7 (Really Cool) Things to Do When You (Finally) Arrive in Puglia

Okay, so maybe your idea of what’s cool and mine are different, but if you can go along with me on this, we can get past the issue.  Let’s just agree that if something is sensually pleasing, a bit rare and puts a smile on your face, it’s cool.

Having dispensed with the definitions, I present you with the 7 things you should do when you visit Puglia that meet the criteria for cool.

1.  Stay in a trullo

The Valle d’Itria area of central Puglia is the only place in the world where you can find the conical-rooved structures known as trulli and there are plenty of them around for you to rent during your visit.  The stones that are used to construct these unique buildings can be a meter or more thick and ensure that you will be cool during the heat of the summer and warm during the winter.  Legend has it that the mortarless stone roof of the trullo was designed to be quickly removed when the tax collector approached so as to decrease the property owner’s tax burden.  (Only that area under-roof was taxed.)  This is, perhaps, among the earliest and crudest attempts at tax evasion in Italy but, have no fear.  Tax avoidance has evolved into an artform since those days, one that is practiced throughout the country.

At the risk of appearing self-serving, this is the trullo you should sleep in

At the risk of appearing self-serving, this is the trullo you should sleep in

2.  Eat burrata

Just imagine a sack about the size of your fist made of mozzarella and imagine that, inside that sack is a helping of sweet cream and strands of more mozzarella.  Well, that’s exactly what burrata is and it’s luscious.  Cut the ball open and the thick, creamy filling oozes out and provides a buttery exclamation point to the fresh mozzarella and to anything else on the plate.  My favorite way to eat burrata is over fresh tomatoes drizzled with our own olive oil.  A true Pugliese will not eat burrata past the day when it was made so buy it fresh and eat it that day.

3.  Dip your toes into the Adriatic and Ionian Seas–on the same day

Have lunch in Otranto at one of the many restaurants along the Adriatic beach in the town and then make the 44 km (28 mile) drive across the heel of the boot to Gallipoli on the Ionian coast and, after touring the seaside town, have dinner.  In both places you will find the freshest of fish and other seafoods including a primo of spaghetti con vongole (spaghetti with clams).  You’ll never look at pasta the same way.

Gallipoli, on the shores of the Ionian Sea

Gallipoli, on the shores of the Ionian Sea

4.  Visit the UNESCO World Heritage site at Alberobello

If you’ve ever said to yourself, “Gee, I wish I could visit Hobbiton,” then you should schedule a trip to Alberobello.  The centro storico of the town is made up almost entirely of trulli.  At one time, these trulli were residences.  Today, however, the structures house restaurants, souvenir and craft shops and bodegas featuring Pugliese offerings.  Walk to the top of the hill to the trullo church, a beautiful example of trullo architecture taken to more modern times.

Alberobello at Christmas

Alberobello at Christmas

5.  Taste the wines of the Salento 

Some of Italy’s and, indeed, the world’s best wines are being produced in the Salento area of southern Puglia.  The red wines from primitivo, negroamaro and malvasia nero varietals can be deep and complex.  The rosatos range from light, citrus-based and crisp to medium-bodied and flavorful.  White wines from the region are made from verdeca and a white grape indigenous to the area around Locorotondo (not technically in the Salento, but close enough).

Primitivo di Manduria

Primitivo di Manduria

6.  Watch locals dance the Tarantella

The tarantella is a dance originally set to mimic a person’s reaction to the bite of the wolf spider or tarantula.  It is a high-energy display and it seems that everyone in southern Italy has mastered it.  The pizzica as the dance is called in parts of Puglia is not just a physical demonstration, but is a clearly emotive experience and simply watching the choreography unfold evokes some degree of empathy.

Dancing the tarantella

Dancing the tarantella

7.  Take a cooking class

The food of Puglia is, not unlike that of other regions of Italy, unique and more than worthy of investigation.  The pasta of Puglia is orrichiette (little ears) and is traditionally served with a thin tomato sauce and rape (broccoli rabe), a bitter green similar to chicory.  You can learn how to make the pasta though I can say from experience that forming the pasta in just such a way as to allow the sauce to collect in the hollow is an art that takes practice.  I have yet to become even modestly competent in the art.  Much of the cuisine of Puglia comes from the sea so your education will likely include the preparation of octopus, mussels and local fish such as bronzino and orata.  If you prefer a meat course, perhaps you will work with fillet of horse or donkey, both of which are popular in the towns of inland Puglia.

Octopus, Pugliese-style

Octopus, Pugliese-style

 

I could go on and typically I do, but I’ll stop with 7 items.  But please feel free to suggest others.  Just make sure that they’re cool.

Photos (as always) by the beautiful and talented Jessica Coup.  See her work at www.jessicacoup.com.

21 Comments

Joe DiSalvo

10 February , 2016 at 2:48 am

Hi Scott, Thanks for all your posts. They are so helpful ! Puglia sounds like the perfect location. We will start to gear down in the next few years and want to have an extended stay in Italy. (2-4 months) September-December. We love the water/beach and just need a small apartment. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks Again, Pittsburgh Joe

Scott

11 February , 2016 at 10:21 am

Hi, Joe. Good to hear from you. Your plan sounds great and we can certainly vouch for Puglia. It's a wonderful place to spend the fall and, by that time the tourists are gone, the restaurants aren't crowded and the winemakers have time to spend with you (except during the harvest, of course). You'll also be able to taste each year's new olive oil a day or two after pressing. There is nothing like it. As for where to go, I think my choice would be among Ostuni, Lecce and Trani. Ostuni is about 15-20 minute drive from the sea but it's a real town with a centro storico and some activity year round. Lecce, about an hour south of Ostuni is known as "the Florence of the South" due to its amazing architecture. It's also in the heart of primitivo and Salice Salentino country. Finally, Trani is a seaside town north of Bari. It's go some great restaurants, beautiful scenery and a more cosmopolitan feel. Just some things to think about. Let me know if any other questions come to mind and I'll be happy to try to answer them. All the best, Scott

wanderlynn

22 October , 2015 at 1:24 pm

I've recently moved to Lombardia from Alabama, of all places, and feel so overwhelmed by the number of spectacular places there are to visit in our three years in Italy. Now Puglia is on that list! Fresh burrata sounds amazing!

Scott

27 October , 2015 at 3:53 pm

Hi, Lynn. Thanks so much for checking in. It's good to hear from another American expat living la dolce vita. When you do make it to Puglia, please look us up. It would be great to meet. All the best, Scott

joya Russo

19 October , 2015 at 5:14 am

Hi Scott, I want you to know how very much I have enjoyed reading your Blog and Jessica's Photographs!I Reasearching where I want to buy my home in Italy or Sicily?Warmest weather during the winter and price of homes.My plan is to come to Italy?Sicily in 2016. I will be turning 60 and buying my new home solo so I move there permanently as soon as my duel citizenship is approved.My 5th appoiment with the Italian Consult April 2017I want to relocate and enjoy my retirement by traveling and making this new home a base and a place where my 2 married children can visit me for holiday. Keep up on the writting,readers like me enjoy and learn thru your experience thank you joya

Scott

27 October , 2015 at 3:50 pm

Hello, Joya. Thank you so much for your kind words. Jessica appreciates the compliment, as well. Puglia is a wonderful part of Italy and it has been for us the perfect place from which to get to other parts of Europe. With two international airport less than an hour away, train service nearby, and frequent ferries to Croatia and Greece, it's been very easy to get around from here. The lowest temperatures are 5-7° on winter nights so it's very mild in our estimation. And real estate prices remain very reasonable. If you decide to look in this area, I would be happy to give you some ideas about available real estate. In the meantime, thanks for following along with the blog and I hope you stay tuned. Best regards, Scott

max

16 October , 2015 at 9:35 pm

Hi Scott, my wife and I have just returned from a week in Ostuni and now I am in trouble as my British wife loves it there. I am Italian and slightly sceptical about the idea of living in Southern Italy. I have been away for 15 years and not sure how we would find it living there. What is your impression of jobs, hospitals, schools, public services in general? Would you have problems if you decided to set up a little b&b. Would the local boss come and claim his pizzo :-)...Only kiddding. Any feedback would be much appreciated. Noticed that house prices and land are on the rise but still affordable.

Scott

27 October , 2015 at 3:41 pm

Hello, and thanks so much for tuning into Soul of the Heel. I can understand how much trouble you are in. Having spent some time in other parts of Italy, I can tell you that the south is different from the north. Things happen here at a slower pace and they are done more in the traditional ways. For example, most businesses still close here in the afternoons and Sundays are reserved for families. As for jobs, hospitals, schools and public services in general, they are all inferior to what we were used to in the US, just as the overall Italian economy is but, then, we didn't move here to recreate our old life but, rather to find something different. That we have done indeed. You would have no problem at all starting a B&B here, though, with no one but the comune building inspectors knocking at your door. And, you are quite right: real estate prices are very reasonable but it is the time to buy. Please let me know if you decide to do something here in Puglia and if we can be of any help. My email address is scottjb8907@yahoo.com. A presto.

Paul caminiti

11 August , 2015 at 11:22 pm

Hi, my girlfriend and I are planning a winter stay in Puglia..apx. 2months February/March . What town is the best? Would need a small place with a kitchen/stove.thanks, paul c.

Scott

14 August , 2015 at 11:49 am

Hi, Paul. Thanks for checking in at Soul of the Heel. Happy to hear that you and your girlfriend are planning a visit. The time you're going to be here is a great time to visit. The tourists are gone, the restaurants are quiet and cozy and the traffic is manageable. Of course, I have a bias, but the Valle d'Itria towns of Martina Franca, Ostuni, Ceglie Messapica, Locorotondo and, our town of Cisternino are great places to stay. You can be at the sea in 20 minutes, stay in an olive grove, eat the freshest of foods and drink great wines. Those are my thoughts. Let me know what you decide to do. All the best. Scott

Paul

14 August , 2015 at 8:34 pm

Thanks for your reply Scott. Just concerned these places might be a little too quiet for us....mostly shutting down in the winter? We want a place that stays active in February/March. What type of accommodation would be best..not too big but with a functioning kitchen? Thanks, paul caminiti

Scott

15 August , 2015 at 11:05 am

I think, Paul, that as long as you stay in one of the towns (as opposed to staying at a masseria in the countryside), you shouldn't have a problem finding restaurants open or places to shop. If I were to choose such a place, I would look at Martina Franca, Ostuni or Lecce further south. Unlike the beach towns that do pretty much shut down in the winter, the larger towns off the coasts cater to the full time residents. As for accommodations, my preference would be an apartment in the centro storico of one of those places. VRBO or AirBnB are good resources for finding such places but, if you identify a place and would like my take on it, let me know and I can let you know my thoughts on the location. Good luck. Scott

Paul

15 August , 2015 at 6:21 pm

Thanks again Scott.

Steve Colomby

22 March , 2015 at 1:30 pm

Hi Scott. I just found your blog and have enjoyed reading some of your posts. We are from Toronto and purchased our vacation home around the same time you did, with some of the same issues you had ( I think we had to redo our procura 4 times). Thanks for sharing your experiences

Scott

23 March , 2015 at 11:08 am

Thanks for checking in on the blog, Steve. It sounds like you can identify with some of our experiences. Where did you buy your Italian home? Stay tuned! Scott

Steve Colomby

24 March , 2015 at 11:49 pm

We purchased a half built house just outside Carovigno between the town and Santa Sabina. Our realtor/builder finished it for us. All we need now is a hookup from ENEL.... speriamo primo d"estate!!

Scott

25 March , 2015 at 10:58 am

That sounds great, Steve. That's a nice part of Puglia. Best of luck with it.

Apartments for sale in Jesolo

10 March , 2015 at 10:22 am

Thanks for these wonderful travel tips, your article is really helpful.

Nancy

13 February , 2015 at 2:35 am

Great list, Scott!! Thanks to the wonderful hospitality that you and Jessica extended to us and your great recommendations we were able to enjoy 5 of the 7 items on your list - just missing the Tarantella and the Cooking Class!! We'll have to experience those on our next trip to Puglia. I do have a suggestion to add to your list. The meal that Tom and I had at Grotta Palazzese in Polignano a mare was out of this world. The setting is stunning and the meal was scrumptious. I imagine that Jessica would get some out-of-this-world photographs!! Best regards to you and Jessica. Take care.

Thomas

9 February , 2015 at 3:42 pm

Dropped the price on my house for sale in the US and longing to be living in Puglia. I say this as another New England snow storm is weighing heavily upon us. I know Puglia saw snow on New Years Day -- the most in over 30 years; but we've had over 50 inches in just the past three weeks. I am soooooooo outta here in Boston.

Scott

10 February , 2015 at 10:48 am

We well know how painful it is to be putting off the dream awaiting the sale of a home, Tom. It's exactly what we went through for nearly 2 years. And, while we did have a big snow over New Year's, they are quite rare, unlike in Boston. You'll love it here and we'll keep our fingers crossed for the sale of your place quickly. Best.

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