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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 06:25 AM
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Before I forget the details, here is a very brief report about my recent late-September week in southern Puglia. I am going to omit most of the historical detail and focus on the food, which was one of the delights of the trip. I have made countless trips to Italy and visited many of its regions and Puglia ranks up there at the top level on the food scale. With only a week and a companion who avoids lunch, I had only 7 dinners, which I will report in detail as we progress.

As per my usual, I debated endlessly about the “best” base for a brief foray. With only one week, I could not hope to cover this entire long and narrow region at the heel of the Italian boot, so early in the planning process I decided to omit the Gargano and Trani as well as Matera which, while in Basilicata, is often included in Puglian sojourns.

However, so much did I love the area that I have already decided to return, this time to the last two towns, perhaps as early as next year.

Another dilemma was the amount of time to allot to Lecce; I vacillated between one and two nights eventually settling on the former. I was pleased with the itinerary which was as follows; note that my hotels, particularly the last one, were in the splurge category. But this area appears to be rife with excellent accommodations in all price brackets. There were so many great-looking properties that I had a very difficult time selecting just four.

This was our basic plan; the trip lasted 7 nights:

Fly Alitalia RT from JFK to Brindisi via Rome

2 nights outside Otranto (Masseria Montelauro)

1 night Lecce (Risorgimento Resort) (despite its name this is a city hotel, not a resort)

1 night outside Cisternino (Villa Cenci)

3 nights between Fasano and Savelletri (Masseria Torre Maizza)

We were very pleased with all four hotels and would give each one a good recommendation.

One detail to be tackled after booking hotels was renting a car. Because we need an automatic, we were prepared to pay a fairly high price. But with quite a bit of sleuthing I found what I consider to be a good rate, with reimbursement of the deductible in case of accident, on AutoEurope’s Italian site, www.autoeurope.it. I then phoned AutoEurope here in the US and asked them to match the price which they did, although it took some persuasion. Car rental is a minefield and my advice is to keep looking if the initial price seems high. We paid 388EUR (with tax) for an Opel Insignia, which proved to be an excellent car.

More details here:


This was the first time I have flown to Europe taking only carry-on luggage. My bag was a 20” Eagle Creek Tarmac and it was a good choice. I liked it so much that I have decided to give it to my usual travel partner and purchase a companion bag in the 22” size for myself. (For those living in New York, or planning to visit, I recommend Altman Luggage on the Lower East Side for good service and very good prices; they ship mail order but you may get a better price in person.) The only downside is that shopping had to be reined in severely. This turned out to be fairly easy on this particular trip, however, although it would have been more difficult had our trip come after the olive oil harvest when I would have wanted to bring a bottle home with me.

The Alitalia flight was on time and uneventful, although we flew on an older airplane that did not have personal entertainment systems in the seat backs. This bothered certain passengers, but I rarely watch airplane movies, preferring to read, instead. (We did have these tvs on the return flight, though). Both trans-Atlantic flights were full. Many of our fellow passengers appeared to be elderly Americans embarking on, or returning from, cruises out of Civitavecchia.

Without checked luggage, we breezed through arrivals at Brindisi with smug looks on our faces as we passed the baggage carousel with its eagerly awaiting huddled crowds.

After exiting the arrival area, we walked to the left, though the sparkling new terminal building, to another building housing the car rental desks.
Very convenient. Our vendor was EuropCar, the first counter to the left as you face the rental desks. (AutoEurope also uses SicilyByCar, which has another desk). Within minutes, we were on our way south, on the highway to the Salento.

I had been concerned about driving in Puglia but this concern proved to be unwarranted. Apart form one or two frustrating moments of navigating the traffic in the town centers, one failure on my part to read the map correctly, and one instance of taking a couple of wrong turns in the dark, we found the driving to be easy and the roads extremely well marked. As in much of Italy, you barely need a map but, instead, need only to follow the directional signs to your intended destination. (Watch out when there is more than one route to that destination, however!) Also, do not rely too much on Google maps for this region, as I found them to have errors.

We had no GPS, no cell phone, and only one map—the Michelin Red 564 Italie Sud. Rather than this map, I would recommend using a map of Puglia, which would have more detail than the Michelin. We found the local people uniformly kind and willing to go out of their way to assist us when we needed help finding a road or destination.

The 110 km drive from Brindisi Papola Casale airport to our hotel outside Otranto, almost all of which was on the main north-south SS 16/SS694, took about 80 minutes or so. The highway was lined with flowering oleander.

Masseria Montelauro, our first hotel, is an example of the hotel masserie that are found throughout Puglia. These are self-contained fortified farms that were originally an integral part of the Spanish and Bourbon feudal system that dominated the region and protected the coast from the Turks and from Saracen pirates. The word derives from the Latin “massaricius,” meaning a farm complex surrounded by grazing land and olive orchards, with attendant buildings including olive-oil mills, cellars, food storage structures, and living quarters that functioned as a self-contained community in case of attack.

Today the masserie of Puglia still produce much of the regions olive oil but many have also turned to the business of housing the increasing numbers of visitors to the area, in accommodations of all levels of comfort. The masserie that we visited were striking in appearance, with whitewashed walls, some with crenellations, and geometric shapes which I found reminded me somewhat of the white towns of Andalucia, although references to Greece are rife in Puglia.

Masseria Montelauro took my breath away. There are photos on the website but these do not do justice to this 27-room hotel, located on a rolling hill just a 5 minute drive from the port of Otranto: in fact, each of our three rural hotels were so handsome that I found myself taking many photos of each property. These hotels were an attraction in themselves!


We had opted for the least expensive room and, while it was small, it was incredibly charming, with stark white walls enclosing a graceful iron canopy bed and basic furnishings. The stone-walled bathroom was large and handsome. The entire property was so beautiful that it would make an ideal setting for a wedding. The complex consists of the main masseria building and several former farm buildings. all whitewashed with pale blue wood trim. There is a stable of horses and a number of friendly dogs. (The first question we were asked upon arrival was if we liked dogs; if we had said no, they would be confined to their own fenced area during our stay.) The property is studded with gnarled olive trees, as well as citrus and laurel trees and lush rosemary and lavender bushes. One of the reasons that we chose this particular hotel was the large, rectangular pool, for we are both avid lap swimmers.

After check-in, we took a rest of a few hours and then set out to explore the seaport town of Otranto, a picturesque walled seaport with a long and bloody history that today seems to draw many Italian tourists while retaining its local identity. The main draw here is the 11th-Century Romanesque cathedral paved with a fabulous mosaic floor created ny a local monk in the 12th Century. The church was later used as a stable by the Turks, whose rampages included a mass beheading of local martryrs whose skulls are stacked by the hundreds in a glass-fronted niche to the right of the altar. Gruesome but riveting! Unfortunately a large part of the mosaic floor was covered by plastic at the time of our visit but we could still spy a large tree-of-life details and get the gist of the workmanship.


More history and photos:


After a walk through the main gate and along the narrow stone streets of the historic core (now lined with many tourist-oriented shops), we strolled along the waterfront and the lovely little cove which serves as the town’s beach. After a couple of hours, we set out for a quick swim at the masseria and continued on to our long-awaited dinner at a masseria in the nearby town of Uggiano La Chiesa.
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 06:37 AM
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I'm still undecided on where to go for my next European trip. One of my top choices is Greece but every time I read a report like this one about the wonderful sights in out-of-the-way Italy I then put Italy back on the top of my list.

Looking forward to more!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 06:49 AM
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YAY! I've been waiting for this as we plan to go to Puglia in the late spring/early summer 2012!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 06:59 AM
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I love that, even before finishing this report, you are already posting questions about your next trip! Onward!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 07:24 AM
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I know! this is the first time I've wanted to return to a region immediately following a first visit!

On the outskirts of the stately Salentine town of Uggiano la Chiesa, about a 15 minute drive from Otranto, Masseria Gattamora was the scene of one of the finest meals of a week in Puglia. The masseria is a bit tricky to find—follow the signs along a somewhat circuitous route from the town center to the area near the campo sportivo, and you eventually will come upon this hotel/restaurant, housed in a converted masseria and listed in the SlowFood Osterie guide. The restaurant occupies a vast stone-arched dining room—the former stables— and adjacent outdoor terrace. The welcome is warm, the service is excellent, and the food is superb.

We began our first Pugliese meal with a spread of mixed antipasti that included thin slices of the vaunted capocollo from Martina Franca; stratiacella cheese that was so creamy and so flavorful that I was reduced to swoons; carpaccio of tuna topped with puree of borlotti beans and shreds of red cabbage; wedges of smokey eggplant parmesan, sans tomato; rather ordinary green beans; speidini of alici (anchovy) with mixed red peppers; a croquette of potato and swordfish; and the classic Pugliese pairing of pureed fava beans and boiled chicory—fave e ciccoria.
Completing the assemblage were addictive balls of fried dough known as “pettole” which would appear in various guises at almost every meal in the coming week.

Pastas here were the finest of the week: My partner ordered the orecchiette with a ragu of goat meat and melted caciocavallo cheese. This was one of the top dishes of the week.

Curious about the region’s “ricotta forte” cheese, a fermented version of ricotta that is described as "ricotta gone bad" and is sold through the area is glass jars, I ordered the maccheroncini with ricotta forte, sun dried tomatoes, and meatballs (polpettine). The ricotta forte has a very pungent smell but a good taste. However, so strong is the smell that I am not sure that I would recommend it to anyone but an adventurous eater. I loved the dish.

Here is more:


Unable to continue after these riches, we closed the meal with the excellent complimentary almond and chocolate cookies and a glass of house-made liqueur made from myrtle berries, grown nearby in Porto Badisco.

With a half bottle of the house red, Campirossi primitivo, and water the bill totalled 66 euro. Highly recommended. Closed Monday.


I highly recommend this restaurant, which is within a masseria complex that also contains guest rooms. It is within an easy drive of Otranto and the nearby beaches of the coast. Be prepared for tricky drive through the town before you get there.

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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 07:57 AM
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eks-- while I enjoy a good meal as much as the next person, I wish you had included more historical sights information on your report, i.e. the info about Otranto was great. That said, the details on the food are EXQUISITE! Thanks!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 08:12 AM
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I am glad you enjoyed. While there is undoubtedly a wealth of historical sights, our focus was
the food and scenery of the region. If you want to read more on the history, I would recommend the Lonely Planet guide which seems to have the most information in English.


My usual standby, Cadogan, places the region within its Bay of Naples and Southern Italy, and can be used to supplement the LP guide.


Finally, there is further information in the Blue Guide:

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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 08:16 AM
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Thanks for the great links! I like the Lonely Planet feature that allows you to buy & download specific chapters of guide books at a much reduced price.

Puglia and Basilicata-- designated Italy's most up-and-coming destinations!!! NICE!!!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 08:39 AM
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You're off to a great start with this trip report. Really looking forward to the rest!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 09:12 AM
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Hello ekscrunchy, I cannot think of a better lead up to our impending holiday in Puglia than to read your unfolding report. Masseria Gattamora already sounds worth the trip all on its own!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 09:19 AM
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I've been eagerly looking forward to your report! Thanks so much for posting.
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 10:13 AM
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We began the following day with breakfast at the masseria: Bread, cakes, pastry, and local jams and jellies were among the offerings to be taken inside or on the adjacent vine-shaded terrace.

And then we were off “sutta lu Capu,” or down the Salentine coast. The Salento coast is Italy’s furthest southeastern corner and the nearby Capo di Otranto, just south of the town, is the easternmost point in the country. When we asked the waiter at Masseria Gattamora about the best beaches in the region, he had enthusiastically recommended Porto Badisco, we headed first to this cut in the low, stony headland that formed a glorious screen-saver-worthy cove with transparent turquoise waters that I had no idea existed anywhere in Europe. We followed a dirt road north from the (almost deserted) tiny hamlet, and found ourselves in a parking lot edged by a tiny sandy beach where a small sprinkling of locals were swimming and lounging. I imagine that in season this place would be a madhouse but on that day in late September it was a scene that I will long remember.

Here is photo, but keep in mind that the water was much more beautiful than shown here:


It was frustrating not to be able to take a swim, but we wanted to press on to the bottom of the “heel,” so we moved on, driving on the fairly empty road past swathes of scrubby vegetation laced with drystone walls and parades of prickly pear (fico d’India) and punctuated by strange stone buildings in various stages of disrepair. We stopped to take in the view from an ancient stone watchtower; the clearest of days reportedly allow a vista across the Adriatic to Albania and Corfu from this coast, and in fact the scenery is reminiscent of Greece.

There is further information on this website:


We stopped briefly at Castro Marina (famous for the nearby Grotta Zinzulusa, which we did not have time to visit) and at the thermal resort of Santa Maria Cesaria Terme, with a Liberty-style bathouse built on the remains of its Neo-Moorish predecessor. Here, rather than a sandy beach, we watched swimmers wading into the sea off graded stone platforms that jutted into the turquoise waters. I was swept away by the beauty and very sad that we had only one day to explore this area.

We made it to the tip of the heel at Santa Maria di Leuca and rounded the cape to the Ionian Sea. Rather than continuing on to Galipoli, we headed only as far as the Marina di Pescoluse, another sandy strand lined with private beach concessions which were closed for the season at the time of our visit. The beaches here are also glorious.

Finally, we drove back to the Masseria, cutting inland through Patu and north to Maglie, in the direction of Ogtranto. By ending our tour, we missed exploring the inland towns of the Salento including Galatina.
I would love to return here and spend a week relaxing and ferreting out interesting small towns. The driving is easy and the people are uniformly welcoming, as they were through out our stay in Puglia.

After a swim at the beautiful hotel pool and a bit of a rest, we set off for our dinner destination. This being a Monday night, most restaurants were closed and not even our hotel was serving dinner. I had asked the hotel for a recommendation and with difficulty, they found that a restaurant in the nearby town of Guirdignano. En route to dinner we stopped again at Uggiano La Chiesa because I wanted to get a better look at this town that we had driven through the night before. Hearing that the town had just celebrated the Festival of Bread and Oil, I wanted to sample some of the local bread. We found one bakery but it was closed. No problem! When we asked a passing local for another bakery, he dragged us next door to the home of the baker, rang the bell, and told him that we wanted to buy bread. And so Silvano Corvaglia opened his shop for us at #30, Via degli Ulivi, on the main road into town. Although all the bread was gone for the day, we bought bags and bags of the local favorite, friselline, a savory treat made with flour, olive oil, salt, and in some versions, piquant red pepper. The stop was made memorable by the animated conversation we had with him about the town and the Salento. If I found myself back here in September, I would certainly check out the town’s festival of bread and olive oil, which was held this year (2010) on the weekend of September 11.

The flat landscape around Uggiano la Chiesa and Giurdignano, teems with Neolithic sites in a concentration greater than anywhere else in Italy. The dolmen di Scusi is outside Uggiano and in the town of Giurdignano itself, we admired a menhir dating from the 16th Century B.C.


Both of these small towns charmed me and again, I wish that we had had more time in this area, as I felt as if I had stepped into a timeless village out of old Italian film.

OSTERIA DEGLI AMICI, Giurdignano (near Otranto)

Since all of the usual suspects were closed on Monday evening, our second night outside Otranto, we relied on the hotel staff to make a recommendation for us. (We had walked through Otranto the day before and noticed at least one appealing restaurant; the staff at our hotel confirmed that L’Altro Baffo was among their favorite venues in that town. But alas, it was closed on Mondays)

Osteria degli Amici occupies part of an imposing Cinquecento palace on the Piazza Municipio of this handsome small town about 20 minutes from Otranto and down the street from a mysterious 16th Century menhir.

The dramatic vaulted dining room is cozy, with worn wood tables and chairs and a pizza oven in the rear. We had high hopes but I am afraid that we were somewhat disappointed. Or perhaps our expectations were too high, based on the reputation of the food in the region and on the success of last’s night’s dinner.

We began with a pizza margherita which suffered from a rather tasteless crust. (3 euro)

Parmigiano di melanzane was outstanding, with a smokey tinge and crispy edges. (This dish was excellent everywhere we sampled it) (7.50)

My partner ordered the orecchiette with salsa di pomodoro which was only fair, lacking a textural component. (6 euro)

I had initially ordered a pasta dish with mussels but the server mentioned that they had clams that day so I switched to a zuppa di vongole, bathed in a tomato sauce and served with very good toasted bread. Very good.

With a carafe of house wine, and water, the check was 34 Euro. (Here, as elsewhere in the region, the food prices were much lower than in regions further north that I have visited.)

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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 11:13 AM
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eks, are you fluent in Italian? Just curious. If you aren't, how do you deal with the language barrier in areas where less to none english is spoken? You must take copious notes!

Very insightful and appetite stimulating narrative!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 11:17 AM
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Information on prehistoric sites (cave art) in the Salento, from the UNESCO tentative list:

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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 11:18 AM
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On the bright side the Eggplant Parmigiano was excellent and I have to admit that is one of my all-time favorite dishes! I tend to try it everywhere I go in Italy!
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Old Oct 12th, 2010, 11:25 AM
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This report is positively edible!! I want to get on a plane! (of course I always want to get on a plane when I read a delicious report, but yours is a gem!) Many thanks.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 08:23 AM
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The next morning, after breakfast and a swim, we said goodbye to Masseria Montelauro and the coterie of rambunctious pups that had been our companions there for the two days of our stay, and headed north along the coast toward Lecce. The coastline north of Otranto is lined with stabilimento balneare, or private concessions offering food, chair, umbrella and sunbed rental, restrooms, and other facilities. These were deserted by this time of year, but this is an example of the many that we passed; you can see photos of the beach on the site:


We had heard much about the beauty of the Alimini Lakes, just west of the coast and we drove down a dirt road to take a look. The lake was pretty, but for me, the seashore is the draw in this area. Here is more information:


Our next stop took my breath away. My notes say it all: “Torre dell’ Orso on the east coast north of Otranto is the most glorious beach I’ve seen in Italy.” A long curving arc of white sand backed by swathes of low vegetation and sloping into crystal clear turquoise water. Sculpted rock formations and an ancient stone watchtower compete the picture. The top two photos say it better than my words:


Although there were quite a few people on the beach and in the water, the town was all but deserted at this time of year. We stopped into a hotel right behind the beach to take a look:


But we pressed on to Lecce, arriving just after noon at the central Piazza
Sant’ Oronzo, but unable to locate our hotel despite having followed several directional signs. So I hopped out and found the hotel on foot. The bellman followed me back to our car and we gratefully handed over the keys, not wanting to drive for one more second inside the city.

We liked our hotel very much; staff were welcoming and helpful and the location was ideal. Room décor is contemporary which seemed a shame in a city known for glorious Baroque, but we were very pleased with our choice and I recommend the Risorgimento Resort highly. (Not sure why it is called a resort, though, as it is a city hotel)


The city of Lecce was shut tight for the afternoon break, but we headed out anyway, wanting to take in the sights of this legendary city that has been dubbed the most beautiful in Italy.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 08:46 AM
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I'm really enjoying your trip report. Thanks so much for all of the details, and for all of the wonderful links and pictures.
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 01:31 PM
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Thanks so much, jmct!

The historic core of Lecce encompasses a crosshatch of narrow winding streets punctuated by piazze grand and intimate—all positively aglow from warm golden sandstone, pietra leccese, elaborately carved into the flamboyant Baroque structures for which the city is famous.

We ambled for hours just marveling at the glorious 16C-18th Century churches and palaces that appear around every corner, and paid a visit to two of the city’s masterworks: the Duomo, which anchors a spectacularly beautiful square of the same name, and the most celebrated of the city’s Baroque monuments, the Church of Santa Croce. We also marveled at the remnants of a 2-Century B.C. Roman amphitheatre which was discovered under the Piazza Sant’ Oronzo (named for the city’s patron saint) during construction of the Banco d’Italia in 1938.

With only an afternoon (we had planned to spend the following morning here, too, but shortrly after arriving at the hotel I discovered that I had left camera equipment behind at our previous nights’ lodging, so we had to sacrifice a morning in Lecce in order to drive back to retrieve it), we could barely scratch the surface, but I felt that we got a good glimpse of this strikingly beautiful small (population 94,000) Puglian city.

Dinner that night was the most anticipated of the week:

A 10 minutes walk from the Piazza St. Oronzo, the main square of Lecce, a tiny open kitchen and two small front rooms comprise one of the most celebrated eateries in Puglia—Cucina Casereccia, also know as Le Zie (“the aunts”). I had booked by e-mail weeks ahead and it was with very high hopes that we walked from our centrally located hotel, past the public park, to the non-descript building marked with a large neon sign announcing “trattoria.”

Upon ringing the doorbell, we were ushered into a small, windowless main dining room, papered with magazine articles in various languages lauding the glories of this family run restaurant. There is a paper menu but we let ourselves be guided by our congenial male host. We were not disappointed.

Highlighting the array of mixed antipasti was a plate of marinated red and yellow peppers that were THE sweetest peppers I had ever tasted. I just cannot tell you how good these were, not am I certain if the sweetness was from the peppers or from the addition of sugar in the marinade. These alone were worth the price of the meal. Other dishes in the spread included marinated white beans; a large platter of fresh anchovies beautifully arranged and saturated with olive oil, and a dish of verza (“cabbage”) affogata that was superb.

From our table in the center of the room I had a great view of the miniscule kitchen where Proprietress Sra Anna Carmela Perrone and two other women were toiling away. The kitchen may have been tiny but I had never seen pots that sparkled so brightly. (I was interested to see that the signora was using a three step process to prepare eggplant for melanzane parmesan—salting and resting in a colander; grilling to achieve deep dark marks across the thin slices; and then heating again by frying with only the tiniest amount of oil, continually pressing down the slices in the pan. Here and elsewhere, the completed dishes were notable for both freshness and lack of oil.)

My partner chose sagne with veal sauce; sagne incanulate are long flat lengths of pasta that look like lengths of ribbon that had been tightly curled around a pencil and then released. He pronounced his dish divine.

Wanting to try a signature Leccese dish, I selected the cicerie e tria, long pasta similar to tagliatelle in a sauce of pureed and whole chickpeas. This dish is notable because some strands of the pasta are fried after being boiled, contributing a terrific textural component.

By this time we were quite full, but after watching the chef’s labors over the eggplant, I could not leave before sampling the eggplant parmigiana. This was spectacular.

With a half carafe of house wine, and water, the bill totalled 47 euro.


After dinner, we stopped for luscious gelato at Pasticceria/Gelateria Natale. Not only was the gelato out of this world, but the prices are notably moderate. This is an ideal spot to sample pasticciotto, a custard-filled (and sometimes preserve filled) shortbread-dough pastry that is to Lecce what sfogliatelle is to Naples.


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Old Oct 14th, 2010, 04:54 AM
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eks - I just only now saw your post (since I was also traveling in the USA and just back a few days ago). I am SO happy you enjoyed Puglia so much. I am devouring your trip report, enjoying your food descriptions and salivating!!

Wow. Terrific.
Definitely make sure to get to Trani and Matera when you decide to return to the region.
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