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Calling Ekscrunchy and other pugliaphiles: Puglia itinerary in progress

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Calling Ekscrunchy and other pugliaphiles: Puglia itinerary in progress

Old Jun 14th, 2011, 02:34 PM
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Calling Ekscrunchy and other pugliaphiles: Puglia itinerary in progress

My husband and I will be visiting Puglia in mid-September, and I'd love input on the itinerary I've got partly laid out.
Also, very interested in restaurant "musts". I'll definitely be using Ekscrunchy's trip reports for that.

First, our priorities: great food, pretty, not-too-touristy towns, sea views, nice hotel rooms, hotels in walking distance of restaurants (which is why we probably won't do a masseria, unless someone persuades me otherwise).

We will have a car, but enjoy being able to walk places from wherever we're staying, especially at night so my husband, who's the only decent driver, can get his drink on at dinner.

Having most trouble with my Salento choices, and with the masseria/ no masseria debate. Are we giving up something essential if we don't stay in one?

Now, the plans and choices so far:

NORTH: TRANI
Arrive in Bari Sept. 15th, spend 3 nights in Trani at Hotel Mare Resort
http://www.mareresort.it/

MIDDLE: OSTUNI OR FASANO
Sept 18-21: 3 nights in Ostuni at La Sommita, room with private terrace
http://www.lasommita.it/
OR
3 nights in Fasano at Masseria Torre Maizza (tempting but probably not, since it requires driving to anywhere else)
http://www.masseriatorremaizza.com/

SALENTO
Sept 21-24: 3 nights in Lecce? Or 3 in Gallipoli? Or split between them?

Lecce: Hotel Risorgimento
http://www.risorgimentoresort.it/

Gallipoli: Corte Palmieri
http://www.hotelpalazzodelcorso.it/h...is-puglia.html

This part I'm having a tough time with. Don't want to do too many hotel changes. More fun to stay in Lecce and visit Otranto/ Gallipoli as day trips? Or vice versa?

The seafood in Gallipoli sounds amazing, and ditto for the sunsets. I'm a sucker for both.

Then again...nicer hotel in Lecce, I think. Would driving in and out of Lecce be a nightmare? Would we be bored by 3 nights there?

NAPLES
Sat Sept 24: Drive to Naples, spend 2 nights there (haven't picked a hotel yet) and fly home on Monday the 26th.

Thanks in advance for your input!
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 03:19 PM
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I'm not ekscrunchy, of course, but my experience of Puglia is fairly recent, so here goes... first of all, definitely Lecce - much more fun to stay in that vibrant, youthful and relaxed town than anywhere else in the Salento. For that reason, I wouldn't also consider a masseria in that part of Puglia. (Though you are probably not aware that most masserie are first of all restaurants, and often really excellent ones, so you wouldn't typically have to drive anywhere for dinner.)

I don't of course know what bores you, but three nights in Lecce wouldn't bore me if I had a car to explore the Salento. Lecce itself can be seen in half a day, but there's so much more in easy reach: S. Maria di Cerrate, Galatina, Galatone, Muro Leccese, Casarano, Carpignano Salentino, Giurdignano, also Otranto (which didn't overly impress me, though), Patù (the Centopietre are a great and unusual sight if you want to go as far as the southern tip of Puglia), Tricase, Poggiardo & Vaste (for the cave churches), S. Cesarea Terme...

I cannot answer the nightmare question since driving, for me, is always and anywhere a joy and never a nightmare, but I don't see anything particularly deterrent about driving in and out of Lecce. Generally, driving in Puglia is extraordinarily easy: the country is mostly flat, there's no traffic to speak of, not even in Bari, and the majority of roads is good.

I would think again about staying in Trani. Trani is very pretty, no doubt, the cathedral is a great sight, and there are (completely neglected by every guidebook I saw!!) some of Europe's oldest synagogues there, so the town is absolutely worth seeing... but it's one of the very few places in Puglia that have already started to become touristy in a negative sense (cf. restaurant prices, waiters attitudes...), so that's a place I'd visit in a daytrip, and stay somewhere else. If you do want to include a masseria, this one is a wonderful place half an hour inland from Trani (I don't know the hotel, but the restaurant is wonderful, as is the olive oil that the owner's father is producing): www.masseriabarbera.it - extraordinarily nice owner & staff, too!

As far as restaurants, you're unfortunately leaving out many culinary interesting parts of Puglia (the province of Foggia, most of the province of Taranto, the region around Altamura), but there are two really exciting restaurants in the "middle" section of your trip - attention, REALLY casual places, not quite compatible with the hotel style that you seem to prefer, to put it bluntly: UGLY restaurants in comparison, but the food is heavenly. (Some after-dinner driving will be indispensable, sorry!)
- Antico Borgo in Cisternino, www.rosticceria-lanticoborgo.it - if you haven't had dinner at a fornello, you haven't been to Puglia, and this one is the fornello you're looking for
- Piazzetta Garibaldi in Martina Franca, no website, Piazza Garibaldi 17, tel. 080-4304900; Martina Franca is famous for its food, but also a dangerous place since "inventive" restaurants catering to tourists (Italians don't eat inventive cuisine) are already spreading up there, and some of them are even well-reputed. Well... this one is definitely not inventive, and it's the restaurant that is most famous with the locals - justly so.

One restaurant recommendation for the south, as well (though I had unfortunately only lunch there, and though it involves, once more, some driving):
- Corte degli Aranci in Specchia, no website, Via G. Matteotti 54, tel. 0833-535381. Unassuming appearance, as well, excellent food, as well. The very best pettole by far that I had anywhere in Puglia!
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 05:20 PM
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Reading closely as we're looking to explore Puglia in 2013 for our 15th wedding anniversary! Hoping for the inside scoop!
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 05:55 PM
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Hi Franco,

Interesting! I really appreciate your opinions. People have seemed to like Trani, and said it was really pretty, so I included it - but I'd be interested to hear where you'd recommend instead.

Any seaside towns you'd pick? Do you think Taranto would be a smart way to replace Trani, or somewhere on the Gargano? Thinking about the culinary regions you mentioned.

As for ugly restaurants, I'm all for them. Our taste in hotels and restaurants is totally different. I'm really particular about nice bathrooms and views, but when it comes to food, I like down and dirty. Not a fan of the fancy.

Thanks for the guidance - looking forward to hearing more of your suggestions.
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 08:23 PM
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It's been 4 years since I visited Puglia (how time flies!), but I had a wonderful meal at the Grotta Palazzese in Poligano a Mare. The food was outstanding, the service was wonderful, and the setting provided a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And its just a few minutes from the main train line through Bari (as I recall, about 1/2 hr south of Bari), so no one needs to drive after indulging in a glass or two of delightful wine! See:

www.grottapalazzese.it

I'm sorry to here franco's comments on Trani. I loved it! When I was there, there was a clearly established tourist industry, but it certainly was not "touristy" - if anything, it seemed that I had escaped the clearly beaten tourist trail a bit. Even if you do stay elsewhere, consider trying to see the cathedral and harbor - IMHO, well worth seeing. (The fort is skip-able.)

I found Lecce delightful! I saw everything there that I wanted to see in a little less than a day, but one of the things I loved was the easy-going joie de vivre that I encountered in my evening walks there. I think it could make a good base for exploring that part of Puglia (but I didn't spend time in other options).

Also, for what little it's worth, you mentioned that you plan to spend 2 nights in Naples after visiting Puglia. I loved the contrast between these places! You might want to consider adding a day or so to your time in Naples - there is so much to see there! But perhaps you expect to be in/around Naples another time (or have already been there).

Hope that helps!
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 09:12 PM
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Thanks, kja -
We haven't been to Naples, and my husband is lobbying for some more time there. So maybe I'll shave off a night from one of our three Puglia locations and allot it to Naples.

Recent reviews of Grotta Palazzese haven't been too good; seems it's gone downhill. Sad, because it's such a great setting. But we'll check it out anyway.

Glad to hear another opinion on Trani. People seem to love it, and I thought it might be a good first stop just to relax and get a feel for that region. And to hunt down bread in Altamura.
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 09:34 PM
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We were in Puglia 4 years ago as well and I have a detailed trip report on this site if you are interested
Here is the link

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...and-nights.cfm

I too loved Trani but again it WAS some time ago, maybe in the meantime, as franco reports, it has changed.
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 09:58 PM
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Flame123, I've read your report a bunch of times. It's fantastic. I think it might be the reason I looked into Trani, actually.

I should mention that another consideration (though it's pretty close to Ostuni) is Monopoli, which you also seem to have liked.

Can you (or anyone) weigh in on Monopoli vs Trani? There's a new hotel in Monopoli that looks really nice, and keeps tugging at me:
http://www.donferrante.it/it/home/

As I may have mentioned, I loves me a terrace over the sea...
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 10:15 PM
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> We haven't been to Naples, and my husband is lobbying for some more time there. So maybe I'll shave off a night from one of our three Puglia locations and allot it to Naples.

For what its worth - and that's probably very little, since people travel for such different reasons and with such different paces - my impression is that there are two main approaches to Naples - to endure it or accept it. Some people approach Naples with such reluctance that they leave ASAP upon arrival, or maybe (with some reluctance) give a half or at most one day to see just the archeology museum and maybe one or two other things. Others see it as a vibrant, gritty, dynamic, (and maybe dirty) city that is nonetheless worth embracing . I'm in the latter group. I found it a city that was rich in its holdings of art and architecture (in museums and churches and public structures and even in the streets), incredible vistas, wonderful markets, history.... Yes, it is gritty and even dirty, but I loved its vibrancy and energy and the many, many things I found worth visiting. I gave myself only 1.5 days in Naples itself; in retrospect, I wish I had given myself at least 3.5 days (not counting any time in Pompeii or anywhere else outside the city).


> Recent reviews of Grotta Palazzese haven't been too good; seems it's gone downhill.

Are those reviews of the hotel or the restaurant? I noticed that the reviews of the hotel have declined, but I wasn't sure whether the restaurant has also dropped in quality. If it has, what a shame! But in that case, I'd wonder whether it offers any inexpensive dinner options- the setting is so wonderful that I, personally, would consider having (say) a really large lunch so I could enjoy a light dinner with the sight and sound of waves crashing under, behind, and beside me as I watch the reflected, fading light of sunset kiss the various rocks and waves in my line of sight. When it comes to our senses, I would be willing to sacrifice a bit of taste to maximize my experience of the sight and sound at this particular setting, and I recognize that others might (quite legitimately) make a different choice.

>Glad to hear another opinion on Trani. People seem to love it, and I thought it might be a good first stop just to relax and get a feel for that region.

I'd like to think that Trani would be a good place to spend some time, but franco is an expert on the area, and I'm just a person who spent a few days in Puglia 4 years ago. If franco recommends visiting it only as a day trip, I would take that advice quite seriously!

You're obviously doing everything you can to make sure you make the most of this journey. It's going to be wonderful! Do keep us posted!
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Old Jun 14th, 2011, 10:27 PM
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lbelgray - thanks, I am pleased you could garner info from my report. As for deciding between Trani and Monopoli, that hotel looks AMAZZZZZZZZING!!!!! And I would agree with kja and "surrender" to franco's expertise. Indeed, we only are visitors to the area and franco is the expert.

That said, we only spent a morning in Monopoli but loved it so much that, given together with this hotel you found, I might have gone for that. Let us know what you decide !!!
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 02:47 AM
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I am so glad to learn that you will definitely head for Puglia, and so glad that Franco has returned with current and detailed information! (I hope to hear more details about his meal at Masseria Barbera; was I charmed partially because I dined there at Sunday lunch?)

Difficult choices. Much depends on your tolerance for driving in and out of large towns. For example, Torre Maizza vs Ostuni. Difficult choice. You can see Ostuni in a morning, but it would be a charming places to base oneself; I would have liked to be there for the passegiata. You are also close to the town of Ceglie Massapica, one of the gourmet centers of the region with at least two very well regarded restaurants.

Torre Maizza is, first and foremost, a resort. We love it for the swimming pool and the beauty of the grounds, as well as the gorgeous rooms. If I were not a serious swimmer, I would not have stayed there for 6 nights combined on 2 trips to Puglia.

Having said that, the drive to Savelletri, for the seafood, is only about 3 minutes along a very lightly trafficked side road. .


So you see, I have no definitive answer for this and other questions, but am thrilled to be able to discuss, in detail, this and all other aspects of the area. Or perhaps I should say that the real answer is that you probably cannot go wrong with any of these options.



I thought Trani was less tourist-affected than Otranto, but then I was there on a Monday morning. (The seaside town I loved the most, though, was charming and smaller Polignano, although I would not choose to eat at the GP, fearing that the experience would be more focused on atmosphere than regional food and that the food would be too "gussied up" for my own taste) I agree with Franco that this might be the time to stay at a masseria--the Lama di Luna. You can drive easily to Trani (which is not known for restaurants) and have dinner at Barbera, and at Antichi Sapori. I would drive a very long way to eat at the latter. You must book long in advance for AS; do this when you book your hotel in the area.

Monopoli? Good question. More of a city than the other two I just mentioned. You would never go wrong, it would just mean that you would cut something else. I visited only for an hour, for the market. Very close to Polignano, and an easy drive from Torre Maizza on the highway.

I don't know Gallipoli and I barely touched the Salento, even with two nights in Otranto, so I defer to Franco here, as in all things Italian. Driving in and out of Lecce is not difficult, so you could make it your base for a few nights and do day trips. I would not want to do that due to my hesitancy behind the wheel.

I would move one night away from the north and give it to the Salento. Then you will have four night between there and Lecce and we can discuss further how to split those. (I was ok with only one night in Lecce due to our very limited time in the area, but I am in the minority here, I think)


http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...any-nights.cfm

Do you mean hotel nicer than the Risorgamiento? If the Risorgamiento is pricey at the time of your visit, cut it out and stay in a cozy central B&B or smaller hotel. The rooms are modern and the place does not have that much charm, although they are very professional. There is nothing "resort-ey" about it, despite the name. You do not need to splurge for that particular hotel. A friend who visits that area always stays at Patria Palace but that is probably in the same price range. A small, new place with a fabulous location is this one that we saw during our stay:

http://www.palazzopersone.com/
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 02:51 AM
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For some reason the La Sommita website is not working.
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 04:30 AM
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>People have seemed to like Trani, and said it was really pretty<
Well, I, too, said it's really pretty, there's certainly no doubt about that. But as compared to almost everywhere else in the region (where everybody is so proud to welcome tourists that they really go out of their way to make the visitors leave with the very best impression), the vibe the place has is definitely disappointing. I'm just quoting my lunch experience... we first tried a restaurant that I had enjoyed many many many years ago. Though the place was almost empty, with many tables boasting a beautiful view of the castle (which is skipable, I agree, but nice enough as a lunch background), the waiter gave us the worst table of all, in front of the toilet doors and with no view at all. Though there is hardly any language barrier for me, it must have been obvious that we were the only tourists... we preferred to leave. Second try, a nice fish restaurant at the harbor. For lunch, my travel partner and I typically have just a primo each, mineral water and coffee (which is nowhere a problem in Italy, nowadays, I just explain it to the waiter up front - which often results in a larger helping of the primo to ensure we don't leave hungry, perhaps for 1 Euro more than on the menu). The typical Puglian price for such a lunch for two people is 22 Euros, with seafood perhaps 24. At that Trani restaurant, the waiter, who had the discreet charm of a marriage impostor, continuously pressed us to order something else, antipasto, secondo, dolce... and the primo that we got was good, but such a laughable size that it was obvious that they were trying really hard to make us order a secondo. We didn't; and yet the bill was 36 or 38 Euros. (No worries, I didn't fail to tell the owner what I thought of his policy.) I could go on, but you already get the picture, I think.

Substituting it with Taranto, however, is an even far worse idea. Taranto is the most problematic city I know all over Italy, incredibly poor, incredibly neglected, outright destroyed, thus incredibly ugly - and also pretty dangerous. There is great food to be had in the province of Taranto, but I don't recommend staying there (Martina Franca aside), so dining there involves serious after-dinner driving and is not what you're craving.

Would this be my holiday, I'd substitute Trani with the Masseria Barbera, as I said above - or if I'd want to stay on the sea (which is of no particular beauty on the stretch between Bari and Manfredonia, however), I'd choose Giovinazzo, which is another (very small) pretty town, nice atmosphere, absolutely no tourists, very kind people. This hotel looked beautiful from outside (I haven't been inside): www.smartinhotel.it. Alternatively, I'd also look into Barletta, which is pretty, as well, about the size of Trani, and without that tourist-rip-off-in-a-seminal-state feel.

The Gargano is another story, and Lucera yet another... this would be a serious alternative - or rather, an addition, since I for one wouldn't want to skip the Terra di Bari altogether (Castel del Monte, Trani, Molfetta, Bari, Bitonto, Giovinazzo, Valenzano, Bitetto: lots of good sights!). So the province of Foggia might be an alternative to Napoli (which you could as well save for another trip - there's more to see and do in Campania than just Naples, and you might want to get a deeper insight into that region, which is completely different from Puglia). The Gargano is very enjoyable, and Lucera even more so IMO - an extremely nice town, no sights to write home about, but Puglia's best atmosphere (perhaps together with Lecce), the great cathedral of Troia nearby, incredibly delicious food and olive oil... and a wonderful B&B, with an equally wonderful restaurant: www.palazzodauriasecondo.it. No breakfast before 9.30, please, since the owners don't get up that early. Just one of the most likeable places I've ever been!
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 05:42 AM
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Ahh, ek, hello! I've been typing that long last entry so slowly (between a dozen of other duties) that I didn't see your post when I started. First, Palazzo Personè is not only in a great location, but also one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever stayed at; but I wasn't sure whether it's the right place for the OP (you won't see any of the liveried staff there that populate the pictures of Hotel Risorgimento - the reception is only irregularly staffed, and it's more a B&B than a hotel, so I'm not sure how easy it would be to have them make restaurant reservations or the like). I fully agree that one night in Lecce is enough to see Lecce (plus perhaps S. Maria di Cerrate); but please consider that you stayed in Otranto, as well, while lbelgray wants to do Otranto and the southern Salento from Lecce.

As far as Otranto, there's no doubt that this is another of those few places affected by tourism (Alberobello being the most notorious, and Vieste in high season obviously being the fourth of them), but in Otranto, I didn't experience similar "surprises" as far as local attitude.

As far as Masseria Barbera, I'm definitely convinced that your being charmed had nothing to do with Sunday lunch; I was there on a weekday evening, as was exactly as charmed as you. The food is great, the olive oil is heavenly, the welcome is incredibly warm and nice, the place is prettily restored, and the prices are negligible. What else could we ask for?
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 08:45 AM
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I'm loving the detailed replies here!

@flame123:
I know, the Don Ferrante looks so nice, right? Always a factor for me.

@ek:
between your report and Franco's rec, I'll make sure to include Masseria Barbera at least for a meal. Investigating the hotel aspect. Not sure.

Did you looooove Lama Di Luna?

I wish Torre Maizza or Torre Coccaro were in that region and not right by Ostuni - if there's any masseria I'm really tempted by, it's those two.

By "nicer hotel in Lecce", what I meant was the Risorgimento (and other options there) seemed nicer than the offerings in Gallipoli or Otranto or anywhere around the coast. I actually have a res at Patria Palace as well.

@ek and @franco:
Persone looks pretty great, and perfect decor-wise, but, especially when we stay somewhere for multiple nights, I really like to have a terrace. It's a nice place to sit out before bed and eat light meals when we don't feel like doing a whole restaurant thing.

For the record: I don't care too much about staff in hotels. Courtesy and attitude, yes, but full service doesn't really matter as much as the physical place itself. Comfortable bed, nice decor, usually minimal/ modern and not frou-frou/ antique-y. Though old-school can be ok if the bathroom is nice.

@franco:
First of all, Taranto: OUT. Thanks for the emphatic "no" on that.

Can't cut out Naples. We're leaving from there, and my husband is probably most excited about that part. Whenever I tell people we're going to Puglia, he adds, "And Naples." So, if anything, I might trim a day from Puglia and add one in Naples.

Another thing I probably didn't express well was the center-of-town vs. countryside issue is really, more than anything, about my need to walk around independently. When my husband is working off his jetlag by watching weird Italian game shows and dubbed Law and Order, I like to go explore on my own. Again, I'm a NYC-raised driver. Which means I'm not one.

However, I could probably handle a night or two at a masseria, if we decide it's an essential experience.

So, thinking about Lama di Luna, on Eks' rec. Barbera, definitely for a meal, but so far can't find reviews of the hotel.
Or, your suggestion of Giovinazza looks pretty great! I've already written to the St. Martin hotel to find out about rooms. It doesn't have to be the most beautiful stretch of coast - I expect we'll see that in the Salento - just a nice place to wander around, with a seaside atmosphere, will do it for me. At least, as a base to enjoy the food in that region.

So, pending further discoveries to confuse me more, I think it might be between Lama di Luna and the hotel St. Martin.

Maybe just 2 nights there, 3 in Ostuni, 3 in Lecce - in order to do 3 in Naples.
Or, 2/ 3 / 4 to see more of Salento. And settle for a quick preview of Naples. We'll definitely be returning to Campania, since we've never done the Amalfi Coast. But hubby has to get at least a little Naples fix, I promised.
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 09:03 AM
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Just briefly now: As far as I know, Masseria Barbera is not yet open as a hotel. The owner told us he will be opening within the year. So that leaves Lama di Luna. I would not say that Lama di Luna is an "essential" experience. The beauty for me was the impeccable restoration of the property into an agriturismo/hotel and the while history of the place. It is very comfy but not plush. It is not in the class of Torre Maizza which for me is a destination in its own right. But my visit was colored by the cool and mostly cloudy weather, which precluded sitting at the beautiful pool, or having drinks outside. It is unusual in that they do not offer regular meals, although they will cook for you with notice. The owner is lovely and is very willing to share thoughts on organic farming, local foods, etc etc.

There are several beautiful masserie in the Salento but none that I know of on the water..I think we discussed this here earlier, and that is why you are considering Gallipoli, right?

I fully agree about wanting to walk around on your own while the husband/partner/friend is resting, in my case this is usually done with the tv on and scantily clad Italian variety show hostesses cavorting about on screen. (After many futile attempts, I now know, too, that is all but impossible to find NY Yankee games on Italian tv, or even on satellite channels.)
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 09:44 AM
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That's exactly the kind of show that's on TV our first day anywhere - even if it's not in Italy: weird variety shows with women in sequined dresses and, usually, some random politician. They play games for prizes, sing, dance, and have roundtable debates all in the same show.

Anyhow...that's good info on Lama di Luna vs Torre Maizza. Still torn between TM and the Sommita in Ostuni, actually. I've read so much about Maizza. But La Sommita looks so nice too. Sorry, I'm taking you back into my obsessive head-spin.


Re Gallipoli: yes, that's one reason I was considering Gallipoli. Well, also, staying in Lecce appealed to me, and so did staying in one of the seaside towns where some guy on a motorcycle fetches your dinner directly from the port, and sea urchins fall from the sky. I don't even like sea urchin, but husband loves it and I'm willing to try it there.
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 10:15 AM
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Trust me. The spaghetti with sea urchin at Da Renzina, and probably at any of the seaside restaurants in the area, will change your life. Not only the taste of the urchin, but the quality of the pasta, was spectacular.



I know all about obsessive! Just read some of my planning posts!
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 12:43 PM
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I am so excited for the life-changing sea urchin pasta. Have already put Da Renzina in our eat-tineraray.

And believe me, I have read your planning posts. Obsessively.

BTW, have you seen the Frugal Traveler this week?
http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes....lian/?emc=eta1
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Old Jun 15th, 2011, 02:09 PM
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Thanks for posting that link. I had read that he was going to Puglia but had not seen it.

I am all ears to read more about your trip plans!
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