Italy (region of Puglia)

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In June 2013, I spent ten days in a region of Italy that I had wanted to explore for a long time. Puglia is located in the heel of Italy’s boot and now easily accessible thanks to the two low-cost European airlines, Ryanair and Easyjet. I paid 30 euros for a flight from Paris to Brindisi. Brindisi is an old, rundown but interesting port city (watch out for pickpockets and don’t wander around at night.)

The region is not one of Italy’s traditional tourist destinations, but is becoming increasingly popular as travellers discover the area’s varied charms: baroque towns, white-washed trullo houses, olive groves and orchards, blue sea and beaches, plenty of sunshine and excellent cuisine.

The people of Puglia are lovely – authentic, generous and happy to be of service. The tourist industry is crucial to the economy of this once very poor agricultural region. Arriving at Brindisi train station and unsure of the location of my hotel, I asked one person for directions. Within 10 minutes a small crowd had gathered. Even though every person gave a different direction and, in the end, they were all wrong, I was touched by their solicitousness.  Below are my travel posts from June 2013.

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Off to Italy…..ci vediamo dopo!

I’m disconnecting from the internet and escaping to Italy. To the south. To a region I’ve never visited, but have always wanted to explore. Deep in the heel of Italy, to the region of Puglia.

I’m travelling light: a few books, my camera, sunscreen, light clothes and a writing pad. No phone, no laptop, no tablet. Just like the old days. Remember those days? Those carefree, uncluttered days? The idea is to work on my book project, but also to sightsee. And eat. And drink many caffès. And wander. And visit old churches and cathedrals. Of which there are many.

First stop: a secluded hotel among olive groves, near a coastal town called Otranto and the Adriatic Sea. And then onwards to Lecce, capital city known as the “Florence of the south” before meandering up the coast to Polignano a Mare.

doorpool

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.

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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 (incorrectly) 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.)  As I walked, the words that came to mind to describe this place were “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 strolled the deserted streets, wheeling my suitcase along the soft, porous cobblestones. Lecce stone is remarkable – white, smooth and composed of limestone and granite.

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There are churches galore here – lavishly and exuberantly decorated. One guidebook describes the city as “a riot of cherubs”.

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Click on this link below to keep travelling –

https://julietinparis.net/2014/06/10/exploring-lecce/

exploring Lecce (part 2)

vespa

My hotel was perfectly located in the modern part of town but within 5 minutes’ walking distance to the old part of town.

It turns out that there’s an inexpensive jewellery and design boutique two doors down from the hotel.PUGLIA June 2014 091PUGLIA June 2014 094PUGLIA June 2014 095PUGLIA June 2014 099

I bought these (inexpensive) pieces which are composed of an alloy of four metals: zinc, aluminium, magnesium and copper covered in silver and nickel.

Craving coffee, I headed into the old town and entered a café.  Here’s what I ordered:  the speciality coffee that the good people of Lecce drink in hot weather.  Called caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla, it’s a mixture of almond milk, almond syrup and espresso poured over ice cubes and then frothed with the espresso machine.  It costs two euros.  Delizioso!   I could drink this all day long.

PUGLIA June 2014 164“Why not add a dollop of mocha gelati?” said one of the laughing baristas, heading for the gelati counter.  Why not indeed?PUGLIA June 2014 166Everywhere I went, I encountered smiling faces, generous spirits and joviality. Such a refreshing change from the peevish Parisians.  I envisaged myself living here, at least part time.  PUGLIA June 2014 167Who can resist their kindness, their divine gelati and their pastries?  I can’t!PUGLIA June 2014 161PUGLIA June 2014 118Here’s one of the more popular ice cream and pastry shops situated at the entrance of the old town.PUGLIA June 2014 192

Towards evening, I came across this casual deli-wine bar while wandering the narrow back streets. The Enogastronomia Povero serves up delicious, local dishes. One word of warning however: I chose to eat vegetarian because the origin of meat can be questionable in the south of Italy. That lasagna you’re eating?  It could be filled with horse or donkey meat.  Vegetable-based dishes – along with fava beans, chick peas, etc. – are in abundance, so non-meat eaters need not feel deprived in any way.  Au contraire! I could hardly finish my samplings of aubergine parmigiana, artichoke frittata, ricotta lasagna, potato-rice-courgette-mussel dish and aubergine-mint fritters.  Corn bread studded with olives and sun-dried tomatoes was offered in a small basket and the wine was outstanding, a local Negroamaro from the outlying Salento region.

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Leaving Povero, I turned right down a narrow backstreet and came across a vintage clothing shop.  Walking inside, my eye fell on an attractive leather handbag.  “Quanto costa?” I said to the man at the back of the shop.  35 euros was his reply.  I handed over 35 euros and he gave me 5 euros back.  I’m not quite sure why, but I didn’t argue with him.  I was really pleased with my purchase.

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Jewellery store
AL Design
Via 47 Reggimento Fanteria, 26

Hotel
Mirage B&B
Via 47 Reggimento Fanteria, 12

Deli/Wine Bar
GASTRONOMIA ENOTECA POVERO
Via Rubichi, 4

Below, click on “onwards to Polignano a Mare” to visit the small, glittering coastal town on the Adriatic coast.

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