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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.