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PUGLIA AND MATERA: FROM PANE DI ALTAMURA TO PEPERONI DI SENISE..

PUGLIA AND MATERA: FROM PANE DI ALTAMURA TO PEPERONI DI SENISE..

May 25th, 2011, 06:58 AM
  #21  
DAX
 
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Eks & Flame: it seems that most people don't speak much anything but the local Italian dialect in Puglia. If I may ask, how much Italian have you learned to get by or even to talk and chat with people in the restaurants? Part of enjoying travel for me is meeting locals or at least other travelers, how accommodating are the locals to speak/chat with you in proper Italian or in English for that matter.
DAX is offline  
May 25th, 2011, 11:15 AM
  #22  
 
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DAX - I have always found, anywhere in Italy, that the people are one of its most prized attributes. I have always been met with smiles, assistance, good times. I used to speak Italian fluently as a young adult but over the years have not used it so lost a lot. That said, I can understand a lot and speak whatever I need to get by. I would love to take a language refresher course someday in Italy itself. I also take a small pocket dictionary with me, just in case. And I remember so many instance when something on a local menu was not clear to me/us and so the waitress or proprietor brought over a small sampling of whatever it was, to show it to us, and/or have us taste it. I remember once being pretty lost and after much frustration driving into what-I-did-not-know-was a closed gas station(but there were people there). A young man on a motorbike ESCORTED us to where we needed to go, not a short distance either. THAT is one of the reasons I am hopelessly in love with Italy !!!
Flame123 is offline  
May 25th, 2011, 11:42 AM
  #23  
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I could not agree more. I have always been struck by the kindness, and the willingness to help, of the vast majority of people I have come into contact with in Italy and this welcoming spirit is even more prominent in the far south, in my experience. I do think that, as is true all over, your treatment largely depends on your attitude. Even without a common language, there can be much communication. But paving the way for communication does not mean walking up to someone and asking in a loud voice: "Do you speak English?" (I've heard this too many times!) To me, it means, walking up to someone and apologizing for the interruption first, in rudimentary Italian, before getting to the question.

Over and over again, people went out of their way to be helpful. For example, several times on this trip I asked directions from a shopkeeper, only to have that person leave his business place and either walk us down the street to our destination, or point the way once out on the street outside the shop.

As far as I know, most people in Puglia speak Italian although they may talk in dialect among themselves. But this is probably true in Venice, too, for example, and in many other areas.

I never learned Italian but after much reading and many trips I am pretty fluent in the language of food and menus. I do speak Spanish, which has allowed me to communicate in a very basic fashion, to ask directions for example.

So the brief answer is that I think the Pugliese are even more wiling than most to be helpful. those that we met seemed delighted that we would come all the way from America to visit their homeland.
ekscrunchy is offline  
May 25th, 2011, 12:52 PM
  #24  
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Here is the completion of our last day in Matera:





We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Sassi Caveoso where, while strolling the winding lanes largely unblemished by the modern age, it is easy to imagine oneself back in the era of Carlo Levi's residence. We noticed quite a few elderly men and women returning from the fields bearing bundles of wild vegetables and herbs. Hanging bunches of these plants adorned the fronts of many of the sassi homes.



Many of the middle-aged and older women in the sassi dress in somber black garb, with an apron tied around the waist providing the only touch of color. Throughout the city, men were invariably natty, often wearing ties and sport jackets and almost always sporting a fedora or flat cap known here as a coppola.

We had planned to visit the MUSMA, the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture, housed in a 17th Century palazzo in the Caveoso, but were very disappointed to find it shut tight. (Opening times are 10am-2pm. We did manage to peek through he gates into a sculpture garden that only served to whet our appetite for the rest of the museum, and increase our dismay about not being able to enter).


http://www.musma.it/index.php?option...d=12&Itemid=34


We had a bit of trouble extricating ourselves from the Caveoso and ended up backtracking up and down a stone stairway a couple of times (the paving stones are very slippery when wet, as we had learned the previous day; thankfully, the weather had improved and skies were clearing) before we found the way into the new city once more. I want to stress, again, the need for having good walking shoes for traipsing around on the uneven and often slippery paving stones in the sassi.

We continued our explorations in the new city; more details are contained within the websites that I linked above.

After a brief rest at the hotel, we changed for dinner and emerged to join the evening passegiata. Matera is even more beautiful in the evening when the historic buildings are exquisitely illuminated and men, women and children from toddlers in strollers to anziani leaning on canes throng the streets radiating out from Piazza Vittoria Veneto, promenading and pausing to chat.

Eventually we made our way to the edge of the historic district to Via Santo Stefano, #61, where we had booked a table at Lucanerie, regarded as one of the city’s best restaurants.





LUCANERIE





In contrast to the rustic, whitewashed restaurants typical of the sassi districts, Lucanerie is slightly more elegant, as befitting, perhaps, its location in the new city, at the edge of the sassi. Although we had booked for 8:30pm, most of our fellow diners appeared to be locals, rather than tourists. We received a very warm welcome and were given an table for two partially cordoned off from the dining room behind a ruched fabric screen.

We began our dinner, as per custom, with the mixed antipasti, ordered that night for one person only.


The parade included excellent cold beef slices accompanied by chicory, a piquant dish of braised pork, and another of braised boar. The spread also featured: Fave e Chicorie, or pureed fava beans topped with braised dark greens. Much as I have tried, I cannot work up much enthusiasm for this staple of the Pugliese and apparently, of the Lucanian, table. Much better was the strawberry puree with fresh ricotta, the tangle of asparagus and egg, and the bruschetta with pureed ceci beans. And finally, another staple which I have come to like very much: A cold pairing of two grains--farro and buckwheat-- tossed with cooked green beans.


Opting for “primi as secondi,” I selected the Strascinati with Pepperoni Cruschi and Salso di Pomodoro,” my favorite pasta and dried red pepper dish. I did not like this rendition nearly as much as the one the previous night. The dried red peppers were crushed to bits so tiny as to be all but indiscernible. I thought the pasta was slightly overcooked, and the tomato sauce verged on the acidic. (Perhaps this is a function of the time of year?)


While the dish would have been up to par, perhaps, in a good neighborhood restaurant in New York, I must admit that I was disappointed.

My partner fared much better with his pasta, which had been recommended by the owner as an off-menu special. Schiacciatella con Crema di Arugula featured long, thick strands of pasta tossed with pencil-thin asparagus in an arugla pesto, topped by tiny leaves of fresh, raw wild arugula. Delicious!

Desserts were mixed: My chocolate cake was pretty good; the lemon semi-freddo was superb.

We drank the house red wine; with the wine, and water, the bill totalled 62 euro for two. Here and at every other restaurant we tried during the week, the house reds, were invariably excellent and priced under 10 euro per bottle.

I think this is a good restaurant, despite my dissatisfaction with my pasta course. A SlowFood pick. Via Santa Stefano, 61, at the edge of the sassi in the “new” city. Closed Sunday dinner and Monday.




A few steps from the restaurant, the excellent bakery, Pane e Pace,
(Antica Forno a Legna Perone) at Via Santa Stefano, 37, is open from 7am to 2:30pm.

We visited the following morning just before we checked out of our hotel, and were invited by the baker to watch the bread and foccacia being baked in the immense wood-burning oven at the rear of the bakery. We took a few photos and, with difficulty, narrowed down our purchases to a large pane di Matera, taralli, and biscotti to tote home.

Pane Alto di Matera has a long shelf life and was still feeding us at home 12 days after purchase! (The lovely bakery staff recommended keeping bread in cloth bags). By this time, I had a giant tote bag filled entirely with baked goods that I would hand carry on the plane rides back to New York.

http://www.paneepace.it/panematera.htm


Where else but Italy would one find a website devoted to the bread of one city?

http://www.consorziopanedimatera.com/
ekscrunchy is offline  
May 25th, 2011, 09:44 PM
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eks - I am wary to "hijack" your beautiful trip report thread with an outline of my upcoming trip in October. But since your asked........ I plan on a week in Campania, splitting my time between a B&B outside of Sorrento and a small hotel in Amalfi. Then we shall make the drive towards Les Marches, staying for 5 days in Ascoli Piceno. For our last three days we will be back in Rome before returning home. I am in the throes of checking sites, restaurants, attractions, etc. And loving every minute of it !!
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May 26th, 2011, 02:37 AM
  #26  
 
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eks - so pleased you engaged Nadia as your tour guide! Her knowledge and passion was invaluable! Thank you for your trip report - it made me rush off to re-visit my photos! Ah....so many memories! Thank you!

Flame123 - Ascoli is amazing, we stayed there on our way to Matera - such a beautiful city. Make sure you stay in the old town!
Cheers, Ozlinz
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May 26th, 2011, 04:35 AM
  #27  
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Flame: I cannot believe the coincidence: Yesterday afteroon I spent about an hour and a half (when I should have been finishing this report) researching hotels in the Ascoli Piceno area! I keep coming across that city in my readings and am trying to plan a future trip (no date yet; just a vague idea..) that would include it..

Do you have any places picked out yet?

Ozlinz: Nadia was fantastic! Did you know that she had attended college in L'Aquila? she seemed very sad when she spoke of that city and the recent tragedy...
ekscrunchy is offline  
May 26th, 2011, 06:00 AM
  #28  
 
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Now I have a reason to return to Puglia. Matera has been on my to-do list for a while.

One question: can someone who is fully mobile but has a heart condition (my spouse) enjoy a visit to Matera or is it just too vertical? We had to take Ostuni rather slowly, for example.
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May 26th, 2011, 11:00 AM
  #29  
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Tedgale: Matera is very special. I had no idea how special until I experienced it for myself.

I think that if your spouse managed Ostuni, he would be fine in Matera by taking it slow. The new city is flat. The sassi fill the canyons that slice through the new city. The biggest challenge will be walking down the staircases that lead into the sassi zones, and ascending those staircases again to reach the new city.

Within the sassi Barisano, there is one "main street" (very few cars as none are supposedly permitted) that is level. And there are '"side streets" that branch off this street and slope upwards. (I am painting a more simplistic picture than the reality but that is the general idea; think of a ravine that has been built up at the bottom and on both sides).

So there will be a fair amount of climbing but it will not be the continuous steep uphill trek that Ostuni requires.

While most tourists seem to stay in the sassi, in the "cave hotels," I do not think that this is a "must do." The action at night is in the new city at the passegiata and staying in a hotel in the new city (I keep saying "new city," but realize that it is not at all new!) would allow you to explore the sassi areas in the day but take it easy at night when the sassi can be quite deserted.

The city is small enough that you can cover the main areas on foot.
ekscrunchy is offline  
May 26th, 2011, 11:40 AM
  #30  
 
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Very helpful -- thanks
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May 26th, 2011, 12:10 PM
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eks - we do seem to be on the same page very often, don't we? Indeed I have picked out the Albero Piceno for our 5 night stay which looks really lovely, is decently priced and rated #1 on tripadvisor. We plan to spend some time in the city of course, but also to travel to at least Urbino, Ancona, and whatever other small (or large) town "pops up" along our way. I have always loved NOT using a GPS in Italy - my very favorite and most beautiful days consisted of those villages we happened upon when "getting lost" so I usually look forward to that !!!
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May 26th, 2011, 02:09 PM
  #32  
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I could not agree more, Flame! There is something that seems so mechanical about the GPS. Not to mention the fact that I am sure that I would encounter some snafu that would prevent it from working well for me.

I will be eager to hear of your adventures in October!

Here is a bit more about our return to Puglia from Matera:

I forgot to mention, above, that the Basilicata tourism authority just opened a stunning new office on the road that skirts the sassi. They are very well stocked with brochures and the terrace offers a fantastic view of the cave-riddled cliffs opposite the city.


The next morning, after having spent two nights in Matera it was, sadly, time to move on to our last stop of the week, near Fasano in Puglia. This brief visit left me with a hankering to see more of this off-the-beaten track region and now that I am home, I am busy plotting out routes for a trip that might take in the the Lucanian Dolomites, Pollino Park, Pisticci, and Senise, home to the famous peppers.

http://www.discoverbasilicata.com/uk/




We spent an hour or so taking a last look at the new city and filling up the carry-on with bread, taralli and biscotti. Once back at the hotel, we informed the desk of our departure time and the car was delivered to us. Driving OUT of the sassi was easy; there is only one road. But a few minutes after that we found ourselves lost and confused, unable to find our way out of Matera! None of the regional maps I had were detailed enough to indicate the correct road. This is rarely a big problem and it certainly was not one this time because the first person we asked gave us directions and we were soon on driving along the Via Appia, SS7, toward Massafra, where we would turn off on #581 to Martina Franca, and on to Fasano.



Apart from some further confusion around Massafra, this provide to be an easy drive.

As we drove through the small, attractive city of Castellaneta, I noticed a trattoria plastered with large posters of Rudolph Valentino. No sooner did I hop out of the car to take a photo then a car pulled up next to me. The driver got out and pointed his finger in the direction of a house nearby, telling me that it was the “Valentino house.”
The Club Rodolfo Valentino of Cincinnati, Ohio, had commemorated the actor’s birthplace with a beautiful bronze plaque dedicated to: “Rodolfo Valentino-- Nome Che in Terra Lontana Significo Arte E Belleza Italica.”


Many Castellanetese enterprises play on that association with Valentino trattoria, a Valentino museum, Valentino basketball team, and a Valentino foundation, and both a Hotel Rudy and a Hotel Il Valentino.


http://www.fondazionevalentino.it/




After further confusion which led us into the center of Martina Franca, we righted ourselves with the help of a friendly local, and by early afternoon we were ensconced at the Masseria Torre Maizza, of which I wrote in my first Puglia report and which now reigns as one of my favorite European hotels. It is certainly one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Since my partner and I are both avid swimmers, a big draw for us is the vast swimming pool which, thanks to efficient solar heating, can be used even in chilly weather. We were so entranced with this hotel that I had booked this stay soon after returning home last fall. This entitled us to an early booking package that included one dinner for two at the gorgeous hotel restaurant. Because we were tired from driving, we booked a table for the evening of arrival and enjoyed a very good meal in the candlelit, whitewashed dining room under canopies of flowering vines.

For the first time since arriving in Italy, we encountered other Americans; Puglia is ideal bicycling territory and the US-based bicycle tour operator VBT regularly books clients into Torre Maizza, and its larger, sister property, Masseria Torre Coccaro. The bikers spend a night or two here and, because they are off exerting themselves during the day, we saw them only in the evening.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jun 1st, 2011, 05:39 PM
  #33  
 
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What a fabulous account of your trip. We are planning on going in September and your descripions and comments are invaluable. Thank you!
tamarakinsell is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2011, 04:07 AM
  #34  
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Tamara: I will be happy to attempt to answer any and all questions about the areas we visited. Glad you will discover them for yourself.

I have a few more days to cover in this report and will return to it once I get a chance.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2011, 03:44 PM
  #35  
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Here is a bit more and I will return soon with the conclusion of our day in and around Savelletri di Fasano:





On Friday we decided to re-visit two of the nearby “white” towns that had captivated us last year and which are within an easy drive of less than 30 minutes from Torre Maizza.

We headed first to Locorotondo.

I have spent time in many of the so-called “white” towns of Italy, Greece and Spain, but I’ve not seen too many that are as handsome as the mellifluously named Locorotondo. As we approached the center of town, we caught sight of the endless canopy of awnings that signaled the weekly market. Quickly finding street parking, we set off to explore. The acres of cheap clothing and shows held little interest, but after trudging past booth after booth of sequined jeans and laminated place mats, I found treasure in the area devoted to food: Golden oval orbs of the fruit known in Italian as “nespole,” or loquat, a relative of the kumquat. The vendor proferred a peeled specimen and, as easy as that, I was hooked!

http://stockfood.com/image-picture-L...a)-161156.html
Clutching my bag of treasure, we retraced our steps back to the car, stopping briefly in a couple of food shops before heading off in the direction of Alberobello.


Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the “trulli town,” and, as such, it draws more than its share of tourists. On our last visit, we had been turned off by the profusion of trulli-themed B&Bs, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants that clog the Rione Monti sector of town.

This time, we followed the signs to the well-marked “Zona dei Trulli,” and after parking our car near the public food market, we headed away from the tourist shops and up the gentle rise to the “new town,” where trulli houses mix with more conventional, but still beautiful, structures spanning several centuries and which include the 19th-Century Neoclassical Basilica of St. Cosimo e Damiano which overlooks the town.

http://www.mioalberobello.it/storia.htm






We spent about an hour inside the Trulli Sovrano house museum, which offers a fascinating peek into the daily lives of the generations of a wealthy family that called this unusual two-story trulli home.

Interesting sites about Alberobello:


http://www.sitiunescoadriatico.org/index.php?pg=71


http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/787


Just before returning to the car, I stopped into Latte e Fieno, a tiny cheese shop, to purchase a few vacuum-packed samples of pecorino to tote home. What I had intended to be a 5-minute pause turned into an hour-long visit with the amiable proprietress, Sra MariaGracia Contento, and her young daughter, who was studying English at primary school. I highly recommend this shop, facing the small piazza at Largo Trevisani, #4, which sells the cheese produced on their farm near Martina Franca.
No English is spoken but the warm welcome transcends words!

http://www.lattefieno.it/




For more on Locorotondo and Alberobello, see my report from September, 2010:


http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...ern-puglia.cfm




For dinner that evening, we had reserved a window table at a seafood restaurant located about a mile from the hotel in the tiny coastal hamlet of Savelletri.



DA RENZINA (Savelletri di Fasano)

Da Renzina occupies a prominent waterfront location in miniscule Savelletri. Entering the vast dining room (the restaurant seats 300), we confronted a piano, a sea of chairs upholstered in a mayonnaise-hued vinyl, most of which were empty at the time of our arrival at 8:30 on a Friday night, décor rife with curlicues and flounces reminiscent of a wedding hall in a New York City suburb, and a wall of windows facing the Adriatic. We were shown to a window table, booked ahead, where the waves pounding against the glass reminded me of being on a ship.


Savelletri, along with the nearby coastal hamlets of Torre Canne and Forcatella, is sea urchin territory. I have tried pasta dishes with ricci in New York and never liked them much, finding them to be overly fishy. Nevertheless, for primi, I ordered Troccoli con Ricci di Mare. The resultant long, spaghetti like pasta, with a sauce of sea urchin, was the single best seafood pasta dish I have ever tasted and a highlight of a trip filled with great eating. The house-made pasta, with that perfect springiness of texture, would have been outstanding even alone. With the ricci added, the dish was perfection. (12 euro)

My partner, almost inexplicably, chose orecchiette con pomodoro, the traditional Pugliese pasta “ears” with a simple tomato sauce. He pronounced it to be “stupendous.”


We elected to share a whole fish for the main course. We were invited to select a whole fish from the display on ice that dominated the center of the room. I asked the waiter to recommend a fish and he responded that we should take the orata, prepared al forno. The resulting sea bream, cooked in the oven with black olives, was very good, but I wished that I had chosen grilling as a method of preparation, rather than having the fish baked.

The price for whole fish is 40 euro per kilo and ours ended up costing 34 euro.

The restaurant filled up during the evening; our fellow diners were local families, quite a few with children.

We drank the local DOC Locorotondo Cantina Classico white, a blend of verdeca and blanco d’Alessano.

With water, the bill totalled a most reasonable 66 euro. Recommended. Closed Thursdays. Piazza Roma, 6.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2011, 01:04 PM
  #36  
 
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mmm - that pasta sounds good, ek. and the fish - as a matter of interest, why did you think it would have been better grilled?

It's nice to have someone to share with, isn't it? i found when i was in Florence by myself that two courses all to myself was really too much - it would have been much better if I'd had someone to divide the dishes with - then i could have tried more of them, too.

funny you should mention nespoli - I came across them for the first time this year too. Everyone tried to tell me that they are medlars, but I knew that was wrong, [wrong season, wrong shape] and when i came home I looked them up and found...loquat.
annhig is offline  
Jun 5th, 2011, 01:58 PM
  #37  
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Hi Ann!

There seems to be confusion about nespole/loquat/medlar. A few of the sources I read online seem to state that these are all the same fruit. Others call the loquat a "Japanese medlar."

In any case, they are divine. I just got a lead (not confirmed yet) that they are for sale in our Chinatown; this would be very good news. I will be sure to report back!

About the fish, I thought the baked fish was a tad boring..I tend to prefer my white fish to be grilled so that they develop some browning. Although now that you mention it, I did fall in love recently with a bass that had been "salt-baked" here at a restaurant in New York. It did not get browned at all, but the meat was luscious.

I thought I might try to do that at home, and I even found a recipe; seems a bit of an endeavor, though:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/m...ipe/index.html






I agree about sharing the food. It is frustrating to eat alone if only because you have to order such a limited array of dishes or risk stuffing yourself. For some reason, I remember that when I was alone in Florence many restaurants had communal tables where they sat the single diners. Did you noticed this at any of the places you ate? It would be great if many restaurants offered that option, although I suppose that sharing a table would not guarantee sharing food, with strangers!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jun 6th, 2011, 12:56 PM
  #38  
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Before I continue with an account of our last day in Puglia, I want to mention a book that I just read and enjoyed very much. Gabrielle Hamilton is the owner/chef of a popular small East Village (New York City) restaurant, Prune. the father of her children has a family home at the southernmost tip of the Salento, which happens to be the southernmost tip of the Italian "heel," and the book has delicious details about her summers there, with plenty of food details:


http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/bo...-hamilton.html
ekscrunchy is offline  
Jun 6th, 2011, 03:23 PM
  #39  
 
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hi ek,

no, sadly I didn't find any restaurants with communal tables. I'd have been vey happy if I had, but in the end i was quite content with what I did find so it was fine.

re the medlars, here they are definitely an autumn fruit, which once picked have to be "belted" to make them edible. the nespoli were eaten fresh - definitely not the same thing at all.

I've seen recipes for salt-baked fish, but never done it myself - your need prodigious quantities of salt and it's quite expensive. but I agree with you about grilling often giving a better result than baking.
annhig is offline  
Jun 7th, 2011, 03:04 PM
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Saturday was our last full day in Puglia and we decided to again retrace our steps, this time driving north along the coast from Savelletri to Polignano a Mare, one of the prettiest towns we had seen in the region.

The first part of the drive took us along the coast, past seasonal bathing establishments that were mostly closed this early in the season, and past groves of massive olive trees stretching to the horizon on one side and the turquoise Adriatic on the other.

Polignano a Mare was the birthplace of Domenico Mondugno, a name that probably means nothing to you but to my music-loving partner will be forever linked to the song “Volare,” a worldwide chartbuster in the 1950s.
We had neglected to find the statue dedicated to Mondugno on our last visit so that was a priority this time. After parking the car, we paid our respects to this one hit wonder who elicits mixed feelings among the Polignani since he apparently never returned to the town of his birth after he became famous. The statue stands at the edge of the sea to the north of the old city and close to the Hotel Covo dei Saraceni, which looked like a good bet if you decide to spend the night. It is just steps from a gorgeous slash of white sand beach hemmed in on both sides by sheer
clIffs:

http://www.covodeisaraceni.com/


Here are a few pictures of Polignano a Mare:


http://tinyurl.com/5vo5ra8


We wandered around the core of the old town, pausing to watch a wedding party emerge from the 13th-Century Church of the Assumption and pour into the waiting flower-bedecked black limos. Never before had I seen men bedecked in shiny suits sporting rhinestone buttons, but I saw two of these dandys on that afternoon!



After an hour or so, we headed back to the car, pausing for the house special coffee, spiked with amaretto and topped with cream (1.60 euro) at the legendary Super Mago del Gelo, whose walls are a veritable gallery of Italian artists ranging from Sinatra and Dean to Pacino as Scarface, to a white-suited John Travolta as Tony Manero.


We had parked our car on a residential street near the Mondugno statue. When we returned to retrieve it, we noticed that we had parked in front of a doorway almost flush with the sidewalk. Apprently, the owner of the house noticed this, too, because as we opened the car doors, this elderly, nattily dressed gent emerged from his house, wielding his cane and yelling at us for parking where we did. I begged his pardon, in my fractured Italian. All it took was one syllable from my mouth for him to realize that I was not a local but a tourist. His demeanor changed immediately and he broke out into a smile, begging US to pardon him for HIS mistake! Just one more reason why we loved Puglia!






We were back at the hotel by 3pm, in time for a long swim and a laze on our deck before heading out to what would be our last dinner of the trip, at a masseria/restaurant that we had enjoyed last fall.
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