What about Puglia

Posted December 7th, 2016 by Vineyard in Travel

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When recently asked by a customer about a region that we felt was under enjoyed Paolo Biron partner at Into the Vineyard said Puglia and had the following response.

I have over the past weeks been considering and looking into some options, spoken to a few guides, and considered a number of different approaches for a trip in Puglia. There are a few things about Puglia that need to be addressed/understood when consider Puglia as a destination, I have done my best to explain this below. If after reading this you find Puglia enticing then get in touch and we can look at the next steps.


Puglia

is really a very special destination based on it’s very ancient and rich history, which in some cases can be said for anything in central Europe but Puglia is unique and exceptional in this case due to it’s geographical shape and location. For example the town of Matera in the far north of the region is apparently the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago. They are houses built into former Troglodite cave dwellings. There are a lot of very ancient caves in Puglia many adorned with ancient fresco and are often found in a farmers field or fairly innocuous location. There is major history from Ganathians in the 15th century B.C. there is a very impressive excavated site and museum called Egnazia. The fact is that this is good land for living well and people have been using it for a very long time. Once completely covered with ancient Holm Oak trees over the centuries has been mostly re-cultivated as fine agricultural lands life is good in Puglia and it has left behind the records of many civilizations that have come here to live well. Although the politics have been always in a state of motion due to it’s easy access and proximity to the north of Africa, the Balkans, Greece and Italy(Rome). The day to day in the region has remained fairly constant, good weather, excellent soil, good access to trade and a well fortified sense of architecture, Puglia has most often been a peaceful eden where life is good. Puglia is in it’s golden years as the hard need for farming has passed people still enjoy and work most of the available land in family owned and operated farms many of which have not changed for centuries. With almost 500 miles of coastline and a diverse interior the cuisine in Puglia begins with the sea with a broad array of Mediterranean fresh fish most of which still caught by small local fishermen, the octopus hand caught and served that day or the sea urchin are world class examples. As you move inland you will find ancient olive groves many of the trees are over 1000 years of age their gnarled trunks almost speak as they reveal their shapes with the late day sun. Olives and olive oil is of the very highest quality. Vegetables, I can say from personal experience that I have never been somewhere that grows so many different kinds of vegetable and seems to have an endless array of recipes steadfast to the Italian mantra of start with fresh produce cook simply and retain the freshness of the vegetable but make it so good that you just can’t say no to nonna! There was a property that I have worked with in the past that would take people in for 7 nights and each night they would have a meal that would have 8-10 appetizers every night for dinner and they guaranteed that you would never eat the same thing twice in 7 days. True story

Matera

the birthplace of Frances Ford Coppola a very ancient part of Italy still quite undiscovered but definitely becoming more popular with visitors. Coppola has restored an amazing property called Palazzo Margerita click here to see some pictures. I know one of the master restorers who worked on this project that took a decade and the restoration is 100% authentic it is a very special property and really still very much off the radar. It’s a 5 star property but is definitely subsidized by the Coppola Family since this is Frances’s birthtown.

Masserie

This is a name that keeps coming up when you talk about Puglia but most people don’t bother to explain what they are and how they fit into the picture. A Masseria (plural masserie) is a fortified farmhouse, since Puglia is a prime peninsula in the Mediterranean it has seen many people come upon it’s shores looking for that better life or a strategic position so the architecture in the region took on from a number of influences a very unique style of building/construction. These Masserie were fortified farmhouses of various sizes some could only accommodate a small family and others would have hundred or more employees/family living within the walls, they were collections of rectangular buildings often with high walls and lookouts. Within, one would find all necessary for an agrarian life including beautiful vaulted arches and gardens wells etc. The good news is many of these properties have been restored and turned into Hotels/Accomodations. Staying in a Masseria is a must. There are several very impressive 5 star properties in this category that are an excellent value. There are also some smaller properties that offer their own unique charm. Borgo Egnazia just got voted best hotel in the world by the Virtuoso group, this is a pretty big deal for a near unknown to be vaulted to this position. We have an affiliation with Virtuoso and have direct contact with the family who owns this property. Their cover has been blown so I expect they will have a good year.

Borgo Egnazia

http://borgoegnazia.com/
This is another property that has excelled in it’s offerings.
Torre Maitza ***** http://www.masseriatorremaizza.com/it/home/

There are a few towns in this area that we can visit, each has it’s own unique point of interest and all are really very beautiful we would make a day of visiting 2 or three of these for sure, it would be nice to experience them all. Aberobello is special and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The buildings in this town are called Trulli there is no place like this in the world.

Polignano al Mare
Monopoli
Ostuni
Alberobello

alberobello_trulli

So far we have been looking at the north of this region appx 160 miles long and 30 miles across. As you travel south in Puglia you come to a city called Lecce, Lecce is ancient and elegant. Often people arrive here are driving south from Rome or Florence and as they travel south down the peninsula they notice that the country becomes more agricultural and rural but upon entering the main square in Lecce they are greeted by a feeling of grandeur with a roman amphitheater lining the main square and people dressed well as if you were in Milan. This beautiful accessible city is the beating heart of the Salento and the southernmost portion of the peninsula. If you haven’t had enough history the towns of Santa Maria Di Leuca, Galipoli and Otranto explain the ever present of bright rear hair and beards present in the local population typically understood to be olive skinned with dark hair and eyes, the Norman presence is felt not only by the remaining 12th century towers and bright red haired locals.

Wine country!

Puglia is the largest wine producing region in Italy. For many years it was sold to the French for them to blend with their cooler climate wines to bring more structure and strength. The traditional varietals from this area are Aglilanico one of the more common ancient varietals cultivated by the Romans and Primitivo known in the US as Zinfandel, grown in it’s native soils this grape can produce a broad spectrum of styles and has been refined to top quality wines over the past 25 years. Finally Negroamaro and Verdeca for the local white round out the most commonly found varietals. Of course when travelling in Puglia although there are often other wines available on the list at the finer hotels and restaurants one of the great joys is to taste and enjoy the wines here with their local cuisine. During the second world war many Americans were stationed here and at the time the wine was very dark and strong so the local producers began producing a much lighter red suitable for drinking in the hotter climate. Today Rosato, a bold Rose style wine is produced by each Vintner in his or her special way the expression of these predominantly red varietals without the tannic weight makes for a very enjoyable and approachable wine. No one leave Puglia without falling in love with Rosato.

In summary…. So we have two regions one in the north with cool towns interesting history, great food and awesome hotels, in the south you have quaint cosmopolitan with Lecce as a base, good coastal exploration and of course wine and food pairings. I have spoken a lot about the history of the region, it is an important part of why things are the way they are here. Of course when planning any trip we take careful consideration peoples level of interest and tolerance to history. Well presented and appropriate quantities it can be an enjoyable and enlightening experience overdone and it becomes a bore and a nuisance. A great attribute of Puglia is that is presents it’s history is a very enjoyable and approachable way. Hard to describe in a blog but imagine learning happening naturally without a feeling that you are being lectured about architecture and dates.

Food and wine are exceptional in Puglia and special attention would be paid to this. There are excellent super authentic hands on cooking experiences. Other activities that could be good options again we have a very good horseback option (seaside, walking in the Adratic). Hiking/walking is a possibility nothing like the Andes but the local towns are awesome to explore on foot. We would definitely visit a number of the towns in the area with a guide/escort where appropriate but still leave you time to have a gelato in the town square with the locals in the Piazza, do some shopping and enjoy some down time at the hotel pool. The shopping in Lecce is amazing. At least a day of winery visits. The coastline is a beautiful combination of rocky Adriatic dotted with beaches, seaside restaurants and most importantly amazing people. The Pugliesi, due to many of the factors listed here, live a traditionally “good life” people are happy, warm and very welcoming hosts. Meals are epic in this part of the world and an overall feeling of goodness comes from visiting.

if you are looking for the less traveled road and a voyageurs dream in Italy you should really consider Puglia!

Paolo B

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