I highly recommend traveling off season…if life allows it. Prices are better, the crowds are non existent and you can really get the feeling for the place you are visiting. My latest destination was the fabulous region of Italy known as Puglia.
My husband and I had the good fortune to spend a week in this somewhat less discovered, definitely less touristy area of Italy the week before Thanksgiving. It was a spontaneous vacation tagged on to some business in Roma we both had to attend to over the following holiday week.
I was determined to go to someplace in Italy we had never been. Something a little off the beaten path…no big fancy hotels…local restaurants, not where all the other Americans dine. You get it, right?
I like to use Le Baccanti Tours for my vacations in Italy. Last April when we were up in the Langhe area, the wine country in the Piemonte region, they put together some fabulous experiences for us. This time around they created a wonderful vacation through Puglia, chock-a-filled with good wine, fabulous food, cooking classes and great excursions to some of the most charming cities in the area.
Our tour guide, Angela Venturi…and driver, Michele…took us to several local vineyards where we tasted the local primitivo wines and we dined in perfect small restaurants where we ate Italian food that simply melted in our mouths.
Touring included the stunning port city of Otranto, where we visited the old cathedral and then headed to the Salento wine region and sat down to a scrumptious meal and wines to match at Cantine Menhir. Add to the review the reasonable prices for the food and wine!
Angela is also an excellent cook and we enjoyed a cooking class in her home…homemade orecchiette and stuffed eggplant Puglia-style, followed up by devouring it all at a late Sunday lunch with her and her husband, Andrea.
Another day we invaded the city of Grotagglie where I found myself at Bottega Enza Fasano…. drooling over ceramics and pottery based on traditional designs from 100’s of years ago. I was totally enraptured by the “Pupe con i baffi“, large ceramic sculptures possessing the body of a buxom woman with a mustache of a man, many of which have been converted into lamps or other accessories. The local tradition behind these sculptures is enchanting! Needless to say, I ordered one for my own home.
From Lecce we drove to Alberobello, an Italian town trapped beautifully in some magical time zone between the middle ages and the present, that is filled with fascinating, ancient homes called Trulli. We stayed in one of these little stone dwellings just to be immersed totally in the Puglia experience. Please excuse the toes!
Our new tour guide, Alesandro Perrone, treated us to a walking tour of the ancient city of cave dwellings, Mantera and a completely delightful stop in Noci at Il Panino Di Marino’s. Marino is the “Sandwich-Nazi of Noci”, but what he concocts can’t be beat. No chairs and tables here…just good cheer, wine and the best sandwich you ever had in your life! Plus simply meeting and talking with Marino will bring a big smile to your face as he effervesces with so much humor and enthusiasm for his food that it is completely infectious.
We also toured the 5 mile underground Castellana Grotto that blew us away with it’s hidden beauty and then on to the remnants of an ancient church in a cave known as The Crypt of Original Sin. No comment on how or why it got this name but is definitely worth visiting.
Lunch at the local farmhouse attached to the Dragone Family Winery was simply outstanding…the family actually does all of the cooking. Truth be told, most days we were so satiated after lunch that dinner became an afterthought. One night we ended up going out just for some air and actually dined on donuts and a beer for dinner!!!! I guess we are just Americans at heart.
What can a girl say…I think I died and went to heaven: Good food, good wine, good people to meet mixed with perfect fall weather! I say this all added up to a perfect vacation in Italy!
AND Lucky me! I have finally found where I would like to live when I retire…Puglia, Italy! Now to get my husband on board!
Ciao, ciao ’til next time!