Readers’ tips: the best of Puglia
Down in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, readers recommend hotels and restaurants in caves, ancient towns, deserted beaches and to-die-for agriturismos
Winning tip: Gallipoli old town
You cross a narrow causeway to reach this island-like old town. Climb up the steps and take a circular walk, looking down to the sandy beaches backed by distinctive umbrella pines. For respite from the heat, descend to the Frantoio Ipogeo at Via Antonietta de Pace, one of many olive oil presses buried in the rock below the streets. Oil from Puglia was shipped all over Europe from Gallipoli as lamp fuel, long before it became a culinary must-have!
Grotta Palazzese, Polignano a Mare
Discover where singer/songwriter Domenico Modugno got his inspiration for Volare in this small seaside town just south of Bari. We love to wander round the little streets of the medieval centre, which perches precariously on the edge of the limestone cliffs. For a truly special experience, eat at the Grotta Palazzese – this “summer cave” with its views over the Adriatic was carved out of the rocks by a local lord to create a party venue in the 1700s. +39 080 424 0677, grottapalazzese.it
Gravina and Alta Murgia national park
This crumbling medieval town sits beside one of the gravine, or ravines, that score the landscape on the border between Puglia and Basilicata. Hewn from the rock on which they stand, many of the buildings are worth seeking out; look for the church of San Michele delle Grotte and the Osteria Grano e Vino. The big attraction for outdoorsy types is the nearby Alta Murgia national park, a protected plateau.
THE HISTORIC CENTRE OF LECCE
The central square, Piazza Sant’Oronzo, is on a Roman amphitheatre, part of which is still uncovered. Within walking distance from here is the Chiesa di Santa Croce, one of the most beautiful examples of southern baroque buildings. A few yards away is Piazza Duomo: the cathedral, Bishop’s Palace and bell tower create a spectacular sight. comune.lecce.it
Specchia Sant’Oronzo Polignano a Mare
This beautiful restaurant/bar overlooking Polignano’s old town is 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 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.
Cantina di Cianna Cianne, Bari
This local trattoria does the most amazing seafood. The grilled octopus is to die for. The atmosphere is jovial and no nonsense, offering great value food that really stands out even in a town 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.
+39 0805 289382, ciannacianne.com
Ostuni is a city of white buildings on a hill that looks stunning as you drive up the winding roads to get to it. Itdoes not seem to cater to foreign tourists so there are plenty of opportunities to practise Italian. In restaurants children will get smiles from servers and special suggestions about what to eat on the menu of wonderful tasting food at very reasonable prices. Ostuni is a solid base from which to experience Italy with the family and for fewer euros than more popular Italian destination
The butchers in this village are open well into the evening and they give you the option to choose the meat you like from their fridge. They will then cook it for you fresh and then serve it with chips, salad and regional wine. This is typical for the region but no tourists would know about it – I was shown this by a Pugliese friend.