Puglia: the heel of Italy’s boot

Puglia, also known as Apulia, is the region of Italy covering the heel of the boot and most famous for its coastline. It is a well-known vacation spot among Italians, however it is less well known to the rest of the world. It was a little difficult to plan a trip to Puglia because of the lack of information and once there, it was slightly distressing to navigate because no one spoke English. On the other hand, it is completely different from every other part of Italy I’ve seen in regard to the architecture, food, and culture. Luckily, a friend of a friend who lives in Puglia helped us with our itinerary and because of that, we ended up having a very Italian holiday. The only thing I would have done differently would be to stay in a Masseria, or farmhouse, like this one.

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Our first stop after arriving at the airport in Bari was the town of Alberobello, which was made a UNESCO world heritage site for its abundance of trulli–the whitewashed houses with conical roofs that are traditional to this area.

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After exploring the back streets of Alberobello, we made a quick gelato stop before leaving for our next destination: Ostuni.

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Ostuni is one of the famous “white cities” of Puglia, although I felt as if the architecture more closely resembled that of Greece. It was great to wander through the city’s narrow streets and staircases, discovering hidden shops and restaurants around every corner.

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We also visited a number of other cities on our way south to the beaches, but Ostuni and Alberobello were our favorites. We spent the night in the city of Lecce, which is sometimes described as the “Florence of the South.” And in the morning, we headed for the ocean.

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The Grotto della Poesia (Cave of Poetry) near the Torre Dell’orso beach is essentially a sinkhole at the edge of the sea. It was such a beautiful place to go for a swim and jump from the rocks above. You can even swim out to the sea through the system of underwater caves.

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The entirety of the next two days were spent beach hopping from one stunning spot to the next. To be honest, it was almost too hot to do anything else.

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Along the coast, practically at every beach, were these medieval watchtowers. None of the ones we saw were open to visitors, but they were still really cool to see from the outside. Apparently they were built in the 16th Century, lining the Puglian coast as a protective measure. The structures were built close enough in order to communicate with neighboring towers through fire and smoke signals.

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On our final day in Italy, we were torn between visiting an olive oil farm or the ancient cave city of Matera. Matera is actually in the Basilicata region north of Puglia, but it was on the way back to the airport. Plus, we had all watched a travel show about Matera called Italy Unpacked and George’s brother, Tommy, was especially interested to see it.

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We parked in the center of the city, then set off to explore on foot. Matera is famous for its cave dwellings or Sassi di Matera, literally meaning “stones of Matera” which are part of the UNESCO listed heritage of the city. The ancient Sassi dwellings were occupied until the 1950s when the Italian government forcibly relocated the residents to the modern city. Although beautiful, Matera was forgotten and impoverished, enduring many years of hardship throughout its long history. Tourism has breathed new life into Matera and we found it to be the highlight of our trip.

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Among the sites we visited in Matera, the best was the cave church called Madonna dell’Idris. The fourteenth and fifteenth century frescoes were amazing, but unfortunately no pictures are allowed. We would have loved to visit the Crypt of Original Sin, often described as the ‘Sistine Chapel’ of cave churches, however it was closed during our visit. So to fill the last couple of hours before our flight, we ventured into the caves across the ravine from the city and explored the many former dwellings. We even found a tiny cave chapel with frescoes inside.

 

 

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