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A flying visit to Puglia, Italy – here’s my first impressions

A flying visit to Puglia, Italy – here’s my first impressions

Old Feb 1st, 2005, 05:02 AM
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A flying visit to Puglia, Italy – here’s my first impressions

Firstly, thank you Fodors posters for your suggestions for my last minute trip to Puglia. I’ve wanted to go for ages, I can hardly pick up a paper or magazine at the moment without some article extolling the virtues of “the stiletto heel of Italy’s stylish boot” (quote). What’s more, I’m looking to buy a holiday property there, and I’m afraid my fellow Brits have pushed the prices in Umbria and Tuscany out of my reach.

So, £25 GBP return all in with Ryanair - gotta love ‘em - took me for a weekend, flying into Bari, where I picked up a small tank from Hertz which I spent the next 2 days squeezing through lanes barely wide enough for a Vespa.

Old villages, modern chic
I’d expected Puglia to be quaint, charming, but a little in need of some loving care. How wrong was I! Every town we visited or drove through had elegant centres with smart shops and restaurants. It may have been poor in the past, but there’s sure money here now.

We took the coast road to Polignano (thanks Patrick!) and stopped for lunch. What a little gem – a modern sprawling town disguises an ancient, twisting old town of white washed houses leading to cliffs eaten away by this lively stretch of the Adriatic.

We headed to Fasano to meet our estate agent. Fasano was a wonderful surprise. I have to confess I’ve never heard of it and don’t think it figures on the tourist trail at all, but we found it smart, sophisticated, elegant – the sort of city you could comfortably move straight into. A real city without the tourist trappings.

We used Ostuni as a base – known locally as the ‘white city’ for it’s white washed buildings perched on a hilltop. Have to admit we only saw it in the dark – but we stayed in the MOST fabulous hotel right in the centre, near many bars and restaurants in the old town. Check it out: www.lasommita.it We got a room for 220E a night, which was a bargain compared with their high season price of 400E! It was SO quiet in Puglia that we had the place to ourselves (they only have 9 rooms). Favourite bit was the bed on a platform in the middle of the room. Felt like a set from AbFab.

We also managed to visit Lecce (the self-styled ‘Florence of the South’, famed for its baroque architecture and indeed very elegant, as well as Alborobello – more of which later.

Where is everybody?
To say Puglia is quiet at this time of year is to say London is busy in the rush hour. We felt like the only tourists in the whole place, which was a pretty unique feeling for Italy. I have no doubt that July and August are rammed – Puglia is serious sun-worshippers territory, and the Italians have got to be the biggest beach lovers around. It meant we could wander on our own round old streets, always find a parking space, and never had to book a restaurant. Perhaps Puglia hasn’t yet made it into the touring crowds itinerary, but I feel this will change very soon, so go now!

To say it was quiet would be to say that Italians like eating – in fact, that’s what they must have all been doing , as we didn’t see another soul from 1-4pm every day – literally! This far south, the Italians take their siestas VERY seriously.

On the downside, this meant many restaurants were closed for the season, so you need to be flexible.

Parla Italiano?
If you don’t, you’d better start practising. Puglia is a bit like Florence or Rome 20 years ago – some youngsters and hotel staff speak ok English, but mostly, you and your hand gestures are on your own. Thankfully, I’ve been studying Italian for about 4 months. Happily discovered the money I’ve spent on lessons hasn’t gone to waste.

Trullis, or “boobyland” as we now call it.
If you’ve ever read anything about Puglia, you’ll have seen pictures of odd conical shaped houses that have 1,2,3 or even 10 pointed domes on top – a strange local custom for farm dwellings, and yes, they do look like sticky up breasts. Alberobello is the queen of boobyland – with streets and streets of these strange little hobbit houses. Only in Italy!

We did view a trullo as a potential holiday home, but decided they are truly only for hobbits who live in the dark. Lovely to have around you, but nice to go home to your nice spacious villa.

The Brits are coming
As I said, we were here to check out the area to see if we’d like to buy a holiday home- without any immediate plans to buy. Sure enough, we’re now in negotiations to purchase a new villa we viewed in Salvo di Fasano – a lovely hilltop community of elegant villas with fabulous views of the sea. Was astonished to learn that 2 of the 5 villas we viewed had British next door neighbours. So we’re trying to get in quick before we all push up the house prices. The Italians we met seem very bemused, but quite happy, by this new invasion.

So all in all we LOVED Puglia. It’s almost like someone has mixed the best if Italy and Greece together – food, medieval towns, whitewashed houses, beaches, palm trees, endless olive groves, great local wine. But go there soon, this place won’t be a secret for long.
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Old Feb 1st, 2005, 05:08 AM
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Thanks for sharing, Kate.

Sounds great.

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Old Feb 1st, 2005, 05:32 AM
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Kate,

Great report! Thank you for sharing. Looks like we'll have to try to get there in the year or two.

Sally
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Old Feb 1st, 2005, 06:29 AM
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This is the next region of Italy that I would like to see, thanks for the info.!
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Old Feb 1st, 2005, 06:46 AM
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Nice report, and I'm glad in passing through Polignano you managed to seek out the little ancient center -- not easy to find. Was the Grotto open?

One thing about "where is everybody". We were there in August. We stayed a couple nights in Lecce and it was DEAD. We stayed at the beautiful Patria Palace Hotel. I think there were only about 10 people staying there. Many restaurants were closed for vacation. But when we did a full loop drive of the actual coast of the "heel", it was chaos. Everybody was at the beach. Impossible to crawl, yet alone drive along the coastal roads. We spent about a week in that general area -- not nearly enough, and hope to get back "one of these days".

And while we heard occassional English being spoken around us in Puglia -- it always had that UK accent. We rarely heard other Americans. So I think you are right about it being discovered by the Brits!
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