Driving through Puglia.
The amazing town of Puglia.
The markets in Puglia.
Off the beaten track is a bountiful food and wine region on the Italian Peninsula. Hire a car and explore this wonderful place and eat till your heart's content.
Most visitors to Italy head to the northern regions, but many northern Italians escape south to Puglia. Its position has made it the point of contact between Italy and Greece and the port for pilgrims sailing for the Holy Land. It has lived through Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Spanish rule, all of whom left behind churches, fortresses and monuments.
Puglia is a bountiful food and wine region the Adriatic and Ionian Seas provide most of Italy's seafood, Puglian farms press 70 percent of the country's olive oil, while around 80 percent of Europe's pasta comes from the area. There is a superb selection of fruits, vegetables and nuts and many dishes are based on lamb or kid, accompanied by tasty sauces.
You will see the igloo-like trulli around Puglia they are homes built from local limestone without mortar. A hole in the top lets smoke and steam escape, as well as releasing heat in the brutal summer months.
Alberobello, a pretty town which exists mainly on tourism, has whole quarters covered with trulli. There is a trullo church and the Trullo Siamese, which has two domes. The largest trullo is Trullo Sovrano, built as a seminary in the 16th century. In 1924 the area was declared a zone of historical importance. Today many trulli are boutiques, restaurants, wine or souvenir shops.
The Museo del Territorio, a linked network of 23 trulli, has permanent and temporary exhibits explaining the history and structure of the buildings.
Just west of the town is the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Barsento, built in 591 as an abbey, now a farm whose owner delights in showing off his piece of history.
The beautiful town of Ostuni's buildings are chalk-white, rising starkly from dark red earth and olive trees. Spread across three hills, the town has an historic centre and a circular design which radiates from the cathedral. It is surrounded by fortifications and is a tangle of narrow cobblestone streets bearing signs of medieval times. Some say it resembles a North African Arab medina.
High above it all is the 15th-century Gothic cathedral, the last Byzantine building erected in southern Italy. Its cupolas are covered in green, yellow and white slate tiles. The Convent of the Little Nuns has a baroque faÃ§ade and a colourful white-tiled dome of Moorish inspiration.
Public transport is not plentiful in this part of Italy, so it's a good idea to hire a car. That then gives you the freedom to discover other towns such as Brindisi, Trani, Lecce, Foggia and Manfredonia and enjoy each area's food specialties and beaches while taking in the history of this wonderful old region.