This is a stunning and enchanting natural park in the Salento area.
This protected area is made of a very wild and luxuriant pinewood that leads, after a 20 minute walk, to an amazing little creek surrounded by white rocks. The water is crystal clear and the surroundings area do not get too busy so it is the perfect place to relax having a bit of privacy. The area is equipped with several trekking paths, some of them quite challenging, that lead to other areas such as the Uluzzo tower and Cavallo cave.
From Lecce, follow for Nardò and once there follow for Santa Caterina, S. Isidoro – Porto Cesareo (SP 286)
Google map: bit.ly/MvWlqg
Walking through the historical centre of Lecce is a unique experience. The central square 'Piazza Sant 'Oronzo' is on a Roman amphitheatre, part of which is still uncovered and visible from the piazza. Within walking distance from here can be found the Chiesa Santa Croce: one of the most beautiful examples of southern baroque buildings, with its picturesque pattern of statues on limestone. A few yards away again it opens up the breathtaking monumental Piazza Duomo: a sequence of building creating a theatre-like space formed by the cathedral, the Bishop's Palace and the bell tower. Walking on the piazza you cannot help but feel you are entering one of the most beautiful corners of the Italian architectural landscape.
Santa Maria al Bagno is a beautiful little town on the Ionian coast. The sea front is compact and low key, fronted by old Italian town houses which double as waterfront cafés. Here you can pick up a gelato or an Africano (espresso with Disaronno, fizzy water and ice) for the tiny but perfectly formed beach. The beach gets busy, especially at weekends, but is a fantastic spot for people watching as the crowds are an eclectic mix of bronzed locals.
I’d recommend spending the afternoon swimming in the crystal clear sea and as the sun begins to set head south a few miles down the coastal road towards Lido Conchiglie to one of the fish restaurants (one is called La Maruzella). These restaurant sit right on the water's edge and you can watch the sun disappear into the sea while enjoying their wide range of basic but delicious and incredibly fresh fish dishes (sometimes you can watch the fisherman arrive at the restaurant’s jetty with their catch and see it on your plate 30 minutes later). Bring a phrase book!
Via Cristoforo Colombo (lido conchiglie), Sannicola,
Google map: bit.ly/MsTqIW
Torre dei Preti is an agriturismo located 2km outside the beautiful coastal town of Peschici, on the north Puglian coast on the Gargarno peninsula. It's a family-run business, and owners Oscar and Lucrezia are fantastic hosts, and even more fantastic chefs.
Rooms, mostly apartment-style, are located out in the well-kept grounds, are spacious, modern and comfortable, and are kept spotlessly clean. Balconies have a view out to the ice-white buildings of Peschici framed by the blue sky and olive trees. Near to the main house is a large, well-maintained and heated swimming pool with a sun-terrace and loungers, so while Torre dei Preti is a great base from which to explore the Gargarno, it's also a lovely place to spend time relaxing.
And of course, the food, the food, the food! Half-board at Torre dei Preti is a gastronomic experience, with almost all of the food being locally sourced and expertly cooked and served with love. Breakfasts are buffet-style, with a vast array of fruits, breads, yoghurts, cheese, meats and preserves, plus juice, coffee and cake, yes, cake - and all homemade. Dinner offers a table groaning with fish, meat and vegetable antipasti, followed by a choice of primi (usually pasta or risotto) and a choice of meat or fish secondi - again, everything is local and super-fresh. If you have room after all that (which you may not, but Lucrezia will convince you otherwise) desserts are homemade and generous, or you can simply enjoy a plate of fruit and an excellent coffee. Wine, all local, is superb.
All in all a stunning find, well-priced in comparison to other agriturismi in the area - an absolute gem.
Whatever your itinerary in Puglia will be, don’t miss out this town. It is a real gem cast on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic sea. You can have a cheap and delicious ice cream at Il Super Mago del Gelo topped up with coffee whipped cream and hazelnuts praline or a pricey and succulent dinner at Donna Gina listening to the waves crushing on the bay. Now that you have satisfied your appetite head into the old town and reach one of the terraces while reading about the poetry of 'Guido il Flaneur' painted on the old houses’ walls, because this must be the place.
A visit to Old Gallipoli, perched above the glittering Ionian Sea on the Salento peninsula will not disappoint. The unpropitious approach, across the dusty plains of southern Puglia and through the slightly sprawling newer suburbs, leads you across a narrow causeway to the island-like Old Town. Climb up the steps and take a circular walk along the ‘riverias’ that surround the town, looking out to sea or down to the sandy beaches backed by the distinctive 'ombrellone' pines and boats in the harbour. For cool respite from the heat descend to the museum of the Frantoio Ipogeo, one of many olive oil presses set in the rock below the streets. The Puglia region is reportedly Italy’s largest producer of olive oil and if you have only ever seen the olive trees of northern Italy or Tuscany you will be bowled over by the magnificence of the Pugliese olive groves. Olive oil from Puglia was shipped all over Europe from Gallipoli as lamp fuel, long before it became the culinary ‘must have’ that we know today. Potter around the quirky Museo Civico with its displays of artefacts and shark bones. And don’t miss the superlative ‘Granite Limone’ from the cafe in the Piazza del Duomo.
Palazzo Siena is a truly hidden gem, which I can't recommend enough. On a hot summer day we drove through the sleepy town of Minervino di Lecce. We pulled up outside a hotel that looked practically desolate. But when the doors opened, Palazzo Siena was revealed in all its glory. Opened in the summer of 2012, it's a family-run boutique hotel and a food and design haven. The owner, a chatty lady from Naples, has an incredible attention to detail and she has decorated the hotel throughout with a very sophisticated taste, blending an Italian old fashioned style with modern accessories. That doesn't mean you don't feel at home, in fact, I have never experienced a hotel that makes you feel so welcome. The patio has a beautiful swimming pool, filled with sea water, and is surrounded by comfortable sun loungers. If you sit down, I promise you that you never want to leave. Palazzo Siena grows their own food, so if you want to disappear into the shade you can grab a basket and pick figs, lemons, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, beans and strawberries. In the country-style kitchen you can cook your own food, unless the owner has already beat you to it and has prepared typical Puglian treats such as Friselle bread with olive oil, oregano and tomatoes. The eight individually decorated rooms are spacious and comfortable and there's not a sound from the street. This is a sleepy village, after all. The hotel is close to the crystal clear waters of Salento if all the quietness gets too much. Although the hotel comes with a price, it's a price I'm definitely willing to pay to feel so totally relaxed. And did I mention the food?
A beautiful restaurant/bar overlooking Polignano's old town. It's OTT italian chic and a bit pricey, but come here in the evening to see one of the most spectacular sunsets in the region. After dinner walk down the authentically dilapidated roman road to a pebble-beached cove, to enjoy the view of the caves and the old town built into them. The sounds of the sea, the giggles of young locals, and the odd poorly but enthusiastically played guitar.
Viale San Francesco D'Assisi n.c. - Polignano a Mare (Ba)
Fantastic local basic restaurant set in a fabulous, characterful, surreal square. Typical local food with lots of veg (which is typical - this region is great for vegetarians, one of the very few in Europe). Best of it is the old dad of the two young owners. He makes the wine and the liqueurs (including prickly pear and wild fennel), sings songs and flirts like mad with the girls - of all ages. He is 75 or so so watch it - he has a lot of experience. Set in the main piazza. Closed on a Monday. The horse stew is great.
16 P. Vittoria, Spongano, Le 73038, 73020, Italy
+39 0836 945730
Google map: bit.ly/NBXeHY
It is simply the best fish restaurant in Salento, south Puglia. I have lived here for 10 years and am always on the look out for a good fish restaurant. Freshly caught fish by fisherman owner. Very small so book in advance by phone (if you don't speak Italian send an SMS!) These guys don't do computers. It is extremely basic in decor and the quality of fish and how it is cooked is a sublime experience. If you like fancy, forget it. And then get out of Salento, because Salento doesn't do fancy.
Go for a swim in the port before lunch. Do not be put off by switched on televisions in restaurants in Salento however much they annoy you - they prove the place is run by a local family offering good local food. I have a friend who only eats in restaurants where the TV is switched on. He is very well fed.
Lungomare Critstoforo Colombo, 73040 Tricase Porto
+39 (0)339 7984291
Google map: bit.ly/MrmeGD
Come see the locals dancing the tango in the town square of this beautiful hill top village and if you are feeling hungry visit La Taverna del Duca for excellent rustic Puglian food and wine. Bellissimo!
Via Papatotero, 3, 70010 Locorotondo, Italy
The best place to base yourself in Puglia is a trulli and I think you would be hard pushed to find one more idyllic than Trulli Stella. It's a little off the beaten track and surrounded by farmland, olive groves and locals escaping (from nearby Ceglie) to the country for the weekend. More importantly it has it's own fully equipped outside kitchen and pizza oven and if you like, Maria, the trulli's manager, will visit with her mother, and cook you an amazing meal with enough food to last you for the entire week using ingredients from the garden and the local market.
When you can bring yourself to leave the tranquility of the trulli you are truly spoilt for choice as to where you head. There's the market cafe at Locorotondo where you can pop in for a sweet cake and deliciously strong espresso, before heading into the market to buy more ingredients for cooking those long leisurely lunches in your trulli. You can join the locals doing their morning shopping in nearby St Michele, but be aware you need to be assertive in the bakery queue if you don't want all the good bread to be sold before you get your turn.
A trip to the coast is essential and Villanova di Ostuni has some of the best local beaches: crystal clear waters, acres of white sand and a sweet marina where you can choose between a glass of icy cold rose at the local bar or a gelato on the other side of the square.
The white washed, hill top town of Cisternino is not to be missed; head to Pizzeria Da Angelo for some delicious wood fired pizza, sitting down to eat among the local teenagers, young families and grandparents alike. Take a stroll after dinner to listen to music playing in the piazza, or come back during the day to explore its warren of back streets and alleyways.
Finally no trip to Puglia is complete without participating in the evening passeggiata and there is no place better for this than Martina Franca with its mixture of shops and wonderful architecture. Sit with a glass of beer in the main square and absorb the wonderfully convivial spectacle.
This local trattoria does the most amazing seafood! The grilled octopus is to die for. The atmosphere is jovial and the place no nonsense, offering great value food that really stands out from the rest especially in this town which is full of great seafood places. It was so good that when we came back to Bari a year after visiting this place for the first time, we spent an hour trying to find it and squeeze in a last minute lunch before catching the plane back.
Vico X Corsioli, 3, 70122 Bari, Italia
+39 080 5289382
Google map: bit.ly/O3YBSS
Santa Maria al Bagno is a beautiful little town on the Ionian coast. The seafront is compact and low key, fronted by old Italian town houses-cum-waterfront cafés. Here you can pick up a gelato or an Africano (espresso with Disaronno, fizzy water and ice) for the tiny but perfectly formed beach. The beach gets busy, especially at weekends but is a fantastic spot for people watching as the crowds are an eclectic mix of bronzed locals, young and old.
I’d recommend spending the afternoon swimming in the crystal clear sea and wait to watch the sun begin to set into the sea before heading south a few miles down the coastal road towards Lido Conchiglie to the fish restaurant, La Maruzella. This restaurant sits right on the water's edge and you can watch the sun disappear into the sea while enjoying their wide range of basic but delicious and incredibly fresh fish dishes (sometimes you can watch the fisherman arrive at the restaurant’s jetty with their catch and see it on your plate 30 minutes later).
One of the loveliest towns in Puglia with a perfectly shaped harbour, surrounded by relaxed cafes ideal for a mid afternoon aperitif and a stunning cathedral, from which crusaders left for Jerusalem. It's almost a pastiche of what southern Italian small towns should be like, it's that idilic!
Google map: bit.ly/PdnxIN
Fantastic restaurant that's in what appears to be a private house. It seems to be run by a bunch of friendly, bustling, chatting women - it's like being invited into an Italian family's private meal. The restaurant serves Salentino 'cucina povera' specialities which are all superb. No English spoken so just wait for what the kitchen brings out: blanched chicory in white bean puree (we were shown by a very kindly waitress how to blend it with olive oil and crumbly fried bread) ; home-made oreccheitte di cima di rape; potatoes baked with mussels and cheese. Dish after dish appears. See if you can find my old BBC business card stuck among the hundreds in the walls of the dining room! A neighbouring diner with some English insisted we have a glass of a local tipple with our expresso. It was on the house. One of the best lunches we've ever had.
Via Colonnello Archimede Costadura, 19
73100 Lecce, Italy
+39 0832 245178
Google map: bit.ly/N2vaUb
This is a lovely restaurant set near the gorgeous village of Peschici (at Punta San Nicola), with a beautiful view of the bay and sunset if you go there for dinner. The trabucco is an old fishing structure typical of the Gargano. This restaurant offers fresh fish and is a great place to end a hard day at the beach. The sunset views are to die for. Finish off with a gelato in Peschici itself.
Localitá Punta San Nicola - 71010 Peschici (Gargano)
+39 0884 962556
This little taverna is hidden away down the back of the cathedral, on one of the tiny white wash streets. All that is visible on the street is a sign and gateway, with steep steps leading down into the dark.
My mother and I had the most fantastic meal here that we've ever had in Italy in the eight years we've been visiting.
With only three choices for a primo course (and no English!) we made our pick and had an amazing meal of wild boar ragu, and black rice with spinach.
Drinks were served in homely terracotta mugs and jugs.
Dessert was a delicious pannacotta with chocolate sauce, so delicate and artistically dressed with sugar flowers.
The only down side (for my mum) was that they were unable to serve coffee as they did not have a coffee machine, but that may have changed now - being as we visited in 2009.
Prices were reasonable, and the location was stunning - the taverna is perched on descending steep steps, with white washed terraces and flowers in full bloom.
We knew we were on to a winner when the placed filled with Italian customers and locals.
A fantastic location, in a beautiful city, with amazing food!
Ostuni is a city of white buildings on a hill that looks stunning as you see if from afar and as you drive up the winding roads to get to it. It has wonderful views to the sea peeking between those pale, seemingly ancient buildings. Ostuni is an Italian town that does not seem to cater to foreign tourists so there are plenty of opportunities to practice Italian. If you have children, they are your best passport in restaurants where they will get smiles from servers and special suggestions about what to eat on the menu. Wonderful tasting food at very reasonable prices. Just be aware that if you are early eaters, your selection of restaurants may be limited as Mediterranean hours are kept. There is a town centre park with play area and small cafe for that much needed coffee, for you and gelato for the kids. If you really want to experience Italy as the Italians do, Ostuni, in Puglia, is a solid base from which to experience Italia with the family and for less Euros than more popular Italian destinations.
Google map: bit.ly/OMY1dQ
Gran Caffe Tito Schipa - a cross between a gelataria, cafe and traditional Puglian family home of sisters Rosa and Annamaria.
We stopped by on recommendation from the owner of our palazzo, and were instantly treated to homemade orichiette on the terrace, deadly-strength G&Ts and straw-coloured homemade wine.
Rosa drove us out to see the Puglian coast and Alberobello and invited us to eat with her Italian family and friends repeatedly. First-class truly Italian experience, warm, hospitable and stunning food.
Gran Caffè Tito Schipa Caffè
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 19-21 72017 Ostuni +393283250470
Google map: bit.ly/OmzZaG
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