Europe Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

View all Europe activity »
  1. 1 London flat feedback wanted - yes, I'm going slightly crazy!
  2. 2 GTG Paris December 2017
  3. 3 Looking for Good Eating in Valencia
  4. 4 Dubrovnik
  5. 5 Trip Report Sampling Some of Sicily and Bits of Italy Beyond
  6. 6 Yet another London Hotel Question
  7. 7 Family vacation
  8. 8 How many miles is a good 'walking tour'?
  9. 9 Paris, Normandy & Amsterdam with College Graduate
  10. 10 Pubs showing NFL football in London?
  11. 11 May Germany, Switzerland, and Iceland
  12. 12 Trip Report Three nights in the Italian Riviera: hiking in Camogli with day trips
  13. 13 Christmas in South of Spain 2018
  14. 14 Spain December/ January 2018/19
  15. 15 Tips for first trip to UK
  16. 16 which language school in Italy?
  17. 17 Language course in Trieste, Northern Italy
  18. 18 Driving
  19. 19 European Christmas Markets Itinerary
  20. 20 Trip Report 3 weeks driving the Netherlands
  21. 21 Help With Itinerary By Train: London, Paris, Nice, Florence
  22. 22 Italy 9 Days in December/Itinerary Help
  23. 23 Christmas Markets 2017
  24. 24 Trip Report Budget trip
  25. 25 Trip Report Adventureseeker returns to Italy! As glorious and detailed as before!
View next 25 » Back to the top

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

Jump to last reply

I usually take rather ‘eclectic’ trips each summer and this year was no different. I started with a solo two weeks in Norway, Poland and London (separate report) and then met my husband (G) and his brother (Alan) and sister-in-law (Allison) in Rome, and then went to the Amalfi Coast. Then G and I followed that with Puglia.

My husband and I have been to Italy numerous times and for their first trip there we wanted to show Alan and Allison someplace we hoped they would really like. Alan loves ruins and Allison loves beautiful scenery so Rome/Amalfi Coast seemed like a good choice. They were only able to take about a week so after they returned home G and I spent 8 days in Puglia and finished up the trip at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli and a last night in Rome.

3 nights Rome
5 nights Sorrento with day trips to Herculaneum, Amalfi/Atrani, and Ischia
1 night Paestum
2 nights Matera
2 nights Lecce with day trips to Otranto, S. Cesarea Terme, & Gallipoli
4 nights Polignano with day trips to Ostuni, Alberobello, Locorotundo, Cisternino,
Conversano and Trani
1 night Tivoli to see Villa Adriana
1 night Rome

We rented a car (Europcar through Kemwell) as we left Sorrento and returned it in Rome. The first part was public transportation.

For the Puglia portion, the trip reports here were an incredible source of information. There’s relatively little in the guidebooks and on-line on Puglia (compared to the rest of Italy) so I really depended on trip reports to decide where to go, what to see and how long to spend. And it turned out great.

All the hotels were booked on and we were very satisfied with every place we stayed.

Photos (there are a LOT of them) are at:


Galleries of photos from this and previous trips to Rome:

  • Report Abuse

    We were all meeting in Rome from three different destinations and I was arriving the evening before the rest of them. Their flights from the US were pretty uneventful. I was coming from London, on British Airways. We boarded the plane only ten minutes late but this apparently caused us to miss our slot in the ‘take-off queue’ so we sat on the tarmac for THREE HOURS! The actual flight is just over two hours, then there’s the hour time difference. Add the getting to and from the airports at each end and that’s how what looks like a ‘short’ trip can take all day.

    It was after 11pm by the time the Leonardo express got into the city so I was real glad I was fairly familiar with Rome and had booked a hotel only ten minutes walk from Termini. In retrospect I guess it would have been smarter to take a taxi from the airport, but I was supposed to get in around 8 – not even dinner time. Fortunately plenty of people are still out and about at that hour in Rome in July.

    Hotel Floris, Rome The hotel itself is wonderful, completely redone in 2013 it’s all modern and clean and bright. Rooms are large, bed comfy, great bathroom with rain showerhead, mini bar with free bottled water, there is juice and coffee (espresso, cappuccino) available for free all day. Breakfast has a huge selection. Location is good, about ten minute walk from Termini and 15 from Piazza Venezia. It’s on Via Nazionalae, which is a busy street but the hotel was very quiet. The building has three other hotels in it, on different floors, so it’s a little confusing to find it the first time; the Hotel Floris sign is less obvious than the others (seriously, they need a much better sign), and it’s on the fourth floor. The lift is the typical old European building add-on and is tiny. 104€ double (Overall I like it better than the Hotel Julia which is where I’ve stayed the last couple trips, and it’s 40€ less). The staff was great.

    Monday, July 7 – After a great hotel breakfast I went for a little 7 mile walk to scope things out. The others weren’t arriving till mid afternoon. Having been to Rome several times in the past few years I’ve done most of the biggies in terms of tourist sites so I had no real agenda. Trevi Fountain is completely covered with scaffolding. Would have been a major bummer if it were my first time, fortunately I have a lot of photos of it already. Piazza Navona is looking good. Campo de Fiori had the market in full swing. Then I did some shopping and managed not to buy anything, found a bank machine and got some more Euros (I always bring home a hundred or so for the next trip so I don’t have to worry about getting them right away), walked along the river over to Piazza S. Maria in Cosemedin and then around in front of Vittorio Emanuele II and along the via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseo, which also has a lot of scaffolding. Around the back it’s OK but the first impression is not as good as it usually is.

    So as of July three major tourist attractions (Trevi, Colosseo, and Spanish Steps are all being renovated). Feeling confident I could serve as a decent tour guide I went back to the hotel to wait for the others.

  • Report Abuse

    Tuesday, July 8 We started the day at the Forum. There were literally two people ahead of us in the line to buy tickets at the main Forum entrance (we were headed to the one for Palentine Hill as I’d heard that was where the shortest lines were but when we saw there was no line at the main entrance we went in there.) It’s 12€ for a combined ticket to Forum, Palentine Hill and Colosseum. There were a few tour groups but it didn’t feel overly crowded. It’s a fairly large space so it can absorb a good number of people without feeling crowded.

    Then we went to the Colosseum. It was a madhouse at the entrance, no queue or order of any kind. People all jammed up against each other. We made it through the first ‘gate’ and then there seemed to be three lines, with no signs or direction or anything. So people without tickets ended up in the line for people with tickets and then had to go back against the crowd. What a mess. The whole thing only took about 15 minutes (if you had a ticket) but was not at all pleasant, lots of pushing and shoving. Once inside it wasn’t all that bad, again, it’s a large space so the crowds get absorbed. I’d been inside it once, twelve years ago – it hasn’t changed much (duh). But Alan and Allison seemed to enjoy seeing it, although they agreed it’s better on the outside (despite a third of it being covered with scaffolding).

    Later in the day, after a siesta, we walked through the heart of Rome, past Castel St Angelo, to St Peters. Given our limited time in Rome we hadn't intended to go inside, but I did make note of the length of the line to the Vatican Museums. It was long - but no longer than the time in November that I waited over a hour and then gave up. Both times were in the afternoon, so all the people who say you can avoid the lines by going later in the day, don't appear to be correct whether in high season or not.

    Then we walked along the river to Trastevere to ‘Bir & Fud’, a place I’d read about in a trip report that was supposed to have lots of varieties of specialty beers. Given that both G and Alan are beer snobs they had to try this place. They certainly had a large variety but I think they were a bit disappointed in the beer itself. The food selection is small, mostly pizza and it was OK, not as good as the pizza we’d had the night before near the Trevi Fountain. Goes to show that the food in the ‘tourist corridors’ is often as good or better as in little out of the way and/or trendy neighborhoods, and often less expensive. Well, G got to attempt to discuss beer brewing in Italian – his two hobbies being brewing beer and learning Italian.

    We walked back through Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona (where we stopped for gelato – a larger and better dish than the night before on a side street), and Piaza d. Rotonda. All beautifully lit as the lights were coming on, music and street performers all around. And it was a lovely cool night. Can’t believe how breezy and cool it was in Rome in July!

  • Report Abuse

    Nice start to your report, which I will be reading with great interest--it will be so fun to get your perspective, since our itineraries overlapped in many ways. So sad that the Trevi Fountain is covered in scaffolding--we definitely lucked out there. I love that fountain!

    Love your pictures, too. Looks like you had more pure blue skies than we had in May, and the Puglian towns appear to be more lively, with many more potted plants. And lots of summer crowds. Especially fascinating are your pictures of that pocket beach at Polignano a Mare, which was only lightly visited when we were there. I imagine the water was much warmer in July!

    Looking forward to more.

  • Report Abuse

    You can't go anywhere in Italy without encountering the dreaded scaffolding (usually the very thing you were looking forward to seeing the most). Can't be helped if we want to continue to enjoy the sites. I can't imagine the cost of upkeep in Italy. I watched them vacuuming statues in the Vatican Museums one time. Seemed like a never ending job. They had backpack vacs.

  • Report Abuse

    aprillilacs - yeah, there seem to be quite a few people who either recently went to Puglia or are currently planning trips. So interesting to see how our trips compared. We did have some rain, maybe not as much as in May, but more than normal for July. I was also struck by the difference in the way that beach looked in your photos and mine.

    kybourbon - I agree that scaffolding is necessary for the sights to look good. Sometimes when I get home and look at photos I've taken compared to the same place from a previous trip I'm really struck by the fact that it had been renovated since I was there last and looks so much cleaner. There was an article in an Italian paper saying that some people thought that having three of their major sights under renovation at the same time might hurt tourism. I rather doubt that since I don't think most tourists know which things will be under scaffolding till they get there.

  • Report Abuse

    July 9 – On to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

    I had bought the tickets from Roma to Napoli on line for 19€ per person. The train kept being delayed by 5 minutes until it was a half hour late. We stood around Termini for half an hour waiting for the platform to be announced, which didn’t happen till ten minutes before the train left and then we had to run for it. Our train was on the furthest platform and our car at the far end of the train. The ride was comfortable enough and no one ever came to check our tickets. The Naples train station has been recently renovated and is much nicer than it was a few years ago. We easily found our way down to the circumvesuviana station, which is down stairs from the main station. No ticket kiosks, only two windows open and long lines so we just missed the next train. But trains come every half hour or so. €4.10 each. The train to Sorrento was hot and crowded; we had to stand the first half hour. The trip took about 1¼ hour, longer than I remembered. Lots of gypsy children playing plastic accordions. We got talking to an American family that was basing themselves in Naples to visit the Amalfi Coast and Capri and really regretted their choice. We’ve been to Naples and while I did find it interesting and am glad I went there, I totally agree that if your main purpose is to see the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Sorrento as well as Pompeii you should not base in Naples.

    If you’ve done lots of traveling, especially in Italy, these train experiences are just par for the course. Alan and Allison have been to Europe a few times but they aren’t really fans of public transportation or cities, living in a rural area where everyone drives absolutely everywhere, so I could tell this wasn’t really ‘fun’ for them.

  • Report Abuse

    Sorrento – I really love this little town. There is a lot of negativity regarding it by some people on the forum, referring to it as a ‘city’ and pointing out that it ‘is not the Amalfi Coast’. Calling it a ‘city’ is definitely misleading – it’s population being only 16,000, so larger than the villages of Amalfi and Positano, but a far cry from a city. And the fact that it is on the Bay of Naples side of the Sorrentine Peninsula rather than the Bay of Salerno side of the peninsula seems kind of nit-picky. The Sorrento (north) side of the peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean is more built up and less dramatic than the south side - the actual Amalfi Coast - but it is no less scenic. Sorrento has a gorgeous cliff side setting, sweeping picturesque bays, narrow alleyways in the old town, and ancient and endless stone stairways leading down to crystal clear waters.

    While there are no lack of tourists there in season, and on days when a cruise ship is in harbor it is most definitely unpleasantly crowded, the same is even more true of Positano. No question that, of them all, Positano is the most ‘wow-ing’ site, especially when seen from the water, but once you are actually in the town, Sorrento has more atmospheric corners to explore. Most of the time Sorrento feels less crowded and busy than either Positano or Amalfi and there’s more choice of restaurants, more back alleys to get away from the crowds in, in my opinion a much better sea view, better shopping, more interesting places to visit (e.g. Marina Grande and the Convento di San Francisco cloisters) and it’s clearly a better base to visit other places such as Naples, Pompeii, Capri, Ischia, etc. The fact that it is on the Circumvesuviana rail system makes it easier to get to as well as easier to day trip from.

    My favoroite places in Sorrento are Villa Comunale, the park overlooking Marina Piccolo (the larger harbor) which is next to Convento di San Francesco which has gorgeous (free) cloisters, and Marina Grande. The main shopping street is very touristy but interesting enough to browse and the back alleys are fun to explore.

  • Report Abuse

    After meeting back up with A&A we showed them around and ended up down at Maria Grande where we had dinner. We ate at an outside table, right on the beach. We could listen to the waves lap on the shore and the church bells ring while we ate. The sun was glistening on the water and the boats when we started and then as it set made the clouds all pink, yellow and orange. Really pretty. I had spaghetti with garlic oil, cherry tomatoes, capers and olives, and an eggplant parm appetizer. G had lasagna. A&A had gnocci with shrimp, sardines for appetizer, and then fried calamari. It was all delicious. The restaurant was “The 5 Di Leva Sisters” and it looks like it really is completely run by these five middle age sisters. Hardly any tourists down at Maria Grande, they all looked local. However, Sophia Loren apparently ate there, and they had a sign saying Jamie Oliver recommends them. After dinner we strolled around Sorrento and got gelato.

    Ulisse Deluxe Hostel: Via del Mare, - we stayed here on our last trip to the area and liked it enough to not even look for anywhere else. per night 88€ double, including breakfast, free wi-fi, AC, Satellite TV with CNN, mini-bar. It’s considered a “deluxe hostel” rather than a hotel but the rooms are huge, very nice marble floors, nice wood furniture, etc, great bathroom with shower and Jacuzzi tub. The lobby and breakfast room are also huge, modern, nice. There apparently are a couple of rooms that fit 6-8 people so that qualifies it as a ‘hostel’ but the majority of rooms are normal doubles, many with an extra single bed as well. There is also a connected fitness center with pool, exercise rooms, etc but that is all extra. There is also a large parking garage, also extra. No view though (well you can see the ocean from the window but just barely). But for the price it was a great deal.

  • Report Abuse

    >>>The train kept being delayed by 5 minutes until it was a half hour late.<<<

    Trenitalia has an app(free) for both Iphone and Android - ProntoTreno. I don't know if you would get the track info any faster than the boards in the station, but perhaps as it does have a tracking feature.

  • Report Abuse

    Enjoying your report. We'll be in Rome in October. Too bad about the Trevi Fountain, but as someone said, somethng is always being restored, cleaned etc.
    Interested in you take on PUglia as we were there 2 years ago and rally loved it. We were there Mid Sept/Oct and very uncorwded with pretty much deserted beaches.

  • Report Abuse

    good to know about that train app

    It's exciting that so many people are planning on going to Puglia. I'll try to get the report done as soon as I can.

    Thursday, July 10, 2014 - Herculaneum

    We woke to some blue sky but mostly cloudy. We even had a brief (less than a minute) shower early in the day and a longer (still only about 5 minutes) shower mid afternoon. Not bad, but not 85 and bright blue sky like it’s supposed to be. Good thing we’ve been here before and that A&A like cooler weather (since it’s hot and sunny where they live all summer). In fact, if you believe, at one point it said it was currently 68 in Sorrento (although it felt warmer), 79 in Bergen, Norway (where I had just been), and 76 in the town in Massachusetts where we live.

    After the hotel breakfast (scrambled eggs, decent croissants, fruit, cakes, juice, coffee) we took the Circumvesuvina Train to Herculaneum. It cost 6.3€ per person for a day ticket (unlimited rides, so there and back and you can stop in Naples, Pompeii, etc.). The trains are slower, more crowded and crappier than I remember. Took close to an hour to Herculaneum, close to 40 minutes to Pompeii (from Sorrento). We did get seats at about 9am, and later coming back got seats after standing a few stops. Not a horrible experience, but not really pleasant either.

    The walk down the 6 blocks or so to the Herculaneum entrance is a piece of cake (short and easy). Unfortunately ‘something washed out’ so you couldn’t use the normal entrance so it was an additional 10 minute or so walk around to the parking entrance. Tickets are 11€, or 20€ for five sites in three days including Pompeii. We had planned to do both Herculaneum and Pompeii. Unfortunately Alan got sick just as we were finishing Herculaneum so we never got to Pompeii. I didn’t really want to go to Pompeii again anyway so it was fine with me, but G had been adamant that I was ‘depriving’ them if I pushed for just Herculaneum over Pompeii.

    Herculaneum is much smaller than Pompei but more ‘complete’ – there are roofs, there are even sections of wooden beams and such that are original. There are quite a few mosaics and frescoes that are pretty well preserved, and some of the other features of Pompeii like the ‘fast food outlets’. We moved very slowly but still covered most of it in a little over 2 hours. I think the fact that we’d done Pompeii a few years ago, and prior to that visit I had done quite a bit of research and reading about both these cities and Roman houses in general, really enhanced my visit. I really think that’s the best way to get the most out of these sites. Of course you can hire a guide or an audio guide but I like to explore on my own, yet if you don’t know what you are looking at the experience is much less. The entire pamphlets that you get when you buy your ticket are available online so you can download and read these before you go, which I think is much more enjoyable than trying to read it while you are walking around.

    Now having seen both, I’m glad that I did, and if someone were limited in time I would probably suggest doing a couple hours at Herculaneum, followed by at least a couple hours at Pompeii (probably take a good hour between the two between the walk to the train, waiting for the train and the actual 15 minute train ride) – and up to 3 or 4 hours depending on your stamina and interest. You can see the ‘highlights’ of Pompeii in 2-4 hours certainly, and the additional time I think is better spent at Herculaneum, than in trying to see absolutely every house at Pompeii.

    Since the walk back to the train station was uphill, twice as long as it supposed to be due to the ‘washout’, and Alan was not feeling well, we took a taxi (5€).

    Back in Sorrento, A&A&G took a taxi back to the hotel (20€) since Alan was not feeling well and I went in search of Europcar so we’d know where it was on Monday morning when we were to pick up our rental car. Turns out it’s almost directly across the street from the train station, we could have seen it if we had just looked in that direction.

    Even though it wasn’t a great day, weather wise, it certainly wasn’t terribly windy or wet, yet when we were asking about the time of the boat to Amalfi for the following day, they told us none of the boats (public or private excursion) ran today due to the weather. Something about ‘angry weather from Germany’. Extremely unusual in July, but goes to show it does happen.

    For dinner we picked one of the ‘mid’ scale places on the side street near the Villa Comunale. Allison’s pasta and G’s pizza were ok but my carbonara was terrible. The wine was ok, the dessert – A & I got one chocolate and one lemon cake and they were both tasteless and boring. Could have come from a convenience store. My pasta the evening before down in Marina Grande was less than half the cost and twice as good.

    So not the best day – weather and Alan being sick. Forecast is actually pretty bad – more cool and rainy weather. What’s with that!? At least A&A think this is a good thing cause they are sick of hot and sunny, and I did have decent weather in Northern Europe for a change, and we’ve been here before, but still.

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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!

  • Report Abuse

    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!

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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!

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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.

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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?

  • Report Abuse

    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 :-)

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    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?

  • Report Abuse

    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?

  • Report Abuse

    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.

  • Report Abuse

    Saturday, July 19, Polignano al Mare, Monopoli

    We left the hotel in Lecce after 9 and were in Polignano by 10:30, autostrada the entire way and signage was fine including going around Brindisi.

    The Hotel L’Abbate (right off the Conversano exit of the SS16, €80) is a modern 4 star just like the last two we stayed in with no charm but serves it’s purpose. The room was large, clean, great bathroom, TV, free wifi worked great, AC, lift, mini fridge and lots of safe off road free parking. A perfect place from which to explore the region. The room wasn’t ready at 10:30 (duh, they were still serving breakfast, but they had it ready by 11). It’s on a busy two lane road so you can’t walk into Polignano but it is literally as 3 minute drive. You go over the highway, over the railroad tracks, first right and there are three large parking lots (1.50€/hr). The one with the children’s playground and public WC has a path that leads to the old town (5 minute walk).

    The parking ticket machines in the Polignano lots had an extra step involved that was a bit hard to figure out. Before you put your money in you need to type in the three numbers in the middle of your license plate, then you put the money in until you reach the desired amount of time, then press the button for the ticket. We’d never come across this before and we saw several people over the next few days who apparently also had not run across this. But someone helped us the first time, we helped others, and you figure it out.

    We explored Polignano for a couple hours, which is really all it takes to walk around the historic center as it’s quite small. But it’s charming and there were plenty of restaurants. Outside the historic center are blocks and blocks of apartments and it seems a lot of them are used as vacation homes/rentals for northerners coming in the summer for the beach, perhaps that’s why there are so many restaurants. There were certainly lots of vacationers in Polignano but they did seem to be more the ‘rent a place for a week and go to the beach’ type, than foreign sightseers. There are lots of viewpoints looking out to sea and back to the town. The town is built up on a cliff (not terribly high) and there are a lot of underwater caves you can see from the viewpoints. Right in the center of town is a cove beach and there are other beaches at the ends of town. The sea is unusually clear and quiet thanks to the protection of the rocky ridges.

    The old center was once surrounded by a moat and a city wall. Arco Marchesale, is the main entrance of the old town which opens onto Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, the main piazza. There are two interesting churches and several shops and a couple of restaurants. Polignano has two interesting ‘sights’. In a piazza in the area outside the historical center there’s a statue of Domenico Modugno, the writer of the famous song Volare, born here in 1928. Then, within the historic center, there is an unusual “poetic” staircase with a quote from Torquato Tasso, and other bits of poetry painted on the walls (Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Poe, etc.)

    We decided since we’d be back in Polignano each evening of our stay that we’d go explore Monopoli during siesta. Unless you want to shop or visit church interiors (which we generally don’t) then siesta is not a bad time to visit towns that involve driving, as it’s so much calmer and easier to park. Siesta is observed all over southern Europe but it’s especially long and noticeable in Puglia. Everything starts to close down around 12:30 and by 1:00 every city and village looks like a ghost town. Shops, churches, and tourist sites are all closed, buildings shuttered, piazzas are empty. Even most restaurants and cafes close down. Things don’t start to re-open till 4:00 or later. I will say that we were always able to find some place open to get at least light food, drink and gelato during siesta. So it’s not that you can’t have lunch during this time, but choices are limited. I actually like exploring towns during siesta, but they definitely have a different feel than they do later in the day. Most towns don’t really come alive until 7:30 or 8pm when the passeggiata begins and restaurants open for dinner. One town (Trani) had a sign that said parking regulations were enforced between the hours of 21:00-02:00.

    While shopping isn’t a major purpose of my travels, I do like to look at (and sometimes buy) things but Puglia has virtually no shops that looked interesting – very different in this respect than anywhere else in Italy. So normally not having shops open during siesta would be a negative but here it didn’t matter much.

    Another problem with trying to do much exploring or sightseeing during siesta is the heat – usually July in southern Italy would be so hot that walking around mid afternoon would be brutal. But not this July.

    Anyway…. We didn’t have good directions for Monopoli so just took the centro exit and drove till it looked like we were ‘close’ to the pedestrian area. There seemed to be plenty of free on street parking so we just stopped and it turned out we were only about 2 blocks from the start of the old town.
    Monopoli (population about 50,000) is larger, and nowhere nearly as enchanting as Polignano (population about 16,000). There are several nice old churches, and it has a harbor/port area, and a good number of winding streets with Greek looking architecture, but it was just kind of blah compared to Polignano. We walked around for a couple of hours and had a very good lunch on Piazza Garibaldi (Premiato Caffe Venezia) in the historic center.

    We had a nice long, cool siesta and went back into Polignano around 6:30. The parking lots were a little more active than in the morning but we got a spot. By the time we left at 9:45 all three of the lots were jammed, as was the one to the left of the road we come in on which was totally empty in the morning. We walked around looking for restaurants that appealed and settled on the one just inside the main gate on Piazza Vittorio Emanuele – “Bella Mbriana”. Two pages of pizza possibilities, including some really interesting options like pizza with zucchini flowers. The special that night was octopus. It was already half full at 7:30 and they were turning people away by 8.

    The town certainly is hopping in the evening, every street and alley had people wandering around, all the restaurants were full. Outside the gates it was even more crowded. The piazza and streets outside the gate look pretty historic, at least in the dark. Everything very well lit.

    The bar/gelateria just outside the gate (Mario Campanella Il Super Mago Del Gelo on Piazza Garibaldi) specializes in whipped cream. Prices listed for gelato are both with and without whipped cream. I had a medium nocciola with cream for 2.10€. Excellent and quite large for the price.

  • Report Abuse

    Continuing to enjoy reliving our trip there 2 years ago. Absolutely loved the gelato at Super Mago. We had some issues with the meters in Polignano. One time we needed a couple hours and ended up with 12.

  • Report Abuse

    Also: There are 60 million olive trees in Pugia. For hundreds of years they supplied an extraordinary amount of fuel for lamps and other kinds of non-edible uses. That intense plantation monoculture persisted some years beyond the advent of electrical power but not much beyond it. The inability to find a sustainable and diversified economic base for Puglia has been a very vexing problem and a lot hopes are invested in tourism.

  • Report Abuse

    bilbo - what do you mean by 'pink euro'?

    Not sure what the correct word for this is where you come from, but in Europe the rainbow flag and the colour pink are associated with the gay/lesbian community. When consumerism is associated with this group then you have the "pink pound" or the "pink euro" affect. Hence parts of the UK, Brighton, Central Manchester and Blackpool have had significant pink pound expenditure which have resulted in some drab area becoming both gayer (in all meanings of the word) and wealthier. Similar Galipoli.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for the explanations - I knew pink was associated with the gay community but hadn't heard the term 'pink euro' (or dollar).

    Interesting about the olive trees. Really didn't notice any large scale disease - but there sure were tons of trees. I hope it doesn't cause too much damage.

    And I've never heard the term pausa for the afternoon rest. I've always heard it called siesta, whether in Spain or Italy.

  • Report Abuse

    Sunday, July 20 Ostuni, Cisternino

    We were on the road by 9 and easily found Ostuni. It is very impressive as you approach on the road. Unfortunately there’s no really good place to get a photo of it. Most of the online/postcard photos of the city from a distance appear to have been taken from a helicopter. We just followed signs for ‘centro’ and got to a block or so from the ZTL (could just make out a sign in the distance) and there were a few spaces left in the white lined area (free) so we took one. Not only does free parking save a few eruo, but you don’t have to worry about getting back to your car by whatever time you calculated you would. The next few blocks had blue spaces and then there was a parking lot just before the ZLT. A block further is the very large Piazza della Liberta with a huge obelisk dedicated to Saint Oronzo and a large civic building and small church.

    From there two streets lead into the historic core. We took the lower one which opens out (after a nice WC) to the promenade which extends all the way around the historic core and has nice views of the blindingly white city and the countryside sloping down to the Adriatic. Very nice. We walked a ways around it, and even down a road away from town hoping for a good view but you’d have to go a pretty far distance to get the views you see when driving so we turned back and entered the old city.

    Again, I think expectations play a huge role in how much people like a place. I’d read some so-so things about Otranto and so was pleasantly surprised and really liked it. I read nothing but lavish praise for Ostuni so when it turned out to be “nice, but not spectacular” I was a bit disappointed. It’s a very nice place, and the views from afar are hard to surpass, but wandering the streets in the old town it looks like many other white towns in southern Europe. But not anywhere near the ‘top’ picturesque-wise. We wandered around for a couple of hours and felt we had seen enough.

    Since it wasn’t even mid day yet we next headed for Cisternino, which was quite well signed from Ostuni. I had very little info on Cisternino compared to the other towns, and no good map. The large scale print map and the iPhone map app got us there no problem but then were no help with where to park or where the historic core was. We followed ‘centro’ signs but didn’t see an obvious place. It was approaching 1pm –which is good, traffic is light during siesta – but we were getting tired and I almost said lets just skip it. But we stopped at a hotel and G went in and asked directions. Like most men he is against asking directions, but I pointed out that I’ve been putting up with his speaking Italian at me for the past two years so now was his chance to actually use it. He was given a handy map and told to go back a few blocks and park on via Maggio XXIII. We easily did this and saw a tree filled promenade just ahead. Again,white spaces. However, the blue spaces are free from 13:00-16:00 which is when we were there. The old town rises on a hill from there.

    The first eatery we came to looked expensive and almost empty but just after that was ‘our kind of place’ – on another promenade overlooking the valley below, we took the last of the shaded tables (no linen tablecloths but plenty of people at this place) and we got great mozzarella, lettuce and tomato sandwiches (on warm bread) plus Fanta, Water, and Iced espresso con crème all for €9.

    We then spent the next couple hours wandering Cisternino. It was great. I liked the maze of old white streets much better than Ostuni (and there were no tour groups, in fact hardly anyone other than people at the several restaurants that were open). Granted Ostuni only had one tour group, but overall was much more crowded.

    By a little after 3 we had covered just about every street in the historic center and were ready for a siesta ourselves. Less than half an hour back to the hotel, via the E55, well signed to get back to the highway on roads through miles and miles of olive groves and only a few crazy Italian drivers on our tail.

    At 5 pm the parking lots in Polignano were fairly full but we got a space. The beaches were also still full but people were leaving. We wanted to eat as early as possible so as to catch the sunset which was around 8:15. No one serves before 7. We ate at the Balconneta which is, on one of the ‘balconies’ (terraces) overlooking the sea. Pizza was excellent, huge salads. Sunset was pretty nice, not spectacular but you could watch it drop into the sea with Polignano in the foreground. Making me wonder how you can see the sun SET on the EAST coast of Italy. But I have the photos to prove it.

  • Report Abuse

    Still enjoying your report, Isabel. We enjoyed Ostuni and thought the walls were amazing, but I agree it's not as intimate as the smaller towns. And it's indeed hard to get a good photograph of the city--I rummaged around in some fields on the eastern side to try to find a good shot but never really accomplished it.

    Interesting that you liked La Balconata in Polignano--my husband thought the pizza he had there was the worst ever! Nice location, though.

  • Report Abuse

    I am still confused about the siesta/pausa. I understand shops being closed, but Italian lunches last far past noon. Is it just that MOST restaurants are closed in smaller villages, but in larger towns this is not necessarily the case? I care nothing about shopping, but a lot about lunch!

  • Report Abuse

    There were restaurants open for lunch in every Puglia town we visited (most of the same ones as Isabel did). Fewer in the smaller towns (like Locorotondo), but we always found a good place to eat. Virtually every shop and church was closed from 1 to 4 or 5.

  • Report Abuse

    aprillilacs - I noticed in your report that you didn't like La Balconata. Both of our pizzas were quite good, I suppose it depends on what you get (or maybe how busy they are, etc.). We liked the one on the main square better but the first night there I thought it was just 'OK'. We ended up going back on our last night because it was pouring rain and we didn't want to walk around looking for something else, and that night the pizza I had was fabulous.

  • Report Abuse

    Oh, about the siesta - I think a lot of restaurants must just not open at all before dinner time. So many were closed at 1 or 2 in the afternoon- they couldn't be 'done' with lunch by that time so I guess those places just don't do lunch. Also, some of the coastal towns look like maybe they only those places during peak tourist season which must be August because in July things were pretty quiet in some places. But as april says, we always found somewhere to get lunch but the shops and churches, etc were always closed and streets very deserted - noticeably more so than in other places we've been that also observe the siesta such as south of France, central/northern Italy, etc.

  • Report Abuse

    Anyone been in early-mid June?--I am thinking about a stay in Monopoli and wonder if it will feel too "pre-season." I like quiet without a doubt, but in towns that come to life in summer, it can be a tad too quiet.

  • Report Abuse

    Great report! I've been to almost all of those places in the last 20 years of frequent travel to Italy. A few years ago we stayed two nights at the same hotel as you did in Paestum. Nice place, but the rooms needed a little work. My last trip to the region was all over Puglia and Matera and I just loved all those towns. I envy your ability to take so much time off at once to travel (I can only take a week or two).

  • Report Abuse

    Kristina - I think it was because of your report and recommendation that we choose that hotel - and it was great, we really enjoyed it. I've read many of your trip reports and found them very helpful.

    Yes, I am fortunate that I can take 5 or so weeks at a time - although it has to be in the summer. I sometimes envy people's reports about time in May or late Sept/ Oct. but all in all I guess I'd rather have the amount of time I do even if it is in the summer.

    Yorkshire - I can't for sure of course, but I think mid June would be great. None of those towns are so tourist dependent that they 'close up' or anything like that. I just think perhaps there are a few places right by beach areas that may only open in August. Monopoli has 50,000 people. Although I'm curious why you are thinking Monopoli over Polignano.

  • Report Abuse

    I've ridden a bike around the place in June, the beech resorts are dead and I've been the only visitor in more than one hotel. All the attractions are open (churches, castles, museums)

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks all! Sounds like June should be fine.
    Isabel, I read good things about both Monopoli and Polignano, and they are so close together it could end up as either one. I had my eye on an apartment to rent in Monopoli, and I thought it might have more of a workaday feel (if that makes any sense--less of a holiday place than Polignano).
    bilboburgler, I will be asking about biking once the trip gets concrete.

  • Report Abuse

    yorkshire - I think you are right about Monopoli having a more workaday feel if that is what you are looking for. While I wouldn't call Polignano "touristy", I think in summer it gets a lot of Italians from up north who come to rent apartments for a week or more at a time or who have seasonal homes there. Off season I think it would be pretty quiet. In July there were plenty of people there.

  • Report Abuse

    Monday, July 21 Alberobello, Locorotundo, Martina Franca, and trulli hunting in the Valle d’Itria

    We wanted to get an early start to beat the supposed masses of tour groups in the trulli zone of Alberobello. We got there at 9am, easily drove into the ‘centro’ and parked on the main street, right in front of the main ‘trulli zone’ (Rione Monti). Didn’t see any free parking, but there were plenty of blue spaces left (2€ hr). We also passed a few parking lots as we drove in. The shops were just opening up, so in fact, we walked up several streets with no tourist tat outside or people at all.

    The trulli, limestone dwellings found in this region of Puglia, are small drywall (mortarless) buildings with domed or conical roofs built up of corbelled limestone slabs. The trulli are made of limestone boulders collected from neighboring fields. It’s a prehistoric building technique, and there is some evidence that some may have been in the area many centuries ago, but the majority were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are trulli in the countryside and neighboring towns, but the greatest concentration is in Alberobello, and while they are kind of ‘cute’ individually, it’s the grouping of so many right next to each other that makes for such a unique sight. There are similar buildings in other parts of the world but the question as to why there are so many here doesn’t seem to have a definite answer. There is a story that the roofs, not having any mortar, can be easily dismantled and thus were built this way so that they could be taken apart when the tax collector was coming and render them un-taxable.

    The trulli are a UNESCO World Heritage site, not because they are ‘cute’ but because they are “an exceptional example of vernacular architecture. It is one of the best preserved and most homogeneous urban areas of this type in Europe. Its special features, and the fact that the buildings are still occupied, make it unique. It also represents a remarkable survival of prehistoric building techniques”.

    We wandered around several streets, went into a few shops – mostly in order to see the inside of the trullo, there was very little worth buying (got a couple of mini trulli to hang on the travel xmas tree). The girl we bought them from was very nice, explaining how there were really three rooms in the medium sized trullo, one would have been the kitchen, one the bedroom and one the ‘living space’. I was struck by the similarity between the interior of a trullo and a sassi. She said the floor, ceiling and walls were all original. There was one shop with a stone artist making miniature trulli – it was interesting to watch him work, they said (I think, it was mostly in Italian) the technique he used was the same as was used to build the actual trulli, only on miniature level). We also found the trulli church, but somehow missed the museum. This main trulli zone (Rione Monti) has over 1000 trulli.

    We also explored the Aja Piccola quarter across the main street. It’s smaller, only about 500 trulli but no shops or tourists at all, it seems to be all actual living quarters. There is of course, also a ‘regular’ town with ‘normal’ buildings. Population of Alberobello is about 11,000

    Based on several trip reports we weren’t sure how long we’d want to spend in Alberobello so we paid for 1½ hour of parking and that turned out to be just right. We considered buying additional time and looking for the museum but by then (10:30) the tour groups were arriving so we decided to leave. But I do think Alberobello deserves at least an hour or so. I am also VERY glad we got up early and got there before the hoards of tour groups. That place is way to small to be able to absorb several buses of people so I can see how it could be very unpleasant. As we were driving out of town we saw three buses pulling into the bus lot. Later in the day, around 3pm we drove past Alberobello again on our way back to Polignano and we passed five buses headed into town in the space of about 10 minutes.

    Locorotundo – About a fifteen minute drive from Alberobello (not counting stopping to take photos of trulli in the fields). Very impressive profile as you approach the town. The name Locorotundo means ‘round place’ and it is. There are a series of concentric circular streets winding up to the top of the small hill on which the town sits. It’s a very pretty, clean, affluent looking, laid back kind of town with windy streets mostly filled with white buildings. A lime wash like paint is used to keep the houses clean and disease free, and has the advantage of making the entire town blindingly bright. There are a good number of baroque balconies and doorways. And there are numerous buildings, tall, narrow and rectangular with triangular gables that almost look like they belong in Belgium. They are called cummerse. In Locorotundo, as well as the next town we visited, Martina Franca, there is apparently a balcony flower exhibit or contest. Many are beautifully decorated.
    At one end of town there’s a large park like terrace with nice views of the valley below.

    We followed signs for centro and as we got close (you can usually ‘feel’ when you are getting close, being careful always not to turn down any street with a red circle signed meaning ZLT) we parked in an area of blue lines. But this time we needed to buy scratch cards from a store (fish market) nearby to pay for the parking (no easy to use biglietto machine).

    We spent about an hour or a bit more wandering around, then stopped at a gelateria on the main piazza (named, as with almost every town we’ve visited, Vittorio Emanuele) for some gelato.

    Martina Franca – less than fifteen minutes from Locorotundo. A larger town (population about 50,000) with a fair amount of ugly sprawl. A little more confusing as to where the historic center was but we eventually found some free parking in the vicinity of where we thought it was and turned out to be right around the corner from the main gate. Once inside it was really lovely, lots of baroque buildings and churches and several piazza’s. The first one Piazza Roma was not that charming but a few steps away Piazza Plebiscito is gorgeous with a large baroque basilica and a beautiful clock tower. For the first hour most of the shops were still open, I was almost out of my Sorrento Limoncello almonds so was glad to know I could replenish my supply. Then the ‘siesta’ began and everything shut up tight. Makes for nice wandering, I like almost deserted streets in old stone towns, and we weren’t interested in shopping anyway. But in this town it did mean there wasn’t much choice in lunch options. (Back through the main gate there was a Donor Kebab joint open and I like kebabs – the sandwiches were huge, good and very cheap).

    On our way back to Polignano we went ‘trulli’ hunting, which meant I made G stop the car about ten times to take photos of trulli, stone walls, olive groves, hayfields and vineyards. There are a good number of old trulli, natural stone with no whitewash, set amongst olive groves or fruit trees. There are also a lot of trulli which are either newly built, or renovated and incorporated into modern homes. There was even a farm where several trulli together seemed to form the center of a barn.

    All in all, the three towns took us from about 8:30 to 15:00.
    We went back out into Polignano around 7pm, and it was spitting rain. Parking lots filling up but the further out one still empty. We choose a restaurant on the main street just outside the walls – it had candles, linen tablecloths, looked “nicer”. It was more expensive (but still cheap compared to most other parts of Italy) but just goes to show you don’t always get what you pay for cause it wasn’t as good as the first two nights. I had spaghetti with shrimp and asparagus and there were literally 3 tiny shrimp and about half a stalk of asparagus. It was tasty but nothing special. It rained fairly hard but we stayed dry under the (sun) awning. It stopped just as we were finishing.

  • Report Abuse

    Tuesday, July 22 Our Last Day in Puglia - Trani & Conversano

    Woke to sunshine, but there were some clouds around. So we headed to Trani right after breakfast in order to beat the predicted afternoon thunderstorms. (I CANNOT believe we are planning our days around rain and choosing restaurants based on if the sun awnings look like they’ll keep us dry!!)
    We left at 8:15 and were parked in Trani by 9:30 (and there was quite a bit of traffic going around Bari, but no problems finding Trani, it’s centro, or parking. We parked in what looked like an apartment house/grocery store lot across the street from the sea. Free. It was a five minute walk to the actual harbor where there were tons more spaces, both white and blue lined.

    The harbor in Trani is lovely – really nice size, full of boats of all kinds – tiny fishing row boats, big metal fishing boats (quite rusty some of them), and pleasure boats/sail boats. On one side is a lovely shady park with promenade along the water (decent public WC), and one side of the long jetty. Going inland around the harbor are restaurants/cafes on the street side and a promenade on the harbor side. Great boat watching. All along fisherman are set up under tarps selling fish of all kinds: shrimp, octopus, salmon, lots of various size fish. And at the other end is the cathedral with another long jetty stretching out. Great views back to the cathedral and town. People sunbathing and swimming off the rocks. All quite newly renovated and nice.

    The cathedral is amazing! A stunning, pinkish-white 11th century cathedral, considered one of the finest in Puglia. It’s built on a spit of land jutting into the sea at the edge of the old town. It’s Norman/Romanesque and very austere with no frilly baroque decorations to mess it up (obviously my preferred architectural style is Romanesque). It’s huge, right on the water, and has an even taller bell tower attached by an archway. Just gorgeous. The huge bronze doors were closed, as were smaller side doors, but we eventually figured out you enter through a lower door to what appears to be the basement. We almost missed it, thinking the church was closed. I generally like the outside of churches more than the inside so I probably would not have exerted much effort to get inside. But I’m so glad we noticed the entrance. The church is actually three churches, one above the next. The lowest floor is beautiful, full of columns and arches and yellow light pouring through windows. The middle level is the smallest and darkest but has some nice frescoes. The upper level, by far the largest, is very tall and quite light.

    Just past the cathedral is the 13th century castle, obviously recently renovated. But it’s pretty small and plain and based on fodorite trip reports we decided not to bother going inside.

    Instead we wandered the maze of streets. The streets are narrow, but a bit wider than the tiny ones in the smaller villages in Puglia – these are just big enough for a car, and lined with larger buildings, mostly stone. It’s clearly a working town (as opposed to some of the villages which seem to have a lot of ‘second homes/vacation homes’).

    We had lunch at one of the cafes along the water – just panini and drinks but the setting was great. But there was clearly a storm brewing –waves were crashing against the jetties whereas earlier it had been totally calm – and the sky was getting very dark. We made it back to the car and out of town just as the skies opened up. It rained so hard it felt like we were in a car wash. Many cars were pulled over, we just crept along slowly till it let up.

    After a couple hours siesta in the hotel it was cloudy but not raining so we decided to go have a look at Conversano as it is only 4 miles from Polignano, right on the road the hotel is on. We were there in about 10 minutes, saw the castle from the first round-a-bout, and found a parking space right away.
    Conversano is a really nice little town with a better than average for this area castle. The town is more affluent (based on the shops and the people we saw) than many of the others, we figure it’s a commuter town for Bari (less than half an hour away). From the main piazza in front of the castle you can see the Adriatic. The main church is kind of plain on one side but really nice on the back (inside wasn’t bad either). The castle isn’t open for touring, it seems to house offices, but you can walk into the small courtyard. There’s the usual windy stone streets and lanes. Given that it was 6-7pm on a rainy Tuesday it was pretty quiet. In fact most of the restaurants we saw showed no sign of opening up, other than a few gelaterias and some bars.

    Conversano is definitely worth an hour or so, especially given how easy it is to get to/park in/ walk around.

    By the time we got to Polignano it was starting to drizzle. We planned on eating at the pizza place on the main piazza (Bella Mbriana) and arrived at 7:15, just as they were opening up. I had a white pizza with spicy sausage and mushrooms and it was fabulous. If I had had that the first night we might not have tried anywhere else all four nights. It started raining pretty hard during dinner but the awnings did the job (I cannot believe how many nights it has rained during dinner on a July trip to southern Italy!!! ) We are getting so we scope out the awnings (which are all designed for shade protection from the sun, not from rain) to see if they will likely leak on us. ) Unfortunately, our plans for strolling around town and eating gelato for our last evening in Pulia were rained out.

  • Report Abuse

    Some final thoughts

    Driving in Southern Italy
    I guess I would sum it up as “pretty crazy but not as bad as you’ve probably heard”. Unpredictable, and aggressive, is what it is. The majority of Italian drivers are relatively ‘normal’, they certainly pass (as in any area where you are not familiar with the territory you drive slower than the locals) but are reasonably safe about it. Some though do ride right up your ass and some pass in places it clearly isn’t safe. We were even passed when we pulled over to get out of the way of an ambulance heading towards us with lights flashing and sirens blaring! Speed limits are kind of ridiculous. Many places they are 30 or 50km an hour and people are all going 80 or more (and 80 seems more reasonable for the conditions). Then there’s the ‘invisible third lane’ – on a two lane road lots of people drive down the center between the two lanes. Mostly motorcycles, but cars too. We saw many cars running red lights, and stop signs really are just ‘advice’ around here. If you stop at a stop sign, the guy behind you will go around you and right through it. But overall driving in Puglia was nowhere near as scary as all the blogs/books made it sound. You just need to be very alert and drive defensively. We did notice that virtually EVERY town had TLZs.

    The E55 – from Leece up past Bari, the main highway in Puglia, is a divided four lane limited access highway and goes around towns and is very easy to drive on. Most of the places we went were off it a few miles but since our hotel was right at the Polignano exit we took the highway to the exits for the various places we were going. A bit of a traffic jam on Sunday morning around 9 am with people trying to exit to the beach towns. All the secondary roads were good two lane roads. Route numbers are not very common or logical and change frequently, but signs to towns were plentiful and easy to follow.

    The only place where we saw LOTS of traffic was around Sorrento. We didn't drive during our time there, just got the car as we were leaving to drive to Paestum. But traffic in that region was noticeably heavier than in Puglia.

    Tourism in Southern Italy

    Overall there was a very noticeable lack of tourists in Puglia compared to other parts of Italy and 98% of the tourists that were here were Italian. We almost never over heard English being spoken (and rarely German or some other Germanic language) and most of the people working in restaurants, hotels and shops spoke only enough English to communicate the necessary information, not really to have any kind of conversation. But everyone was very friendly and accommodating. The first 8 days I noticed a total of 3 cars with non-Italian license plates (all Swiss), on the 9th there were 4 cars in the tiny Polignano lot from other countries (France, Austria, Poland and Switzerland).

    Of course in the Sorrento/Amalfi Coast area there were far more international tourists and English much more widely spoken. But even in that area, except for the business that specifically cater to tourists, Southern Italy is a bit more 'interesting' than northern areas.

    For travelers who are inexperienced, or not really comfortable I can see how southern Italy is more of a ‘culture shock’ experience than some other places in Europe. We think A&A felt this way. Things like: trains running late, platforms not being announced till minutes before the train leaves, trains (and especially WCs) dirty, more trash around, local trains crowded and not air conditioned, Gypsys playing bad music on trains and in towns, lack of English being spoken, having to pay to use the WCs.

    Overall we really enjoyed every where we went and will hopefully be back. Having said that though, I can't say I loved it any more than other regions of Italy. Truthfully, if I had to choose one area, it probably would not be Puglia. But that doesn't mean we didn't love it, and as I said, plan to go back.

  • Report Abuse

    isabel - thank you for that thoughtful conclusion to your trip report. i have yet to venture much further south than Sorrento, which as you say is far more accessible to tourists than Puglia etc.

    I have to say that some of what you said about the driving made me laugh - we just came back from Germany and lots of your comments are applicable there - scary overtaking, mad speeds on the Autobahn, and having to pay for toilets, some of which were not all that clean.

    Yes, really.

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you for filing such an interesting and detailed report; your honest summary of Puglia gives those considering exploring the area food for thought, not in a negative way I hasten to add.
    Sounds like a place that separates the traveller from the tourist......

  • Report Abuse

    >>>Then there’s the ‘invisible third lane’ – on a two lane road lots of people drive down the center between the two lanes.<<<

    Not just two lane roads, but also multi-lane roads. I've always said in Italy, you pick a line and drive on it instead of in the lane.

  • Report Abuse

    Isabel: I am re reading this after our return. Your impressions and assessments seem more vivid now that I've seen those same sights and had those same experiences (esp the wacky driving practices). I can confirm you got things right. I can't start a trip report just yet - we're leaving the country again in w weeks and my hands are full. But once we get settled in our US winter refuge (Savannah GA, far from Canadian snow) I'll get started. I'd like your permission to quote you, where I thought your description was quite apt and I could do no better than to repeat it.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks, Isabel, for a most informative report. It will help us plan what I hope will be our Puglia trip next year!

    Tedgale: I will also wait for your report, hope you are safely in Savannah!

75 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.