In the boot heel of southern Italy, pre-war Puglia was known for its desperate poverty. Post-war it’s better known for its polluting power stations. Nonetheless it is beautiful in a savage kind of way, and your chances of encountering shoals of Englishmen baffingly dressed in white suits and panama hats are fairly low. Touristic perks include lovely whitewashed villages (Ostuni, Martina Franca, UNESCO-heritage listed Alberobello) and the coast opening onto the Adriatic and the Ionian seas.
This post was written primarily for people looking for places to stay or visit during – or after – the street/graffiti art FAME Festival in Grottaglie so entries are listed according to their proximity to the town – however you can ignore the Grottaglie references and just pluck out the bits relevant to your own Puglian escapade. We got tired writing it up, so we’ve slacked off and popped some of the text into captions. Click onto the pics to connect to the relevant website. (Click here for accomodation etc in Grottaglie.)
Puglia is famous for its trulli houses which are round and cute with conical roofs – very Lord of the Rings. There are historic explanations for these mortar-less constructions involving cruel lords, high taxation and long-suffering peasantry, but we’re not sure if they’re true. Within a half-hour’s drive of Grottaglie you’ll find these two.
Alberobello: A cute UNESCO heritage listed village populated with trulli houses that have largely been converted into souvenir shops. The whole thing has a Disney-esque theme park vibe, but it’s still a rather pleasant day-trip. We had one of the best meals of Puglia here at Ristorante La Cantina (Vico Lippolis, 8). The entry way is slathered with restaurant guide stickers and now we know why. In a town where it would be all too easy to serve up over-priced codswallop to the tourist crowd, La Cantina takes immense pride in its produce. We loved their version of the local specialies such as fave a cicoria (chicory with mashed broad beans) and orricchiette served with walnuts and greens. Meals are served in a downstairs cavern-type situation with an open kitchen where we watched the chefs painstakingly placing grapes on a tart, alas we couldn’t wait until it was finished.
Casa Albergo Sant’ Antonio: If you want to sleep in Alberobello, a simple yet atmospheric option is a former monastery on the hill situated around a courtyard garden. The rooms have a spartan yet pleasing feel (terracotta flooring, wooden-shuttered windows, plain linens) appropriate to its former use hosting young priests on holiday. (Anyone for badminton?) The manager offers a warm and multi-lingual welcome.
Some of the most atmospheric places to stay in Puglia are converted masserias – fortified farmhouses – turned into guesthouses. Here’s a couple of chic yet reasonably priced options that are around 45 minutes to two hours from Grottaglie. Note: all photos are of standard double rooms.
For sea-side jaunts head to Gallipoli, an atmospheric village on the Ionian sea. The water looks stunning though last time we were there, the beach front had been partly colonised by rusting scaffolding (suggesting it may be around for a while) and someone had helpfully piled some rubbish (televisions, mattresses etc) ito the middle of the beach. (As you do.) No, it wasn’t an art installation, more’s the pity. Moving right along, take in the fantastic views from one of the water-front cafes, but stick to drinks unless you are in the mood for banal food, dismal service and bus tours. For lunch and dinner we recommend, La Puritate, a traditional restaurant in the mid-range price category. Even if you don’t score the best table, the seafood antipasto is just divine and the service is excellent. Reservations recommended. (Via Sant’Elia 18. Tel: 0833/264205.)