Italy’s best kept secret, Puglia
Protected by its previous lack of international airports, Puglia is still what we all think of when we think of Italy: great food, ancient architecture and a welcoming people whose attitude to life is a holiday in itself
Puglia is about enjoying yourself: going out to dinner is cheap and children are welcome everywhere. There is always something to do and a town to visit. Indeed, Lecce has been described as the loveliest baroque city in the Mediterranean.
Puglia is situated in the heel of Italy. Its outside runs along the Adriatic sea, facing Croatia, and its instep runs along the Ionian Sea. Its major towns are Brindisi, Bari, Lecce, Gallipoli and Otranto.
Lying on a water basin, Puglia is extremely fertile and was heavily settled by the ancient Greeks who planted its famous olive groves and vines. Hence, the Romans called it Magna Graecia.
The landscape, with its thousands of olive trees intermingled with huge prickly pear cacti and honey-coloured dry stone walls, is most unusual and more reminiscent of parts of Greece than Italy.
The best beaches near Ostuni, in Puglia
A great deal of the coast is open and there are plenty of delightful coves. You will notice that every 3km, there is an old tower (torre); these are often situated by a great beach.
Beaches are curious in Italy: some are private; some not. You can take your own umbrella or go to places where you can pay for a sun bed etc.
We love the beach at Monticelli, which has the trendy club, White Beach for drinks and dancing. Also, try Torre Pozzella.
For that perfect beach shack lunch and tiny beach, go to La Rotonda da Rosa, which Rick Stein adores. It is between Torre Canne and San Savelletri.
Further away is the beautiful and largely deserted nature reserve of Torre Guaceto, which offers plenty of secluded coves along its 5km dunes.
For a beautiful yet busy beach (in August and Sundays), go to Lido Bosco Verde beach, follow sign to PILONE, which is next to Rosa Marina (private beach 70’s holiday complex).
Don’t take the first exit for Pilone town, take next sign which says Pilone 1, keep going on slip road next to Autostrada to Bari. After about 1 km turn right go down hill. TURN direct left you will see car parking. On high days and holidays there is a van there which sells drinks and foccacia and paninis.
For more luxury you may enjoy Bizzaro which has it all and is the same lovely beach just a bit further up. Take the AUTOSTRADA towards BARI. AFTER 10 minutes take the sign for TORRE CANNE SOUTH, turn left and Bizzaro is the first turning on the right.
AQUA INN at the VILAGIO TOURISTICO, this is the place to go if you have to entertain children of all ages. It is rather hellish but your children will LOVE it! (all water slides, load music, swimming pools and indoor slot machines etc) . Go towards Brindisi AT THE TORRE POZZELLA exit.
Another place teenagers will adore is the Bowling which is on the main road from Villanova to Ostuni, the sign is upside down for tax reasons but it should be open at 7pm every night!
FASANOLAND, near Fasano (follow brown signs for ZOO SAFARI) is hilarious. It is the opposite of English safari parks you are encouraged to feed the animals, so look forward to a camels face in your car etc.
Puglia is blessed with a classic Mediterranean climate which attracts visitors even in the depths of January.
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Places to Visit
Where does one start? The trulli, the towns, the seaside.
Il Trappeto is only a five-minute walk to Ostuni’s train station which is on the main line from Bari to Lecce. Ideal for visiting towns and indulging in a long lunch. Otherwise, we are only five minutes from the main coastal highway.
Many of our guests never wander further than Ostuni, which is only second to Lecce in its beauty and charm. Il Trappeto looks up to the medieval walls and towers of the historic centre (centro storico). The old town is completely white, and you will really enjoy wandering its narrow streets, staring up at its palazzi and baroque churches.
At the very top of Via Cattedrale is the 15th century cathedral, with its enormous rose window, and its tiny piazza where you can enjoy a drink while looking at the bridge if sighs where the bishop would cross from his palace to the seminary.
Halfway up this street, you will find the new museum which houses the skeleton of the world’s oldest woman. She’s 28,000 years old.
18th and 19th century has elegant boulevards and a lovely park with swings.
Closer to Ostuni are some delightful small hill towns (Ceglie Messapica, Carovigno) with beautiful old buildings in their centres – do not be put off by the ugly high-rise structures around their perimeters. If you persist you will find fantastic treasures in the histoirc centres beyond these cement monstrosities, where the streets are often very narrow and difficult to negotiate with a car.
If you want the ultimate hands-on safari experience, a visit to Zoosafari, in Fasano, is the must-do family outing. Remember to bring nuts for the monkey train and breadsticks for the camels and giraffes. This is Italy and the animals are there for feeding.
Perhaps most interesting is Alberobello, another UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its hundreds of trulli, the world famous circular stone houses with cone-shaped roofs made of dry stones (without cement!). These fascinating buildings are dotted all over the countryside round Ostuni and look like hobbit houses. There is even a trullo church.
Not far from Alberobello are the Grotte di Castellana, the amazing underground caves and passages full of magical stalagmites and stalagtites. Don’t be put off by the touristy shops and long queues in summer months – the caves are spectacular and worth a wait.
Also worth a visit is Cisternino, with its delightful centro storico, and Locorotondo, built in a circular formation, hence its name, where streets spiral up to a magnificent church which can be seen for miles around. In the modern area, the local cantina sociale, a vast wine factory, sells the very good local wine. Best is the white wine, which costs about 8 euros for 5 litres.
In July and August all these small towns have their own festivals, when thousands of people descend on them to see the decorated streets and sample the local food until the early hours of the morning. Martina Franca, another town not far from Ostuni, holds an international arts festival every year in late July/early August – if you want tickets you need to go online to www.euro-festival.net and look for the Festival della Valle d’Itria. You would need to book some months ahead: they stage little known operas which get booked up early.
Over one hour away
It takes about an hour to get to the magnificent town of Lecce, known as the Florence of the South and famous for its baroque architecture and elegant shops.
Bari, about the same distance by train, has a splendid castle, as well as the beautiful Basilica di San Nicola, where the crypt contains the remains of St Nicholas (AKA Santa Claus), and a fascinating old town area, plus two parallel streets (full of Italian designer shops) that look like Oxford Street with palm trees.
Even more exciting is Matera, a two-hour drive from Ostuni. Matera is in Basilicata and was the location for the filming of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. It is famous for the sassi – cave dwellings including churches built into the solid rock which are now a World Heritage Site – and has recently become a very smart place to live, popular with Italian film people. If you are driving and are interested in archaeology it’s worth visiting the Greco-Roman sites at Metaponto and Policoro on the coast south of Matera. In both there are wonderful museums containing well-preserved relics.
You can visit some delightful coastal towns by public transport. Monopoli and Polignano are on the way by rail from Ostuni to Bari and both stations are a short walk from the port area where you will find some good seafood restaurants and interesting little streets in the old town areas. If you change at Bari and carry on for a few more stops you will reach the lovely seaside town of Trani with its magnificent cathedral on the sea and its lovely port with bars and restaurants, and the fascinating medieval streets of the old town. You might want to drive inland to visit the magnificent Norman fortress of Castel del Monte.
If you have a car and want to drive further south from Lecce, the Salentine Coast is very beautiful (though crowded in summer). You can visit the pretty town of Otranto, which has an amazing cathedral with an enormous 12th century mosaic floor.
Then, drive on to Santa Maria di Leuca, the ‘land’s end’ of this part of Italy where two seas (the Adriatic and the Ionian) meet. It’s also worth driving northwards up the Western coast to see Gallipoli where you pass over a causeway into the lovely old town, a maze of whitewashed small streets by the sea.
Ostuni has a vast market every Saturday, as well as a smaller market every Wednesday near the hospital.
The Viale Pola, in Ostuni,is the place for fashion and clothes.
Puglia has a great range of food: meat, fish, cheese, seafood, vegetables, pasta and breads are all available. So, every palate is well catered for, especially vegetarians and vegans. Repetition is easily avoided. Puglia has the most amazing antipasti of all Italy. Like a Greek mezze, dish after dish will be brought to your table, quite often negating the need for any main course.
We’re sure you’ll have no difficulty finding your favourite restaurants from the wide choice available in Ostuni. There are so many. Remember price and décor are genuinely no indication of quality. In summer many stay open very late – few Italians think of eating before 9pm – and most are open for lunch between about 12.30 and 4pm when all the shops and offices are closed. However, don’t arrive after 2pm.
The two most renowned restaurants in the old town are Osteria Il Tempo Perso,(0831 303320), hewn out off the rock, and Osteria Piazetta Cathedrale (0831 335026). Tempo Perso is the best; ask to be in the ‘vecchia parte’.
Osteria Monacelle, left before archway to the cathedral, serves brilliant Pugliese dishes (0831 334212)
Porta Nova (0831 338983) has fabulous views.
Il Pozzo dei desideri (0831 338835) for Neapolitan pizzas.
For less formality and outdoor eating, try Taverna della Gelosia (334736), which cascades down the hill. It’s terribly pretty; the elderly owner claims all the recipes come from a secret medieval cookbook. The menu includes turkey…
For home-made food (cucina della nonna), head up Calle Cavour for 50m to Divino Salentino (324 569 8780) on the left hand side. Also, La Locanda di Seppe Tisse, or Antica Locanda (0831 303965) which are both off the main square,
Bar Riccardo (0831 306046 – closed Tues) is next to Tempo Perso – amazing cocktails in a cave, Gipas by the cathedral, and Café Cavour on Calle Cavour.
Olive Oil and cheese
Antonio – 340 223 6255
Tomasino –349 130 1622
Altamarea for good pizza
La Risacca (0831 359058) excellent seafood
On the way to San Savelletri, there are two good shack restaurants
La Rotonda da Rosa, SS Savelletri 347 560 3024 and Ricci
White Beach is chic and by Monticelli
La Maddalena (080 4827967) is posh and on the rocks
Saporedisale (080 482 9289) is great; next door is Osteria del Porto (338 280 5468)which is simple but good.
OUTSIDE OSTUNI TOWARDS FASANO AND BARI
On the SS16 to Fasano, Il Frantoio for amazing food in a beautiful masseria (0831 330276). A must!! 55 euros a head set meal.
Also Masseria Lamiola Piccola (0831 359972) for Sunday lunch
Il Cortiletto (080 481 0758)
Rifugio del Ghiottoni (080 441 4800)
ON THE COAST
Santa Sabina (towards Brindisi)
Our favourite restaurant in Puglia, Ristorante da Michele (338 243 0001), on the end of the beach under the tower.
Lido Tiziano at Specchiola (368 751 7871)
Monopoli (towards Bari)
Angelo Sabatelli (Michelin one star) – 340 510 1419.
Trattoria da Pierino L’Inglese, in Via Amalfitano where you pay about 20E for an excellent seafood lunch or dinner. But book ahead or literally join the queue. Also, try Caffé Venezia and Perricci.
And Trattoria La Locanda dei Mercanti (080 937 6621)
Porto Giardino (347 691 5556) on the coast
Take the last exit from Ostuni and go to Osteria di Chichibo (080 424 0488).
Grotta Palazzese, a massive James Bond villain cave on the sea. Expensive but worth it.
Round the back off the main piazza is the tiny but brilliant Borgo Antico (Tel: 333 115 4888/ 339 175 8852) where you drink wine out of mugs. For grander dining, try Cibus (0831 388980) is great and not expensive. Try their Orange pudding. For very grand, try Al Fornello da Rici (T: 0831 377104).
Trattoria Messapica has jazz (0831 388318)
Giasotto L’Arco (T: 0831 996 286) is in the centre of the main piazza and is an exquisite restaurant with a seven-course tasting menu. Also Il Grottino.
Famous for its butchers where you choose your meat and they serve it up for you.
La Locanda di Zia Rosa – own wine and great meat (080 444 7030)
Il Poeta Contadino (T: 080 432 1917) is unbelievably expensive. Try Trullo d’Oro (T: 080 432 3909.
La Taverna del Duca (080 431 3007) for Slow Food cooked by award-winning Donatella. Centro Storico
Alle due Corti (0832 242223) and Casarreccia (0832 245 178) are the renowned ones but might be accused of sitting on their laurels. Also, Angiolino (trattoria); Blu Notte (fish)
Bar Alvino and Natale (ice cream), Piazza S Oronzo
behind the cathedral
‘00’ wine bar and salumeria
Magiada (trattoria/pizza), Via Vittorio Emanuele
The cheerful and very popular, Scoglio delle Sirene (T: 0833 573009) overlooks the beach.
Vecchia Oria, v good food 0831 845860 or 880
Pizzeria da Saverio 0831 847362
Medieval-themed Alla Corta di Hyria (329 662 4507)