return from Puglia

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With great reluctance I left the south of Italy this morning.  I wasn’t ready to return to Paris.  All I can say is:  now that I’ve found a little corner of the world to dream about and return to when I’m able, I’ll definitely be going back.

My 8 days there were made memorable thanks to the people of Puglia – generous, exuberant and hospitable. Here’s Luigi who, on my third day at the countryside hotel where I was staying, picked me up and drove me to nearby Otranto.

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Half a day will suffice in this windswept small town. Just time enough for a brisk walk along the seafront (if you peer across the Adriatic Sea, you can see Albania on the other side), a seafood lunch and a visit to the old church to gaze at the spectacular and beautifully preserved mosaic floor depicting the Tree of Life.  Crafted between 1163 and 1165, it’s the largest in Europe and almost intact (two photos below).

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On Day 4, I took a taxi from my countryside hotel to the capital city of Lecce, pronounced Lechay (the “ch” pronounced like “church”). Someone has coined the phrase “Florence of the south” for this city and I wonder why.  Lecce is a Baroque city whereas Florence is a Renaissance city with a wealth of Renaissance art and architecture.  (Lecce has few art galleries and museums.) The word that came to my mind, in French, to describe this place was “le bijou baroque du sud” (Baroque jewel of the south).

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As soon as I arrived, I had a good feeling about this sun-baked, southern city despite it being 2 pm and everything shut up tight for siesta.  Even the big fountain in the town square had been turned off.  Even the animals were napping!  My hotel also being closed (because I didn’t inform them of my arrival time), I wandered the deserted streets, wheeling my suitcase along the soft, porous cobblestones.  Lecce stone is remarkable – white, smooth and composed of limestone and granite.

PUGLIA June 2014 131PUGLIA June 2014 146PUGLIA June 2014 170PUGLIA June 2014 169There are churches galore here – lavishly and exuberantly decorated. One guidebook describes the city as “a riot of cherubs”.PUGLIA June 2014 135PUGLIA June 2014 070

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