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July in The Mezzogiorno – 3 weeks in Southern Italy: Amalfi Coast & Puglia

July in The Mezzogiorno – 3 weeks in Southern Italy: Amalfi Coast & Puglia

Old Sep 2nd, 2014, 01:06 PM
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Friday, July 11 - Amalfi Coast Boat Ride - Amalfi & Atrani

We walked down to the port and found the correct line to stand in to get tickets to Amalfi (34€ round trip each) (signs at the ticket booths are not that great). The (only) boat leaves at 10:30, and return from Amalfi at 16:30 and takes just over an hour each way. On our last trip we did a couple of day trips from Sorrento to Amalfi/Positano/Ravello/ and did both the bus and the boats. I really think that despite how wonderful the view is from the boat, that it's even better from the bus. But we were more in a 'boat' mood this trip.

Gorgeous day, few clouds but mostly sunny and warm – about 80, maybe high 70s, cool in the shade, nice but not too hot in the sun. Boat ride was heaven, and even though there were a few clouds around it wasn’t hazy. Pulling in and out of Positano it was beautiful. Pulling into Amalfi not quite as drop dead gorgeous, but up close it’s almost as beautiful, and the town itself has much more going on, plus there’s Atrani right there which is my favorite of the three. Much, much smaller but so cute as you approach, and not at all touristy. Both Amalfi and Positano do really feel like they are just resorts, not ‘real’ places, at least in season. Amalfi especially feels very busy, probably because it’s a transportation hub, with all the boats and buses (though Positano has a lot of both as well). For that reason, and because it’s larger and therefore can absorb more tourists without being so overwhelmed, Sorrento is much more pleasant. Plus there are really better views – out over the bay, down to Maria Grande, etc. Definitely glad we are staying in Sorrento, although I can also see the appeal of staying in one of the smaller towns, and perhaps on my next trip I will.

We started by having coffee at the café right in front of the fountain in Piazza Duomo. I had a café freddo con crème. Yum - frozen sweetened espresso with a big dallop of thick whipped cream.

Then we walked to Atrani, on the road. No sidewalk but lots of people walking, and the cars, vespas, buses and pedestrians all just take turns. Fabulous views of Atrani and Amalfi from that bit of road. We had pizza and ice tea in the little square - €4 for a giant, very good pizza.

Then we tried to walk back to Amalfi through the little stepped passageways. G and I did it on our last trip here, and they start out marked with little tile signs, but after a while we lost the signs and took a wrong turn somewhere cause we ended up pretty high up above the road and the path we were on kept going up and I knew we should be going down into Amalfi so we just doubled back and took the road back. But it’s such a great walk that we didn’t even care that it took twice as long as it needed to.

Back in Amalfi we got gelato, and explored some of the side streets and alleyways and strolled around the waterfront. Boat ride back just as great. I can’t think of really any other way I’d rather spend a day then doing what we did.

After dinner back in Sorrento our after dinner stroll took us to a candy/coffee store featuring limoncello candy coated almonds. To die for.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2014, 01:13 PM
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I really appreciate hearing another view of Sorrento--that is why this forum is so valuable!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2014, 01:29 PM
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Amalfi especially feels very busy, probably because it’s a transportation hub, with all the boats and buses (though Positano has a lot of both as well). For that reason, and because it’s larger and therefore can absorb more tourists without being so overwhelmed, Sorrento is much more pleasant.>>

agreed, on both counts. I returned to Sorrento in February after a gap of about 40 years, and I was surprised how much I liked it. It has a real town feel whereas even in February, Amalfi was quite touristy. THe cafe at the bottom of the steps up to the Duomo is very nice though!
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Old Sep 3rd, 2014, 07:19 AM
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Agree 100% with yorkshire. I'm enjoying your report, and also greatly appreciate your candid observations. I've been playing with a spring 2015 itinerary to Campania, and debating a number of "bases" (Napoli, Sorrento, Vico Equense, Salerno, Agropoli -- the ideas change daily), and reading your impressions is helpful. Thanks!
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Old Sep 3rd, 2014, 07:20 AM
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oh, and of course your pics are lovely, as usual!
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Old Sep 3rd, 2014, 01:18 PM
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I agree that Sorrento is often overlooked by people who don't consider it the 'real' Amalfi Coast - or who have seen pics and movies,etc featuring Positano. I think Sorrento has a lot to offer just as 'itself' and especially when you add in the fact that it's so much easier to get to and day trip to Capri, Pompeii, Naples, etc from (and most people don't even consider the other islands of Ischia and Procida). But Positano and Amalfi are pretty wonderful too - you just really can't go wrong in that area.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2014, 01:25 PM
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Saturday, July 12 - Ischia

Sunny but with plenty of clouds around and even a 5 minute downpour, temps only in the high 70s. What is with this weather?!!!

We got the 9:30 (the only daily) boat to Ischia. It’s a more boring trip than to Amalfi because it goes straight across the bay, doesn’t skirt the coastline. Also it was cooler, and it’s all inside, although the boats do have big open sides so not as bad as a hydrofoil. Passing Procida it looked really lovely. To get to Procida is more complicated, involving having to get to Napoli first, so that will have to wait till another trip.

Ischia Porte, the town, is not much – it’s fairly large but mostly big hotels, small beaches crammed with families, and one long shopping street – clothes and shoes and such, some tourist stuff but not much really enticing. The walk to the castle is at least a mile, and while it’s not unpleasant, it wasn’t terribly interesting or picturesque. You can’t see the water from the shopping street, and you can’t walk along the water because it’s just sand and some beach bar/cafes and interrupted frequently by hotels.

But the castle is very cool – very dramatic on it’s little islet (attached by foot path/causeway to the mainland) and there is lots to it – several chapels, gardens, and terraces with fantastic views of the town – which looks a lot better from a slight distance than it does up close. We spent at least 2 hours in the castle (10€ each) and felt the castle and views from it were worth the day trip even if the rest of Ischia was not quite as interesting as I’d hoped.

Then we walked back looking for a good place for a long lunch since there isn’t much else to do in Ischia if you aren’t going to the beach or a spa, or elsewhere on the island. But before we could find a place the skies opened up it suddenly started to pour – we huddled under an awning of a beach bar for the five minutes or so. Then, since we were now both wet and hungry and tired we stopped at the first possible place and got panini which were not terribly good. But the beer and granite was ok. Then to the port where we had an hour and a half to kill, but there was a bench and we watched the boats come in and out.

Sunday, July 13 Sorrento

Slept late, leisurely breakfast, then Allison, G and I walked to the other side of Sorrento to the lemon grove (free limoncello samples) and the overlook on that side of town. Lemons are THE thing Sorrento, and in fact in all the areas around the Amalfi Coast. The theme is almost overwhelming – limoncello, lemon or limoncello candies (especially the coated almonds), lemon in your food and drinks, lemons painted on the ceramics… you get the idea. I did learn some interesting facts about lemon growing. For example, one tree can grow lemons, limes AND oranges at the same time. I guess they graft different trees together but we definitely saw a tree with all three types of fruit. Also, lemons bloom up to four times a year, and between February and October the trees will have either flowers or fruit and sometimes both at the same time. They are really only dormant in Nov, Dec and Jan.

That side of town (which is where the train/bus station is) is relatively uninteresting. There are several swanky hotels, but the views from the overlook are not as good. However, just past the overlook is a run down hotel which I photographed the last time we were there. You can just make out the name, Lorelei I think. It’s still a closed and run down yet somehow really pretty place. So we continued our fantasy about buying and fixing it up.

Before the trip I had bought a book called “Walking the Amalfi Coast” which details numerous walks in the area. I’d also downloaded even more info on walks. Originally we planned to do the Path of the Gods but realized between the transportation to the start points and the walk itself, it was more than we wanted to do on this trip. That would be one advantage to staying in Positano or Amalfi rather than Sorrento. But there were several walks close to Sorrento which looked really good as well and we had planned to do one of the those but the weather was partly/mostly cloudy with possibility of rain, and Alan wasn’t feeling up to a several hour walk so we just explored more corners of Sorrento. But if you are going to be in Sorrento I highly recommend getting that book, or at least researching some of the walks. SantʼAgata sui Due Golfi sounds really nice and like there are some amazing views.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2014, 03:26 PM
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Such fun to read your report. Ischia looks so beautiful in your pictures that I was regretting our choice to forgo it and return to Capri for another day instead. Now I'm thinking we made the right decision. I also wanted to work in some long walks in the Sorrrento area, but like Alan I was under the weather for several days. When dreaming about these trips it never occurs to me that some bug might strike and nix our plans!
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Old Sep 4th, 2014, 04:15 PM
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Having been to both Capri and Ischia I definitely feel Capri is the more visually stunning island - by far. And both Capri Town and Anacapri are more interesting than Ischia. But the castle there was a lot of fun and I'm glad I got to see it.


Monday, July 14 - Paestum

Sun and clouds, warm and humid in the sun, 80s, but cool by late afternoon, breezy, 60s.

After breakfast we left the bags with A&A and G and I walked to the car rental place near the train station, about a 20 minute walk. Everything went smoothly, we got a Fiat 500, (which is what I had rented last summer in France and loved driving it). We’ve driven in Italy before, but not in the last few years. Driving in Sorrento is crazy! Motor bikes and bicycles make their own lanes, traffic is terrible. We got back to the hotel in about 10 minutes though and managed to get all the bags in the car – three suitcases plus two backpacks in the trunk and one suitcase between me and Allison in the back seat – it actually was not bad at all. Since A&A were only going to be with us for the first day of the car rental we wanted the smallest possible car for the rest of the trip but did worry that we’d get four people and luggage in it.

The drive up the SS145 to the A3 took over an hour, just lots of traffic but it was well signed and we never had to wonder if we were in the right place or not. Once on the A3 it went really fast and in about 20 minutes we were passing Salerno. Getting off in Battiplagia and driving to Paestum was slowish, but not as bad as Sorrento. All in all though it took over 2 hours, and that’s with not getting lost, no accidents – just regular traffic. Toll was 2 €.

We stayed at “Il Granaio dei Casabella”, Via Tavernelle. The hotel was pretty easy to find – once you get to Paestum there’s just the street beside the temples and the one just before them which is the one the hotel is on. It’s quite nice, gated parking, lovely garden, bougainvillea growing up the side of the large house. Not sure how many rooms, but it’s more like a small hotel than a B&B. There’s a small lobby with reception desk and very nice staff plus two sitting rooms. We had an economy room (€80) on the 2nd floor but it was quite roomy, nice bathroom, tiled floors throughout, good AC, wifi works great. A&A had a ‘standard’ room on the 1st floor and except for a slightly larger bathroom and a mini fridge it wasn’t any better. Nice antique furniture throughout. Less than half a mile (10 minute walk) from the museum/entrance.


The temples are quite impressive and especially impressive is the fact that there are three of them and quite a bit of Roman ruins in between them. The setting, on a grass and wildflower coastal plain, is quite evocative, You can see the layout of many houses, some still have mosaic tile floor intact and if you know the way the Roman House is laid out (thanks to that Yale University on line course) you can see the rooms, the atrium, etc. You can also see the street layout and the theatre and stadium. The area is very rural and so it’s all fields/grass plain so the atmosphere is such that it’s easy to picture ancient Greeks or Romans walking the street in front of the temples.

It was sunny and almost hot (felt like Italy is supposed to) and I spent a good two hours shooting the temples. The museum was also quite good – lots of paintings recovered from tombs. There’s also a video explaining what they were and how they were done (in English and in Italian). Numerous other finds such as pottery, metal tools and jewelry, etc. but the tomb painting was the best part. The museum easily took close to an hour.

I would say you need at least three hours for the site and museum, not counting a meal. But if you could get the timing right for public transportation (bus, boat, train combination) or you could afford a private driver, you could do it from Sorrento as a day trip. Certainly from Amalfi.

We had dinner at a more of a lunch place but that’s what we wanted and it was excellent (La Bottega del Gusto). I had buffalo motz and tomatoes, G had a buffalo burger, Allison had a buffalo motz and tomato pannini and a salad, poor Alan had toast and water again. It was excellent and the waitress, who is probably also the owner, was extremely nice. Another brief shower during dinner but the sun umbrella did the trick this time.
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Old Sep 5th, 2014, 03:46 PM
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Tuesday, July 14 On to Puglia: Paestum to Matera

Leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Then we checked out and left the bags in the car since it’s in a gated parking area and walked back to the temples. Allison had bought a 3 day ticket (was only 1 € more) – I wasn’t sure that it would let you re-enter the site since they said only one entry per ticket but the guy didn’t even look at the ticket that I flashed at him so I was able to go back in and photograph them in the morning sunshine. The rest walked along the street and shopped in the tourist stores.

We spent some time in the B&B garden– there are plum trees, mulberry trees, figs, grapes, pomegranates, olives, lemons, limes, oranges, and cactus – along with the usual bougenvalia, etc. A lovely place to relax with friends, and since Alan and Allison were heading home (via a few days in Austria) so we decided just to chill in the garden rather than my original plan which was to try to see a buffalo mozzarella factory (on the road to Paestum you pass numerous places which advertise this).

We left the hotel around 12:20 and got to Battiplagia and found the train station in about 40 minutes, no problems. We said goodbye to A&A and found the A3 with no problems. Then the problems started. It turns out for all of us. Their train to Rome was delayed several times and then canceled. They don’t speak Italian and had quite a bit of trouble getting rebooked onto another train. In the car, we were having our own adventure.

The road that two different print maps plus GPS all said we wanted to Matera was the E847. The actual name of the road was RA05. Italians! So of course we went past the exit and the next one wasn’t for 20 minutes or so, therefore about a 40 minute detour. But then we got the road we needed and were successfully headed to Potenza, the main town before Matera, following signs for Matera. Then, in the midst of an area of construction, there was a fork in the highway – several towns to the right, several to the left, and Matera “straight”. There was no f**king “straight” – it was a fork – two choices! And we took the wrong one. And because of the construction had to go quite a ways to turn around. And now it was raining. Hard. We stopped for gas and directions and eventually found it, but that was another half hour or so extra. Fortunately this turned out to be the only time on the trip that we got lost.
When we actually got close to it, Matera was well marked and the roads were good. We had gone through some quite mountainous areas, saw several towns way high up on hilltops. Entering Matera GPS did a good job of directing us to the hotel. We started to make a wrong turn out of the roundabout just before the hotel but the phone showed us what we were doing and we were able to correct.

We choose the Palace Hotel (Piazza Michele Bianco , €93) just because it was one of the first you would come to when driving into Matera, yet was close enough to walk to the historic center. I am SOOOO glad we didn’t choose a hotel involving driving into the center itself. The hotel is an easy 10-15 minute walk to the main piazza, has free parking right outside. It’s a large, business type place, no character but everything you need – free wifi that actually seems to work well, mini fridge, TV (with English stations), large room, very clean, nice reception.

We walked to the main square, Piazza Vitorio Veneto, and looked down into the sassi but were very hungry – we’d had no lunch – so decided to see if we could find food. It was 5:30 but there were not many people around. We were accosted the minute we walked into the square by a guy asking if we wanted to ‘see the sassi’. Then when we went into the TI to get a map (1.50€) they also were pushing tours (€65). We ended up walking in the wrong direction at first – a shopping street but boring and with no restaurants. We found a bar type place that had little sandwich things for €1.50 (kitchen wouldn’t open till 7:30) which tided me over. Then we walked down the actual main street – Via Del Corso – which has several churches, overlooks of the other sassi, and lots of restaurants – although just setting up. We wandered around and down into the sassia a bit till 7:30 then got dinner in Piazza Seldile. By 8:30 the town was hopping – passageata in full swing.
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Old Sep 5th, 2014, 03:54 PM
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Wednesday, July 16 Matera

Decent hotel breakfast of yogurt, very good croissants, cappuccino, ACE juice, hams and cheeses (also cereals and fruits). Then we walked to town. We walked all over both Sassi, up and down both sides.

I would say there are actually three Materas: First there are two areas of Sassi, the Sasso Caveoso and the Sasso Barisano, and both can be seen from vantage points in the upper town. The upper town next to the sassi, referred to as the ‘new town’ is actually Baroque. Then, sprawling away from that is the modern, 20th century stuff.

Matera has become touristy because of the sassi - rock-hewn dwellings piled chaotically atop one another, strewn across the sides of a steep ravine. Some date from Paleolithic times, when they were truly just caves. In the years that followed, the grottoes were slowly adapted as houses only slightly more modern, with their exterior walls closed off. People came to live here in Paleolithic times because of the geologic setting: natural caves and the river. In the 7th and 8th centuries the nearby grottos were colonized by both Benedictine and Basilian monastic institutions, and in the 9th century by Byzantines.

The town grew and they built up and around the caves. The plateau above the sassi was used for agriculture. In the middle ages the area of the sassi was a fairly ‘normal’ ‘middle class’ city. No one in those days had electricity or sewage anywhere in the world. In the Sassi there was an elaborate system of rain water collection via cisterns. The fact that the bases for most of the buildings were caves was unusual but other than that it was a normal town for the time. The Duomo and several other churches were built in the 13th century, and then many more in the next several centuries. During the Baroque and Renaissance eras buildings including churches, pallazos and houses were built on the higher land above the sassi but middle class crafts people and others lived in the sassi houses. It wasn’t until the 20th century, especially the time between the two world wars, that the rest of the world got modern conveniences but the sassi did not. The population had also grown so crowding was a problem as well. By then the rest of the city of Matera turned its back on the sassi, in fact erecting buildings to block the views of the sassi.

By the 1950s over half of Matera’s population lived in the sassi, a typical cave sheltering an average of six children as well as cows, mules, pigs and chickens. The infant mortality rate was 50%. In the book Christ Stopped at Eboli, Carlo Levi described how children would beg passers-by for quinine to stave off the deadly malaria. It was the publicity this book generated that finally galvanised the authorities into action, and in the late 1950s about 15,000 inhabitants were forcibly relocated to new government housing schemes. In 1993 the sassi were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Ironically, the town’s history of outrageous misery has transformed it into Basilicata’s leading tourist attraction.

This part of Matera’s story is well know but the several centuries preceding it don’t seemed to be mentioned in most of the guide books or on-line histories of the city. We visited three ‘museums’ in the sassi. The Casa Noha is an unfurnished sassi house that shows a series of videos which did an excellent job of explaining the entire history of Matera, not just the fifty or so years of extreme poverty. It’s right behind the Duomo and we kind of found it by accident but it was the best introduction to the town. Even though I had done some research before the trip, this was by far the best explanation and I highly recommend going here. The video presentation is about half an hour long, the visit is free but they ask for a donation.

http://www.madeinsouthitalytoday.com/city-of-matera.php

We also visited two restored cave houses (there are four or five). L’antica Casa Grotta has an audio presentation, about 10 minutes long, that does a nice job of explaining life in the Sassi houses (1.50€). It’s a cave house with three areas, furnished and includes sculptures of ‘people’ living in the house. It’s across the street from the “Sassi in Miniature” which is essentially a shop that features a carving of the sassi district (free but not terribly interesting). It’s in Saso Barisano.

The other one, Casa Grotta di vico Solitario, in Sasso Caveoso just behind the Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso, is 2€ and has only an Italian audio but an English handout. Very similar. This one also includes a rock church (no frescos).

Wandering around both sassi, including the two cave houses and the video, stopping for drinks and a light lunch, took about 5 hours. There is a lot of restoration going on, probably well over half the buildings have been restored and are now inhabited, including dozens of upscale hotels/B&Bs. There are a couple of roads that cars can drive down into the sassi, though I didn’t see any real areas to park, and I am certainly glad I wasn’t driving there.

In most of the trip reports I’ve read people use a guide to tour Matera. I think if you just showed up with no prior research, and didn’t do the museums you would really have no idea what you were seeing. But there is a wealth of info on line, and those little museums do a great job. The TI map (pretty impossible to follow the roads in the Sassi) does list the churches, museums and even film locations (quite a few). They also sell small paperback books describing the town, history, etc.

We went back to the hotel from about 3-6:00 for a siesta. When we got back to the sassi the light was nice and I wanted to photograph the big rock church and the one behind it, but we got side tracked and found some other cave churches, then the one we were looking for. Walked back to the new town via the car road, there were a number of small restaurants and a few tourist shops – most of the tourist shops are very tiny and all sell the same things – not very interesting models of little Materas. There were a couple of large (3-4 feet high) models of Matera along the way, just sitting on the sidewalk but asking for a donation if you want to take a photo.

Still too early for dinner (7:15) so we passegiata-ed along the Corso for a while and then settled on Bistro Hemmingway. We got two pasta dishes and one grilled vegetables. Neither pasta dish were as described – one was supposed to be pesta and wasn’t even close, the other was tasty but had motz cheese not ricotta. G thought they were all too salty.

As it got dark the views of the sassi from the over-looks were magical. Lots of twinkling lights against the dark blue sky. I’ve often though that semi-darkness does a great job of masking shabbiness. Things just tend to look cleaner and prettier, and in the case of Matera, the renovations going on in the sassi disappear in the darkness. A nice contrast to the way it looks in the daytime - the sassi buildings and streets are all white stone which is blindingly bright in the mid day sun.
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Old Sep 6th, 2014, 10:35 AM
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Great report, isabel. Thanks for all the detail.
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Old Sep 7th, 2014, 04:36 AM
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Thursday, July 17 – Lecce

Not a cloud in the sky, high in the upper 80s and quite warm in the sun but with a nice cool breeze.

The drive from Matera to Lecce was MUCH better than the one from Sorrento to Paestum or Paestum to Matera. The Palace Hotel in Matera is on a round-a-bout on the SS7 so we just turned out of the hotel parking lot and were on our way. It was well sign posted to Taranto, a two lane road but it really only went through one town. However, that one town was pretty large, there must have been about 15 turns. They all were marked Taranto but if you missed one you would definitely be screwed, but fortunately we got them all. At one point I looked down the side streets in both directions and they were both marked “ZLT”. It took about an hour to get to Taranto, the speed limits were really slow, and kept changing constantly, like in some cases every few meters, and were not at all reasonable for the conditions (people easily/safely going 60 or 70 k/hr in a 30 k zone. But just before Taranto you get a divided highway and it’s a breeze after that. Well marked and no turns till Brindisi, then well marked for Lecce. From Taranto to Lecce was about an hour. Going around Brindisi puts you easily on the S613 which, as a highway, ends in Lecce and becomes a busy street and then two minutes later, there is was – the Grand Hotel Tiziano.

Grand Hotel Tiziano (Viale Porta d’Europa €85), is a six story modern glass conference center/hotel with parking in front plus a parking garage in back. Right on the round-a-bout next to the old city walls. Five minute walk from the main gate/obelisk. So easy to find /get to by either car or walking. No charm of course but everything you could want – AC, free wi-fi works in the room, mini-fridge, lift, clean and comfortable. There’s a really nice pool and fitness center you can use for free. Great, extensive breakfast. Given how close it is to the center of Lecce, and how easy it was to drive to/park I am extremely happy with this choice. (Staying in a hotel in the city center could involve: getting lost, scratching the car, not finding parking, getting parking ticket, getting ZTL ticket, etc. – just not worth the aggravation for us). The hotel breakfast was really good – scrambled eggs and bacon, yogurts, fruits, very good croissants, cakes, the usual.

The room was ready even though it wasn’t even noon. We checked in and then went out to explore and find lunch.

Lecce is referred to as the crown jewel of the Mezzogiorno, "the Florence of the south". Clearly the nicest city in Puglia, and it’s on a par with beautiful cities elsewhere in Italy, but I ‘m really not sure I’d equate it with Florence. Lecce is indeed very Baroque. The cream/light gold sandstone used in the buildings and especially the porches, pedestals, courtyards, windows and balconies, which are smothered in garlands of fruit, chubby statues, gargoyles and intricately worked curlicues of stone, is easily carved and holds up well to erosion. Every church, and many of the other buildings as well, are covered in not only angles, saints and cherubs, but some really bizarre creatures – doing some peculiar things. Those Baroques had a very vivid imagination. Lecce’s core is very pretty.

The first two churches we passed (the second being Santa Croce, the ‘best’ one) were covered with scaffolding. Bummer. But Piazza Sant’Oronzo and Piazza Duomo were both great. Piazza Sant’Oronzo is Lecce’s main square, with cafés, pastry shops, and newsstands (and a McDonalds, the only one we saw south of Rome on this trip). The square is partly occupied by the remains of the Roman amphitheater, built in the 1st century BC, which could once seat 20,000. In the center of the square is a Roman column, surmounted by an 18th century statue of the city's patron saint, Orontius. The Colonna di Sant’Oronzo is one of two Roman pillars that once marked the end of the Appian Way. Next to it (and home of the TI) is the Sedile (Palazzo del Seggio, 1592) (formerly the town hall) and the deconsecrated church of San Marco, 1543. The church was built as a chapel for Lecce’s resident community of Venetian merchants (hence St. Mark’s Lion sculpture).

We stopped at a Café on Piazza Sant’Oronzo called Cin Cin – it was the first place we found that looked good and then I remembered it being mentioned in another recent travel report on Puglia (Dai). It was indeed very good. The menu of ‘savory’ offerings included Rustico, a well-known-in-Lecce cheese and tomato pastry sandwich thing. I tried to order a pastry that had mozzarella and ham, pretty basic ingredients especially for this area, but they said they ‘didn’t have that today’. This was the third time in our three days in the south that we ordered some very basic thing off a menu and were told they didn’t have it ‘today’. And the term used for this is “it is finished” or "È finito." But the Rustico was good and was ridiculously cheap - €2.50. Two fairly large sandwiches, a beer and an ice tea came to €9.

Via Vittorio Emanuale is the main street lined with shops and cafes that runs between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Sant'Oronzo. Piazza Duomo, is the city’s baroque heart. Bordered on four sides by buildings, the piazza’s entrance is off Via Vittorrio Emanuele II. The ornate Duomo, was first built in 1114 but reconstructed in Baroque style from 1659 to 1670, and has twin facades, the main one restrained and relatively sober, the other more ornate. On one side of it is the relatively austere, but extremely tall, campanile; on the other side is the adjoining Palazzo Vescovile (Bishops' Palace), built in 1428 which features a loggia, the lower arcade of which once was filled with shops. It was reconstructed in 1632. And then on the other side is the Seminario. Although the center of the piazza is completely empty, the way these buildings join together forms a very lovely set.

After a couple of hours of walking around in the noon sun we headed back to the hotel for a siesta. Although it was certainly hot in the sun, and not a cloud in the sky (finally), it was quite breezy and very pleasant in the shade.
We just took a short siesta and went back out around 4. Wandered around some more, shot some more photos, I bought a pair of very nice sandals, made here in Leece. We found the castle and walked all around it but the outside was so boring we didn’t shell out the €7 each to go inside (no towers or anything, no write ups in any guide books, no info much at the ticket booth). I guess one drawback to traveling so much is that after a certain number of castles it’s hard to impress us.
We went back to Cin Cin Bar for a drink as it was too early for dinner. I tried a local ‘soda with sour oranges’ – it was terrible, but G enjoyed his beer. I’ll stick to Fanta, tea or Coke Zero from now on.

We had dinner at a great place on via G. Libertini, near the duomo, called Antica Corte. We were almost turned off by the fact that they had a poster outside with photos of food, like you find in a lot of very cheap touristy restaurants. But the real menu looked good, and the inside looked nice, there were outside tables in the back in a courtyard, so we went there. Great food – a mushroom pizza (huge, about 12” diameter), a pasta dish with salmon and shrimp, and a plate of grilled vegetables, plus a Fanta and a beer for €29 (including cover). I think we will just go there again tomorrow – but order less food, we couldn’t finish it.

Then we walked around shooting photos as the lights came on and the sky turned dark blue. I do so love European cities at that time of day when the gold light reflects off the gold stone buildings and cobbled streets and the swifts fly around the bell towers. Leece is very well lit and just the right color and it’s street lamps are gorgeous.

Leece is a very nice small city – a great size – enough streets so wandering around you don’t get bored in half an hour, but small enough that you can feel you know your way around in an afternoon. It’s population is over 100,000, and there’s plenty of ugly sprawl surrounding the center, but the historic core is very walkable and compact. But it’s not quite as over the top as the guide books lead you to believe. It may have something to do with expectations and also where else you’ve been. If you’ve never been to a city with this kind of architecture I can see how you’d be blown away. But there are other places that are just as ‘good’ in this respect – Siracusa in Sicily and Salamanca in Spain come to mind. I also don’t think there is any comparison with Florence. They aren’t even similar. I guess they are saying Lecce is the ‘Florence of the south’ because it is the city in this region with the most art and sculpture. But other than that there is no similarity.
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Old Sep 7th, 2014, 05:44 AM
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Lecce castle was free in 2013. Checking on the website it still it.

I think you description is pretty fair, though we spent 3 days getting lost in more and moer of the old city, which just seems to go on and on.
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Old Sep 7th, 2014, 12:42 PM
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There was some kind of exhibit at Lecce castle when we were there but the ticket desk looked pretty permanent and it was very clear that you couldn't go in without buying a ticket. Did you go into the castle? How was it?
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Old Sep 7th, 2014, 12:49 PM
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The castle had a photo/art show mainly showing some old singing stars. However the central courtyard had an excavation ongoing, a number of the larger halls were very impressive (some dog-latin inscriptions) but lacked any contents, the underground rooms had the odd cannon and a papier-mashe exhibition.

Not worth Euro 7, the cash desk is pretty permanent but it runs the little shop and provides employment to some people
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Old Sep 8th, 2014, 03:47 PM
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Friday, July 18 Day trip in the Salento: the tip of the heel

Sunny and hot (35C/95F) We left around 8:45 and got to Otranto at 9:45 – no problems at all, just followed signs for Centro and parked where it ‘felt’ like it was close to the historic center. Blue lines, ticket machine just like the ones at home. 3€ for 2½ hours. Five minute walk and we were at the castle which did not open till 10 so we walked down to the harbor and all around looking at boats. Then we did the castle (6€ each) which was a waste of time/money. Just a two story fortress, the interior has been all spruced up and featured an art exhibit of various contemporary artists paintings of Mona Lisa in various outfits. No sense at all of old castle and the view not very good. But from there we did see another rampart, which was free and had better views.

The town of Otranto was much more touristy than Lecce or Matera but it was all beach going Italian tourists, not international. Lots of restaurants/cafes/gelaterias and some shops, mostly selling tourist tack and beach stuff. But the promenade is lovely and long with the sea (incredible turquoise blue/green color) on one side and some nice old buildings on the other and the harbor off to one side. There are lots of little lanes to explore – not at all shabby but not so spruced up you think you are in Disney world. Just right. The cathedral has a mosaic tile floor with biblical and pagan images. Not nearly as good as the one in Anacapri but still quite impressive. The other small church in town was closed but is adorable from outside (S. Pietro). You don’t need a lot of time to see Otranto unless you are having a long meal but 2 hours was about right. It was still morning so we weren’t hungry yet but it looked like a good place to have lunch if the timing had been right.

Then we drove south along the Adriatic Coast. The land in the Salento is pretty flat but there’s still a bit of drop off down to the water, and the water is such a beautiful shade of turquoise, the bit of cliffs that are there are white and with the green foliage it makes a great image. We stopped a few times to take photos, there was a cove/inlet area where a lot of cars were parked along the road and people were swimming, looked like a great place. Ancient lookout towers, used to warn of impending attacks by pirates, are found along this stretch since the peninsula's coast was long subject to maritime attacks. Most of them are probably Norman, and most are in ruins now.

Santa Cesarea Terme is just spread out along the main coast road, but there are several blocks of restaurants and stores (most closed/empty, it was around 12:30). This town has a definite Moorish feel to it. There is an extravagant Moorish Palace (private, not open) built in the early 1900s and the rest of the town, which appears to be newer, has the same style in most of the buildings. There’s a beach and several hotels. We got gelato and admired the view but were only there about an hour, which was more than enough. There were large parking lots at both ends of town (1€/hr).

By now it was around 1pm and I figured we probably didn’t have time/energy to do both drive to Leuca at the point plus go to Gallipoli so we choose Gallipoli, driving across the heel, from the Adriatic to the Ionian in a little over an hour. Had the timing been right we could have watched both a sunrise and a sunset over the sea in the same day. Puglia is covered in olive trees. I mean covered. I’ve traveled quite a bit in southern Europe and seen a good number of olive trees. But this area has to have the most, the groves just go on and on and on. And some of the trees are really, really old. The gnarled, twisted trunks are as wide as two or three ‘normal’ olive tree trunks. Some have been severely pruned back and re-grown so it looks like there are actually two or three trees when in fact it is just one. Some were such strange shapes they looked like giant bonsai. Puglia produces over a third of Italy’s olive oil (plus 80% of the pasta and 20% of the wine).

There are also lots and lots of stone walls, most in great shape. Grapes, oleander, some hayfields, short palm trees, cactus, agapanthus. What I noticed a lack of was umbrella pines, so prevalent on the west coast of southern Italy. We also saw lots of giant solar panel farms.

Approaching Gallipoli we realized that most of the towns in southern Italy, including Puglia, have pretty ugly sprawl as you approach. Actually I think this is true of most of Northern Italy as well, but it’s especially apparent in the south, although it’s not as bad as some descriptions I’ve read. I saw no old “discarded appliances or dog carcasses” but there were plenty of abandoned buildings and rusted vehicles. But every town had plenty of signs for “Centro” and we just followed these. In the case of Gallipoli it led us right to the causeway to the historic center. At the causeway is the ZTL sign but just before it there was parking on both sides of the road so we turned around and parked (€1/hr). Everywhere we went had the blue lines/ ticket machine.

Gallipoli is pretty interesting/picturesque. There is a ‘castle’ just over the causeway (but these castles are really just two story fortresses, and not terribly large). You could pay to go in but we didn’t. Lovely harbor of mostly fishing boats on one side of the causeway, bigger harbor with bigger commercial ships on the other, although there was one nice 5 masted ship there. The little lanes in the historic center were a combo of Moorish and baroque and just ‘regular southern European’ architecture. I was surprised at the number of Baroque buildings and balconies in what is otherwise a relatively plain fishing town. There were quite a lot of touristy eateries and shops.

We got more gelato and decided to head back. Timing was off for lunch today, plus it was the hottest day yet (35C/95F) so we weren’t really hungry. We were there about 2 hours, so if you were going for lunch you’d probably need at least 2-3 hours.
The signs going out of town toward Leece took us out past the ‘beach’ – a very long (several miles) stretch of beaches – all pretty crowded and looked extremely inviting, although we really couldn’t have stopped if we wanted, as the parking was all full.

Driving back to Leece was also straightforward and we found our way no problem at all, took just about an hour. Driving in the Salento is a breeze, parking was not a problem anywhere.
Went to the same place as the night before since we really liked it and why mess with success. The staff remembered us and seemed really pleased that we came back. I’ve noticed this before – we do tend to repeat dinners at restaurants we find that we like, and often the waiters will remember us and they always seem so happy that we came back.

One thing we noticed in Puglia is the lack of English being spoken. While many of the places we went there were tourists, they were primarily Italian tourists. When they were foreign, they were mostly German or British. People were always quite excited to find we were American. In eight days I could probably count on one hand the number of times I overheard English (and it was always with a British accent). G has been teaching himself Italian for a few years now and can limp by with rudimentary Italian. While the people in hotels, restaurants and shops have basic English, it is clearly much less than in Tuscany or Rome or the Amalfi Coast. So it was useful that G could speak a little Italian. But even if you don’t speak any you could get by, everyone is very friendly and helpful.

After dinner we partook of the passeggiata through the lovely lit streets of Leece.
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Old Sep 8th, 2014, 05:18 PM
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This brings back nice memories Isabel. I did a week based in Lecce and rattled around on the little trains to Otranto and Gallipoli though both took a day! Loved the places, especially the cathedral floor in Otranto and the harbour in Gallipoli. There are so many little places in that area it's hard to decide. I also went to Martina Franca, Alberobello and Locorotondo. Maybe you are going there next?
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Old Sep 8th, 2014, 10:45 PM
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great details, it takes me back too

Gallipoli is the big gay holiday town which helps bring in the pink Euro and pays for the place staying clean.

Under old EU rules every time an olive tree splits in half (and they all do) you had to cut one down to show that you were not stealing too much EU subsidy. That rule no longer applies so you get to see more and more twins. The present fungal infection means they should be cutting a mile wide exclusion zone, did you see it anywhere?
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Old Sep 9th, 2014, 11:14 AM
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gertie - Yes I went to all those other towns - that part is coming up. I agree it was hard to narrow down which towns to visit. I really like them all, I can't say any of them weren't worthwhile.

bilbo - what do you mean by 'pink euro'? I didn't see any olive trees that looked sick. There were plenty that had been cut off and were 're-growing' by they were kind of interspersed with others. I will say that after plenty of trips to Spain, Italy and southern France I thought I had seen lots of olive trees but I can't recall anywhere where there were so many, or any that had such fat trunks.
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