrived a little early at the Marina Grande, which they had recommended, and to celebrate being together in Italy we ordered a bottle of Marissa Cuomo’s Costa d'Amalfi Furore Fior d'Uva Bianco. As we waited we couldn’t help having a glass. This is an expensive but exceptional wine made from Fenile, Ginestra and Ripoli, a blend of indigenous varieties from the Amalfi Coast. It has stunning fruit and flower aromas, which are smooth and long lasting in the mouth. The waiter told us that it was voted wine of the year in Campania. Unfortunately while we were waiting for them they were waiting for us at the restaurant we had mentioned – Lido Azzuro, which is just past the Hotel La Bussolo, at the other end of the marina. It was the only time during the trip I didn’t bring the little cell phone I have for travel. We both laughed when we were in NY.

    For dinner we had zucchini flowers with ricotta and served with red peppers, fried seafood with calamari and prawns, the fish of the day with zucchini and ricotta/pumpkin sauce, sparkling water and bread. The meal was 105 euro of which the wine was 44.
    Service was not included so we left a tip. The food was efficiently prepared, but we weren’t impressed. Our friends told us that they had their best meal in Amalfi that night at Lido Azzuro, and they had eaten the night before at Da Gemma. Marina Grande is one the best rated restaurants in Amalfi so I wouldn’t rely on just one visit.

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    ON TO PUGLIA

    Day 6 – We had breakfast, packed and headed down the coast towards Salerno. By now I was very comfortable driving the coast and we made good time to the autostrade and started our journey to Puglia. This trip morphed from a vacation in Vieques to one in Italy when I spotted some very inexpensive flights to Rome. We had planned a prior vacation to the Amalfi Coast which never worked out and we went to Piedmont instead. From Amalfi/Rome it became an Amalfi/Calabria vacation when the possibility of a place to stay emerged. However after reading some guide books Puglia, which honestly I had not really heard much of before, sounded very interesting. During the planning stages it was hard to pick what we would do. So I had ideas that on the way to Trani we would do a quick day trip around the southern Gargano area or at least visit some of the hill towns between Benevento and Foggia. Somehow after driving for awhile we decided to go straight to Trani. I will say that the fact that we had a large package in the car and in full view helped us decide. We arrived at the Hotel Lucy sometime around noon. I’m glad we had the GPS with us because there are a lot of one-way streets, blocked streets and so on. If you don’t know your way around it can be confusing. Even the GPS kept indicating turns that were not allowed. We quickly learned to look ahead of the current instruction and get a general sense of the direction we had to go in and soon after we were parked right on the side of the hotel.

    Hotel Lucy, at 60 euro was 100 euro less than we paid in Amalfi. It is located in the Piazza Plebiscito within a few minutes walk of the port, right next to a large park and across the street from an old church. The hotel is a restored villa and the rooms have high vaulted ceilings. Ours had a tiny balcony, a shower that you had to squeeze into and no breakfast served. It was, however, immaculately clean, sparse but very acceptable furnishings, very well located and quiet. In short a very affordable and comfortable place to stay. I would recommend it without reservation. (Piazza Plebiscito 11, www.albergolucy.com).

    After a quick rest we walked around the port to the historical area – centro storico. The main attraction is the tall cathedral that is right on the water. It is imposing and impressive. Inside you can see that one church was built on top of another and that one on top of another – or at least on top of a chamber that dates from the 6th or 7th century. When we arrived it was not open so we walked around looking for a place to eat. I must confess that after four visits to Italy we almost always still find ourselves wanting to walk around or shop at the time everything is closed. I guess it’s just a cultural thing.

    After some exploring we found a small simple trattoria that was open and went in. What we found, we would find almost everywhere we went – a man who was careful with and proud of his cooking. The restaurant is called Trattoria U’Vrascir in Piazza Cesare Battisti. We ordered sparkling water, two glasses of wine, bread, a salad with tuna, egg, olives and buffalo bocconcini; a pizza with smoked buffalo mozzarella and mushrooms; two coffees and a chocolate torte – 22.5 euro. The salad was very fresh, the pizza was fantastic – so much better than anything we had in Amalfi. The only sore spot was that I didn’t know that if you order the house red wine it will be served cold - very cold.

    After lunch we went back to the cathedral and explored inside. It was simple but massive. As we walked through and down to the lower levels you could feel the age and the piety increase. There just enough left of the chamber to get a feel for the simplicity of construction and the stillness in that little room. As most of the churches we had seen were very ornate the simplicity was refreshing. One reason is that a Baroque facade that was grafted onto the original interior in the early 1800s, was later removed.

    From the cathedral we walked without any destination, just meandering through the winding narrow roads and alleys of the centro storico. At one point as we wandered through a residential area that was much narrower and less tidy we approached by two young girls of about 11 or 12. They quickly moved so one was in front of us and the other behind and began to speak very fast in a mix of Italian and English –mostly gibberish. They had a gypsyish appearance and I could feel my wife’s unease immediately. I made sure to keep them both in front of us and after a moment or two I said we had to leave. They tried to keep us there by speaking even more quickly and circling around. Finally we left. I'm still unsure what this was about.

    We pressed on and continued to explore. At one point we came to where Via Leopoldo and Via La Guidea meet. There is a small, very old church there and a sign indicating it is one of four ancient (1244) synagogues that once served the community. Intrigued, we followed the road and came to Via Sinagoga and to Sinagoga Scuola Nuova (1242) which we were told by the rabbi may be the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe. It was converted to the church Santa Maria Scuola Nuova in the late 1400s/early 1500s when the Jews were expelled from Southern Italy. I had a long talk with the rabbi, in Spanish, who is very proud of his new old synagogue and told us about the history of the region and how the Trani turned over the church to the Jewish Community six years ago. The Sinagoga is a very narrow 21 feet x 49 feet and has two long windows shaped like the tablets of the ten commandments. We took some pictures and thanked him. Here is a link that has pictures of the Sinagoga Scuola Nuova: http://charlesborlam.com/synagogue_in_trani.htm

    We left feeling enlivened, not only by the goodness of the community returning the building but we also had a better idea of the vibrancy of southern Italy and Trani in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was late afternoon and we were a bit tired so we headed back towards the hotel. We passed a number of restaurants that were closed, stopped and looked at their menus. Everyone looked good. I remembered what I had read in flame123’s trip report about Wednesday nights so I asked someone. We were told that some were closed on Wednesdays but most of the restaurants and stores would open around eight. We returned to the hotel and rested until evening.

    When we returned to centro storico for dinner it had started to rain. For some reason I wanted to return to the trattoria where we had lunch. So getting wet we passed a number restaurants that looked very inviting. Finally we made it. The restaurant was a bit loud with a futbol game on the tv and a large group of young men having dinner and enjoying themselves. We were shown to a table by the far wall and after being assured that the red wine would not be cold we ordered a bottle of Villa Schinosa Aglianico from Trani. Of the four major red wine grapes from Puglia, Aglianico, Primitivo, Nero Amaro, and Nero Troia, this is the one I enjoyed the most. Full-bodied, smooth with softer tannins and good berry fruit. The wine was excellent. With it my wife had a combination dinner which started with a plate of mixed grilled vegetables in olive oil and herbs, a small soufflé with shrimp served with zucchini, small gnocchi with pesto and cheese and slices of melon. I had a mixed appetizer half cheese and half salumi, shrimp in cognac sauce with 3 large shrimp, a chocolate/caramel torte and an espresso. With bread and sparkling water – 57.5 euro. Everything was very good. With all the restaurants in Trani I’m sure there are many that are just as good or better. I would definitively recommend U’Vrascir for lunch and for pizza – just be careful not to get cold red wine.

    By the time we got home we were quite tired and slept well.

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    Hi ellenem - I hope to have another day tomorrow morning and more over the weekend. Except for meals I didn't keep a journal during the trip. Its been fun remembering the trip but takes time. Its also been interesting to note how little we saw in comparison to how much we didn't see. Five ddays in a region just barely scratches the surface.

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    The Land of the Troglodytes

    Day 7 – We had cappuccino and a latte with some pastry right around the corner from Hotel Lucy, loaded the luggage, put the box with the vase in the back seat and took off for Matera. Matera is not actually in Puglia but near the border. Its in Basilicata, another region I had never heard of before planning for the trip. I had read a bit about Matera and was looking forward to seeing it.

    Getting out of Trani was a bit funny but slow as two large campers were in front of us and could not make the turns in the narrow roads. They had to stop and wait until traffic passed and repeatedly back up and edge further into the turn until they made it. This happened at each turn. Finally we were out of the city and on a small back road which meandered through the countryside and around the farms. The land was now all green with crops, which was a big change from the rugged mountains of Campania. There were still hills but they were rolling with large areas of flatland.

    As we drove on enjoying the view we saw our first trullo. A little hobbit house with a peaked stone roof. It was by itself in the middle of field. We stopped the car and took a picture. We laughed about this later when we started to see them by the hundreds. We got a little lost as we entered Altamura. The GPS I bought worked a little differently than our other one. In that GPS the car charger plugged right into the unit. In this one the end of the car charger did not fit anywhere. We thought they gave us the wrong charger but later figured out that the charger plugged into the dash holder and the GPS unit connected to that. I had left dash holder home and so we could only charge the GPS with the outlet charger we had – and I had neglected to do that fully the night before. The unit was now almost dead. We wanted to save what little power was left for finding the hotel in Matera. So we pulled into a gas station and asked directions in my combination of spoken Spanish and Italian hand movements. After a few minutes I got the gist of their instructions and soon we were back on track to Matera. About 15 or 20 minutes later we entered the city and followed the signs that said “sassi”. We very quickly found ourselves climbing upwards on ever narrowing streets. We turned on the GPS but it kept giving us instructions to turn onto roads that we weren’t allowed to enter. We looked for parking but to no avail. Eventually we left the old area and drove around a few blocks in the modern part of the city until we were able to park. I called the hotel and was told to stay where we were and that someone would be there in four or five minutes to drive us to the hotel. I had not expected that and it was a great relief. Sure enough in a few minutes someone came running up to us and began to drive us to the hotel.

    We had not yet seen anything that looked like the picture of Matera we had seen in the guide books – even though we were now driving down a steep road. And then the driver turned a corner –WOW! I don’t know how to describe what we saw or the feeling that immediately took hold of us. Shock and disbelief are as close as I can come. We were entering a vast rugged landscape of caves and eroded stone buildings from which you would expect to see primitive man. Nothing I had ever seen before prepared me for this first view.

    We continued driving down and around and then through the Sassi, which is the name for this area. In a few moments we arrived at the Hotel Locanda di San Martino. Our car was driven off to a garage and we checked in. From the outside the hotel looks much like the rest of the area except that it is very clean and the front has a little patio and a path that are clearly new. As soon as you enter the hotel everything is newly done and modern – even though you are in something very ancient. The room was the same – very modern and fresh with very high vaulted ceilings and simple but fashionable furniture and a ultra modern bathroom with glass and brushed chrome. It was a cave fit for Architectural Digest. Locanda di san Martino, Via Fiorentini, 71. www.locandadisanmartino.it.

    After dropping our bags off in the room we went down to reception to ask some questions on which way to go, what to see, etc. We were given a map and a small itinerary with directions was drawn out for us. We were once again told that most everything including restaurants were closed but we might be lucky and find a particular latteria open. So off we went completely wide-eyed and amazed at every turn. We got lost almost immediately and took the long way around until we were back on the path recommended. It didn’t really matter where we went – it was all incredible. His track actually put us above the edge of the sassi and through an old but renovated commercial strip. There were expensive stores mixed with very old churches. The one which caught our eye immediately was the Chiesa del Purgatorio. The heavily baroque façade is covered with skulls and skeletons. As a startling counterpoint it was quite ornate and lovely inside. Eventually we found ourselves in front of the Museo Nazionale Ridola, which was circled on our map. Unfortunately it was closed. However, to the left of the museum you have the most amazing view of the whole of the sassi - truly stunning. It’s the perfect place to take photos from.

    We were quite hungry and the latteria was on the adjacent street. We were told to ask for “Rizzi” and he came out to see us. We mentioned we were from the Locanda and he immediately took us to the back of the store (a store filled with all kinds of cheeses, hams, salumi and other tempting treats) where there were five or six tables. He asked if a plate of cheese and salumi would be ok and, of course, we said yes. He brought out sparkling water, bread, two glasses of red wine and a large plate filled with five cheeses and an equal number of prosciutto, and other cured meats. It was the kind of food you moan as you eat it. The five cheeses were stracciatella (which is like ripped pieces of buffalo mozzarella soaked in cream), a natural goat cheese, zafferano (a semi-soft cheese with saffron), sesamo (which had sesame), pecorino di Moliterno with honey dripped on it. One of those meals you never forget. Total – 26 euro. Latteria Rizzi, via E. Duni N 2 – the street is just before the museum on the right. After lunch was just walked and explored. Every turn was something new. The most amazing of the amazing to me was the Chiesa di Santa Maria d’Idris. Built into the rock on a mount its hard to tell where is the rock and where is the church. It wasn’t open so we couldn’t enter.

    Eventually and just in time our meanderings brought us back to the road the hotel was on and we stopped to get a drink at a cafe and rest up a bit before continuing back.

    A little before dark we left the hotel again and walked up the stairs and around the area with the stores. We did a little window shopping (I’m always amazed at how the Italians can make a simple kitchen implement into a work of art) and joined the passeggiate, the evening stroll through the Piazza Vittorio Veneto. The sky was crimson and everyone was out walking through the piazza and down the main streets. Its nice to see the citizenry dressed up including the older men in their vest and sport jackets. As we walked back down the steps and towards the hotel the darkening sky framed the lit up duomo for a perfect picture. We headed down along the Via Fiorentini until we reached the Ristorante Le Botteghe in Piazza San Pietro Barisano. There tired and hungry we ordered a bottle of Terre di Orazio Aglianico from Cantina di Venosa – another smooth Aglianico. We had a bottle of sparkling water, bread, strascinate al ragu, pappardelle al tartufo, scottona filet (from a young female cow) patate alla brace, a mixed salad, pane cotto with cherries and coffee – 71.60. The food was very good. It was a long day and we slept well.

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    Blej, you are a life saver! We are a group of 25 friends who have decided to visit Puglia this year, we are now reading your travel journal every day and eagerly awaiting the next installment, it is priceless! Looking forward to more news from your adventure, have a great time!

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    I am planning our May 2010 Italian trip and staying in Locanda di San Martino is a must. Our trip will include a week in Puglia and a week in Umbria and four or five days in Rome. Plan is to fly in and out of Rome.....still working on which area we should do first....any suggestions?? I had read about Matera and it diffinitely is a must after reading your review. Thank you.

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    blej - I am so pleased to read your continuing trip report into Puglia (and Matera). I am truly envious that you managed to see the old new synagogue since during the entire three days we were in Trani it was not open and the rabbi was unavailable. I would have loved to actually see it from the inside. Good for you!!

    As for the two young girls, I dare say they were probably trying to pickpocket you (at least that is what is sounds like from what you wrote) and glad they did not manage to do so.

    Indeed Matera was magical to us, although we did not stay the night so we did not see it at dusk, etc. Must have been even more so.

    Can't wait to read your continuations!!! And glad my own trip report was helpful!!

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    hi blej,

    fabulous report - thank you so much for sharing your enthusiasm with us.

    i am particuarly interested in Puglia because a friend in the italian class I do has a house in Puglia which she has kindly said we may rent some time - you have prompted me to follow her up with this.

    she and her family usually fly to milan then bet an internal flight to Bari. would you recommend the way you did it instead? [we can get flights to Milan and Rome from Bristol with easyjet].

    looking forward to more,

    regards, ann

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    Hi Flame123 - the synagogue was a moving experience. I asked my wife how she felt and she related that she felt an emotional connection which started when we realized Via La Giudea referred to where the Jews had lived. She said she felt at home.

    Irinel - 25 people. That's got to be quite a logical task. One thing's for sure - no matter what or where you'll eat well.

    Annhig - Had we known more of the region we would have still flown into Naples to go to Amalfi, but would have flown back from Bari to avoid the drive back to Naples and to have an extra day in Puglia.

    dedec - I would suggest you start a new topic as you will get many more replies and recommendations - and I don't know enough to help. The Locanda is an excellent hotel to visit Matera from.

    It was a busy weekend. I'll try to write the next day's report tomorrow. thanks for reading

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    THE MASSERIA

    Day 8 - The Locanda put out a wonderful spread for breakfast but we ate light. We had felt stuffed after eating so much in Amalfi and were now finally coming a little more into measure. The food is so good its hard its hard to resist.

    The hotel brought our car and it was an easy ride out of the sassi and onto the main roads. We had charged the GPS and followed its directions onto a lovely back road toward Gioia del Colle. It was a lovely day and there was virtually no one on the road. This was the exact opposite of driving on the AC coast. We took our time and enjoyed the scenery. As we got nearer Alberobello the trulli were popping up everywhere like weeds. Some were simple, rugged, unpainted with a small chimney on the side; others had been incorporated into more modern buildings – even in the midst of a town. Some were a little bit bigger, older and had strange, white, ancient like markings on them. The ones that had the most impact on me were groups of about five older looking ones in a field. You could sense life at a very different time.

    The route took skirted Alberobello and brought us through part of the forest of Fasano. It was the first time we saw anything that looked like a North American forest with large stands of trees. At some point we made a wrong turn and ended up ascending along the edge of steep hill and into a residential area. The GPS would tell us to make a left turn, then recalculate and repeat the instruction. This was impossible as we would have had to drive off the cliff. Finally we ignored it completely and followed the signs to Fasano and the to route 16, on which the masseria in Ostuni was located. As we got closer to Ostuni we started to see signs for masserie more frequently and olive trees that weren’t the slender trees planted in beautiful rows we had seen before but now were old and huge and gnarled and twisted in the most amazing shapes.

    We had booked two nights at Il Frantoio after reading about it everywhere we looked – online or in print. Lonely Planet listed it as one of the “Famous Five” best eating experiences in Puglia. Other places said if you can get to one of their dinners – go!. When we contacted them and asked about a dinner they told us they were going to have an organic eight-course medieval lunch on April 3rd. So we booked the stay and now had to get there by 12:30 for a tour and a 1:30 lunch. We pulled into their drive with a minute to spare. We needn’t have rushed. We were shown our room and then to a beautifully laid out table in the courtyard where we were served a fruit drink and a plate of hors d'oeuvres.

    Il Frantoio is a fully functioning farm that produces extraordinary olive oils and liquors. The farmhouse itself is a sixteenth century structure with rooms that were added in the 1800s – the guest rooms. Each room and indeed the whole masseria is decorated with very fine antiques and the most interesting items – many related to the place, the area or life from different ages. We stayed in the ‘camera dell agrumeto’ which looks out at the lemon and orange orchard and which, I believe is the only room with a balcony. The only shortcomings are a tiny shower and a few overly religious pictures over the bed. All rooms share this except ‘camera degli sposi’, which has no view but has a tub.

    As we were enjoying our refreshments a group of about 15 or more bicyclists arrived. They were from all over the world and had been travelling by bike together for many years. They had come for the lunch. We were given a tour of the villa, the garden and the old olive presses in the cave under the building. It was then time for lunch. The two-wheelers were seated all together at a long table in one room and, in a smaller room, my wife and I at one table, another couple from Germany who had just arrived in a camper at another, and three young women who were staying the night at a third. The German gentleman had received the lunch as a gift from his colleagues at work. They had to leave right after the meal to catch a ferry on their way home. One of the three women was on a wine tasting trip for an Italian magazine. Each of the small tables had a bottle of white and a bottle of red wine.

    The first few courses of the lunch were served with a very fine white: Giancola 2006, Malvasia Bianca, Tenute Rubino from the Salento, heel, part of Puglia.
    > Lunch began with scherzo di cucina con pate di lampascioni – little breads with pate of wild onions;
    > Pure di fave con papaveri – pureed fava beans with poppy leaves and Il Frantoio olive;oil.
    > Orzotto con zucca e zucchine – Barley with pumpkin and zucchini;
    > Gamberi in pastella con crema di peperoni al piccante- Shrimp in batter with a lightly spicy pepper cream;
    > Laganari agli odori dell’orto con asparagi selvatici – hand made “Laganari” pasta with garden flavors and wild asparagus.

    The next courses were served with an excellent Aglianico biologico 2006, IGT Puglia, Antica Enotria from near Foggio.
    > Granatine e polpette alla “Malvasia” su patate velo al timo – “Granatine” meatloaf and meatballs with Malvasia wine on potatoes like a veil and thyme and olive oil;
    > Insalata mista con fiori di Giuda – Mixed salad with Judas tree blossoms.

    Finally we were served some of their Rosoli, a liquor made from olive leaves. Coffee and pastries were put out by the fireplace so we could mingle while they cleaned up. The meal was delicious and an event. Each course was lovingly prepared and presented. Everything was simply prepared with the flavors of the ingredients doing all the work. (I don’t mean to imply by simply prepared that it wasn’t time consuming. I made some pureed fava beans this past weekend, minus the poppy leaves, and it took a long time.) Photographs were being taken all through the meal at every table as everyone wanted to remember what they had eaten. We took what was left of our red wine back to the room and then went for a walk through part of their 150 acres. We just followed the farm dog and meandered through the centuries old trees taking pictures of these most amazing creatures.

    In the evening we went down the road to Ostuni. We parked the car and walked around trying to find the old part of town. Finally we saw it and couldn’t believe we could have missed it as it is very large, painted white and up high. As we did everywhere, we just followed our nose up and down the narrow curving alleyways not knowing where we were and not caring. There was something different about this town. I don’t know if it was the Greek influence in architecture, the smells of the food or what it was. I was sorry to have only explored for about an hour and a half, but we were tired and wanted to relax. Back at the masseria we weren’t hungry and just noshed on a few items we had with us and had a little more wine. We read in one of the “living rooms” and then called it a night.

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    Blej:

    I just returned from Piemonte and have to say that this report makes me want to pack my bags this instant. I think that your sensibility, your writing and your attention to detail are astounding! And of course I like the focus on food and wine! I can't wait to read more--and I hope there are many more days left!

    The driving does sound a bit off-putting; you are very brave to tackle all that and with a good sense of humor, too!

    Is this the masseria?

    http://www.masseriailfrantoio.it/pagine_inglesi/home_eng.html

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    Hi ekscrunchy - welcome back. I'll bet you had a great time and look forward to your report on Piemonte. As for driving -if you're a driver you get used to it quickly; (I've been driving an older Porsche for over 35 years)if you're at all timid in tight places the AC or any hill town is not for you - Naples is not for anyone. The key is to have a small car and not to be intimidated by cars behind you wanting to pass - let them pass. Some of the larger cars will not be able to make the tight switchback turns without going into the oncoming lane.

    Ann - ekscrunchy has it right - the link to their site is: http://www.masseriailfrantoio.it/pagine_inglesi/home_eng.html

    The cost was 88 euro per person per night and the lunch feast was 55 euro each and included two bottles of wine per table. It is also perfectly located, being close to trulli country, the Salento and the Taranto area. Lovely people and more than willing to help as you'll hear in the next installment. I wish we had had more time.

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    THE VALLE D’ITRIA

    Day 9 - Breakfast at Il Frantoio was another wonderful Italian spread of homemade pastries, fruit, cereals, breads, cheeses and meats, etc – probably the best we had on our trip - certainly the most comfortable setting. After breakfast we took off to visit a few towns. We drove through Cisternino and Locorotondo without stopping and made it to Alberobello. This, of course, is the trulli town. The whole old part of town is made up of trulli, the church, the stores, the houses all trulli. It is pretty amazing and you can't help but take pictures. We had arrived reasonably early so there were not many people out yet. As we passed each opening the storekeeper would come out and give their little speech to entice us to come in. At one point we entered a shop that had extremely fine linens. I knew I was in trouble the minute we entered as my wife loves fine fabrics. We spent quite a bit of time as the storekeeper pulled out ever finer examples and extolled their virtues. She had silk sheets woven with a damask pattern or woven with patterns of flowers,600-800 euro each sheet; a table covering that was hand-woven silk netting with hand embroidered silk flowers – over a thousand euro. We purchased a very fine cotton and linen bedspread at an admittedly excellent price and then pulled my wife out before the shopkeeper showed her any more. “Bottega Del Tessuto Artigianale, Via Monte S. Michele 70”.

    We explored a little more in the side streets, but by then the streets were filling with tourists and it had started raining so we left Alberobello. I had originally hoped we could visit Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca, but it was clear we had to leave out one so we headed for Martina Franca. Valley d'Itria is full of rolling hills and beautiful vistas and a delight to drive. Martina Franca was the most elegant of the towns we visited. The buildings had large impressive iron or wood doors, beautiful wrought iron balconies and iron decorations. the streets were wider and the town is more flat than others. We very much enjoyed walking around. We were very hungry and wanted to find a restaurant recommended in one of the guide books. We asked an elderly man who walked with a cane for directions. He spouted out a list much too fast for me to understand so we just set out in the direction of his first instruction. As we really didn’t know where we were going he kept catching up to us and yelling for us to turn this way or that. Eventually he pointed down a narrow street and said the restaurant was there. We didn’t find it and asked another gentleman. He said we were at the right address but we couldn't find the restaurant and decided it must have gone out of business. As we were reading the menu of another one he came over and said the food was very good – so we went in. Piazzetta Garibaldi (Piazza Garibaldi 17/18) is a lovely restaurant in a very old building. On the main floor you could make out the large back door which was used to bring in the wagons and the animals and the large trough where they ate - which was right next to our table.

    We ordered our usual bottle of water, bruschette and a half bottle of Primitivo, which was recommended, the antipaste di la casa, a pasta with tomato, eggplant, and ricotta and an order of pasta with mushrooms and sausage. For desert we had two coffees and a torte with candied fruit. The pastas were excellent but the antipasti was just superb. Eight courses were brought out one at a time:
    Mozzarellini Burratine – small burrata
    Scamozzine alla Brace – grilled scamorza cheese
    Parmigiana di melanzone
    Pizza di Patate
    Verdure Grigliette
    Verdure Cotte
    Capocollo e Caliocavallo – two specialties of Martina Franca – a cured meat from between the head and shoulder and mashed broad beans and wild vegetables
    Mertimese – I only have a vague memory of four small delicacies.
    Total for lunch was 44.5 euro. We were a long way from the car and we took our time getting back.

    In some way all the whitewashed towns share a similar general look, they’re old and have narrow winding roads, but it was immediately obvious when we entered Cisternino, which is only nine kilometers from Martina Franca, that we were in a different town – one with very different influences (Greek). The winding roads were more winding and narrower, the iron work was more elaborate with more gentle curves and tendrils and the buildings had narrow arched doorways and curved staircases. The smells were also different as in Cisternino they sell grilled meats at shop windows. We did our usual wandering until we realized we were tired and headed back to Ostuni.

    We had eaten lunch late and that evening we were only interested in a light snack. We asked girl at the masseria if we could bring some food into the breakfast area and eat there. She said, “of course” and that she would set a place for us. We drove to Ostuni looking for a deli to buy some salumi and cheese. As we approach the city we came to an area that had an unobstructed view of old Ostuni. It was all lit and glowed beautifully high up on its hills. We entered the town and were careful not to make any wrong turns as we did the night before when we turned off the main road and found ourselves having to drive straight up a very steep hill and turn down the most narrow passageways with cars parked on both sides. We had to pull in the side mirrors and crawl past. So we stayed on the main street and went into the first store that was open. It was a very modest corner store that sold everything from soap to soup. It wouldn’t have been our first choice but we weren’t in a mood to search further and didn’t want to enter the main part of town. So I selected a variety of salumi and cheese and left. The storekeeper wouldn’t sell me bread, indicating that it was no longer fresh.

    When we returned to Il Frantoio we met with a most pleasant surprise – a most beautiful table was set for us. There were flowers, fruit, bread, water, olives and more all set with cloth napkins and place mats. With the wine we still had we enjoyed a mini feast. We couldn’t thank her enough.

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    Blej: The descriptions of the food are tantalizing. It is truly amazing to consider the enormous variation between the regions of Italy with regards to food. For example, Piemonte might as well be another country when I compare the food we just ate with that which you enjoyed in Puglia/Campania.

    I also like that you are including the shopping details!

    One of the dilemmas I have had when contemplating a visit to Puglia (my usual travel partner will only take one week and not one day more) is the difficulty of finding one base from which to meander. But from your report, I see that Ostuni would make a good base for exploring at least the central part of the region....based on what you write, I have to move Puglia up on my "future" list, although all that maneuvering along the narrow lanes and tucking in the mirror does give me pause! Please continue!


    Also--it sounds as if you chose the perfect time of year to explore, as long as one does not want to do any beach/swimming--do you agree?

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    ekscrunchy - remember that most of the hard driving was on the Amalfi Coast. Any city can be confusing but we didn't ask for directions, relying on the GPS. Had we asked the hotels in Trani and Matera beforehand and gotten instructions it would have likely been easy. What you gain in freedom and great views more than makes up for the difficulties.

    We very much enjoyed the relative emptiness of the towns as neither one of us likes crowds. The two drawbacks were: a greater chance of rain and that we were about two weeks before the flowers would bloom. Amalfi and most of Puglia are at about the same latitude as NY although they are about two to three ahead in blooms. I would imagine the perfect time would be just after Easter. However, just before the prices are less.

    With a car and/or a driver I would think someplace near the Gargano and Ostuni would make good bases. As much as we like to stay in one place, we usually end up moving around a bit. With a car its not too bad. We just need to learn how to pack a little better so we don't have to bring suitcases into each one night stand.

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    Blej: Thank you! My interest is deepening. I still say that you deserve credit for not getting ruffled (like SOME people I know) about the driving!

    Coincidentally,the new (May, 2009) Saveur magazine has an excellent article on Matera that mentions Locanda di San Martino and the Latteria Rizzi. I think you will enjoy reading and seeing the photos; much mention is made of the fantastic peppers from Basilicata.

    I

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    blej - LOVING your report!! It is taking me back to my own trip just exactly two years ago now!!

    We chose to skip Il Frantoio because we thought it too expensive but from your ravings and other things we have since heard and read, I am hoping I can convince my husband otherwise, if we ever return. Sounds like a truly marvelous place.

    We also loved the elegance of Martina Franca. I did not find the driving difficult in Puglia at all. But I must say that we did not enter deeply into the small towns, with the exception of Trani where we stayed right in town. It was actually the easiest driving I had yet in Italy, having driven before in Tuscany and Umbria.

    The food of Puglia is indeed enticing and delicious. Piemonte - have not been there yet and can't wait to read your report ekscrunchy!!! Welcome back.

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    Bravo!! I missed this earlier so am glad it came up again! I loved your report and am tantalized by descriptions of sassi.

    The little structures you saw on the road may have been mini-shrines to people who died there or nearby.

    More, more!

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    Thanks, Flame..I will begin the report within the week.

    Meanwhile I am loving this one! Please do not miss the new Saveur with the photos of the food in Matera..the best thing for us is that the ingredients are available in the US (ok, I know they will not be the same...but there are some great-looking recipes including one with pasta, bread crumbs and those DOP dried peppers she discusses in the article, available in New York City and by mail order from DiPalo on Grand Street)

    http://www.saveur.com/article/Food/Pasta-with-Fried-Peppers-and-Bread-Crumbs

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    hi blej,

    how did you find out about the lunch at masseria - the website doesn't really mention anything except lunch. teh whole place looks gorgeous.

    I love the foody details too - fancy a baker here refusing to sell you bread because it's not fresh!

    you have really whetted my appetite for all things puglian.

    regards, ann

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    annhig - I called the masseria to see if they had a meal planned during the time we would be in Puglia. When they told us the date for lunch we booked the date and planned the rest of the our time around it. In the off season they are infrequent. I would guess that by now they are offering lunch and dinner very frequently. As they say themselves the farm revolves around the kitchen and in particular around their amazing olive oils. I didn't mention this earlier but each course featured a different olive oil.

    By the way the Lonely Planet's "puglia and Basilicata" is an excellent guide and the one that lists them in their top five.

    ekscrunchy - I just purchased the new Saveur and very much enjoyed the article. Its alway fun to "extend" the vacation by reading, drinking and eating what was just experienced. I was happy they also mentioned Le Botteghe where we had dinner. It is a large restaurant and lovely inside. For those interested in cooking I would recommend, "Puglia, A Culinary Memoir" by Maria Pignatelli Ferrante - available from Amazon. It is written first-hand in a way that weaves the history of the region, life in a peasant home years ago when the area was very poor, the changes that took place and 265 traditional recipes. That's where I got the recipe for the pureed fava beans.

    Since we returned I have found fava beans, fresh burrata that you can order 40 minutes ahead of time and a dozen wines from Campania, Puglia and Basilicata in Arthur Ave. in the Bronx; my local wine store is already clearing space for Campanian whites and some Aglianicos. The peppers from DiPalo's sound like a much.

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    Good news about the local products! I will investigate the cookbook; I hope we can try different recipes and share our experiences here! I will pick up the peppers next time I visit DiPalo.

    You are truly a man after my own heart in that you planned your Puglia stay around the lunch at the masseria!

    Eagerly awaiting more Pugliese adventures!

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    LAST FULL DAY IN ITALY

    Day 10 - Even though we were the only overnight guests and thus the only ones for breakfast a full spread was set out for us. That one little act of service endeared the masseria to us forever. It didn’t take too long to finish packing and we now had a decision to make – to stay in Puglia for the day and sleep somewhere within an hour of Naples airport or to go straight to Naples and see a little of the city. We had a 6:40 AM flight the next day and my wife was concerned about getting up early to make the flight. I was worried about stopping and leaving the de Simone passenger in the backseat while we toured a town. We opted for Naples. We made fairly good time getting to the outskirts of Naples in about 3 ½ hours. The drive to Bari is on the highway and unremarkable, but as you turn towards the opposite coast the views of the land as it changes from the agriculture of Puglia to the mountains of Campania, are wonderful. At one point the giant windmills make their appearance – modern and unbelievably tall – spread all along the tops and sides of the hills. I don’t know how I would feel if I lived there, but they are impressive. Not too much after, as we approached Benevento, we could once again see the small towns on top of the mountains. I could feel the desire to stop and explore – but we continued on.

    I had the name of two hotels near the airport and we headed for the first on the list. We couldn’t find it and my wife did not like the neighborhood we were in, so we called the second - Hotel Joyful and stopped in to see what it was like. We were in a bleak industrial neighborhood with nothing pleasant to see anywhere around. However, the hotel itself is very nice – simple, but clean and nice and about 6 or 7 minutes from the airport. We decided to stay there and unloaded our luggage. After a short rest we walked with some trepidation to the train station and boarded for central station. We then started to walk towards the historic part of town. That was a mistake! The neighborhood was filthy, the characters were suspicious (or least we were suspicious of them) and my wife was not happy. We finally made it to a main street with taxis and quickly grabbed one. I asked to be let off at Piazza del Plebiscito, not knowing anything about it except that on the map it looked like it was near historic buildings and the water. We got out and started to explore and look for a place to eat – as usual it was the time that everything was closed. We ended up at the waterfront and bought paninis and beer from a stand and sat down to eat. We spent about an hour avoiding the North Africans who walk right up to you with their jewelry and pressed resin animals and a very insistent sales pitch and talking to a couple from Iowa. He travels to Naples at least once a year and they both love the city and stay at the same hotel facing the water. At their suggestion we walked down Via N. Sauro, around the port to Piazza Vittoria and into the town back to Piazza del Plebiscito where we explored the impressively massive buildings. It started to rain at a good clip so we took a taxi back to the hotel.

    I remember reading that some people love Naples and some do not. We didn’t love it. While we were there only for very short time and probably saw only the worst of the city, it did not leave a favorable impression. My wife hated it. The buildings are incredible and I would imagine what they contain in art and history must rival any city – but the graffiti ruined it and the place is just dirty. Worse than NYC ever was. While I would return with someone who knew the city and could guide us, I doubt my wife would. I certainly would never drive in Naples again. The drivers there are just crazy. They ignore traffic lanes, block oncoming traffic and race each other to the intersection from four directions.

    We ended our stay ordering some room service to augment the food we still had left over and turned in early. About three–thirty in the morning my wife wakes me up and says the bed is shaking. As there was no one else in the bed but the two of us I told her she was dreaming and to go back to sleep. We didn’t find out until we landed in NY that there had been an earthquake.

    Two quick items about the return: the al Italia flight back had an all male crew, which was something I not seen before. They were great. They gave everyone whatever they wanted, put out all the refreshments and snacks in the back and let everyone help themselves and were friendly and joking throughout the flight. It reminded us of flying in the old days – except that the lounge was only a little galley in the back.

    The second thing was that I was distracted at Naples security when my wife was pulled aside for hand screening and I left my laptop in the bin and didn’t realize it until I was on the plane. The stewardess spoke to the pilot but there was nothing to be done as they were ready to leave the gate. In Milan I spoke to a young lady at lost and found who told me there was nothing to be done and that no one would want to take responsibility for it. I persisted, told her I knew she could do something for me and called her a few times before leaving Milan and in NY. Two days later I called again and she told me the laptop was located and was being held at Naples security. I went online, found a number and spoke to a wonderful lady who was holding it in her hand as I called. At her direction I called FedEx to pick up the laptop, which she had packed, and two days later I had it in hand. It just highlighted how friendly people are when you’re on vacation – or when you’re home and it hasn’t yet worn off.

    All-in-all we had a great time and as always – feel we just scratched the surface of the places we visited. The food in Puglia is wonderful – not only because of the restaurants and their great skill – but because the produce is wonderful, fresh and local and there is great pride in the region to stick to only the finest ingredients and traditional methods. What is just beginning in the US is the culture in Puglia.

    In case you’re wondering, the vase made it in one piece.

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    blej - I was happy to read about the vase making it safely to your home and that your laptop was also returned safe and sound, albeit with some problems at first. Indeed, there are service people and there are service people. If you are lucky enough to get someone who cares, it makes all the difference in the world.

    We return from our jaunts to Italy via the Rome airport and I am always disappointed that our last day/night in the lovely Italy always "ruins" whatever grand time we had before whether in Tuscany, Umbria, Puglia, whatever. When we have chosen to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport, it was OK, but nothing special of course. On our last visit about 6 months ago we stayed at a small B&B close to the airport which was quite awful and unfortunately our last dinner there was also regretful. I guess we need to make many more visits (wink) before we figure out how to keep the wonderful taste of the country in our minds and breath even when in the larger cities. So while I have only been in Naples even more briefly than you (in order to catch the hydrofoil to Capri), I did not like it either. But I imagine, as you write, that given the opportunity to be shown around with someone who knows the areas, etc. we could probably be turned around!!

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    hi blej -

    how lucky about the laptop. it puts my story about DS's errant mobile on the shade.

    your comments about driving in Naples reminds me of what my italian teacher [who is from Rome and therefore can be taken to know a bit about crazy driving] said abut driving there. He was in a jam, obviously lost, hemmed in on both sides, when the driver from the car in friont approached and banged on teh window. full of trepidation he wound it down expecting to be robbed or worse, only to find that he was being asked where he was going and being invited to follow to get him onto the right road! LOL. the driver had guessed from where they were in Naples and the no. plate that they were lost and from out of town and wanted to help. so even the italians have misgivings about Naples.

    we went there once too, BTW, and found a lovely galleried shopping centre, as well as some of the dirtiest streets and children I've seen, before or since. and I threw up all over the side of the hydfrofoil on the way back to Sorrento!

    thanks for for the great report,

    regards, ann

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    Ann I am laughing out loud at the last comment! Sorry!

    I, too, had mixed feelings about Naples and my partner did not like it very much. Or rather, he liked it less than other Italian cities he had visited.

    We too had a short time--only 2 nights-- and I think we both would have warmed much more to the city had we had more time to get adjusted. I also think that, because I had had a truly bad experience in Palermo a few years ago (robbed at knifepoint in our hotel lobby!), I was overly anxious about Naples and could not relax enough to truly get into the spirit of the place. I think the next time I would find much more to enjoy without dragging a lot of anxiety along with me. Who knows, maybe I will end up there after a visit to Matera/Puglia! I would return just to devour more sfogliatelle!

    Blej: We are in your debt for this report. Truly wonderful. That is quite an amazing story about the laptop and I am convinced it was only your persistence that provided the happy ending. Good for you for insisting!

    I am quite mournful now that our little jaunt to Basilicata and Puglia is over! Please let me know about any recipes you attempt and how they turn out!

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    ekscrunchy: I will be happy to post any Puglian recipes I try, but be forewarned I am only a sometimes cook - only sometimes - when the feeling moves me - or if company is coming. I will let you know if I come across good wines from the three regions we visited that are available to us. I hope your experience in Palermo, and I'm glad you survived it, isn't common. Alot of people have said we should visit Sicily.

    Flame - what we need is a chain of, "Last night hotels", with good food, a garden, mini museum and an early morning shuttle to the airport.

    Thank you all for reading. I feel like I gave back a little of what I received - although I relived quite a bit in writing.

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    Great report, blej. I'm just back from Puglia myself and enjoyed it immensely, altho' perhaps in a more personal way, since I went to my mother's home town and discovered a slew of relatives I never knew existed and wound up spending the last part of my trip with them. Truly an unforgettable experience! And, oh yes, the food!! :-)

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    Wonderful report. We also thought that Matera was wonderful, but didn't have time to explore much else of that area at that time and may do so this next October. Thanks for the detail.

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    Hey there - have any of you been to Amalfi in early January or know anyone who has? My wife and I will be there then and although we are aware that its colder..., we are trying to find out how cold is cold...

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    All I can tell you is that I have been in Rome during a few Januaries. We have had weather warm enough to wear only light jackets much--but not all--of the time. (Perhaps in the range of 55-60F during the day; but dropping into the 40s at night)

    But other years there has been snow in January. The Amalfi area should be even warmer if you hit a sunny spell. Hope for the best--in any case, it will not be frigid..

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    Thanks a lot! Based on your experience, would you base out of Capri or along mainland for the 3 or 4 days we'll be there? Both, including Naples, appeal to us - just would appreciate your opinion!

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    In January I would stay on the mainland, in the town of Amalfi. You want to maximize your chances of finding places--shops, restaurants--that are open and you do not want to take the chance of being stuck on Capri in case of bad weather and cancellation of ferries.

    I have never been to Campania at that time of year, though. But there are a few threads here on visiting that area in winter. Try to find them with an "advanced search" here. For example:

    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/hotels-during-off-season-on-amalfi-coast.cfm


    Naples is a totally different animal; there will be much more life there in the dead of winter. But that decision depends on your own taste and desires for this holiday-do you want a big, and often rambunctious, city? Or a relaxing, scenic coastal town?

    If you want to visit Pompeii, you might also think about basing in Sorrento.

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    HI. I just saw this activity while posting for a trip to Prague. Here is just a little more clarity on driving on the Amalfi Coast:

    We were there off season and still there were times with traffic. At those times, or when you're behind the many buses or trucks, the pace is slow. The road is narrow and there are curves after curves and there is a wall next to you and Italians do love to drive fast.

    However, if you can relax and have the confidence to drive at the pace you find comfortable and not care who is tailgating you - you will quickly get used to it - especially if you use the mirrors that are installed on the curves. As in most places it is nice to be able to just get in the car and drive to the next town or just drive and see the countryside without a schedule. You will see things you otherwise wouldn't know about.

    It does pay to have parking available at your hotel. If you drive to one of the small hilltowns I would avoid turning off the main road on any narrow road that goes uphill. People will park wherever there is land, even if they stick out into the street.

    Do investigate a GPS with Europe preloaded or which can accept a card with the country you'll be in. We had it and it was very helpful - even if it told us to make some turns which would have meant our driving off a cliff.

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