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Seeking advice for fall trip to Puglia

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My husband, Larry, and I have begun planning a 2 week or so trip to Puglia in September, ( or maybe October) and are hoping that Fodorites can help us with the late planning of the trip. We are delayed because Larry had some hand surgery a week or so ago- not serious, but one that could have required either further surgery or PT, but now looks like it doesn’t. We are clear to travel.

For those who don't know us, we're an American couple in our early 70s. We are somewhat seasoned travelers in both Italy and France. One of the ways we have loved to travel is to rent a house or apartment, spending 2-3 weeks in one place and taking day trips no more than an hour or so in all directions. We have done this in Bonnieux, Provence, and Montelpulciano, Tuscany. We love having the time to absorb the atmosphere of a place.

However, we understand that some places don't lend themselves to this kind of travel. For example, when we went to Sicily a year or so ago, we traveled one of the usual routes, this one from Catania to Palermo (south, west, and then north) over a 2 week trip. We think that Puglia might be similar, but are hoping we can stay at no more than 3, and hopefully 2 places. For this trip, we'd prefer a Table d'hôte / B&B / Inn/ Agriturismo with an international clientele in which the guests at least sometimes eat dinner ( hopefully, at communal tables). We love staying in the countryside, villages, and cities, but prefer places where we can take day trips of no more than an hour.

The reasoning behind the above, for those interested in more information: Larry speaks French rather fluently as well as fairly advanced Spanish, and Italian, with a little German thrown in. I speak moderate French, but no Italian. Larry loves having the opportunity of making use of those languages to meet and interact with people. It would be great if we could find places that seem to attract people of different backgrounds and languages.

It looks like we can fly into either Bari or Brindisi and that it might be possible to fly into one city and out of the other. In addition to Larry’s love of languages, we love exploring small villages (and cities), art and architecture, nature, food, history, etc.

How would those of you who have been to the region organize the trip? Where should we base ourselves during the 2 weeks, using 2-3 places? What towns have you loved and what sites shouldn’t we miss? I understand that the driving is not difficult on the major roads, but can get dicey in the cities. We are thinking of staying near or in Lecce, Bari, and maybe Martina Franca. Should we go to Matera?

In addition, do you have recommendations for places to stay that would meet our perhaps unique interests? We have found that firsthand recommendations are best, even if they don't seem to have exactly what we are looking for.

I’m sorry for my wordiness, and thank you in advance for any suggestions.

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