Browsing Category

Puglia

Amsterdam, Argentina, Blog, Italy, Lisbon, London, Marrakech, Morocco, Portugal, Puglia, South Africa

Best of 2015: My favourites

December 29, 2015
city turtle

2015 has been a busy year in terms of travel, I’ve done numerous city weekend breaks in Europe (Amsterdam / Lisbon / Barcelona /Krakow), some relaxing, foodie holidays (Puglia / Bordeaux / Cyprus) and some serious ‘wow’ trips (Argentina / South Africa).

Here are my 2015 favourites: 

The Show Stopper: The Test Kitchen, Cape Town.

No wonder it’s been awarded South Africa’s number one restaurant for the 4th year in a row, as well as the best restaurant in Africa.  We were so lucky to have dinner here and try their incredible 10 course Tasting Menu.  We sat at the kitchen bar, which I highly recommend, as it is truly one of the best experiences watching these top chefs put together the most incredible food.

Runner up: La Colombe, the sophisticated and much-loved restaurant in Constantia, the exclusive suburb of Cape Town.  With beautiful views, delicate food and perfect service, I can completely understand why people rave about it (and why it was voted South Africa’s 2nd best restaurant).

Test Kitchen, Cape Town

Most spectacular Hotel: Eolo, Argentina.

I was completely blown away by this fantastic Relais & Chateaux, nestled in the Patagonian hills.  This is a simple, elegant and intimate boutique hotel – which is all about the views, the fantastic service, the beautiful Argentine design and the excellent food.  By far the best place I stayed in Argentina.

Runner up was Rattrays, Mala Mala in Sabi Sands.  The most beautiful colonial lodge, and the best base for wildlife viewing in South Africa. Runner up 2: Babylonstoren, South Africa, the most wonderful Cape Dutch farm and hotel in between Franschoek and Paarl.  I could not fault the design.

Eolo, Argentina

Favourite new discovery: Puglia, Italy.

Italy is, and will always be, my favourite country.  And I know it quite well.  But 2015 was the first time I traveled to ‘the heel’ of Italy, to Puglia, and I was taken aback by how much I adored it.  So different to the rest of the country, I loved its dark red earth, the hundred year old olive groves, turquoise seas, the white-washed hill top towns, the brilliant food and wine, and the incredible value for money.  Read all about my favourite places in Puglia here.

Runner up: Krakow, Poland.  Who knew Poland was quite so beautiful?  I absolutely loved this pretty and well-preserved Medieval city.  Wonderful architecture, great dining options, and super affordable.

Controcorrente, Ostuni

 i

Favourite new London restaurant: Shackfuyu, Soho.

Fans of the Bone Daddies restaurant group will not have missed their Soho pop up, which received such high acclaim (especially its Kinako french toast with green tea soft serve ice cream) that it has now thankfully become a permanent fixture.  My favourite dish was the aubergine with babu aruru, that alone is a reason to return.

Runner up: Taberna do Mercado.  While Nuno Mendes’ new Spittalfields restaurant has divided opinion, I loved this cosy, down to earth Portuguese restaurant, with hearty ‘grandma-style’ dishes.

Bone Daddies Shackfuyu, Soho

Favourite new London bar: The Gin Parlour at Mr Fogg’s Tavern, Soho.

I was already a fan of Mr Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair, and so was delighted when Mr Fogg’s Tavern opened at the end of the year.  While the Tavern itself is often heaving, upstairs you’ll find a much quieter and more sophisticated Victorian Gin Parlour, with delicious (albeit expensive) cocktails.

Runner upCahoots . While it’s a nightmare to get a booking, I thought the interiors and the Underground theme was incredible (and the cocktail prices reasonable).

Mr Fogg's Tavern, Soho

Best value hotel: The Capaldi, Marrakech.

If you’re looking for a sunny but short break away from London, then Marrakech is the perfect option.  Just a 3 hour flight, but where the weather is infinitely better and where there is an astonishing array of five star hotels.  While the likes of the Amanjena, the new Mandarin Oriental and Kasbah Tamadot are luxurious but very expensive options, the Capaldi offers the best of both worlds.  It’s a beautiful hotel, set in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, half an hour drive from Marrakech’s medina, and a complete paradise.  Best of all is that rooms are from £100 per night, so totally affordable.  I loved it.

Runner up: Hotel Ormes de Pez, in the Medoc area of Bordeaux. With only a few rooms, I loved staying at this very comfortable, traditional French Chateau boutique hotel, where you are beautifully looked after by Gilles.

Capaldi, Marrakech

 i

Favourite new London hotel: The Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone.

The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell is a London favourite, but the new Townhouse in West London is giving it a good run for its money.  With quirky interiors, a very cosy sitting room/bar/lounge and rooms with the comfiest looking beds I’ve seen – this is British design at its best.

Runner up: the very modern Mondrian Hotel at the Sea Containers on the South Bank, where I especially loved the views and the cocktail bar.

Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone

Favourite Amsterdam new-comer: Cafe Panache, Amsterdam.

This laid-back, stylish cafe-restaurant had such a fantastic vibe, I thought I was in New York.  The food is good, but the main reason to come is for the atmosphere, and the bar filled with locals, which stays open until late.

Runner up: The W Hotel, Amsterdam.  While I’m not a massive fan of the W group, I must say I completely adored the new W’s ‘Lounge’ bar on the top floor, where the views of the Dam Palace are out of this world, and where I’d pay good money to have a swim in their pool with a view.

Cafe Panache, Amsterdam

Most original bar: Floreria Atlantico, Buenos Aires.

It doesn’t get more original than when the entrance to a bar is a fully functioning flower shop.  This bar has been repeatedly voted one of the world’s best bars, and I can totally see why.

Floreria Atlantico, Buenos Aires

 i

Favourite healthy option: Pluk, Amsterdam.

Too pretty for words, this newcomer to Amsterdam’s beloved Negen Straatjes (Nine Little Streets) is the perfect girlie health haven.  Pick a juice, a salad and a detox shot and you’re good to go.  I love their Instagram feed too.  If you’re looking for something more substantial for brunch, then their sister property Ree 7 (on the same street), is also worth checking out.

Runner up: Flax & Kale, Barcelona. I was really wowed by this healthy ‘flexitarian’ restaurant, which combined stunning interiors with a delicious, unique menu.

Pluk, Amsterdam

 i

Best bottomless brunch: Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell.

2015 was the year I fell in love with Exmouth Market, a new part of London I had shockingly never been to before.  B&H Buildings is around the corner, and it’s colonial, bright interiors makes it the ideal place for brunch (try and get a table in their green house).  Best of all is that they offer bottomless Bellinis (£16) or Bloody Mary’s (£15) for weekend brunch.

Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell

Favourite local: Hally’s and Little H, Parsons Green.

Fulham gets criticised for being slightly on the dull side when it comes to restaurants and bars, but one thing it can get right is brunch.  Hally’s remains one of my favourite Fulham locals, and with the arrival of its smaller and healthier sister property Little H (with a Cali twist), I couldn’t be happier.

Runner up: St Clements, toward Eelbrook Common, is also a great option if Hally’s is fully booked.  Manuka Kitchen also remains a firm favourite.

Hally's Parsons Green

Favourite City Break: Lisbon, Portugal.

It was my second time visiting the Portuguese capital this year, and I liked it even more than the first time I went.  Lisbon combines excellent weather with beautiful architecture, an innovative foodie scene and incredible value for money.   Take an extra day off work and give yourself a day on the beach to add some proper R&R to this city break, and you’ll feel like you’ve been on a proper holiday.  Read all about my Lisbon highlights here.

Runner up: Barcelona.  This Spanish city never fails to disappoint. With wonderful tapas bars, fantastic rooftop bars and the beach (with its brilliant beach bars), I could return again and again.

Lisbon

Follow

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Matera, Puglia

September 6, 2015

Matera is a place like no other.  Of all the beautiful towns I visited in Puglia, this one had the biggest effect on me.  It is completely and utterly different to any of the Italy I know and am used to.

Matera is town built of ‘sassi’ (caves) built into the rock, which are Italy’s oldest continually inhabited dwellings.  Best described in Carlo Levi’s book ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’ (a pre-holiday must read), which gives a detailed account of its abject poverty, and of how thousands of peasants (and their livestock) lived in the caves, in terrible conditions.   Articles which write about Matera, like in the Telegraph, often quote Carlo Levi’s description (or his sister’s to be more accurate) of Matera:

“In these dark holes I saw a few pieces of miserable furniture, beds and some ragged clothes hanging up to dry. On the floor lay dogs, sheep, goats and pigs… Children appeared from everywhere, in the dust and heat, stark naked or in rags, eyelids red and swollen… and with the wizened faces of old men, yellow and worn with malaria, their bodies reduced by starvation to skeletons… I have never in all my life seen such a picture of poverty.”

Carlo Levi later visited Matera himself.

IMG_2342

It does not make it sound like a tempting destination.  But with the wiping out of malaria in the 1950s (staggeringly late) and the cleaning up of a lot of the houses, Matera has certainly changed from these descriptions.  But the dark holes still exist, especially across the gorge, and I still found them somewhat eerie to look at.

Matera

As the Lonely Planet rightly points out, Matera’s lack of development meant that it preserved its original state.  But its recent re-birth of kinds means that many Sassi are now elegant places to live (especially in the more developed Sassi Barisana), some of which have become boutique hotels, restaurants and bars.

MateraMateraMatera
For lunch with a view try the Tarrazzino (though the views are ten times better than the food).  If you’re in need of a gelato for your stroll through the town, go for the I Vizi Degli Angeli.

Terrazzino, Matera

Tarrazzino, MAtera

For somewhere local, I’d recommend the boutique hotel Corte San Pietro, which has been beautifully done up (room from about £150).  The top five star in the town is the Palazzo Gattini, with stunning interiors and a roof top pool with an incredible view (rooms from about £280 per night).

Hotel Palazzo Gattini

If you’re looking for a real wow place to stay near by then I’d recommend Francis Ford Coppopla’s Palazzo Margherita.  It’s a 40 minute drive away, and it’s not a cheap option, but it’s meant to be exceptional.  You’re a 15 minute drive from some beautiful beaches and it has a massive digital movie collection specialising in Italian Cinema (as would be expected).

Francis Ford Coppola Palazzo Margherita

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Martina Franca, Puglia

August 31, 2015
Martina Franca

The Queen of Valle D’Itria, this beautiful town is clearly a lot bigger and wealthier than its neighbouring towns.  It being our first outing in Puglia, we were not sure what to expect, and Martina Franca certainly exceeded expectations. On a Sunday it’s a hive of activity, locals going for early evening strolls, eating gelato, attending mass.  We watched the sun set and the light turn the sandstone buildings a warm yellow.

Martina Franca, PugliaMartina Franca, PugliaMartina Franca, PugliaMartina Franca, Puglia

There is plenty going on it Martina Franca.  Gelato seems to be especially popular here.  And wine bars.  It is far more buzzing than its neighbouring Locorotondo and Cisternino but still retains that charming, local feel.  Tourism has not really hit yet.

We found a newly opened wine bar, Cibando, on Piazza Roma and enjoyed trying the various types of Puglian wine (Nero di Troia was our favourite).  The staff were exceptionally friendly and enthusiastic, telling us about their home brewed beer, their favourite wines and advising which aperitivo to go for (their selection of local meats and cheeses were delicious).

Cibando, Martina FrancaCibando, Martina FrancaCibando, Martina FrancaCibando, Martina FrancaCibando, Martina Franca

They seem to be part of a group of other cool bars/restaurants in Martina France: L’Aperitivo, which serves fantastic cocktails, and Terra Terra, which is a well regarded Bistro (with a nice terrace and reasonable prices).  If they’re as good as Cibando, I recommend trying them too.

 

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Cisternino, Puglia

August 19, 2015
Cisternino

This was our ‘local’ town.  And how lucky we were to be just a 5 minute drive from this pretty white town in the Valle D’Itria (aka Trulli country).  It seems to have some of the best restaurants in the area (while lacking in bars, but nearby Locorotondo helps out there).  There are pots of plants and flowers everywhere: blood red geraniums spilling over windowsills, big green ferns in shady corners.  The pots of cacti on quiet stairwells serve as a reminder that you’re in the hot south.

CIsterninoCIsternino

IMG_2505CIsternino

We had dinner on the stylish roof terrace of La Capase. While from the inside I would have done the decor very differently, and I don’t think they used the space well (or the right colours), the roof terrace was unexpectedly lovely.  I had read good things about La Capase, but again had not expected the standard of food – or the presentation – to be so good.   Everything from the tuna tartare with miso froth, to the breaded lamb with liquorice and finally a seriously phenomenal array of puddings (the chocolate souflé won) left us more than impressed.  Best of all is that their prices are so reasonable – a dinner which would have cost about £80 per person in London cost about €40 here – which some how makes the food taste even better.

Le Capase, CisterninoLe Capase, CisterninoLe Capase, CisterninoLe Capase, Cisternino

Apart from La Capase, there are a number of other recommended restaurants in town.  We happened upon Enoteca Il Cucco, where my father bought a number of local wines (they have a great selection).  Most days it is also open for dinner, with a small but excellent menu, and obviously a very good choice of wine.  The restaurant was closed when we went, but the owner was very charming and you could tell she loves her job and is passionate (and knowledgeable) about wine.

Enoteca Il Cucco, Cisternino

Finally, Osteria Sant’Anna is meant to be really good too.  Despite a nondescript exterior, it has a large dining room with vaulted ceilings as well as a terrace and the ambience, service and food is meant to be of an exceptional standard.

Forno Pronto is what we really should have tried: the local favourite where butchers allow you to choose your meat and they BBQ it for you on the spot.  There was one on nearly every street, and we saw locals as well as a few tourists enjoying it.

An excuse to return, not that I need it.

All photos are mine.

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Locorotondo, Puglia

August 16, 2015
Locorotondo

You can see the beautiful facade of this tiny white washed town from afar, a contrast to Cisternino’s and Martina Franco’s blander ‘new towns’ which surround their pretty ‘centro storico’.  Locorotondo does bars as well as Cisternino does restaurants, but it’s all on a very modest scale.  Walking around you can’t help but notice its subtle poverty, while the houses are pretty, look closely and you’ll see the windows and doors are plastic and its ‘palazzi’ are modest to say the least.  But the locals are so friendly, and you don’t need a map as you wander through there quiet, winding streets.   Keep an eye out for their street name signs – a lovely touch.

LocorotondoLocorotondoLocorotondoLocorotondoLocorotondo

DRINK

You don’t really expect a stylish bar like BBeP (Barba, Baffi e Pellicce) – which has a serious cocktail list – in a little place like this.  From about 7pm this place opens up and you can enjoy a range of cocktails, beers and wines on the cobbled pavement outside.  I love their interior design and branding.  Take a close look at their logo and google translate what ‘pellicce’ means.  You’ll see that these Italians have a good sense of humour.

BBep, Locorotondo

Barba, Baffi e Pellicce, LocorotondoBarba, Baffi e Pellicce, LocorotondoBarba, Baffi e Pellicce, Locorotondo

Dock 101 is even trendier, with its all white and wooden decor, live music and views of the valley (across a road though).  Next door you’ll find the very tempting looking Creperia and Yoghuteria Cre P’scrè.  The surprise just adds to the pleasure of an evening stroll in Locorotondo.

Dock 101, LocorotondoDock 101, LocorotondoDock 101, LocorotondoCre p'scre, Locorotondo

EAT

Bina is where it’s all at in Locorotondo.  While we sadly did not get to try this highly recommend restaurant, it’s a lovely restaurant to head to after a drink at BBeP.  The interiors are surprisingly elegant and stylish, cream furniture matching the whitewashed vaulted ceilings.  The food is cooked by Bina herself, most food typical of the Valle D’Itria.  The ‘primi’ plates are from €10, while the meat and fish dishes are around €15.  Apparently well worth ordering some aperitivo.   It’s on my list for when I return.

Bina, Locorotondo

STAY

Half an hour drive from Locorotondo you’ll find Masseria Cimino, owned by the same group who own the stunning but huge five star Borgo Egnazia (very close by).  Masseria Cimino has more gentle prices (from €90 per person per night, Half Board).  It only has 15 rooms, a stunning pool, access to a lovely golf course and bicycles to borrow.  And you’re very close to the beach of course.  We did not stay here but Conde Nast and other travel magazines highly recommend it.

Photos all mine, bar Bina’s. 

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Ostuni, Puglia

August 3, 2015

The most glamorous of Puglian towns, ‘la citta bianca’ sits high on a hill with views of both the sea and the countryside.  Extending over three hills, you can see her from afar as you approach the city, shimmering in the Puglian heat.  Built by the Greeks in 1 AD, Ostuni has a distinctly Greek feel about it, with white washed houses, colourful shutters, narrow winding streets and lots of staircases.  The cacti pots on window sills and doorsteps remind you you’re in the hot, deep south of Italy.

Ostuni, puglia

Ostuni, puglia
Ostuni puglia

Apart from just getting lost in the myriad of narrow medieval streets, Ostuni has a beautiful 15th Century Cathedral, which (like most of the Puglian churches) is prettier from the outside than from the inside.  The rose window is stunning.  If you prefer shopping over culture Ostuni has quite a few boutiques, some of which selling the usual tourist plonk, others selling more interesting local crafts or espadrilles and other beach ware.

Ostuni puglia

Ostuni puglia

Ostuni puglia

Ostuni is definitely a little trendier than her other Puglian counterparts.   It’s also more popular with tourists (mostly Italian though), and the restaurant & bar scene is more developed here.  Undeniably chic, in that laid back Mediterranean way, Ostuni boasts lots of cool little bars, restaurants and hotels.

Ostuni puglia

Ostuni puglia

DRINK

If you like a ‘lounge’ style bars, Ostuni is the place for you.  They seem to have a thing for bean bags.  The big, leather ones, usually in quirky bright colours.  Not really up my street, but it seems to work here, especially for places like La Mela Bacata. Come here to lounge on big green bean bags in a narrow staired alley way and check out the phenomenal view of Puglian countryside and the sea.   Cafe Riccardo has a similar set up to Mela Bacata, and is possibly the best known bar in town, with a bit of a reputation for those who like to ‘see and be seen’.   But this is of course very relatively speaking.   This is perhaps a bit less laid back and with more of a club vibe as the night proceeds.

La Mela Bacata, Ostuni

But my favourite bar Controcorrente has unrivalled views of the old town itself, which is what the other two don’t have.  It is, therefore, slightly outside of the Old Town, but not more than a 5 minute walk.  Definitely go for one of their speciality G&Ts – they really know their gins here – most of which are served in huge goblets which I love.  Friendly staff, perhaps not as cosy as the other two bars I mentioned (and I’m not sure about the shiny cushions) but really worth having some drinks here.

Controcorrente, Ostuni

Controcorrente, OstuniControcorrente, Ostuni

EAT

We didn’t stay for dinner here, so it’s hard to really comment – but I was recommend Piazzetta Cattedrale, with charming views and good Puglian food.  La Mela Bacata, as mentioned previously, apparently serves a seriously good breakfast, with healthy ‘detox’ options too (like Acai bowls).

It’s a lovely little town, and very worthwhile spending some time.

IMG_2767

 

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Lecce, Puglia

July 27, 2015
Lecce, Puglia

While beautiful, Lecce is known wrongly as ‘Florence of the South’.  It boasts stunning Baroque palazzi and churches, but it is no competition to the grandeur of Florence.  Having said that, it certainly has its own charm, which makes it one of Puglia’s most famous towns, and one of my favourite towns we visited.

Lecce, Puglia

Architects Giuseppe and Francesco Zimbalo are big names in Lecce, having designed a number of Lecce’s main sights in the 17th Century.  Sante Croce’s intricate and slightly crazy facade is unforgettable, while the Duomo has a more gentle beauty.  I loved drifting through its labyrinth of honey-coloured sandstone streets.  Around every turn we’d find a pretty archway, a frescoed stairway or an enviable rooftop terrace.

Lecce

Lecce, Puglia
Lecce, Puglia

Lecce, Puglia

Lecce is a student town, so during the summer it is so peaceful often you’ll find yourself completely alone.   Once you’ve seen the main sights and to cool off, head to Frigole beach (a short bus ride away), or to Galipoli or Otranto if you’re happy to travel a little further.  I can imagine that come September, the town really comes to life though, as it cools down a bit and all young flood back in.

Lecce

EAT

You can’t go to Lecce and not try a Pasticciotti – like what Pasteis de Nata is to Lisbon (or Belem to be exact) – a pastry filled with custard, which is usually still warm when they serve it.  Melt in the mouth, but unbelievably heavy – the place to have them for breakfast at Caffe Alvino, on the main square.  This 1930s-esque cafe, where locals still do shots of espresso (1EUR) by the bar and where you can sit on their terrace and watch Lecce wake up (slowly), is a nice introduction to the town.   Go for the original pasticciotti (there’s a big choice).

Caffe Alvino, Lecce

Caffe Alvino, LecceFor brunch or lunch move to Doppiozero, behind the Duomo, my favourite place in Lecce.  A Deli and breakfast/lunch hangout (though they do dinner too) where every detail is thought through, with quirky interiors, an excellent selection of wines (including the ‘super Tuscans’), fantastic cold-pressed juices and the most mouth-watering sandwich counter.  Italy tends to do bread badly, with the exception of Doppiozero.

Doppiozero, Lecce

Doppiozero, Lecce

Doppiozero, Lecce

Doppiozero, LecceDoppiozero, Lecce

If you’re in search of something more authentic, Trattoria Le Zie is as local as it gets, where they serve ‘peasant food’ to the highest standard, with big, welcoming smiles.  It’s great for lunch or dinner, but I would most certainly book as it fills up with locals and tourists a like.  Especially their starters were sublime (we just asked for a mixture).

Trattoria Le Zie, Lecce

Trattoria Le Zie, Lecce

DRINK

As this was just a day trip we didn’t do much drinking.  But as Lecce is a student town, there are plenty of bars which looked appealing.  Mad Lounge Bar looked good (in a modern kind of way), with a lovely view from its terrace of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument and the Chiasa di Santa Chiara.  If I were you I’d just walk around the town, pick a little vinoteca and drink some Puglian wine.  Or head back to Doppiozero.

MAD Lounge, Lecce

SHOP

While walking down Via Giuseppe Libertini, we stumbled across Cartoleria Pantheonthe cutest shop selling everything from beautiful leather bound books, prints, stationary, maps and bric a brac.  I love it’s views of the Duomo.

Cartoleria Pantheon, Lecce

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Bari, Puglia

July 22, 2015
Bari

Compared to the rest of Puglia, people don’t seem to have as many compliments for Bari, the capital of the region.  But for one reason or another, we spent one night in Bari at the beginning of our holiday, and one at the end.  An introduction to Puglia, and the conclusion to our trip.  It worked well.  And while I wouldn’t use Bari as my base for a Puglian holiday (head further south to the Valle D’Itria, and base yourself in a Masseria or Villa/Trulli like we did), I would certainly not protest spending a night here if needs be.

GET THERE

Most people flying to Puglia will fly to Bari Airport (there is also Brindisi Airport, but Bari has better connections from London and Amsterdam).  From the airport it’s a 20 minute taxi ride to the centre of town (EUR25 – fixed price), or a short bus (every hour) or train (more regularly) journey.

Bari

TO DO

Bari is a fairly large port city and there is plenty to do and see.  Base yourself in the Old Town.  Apart from getting lost in the labyrinth of alleyways, visit the Basilica of St Nicholas, where the bones of the real Saint Nicholas (and for us Dutchmen Sinterklaas) lay buried.   Worth having a look at is the Cathedral (Duomo) of San Sabino, which I feel has been slightly ruined by it’s newish rose window.  Impressive none the less.  Walk along the old city walls, with beautiful views of the palm tree lined promenade on the sea. But the best thing to do, as is with all these Puglian towns, is just to wander through the town.  Observe old ladies sitting outside their houses as the sun begins to set, gossiping with neighbours and watching you curiously.  It’s clear the Old Town is not just for tourists; this is where many locals really live, and their brightly coloured washing flutters in the sea breeze above your head as you walk through the winding cobbled streets. The city truly comes alive at night, when the squares, restaurants and bars fill up.

Bari

Bari

Bari

TO EAT

Breakfast If you’re looking for a good place for breakfast and you’ve got a sweet tooth, try Martinucci on Piazza Mercentile.  The most famous pastry makers in town, you must try their Pasticcioti (traditional pastries from Lecce) and they serve fantastic Cappuccinos.  Another lovely breakfast cafe is Bacio di Latte.  There are two on via Sparana (go for the second one), just outside the Old Town.  Have a freshly pressed vegetable juice here to balance out the fresh and very buttery croissants on offer (though wholewheat is an option).

Martinucci, Bari

Bacio di Latte, BariLunch It’s all about the focaccia in Bari, and the most famous bakery serving the best focaccia is Panificio Fiori.  Freshly baked and 1 EUR a piece, this is an ideal lunch for on the go.

Dinner If you want traditional food, then Vini e Cucina is the only place to go for dinner.  They serve a (4 course) set menu for 20 EUR per person, don’t speak a word of English and serve house wine in a jug.  This is not a place for delicate service, or flashy interiors.  But it’s excellent, hearty, local food, for an absolute steal (see the octopus below).  If you want something a bit more polished, go for Black & White on the main square.  The services is excellent here, and the food delicious.  They serve everything from (excellent) pizzas, to smoked mozzarella, to sea food linguini.

Vini e Cucina, Bari

Black and White, Bari

TO DRINK

Bari is heaving with bars, and especially the bars around Piazza Mercentile attract a lot of tourists and teenagers looking for cheap drinks (cocktails are 3 euros, shots 1 euro in many places).  For the better bars, go slightly farther afield.

For sunset views of the harbour head to Caffe sotto il Mare, where a glass of house wine will set you back around 3 euros.  I liked their stripy interiors too.  If you’re looking for a cute vinoteca (though this one is more a ‘bread-cheese-salami shop’) try the Panineria Salumeria in the corner of Piazza Mercantile (no trace of it online).  Pour yourself a small glass of vino from a barrel for 1 euro.  It won’t be the best wine you drink, but it’s fun none the less.  Our favourite was the very local La Ciclatera, with the charming owner Massimo (who makes a real effort) and a lovely, small terrace (Massimo just keeps adding tables as it gets busier, and often people just sit on the pavement).  Inside you’ll find lots of nooks and cranies and alcoves if you want a bit of peace and quiet.

Bari

Bari

La Ciclatera, BariTO STAY

Airbnb it.  We did, for both nights, and for about £20 per person slept very comfortably and very centrally.  The owners were super friendly on both occasions, and recommended great local places to eat and drink [see above].

More blogs to follow on Puglia, or for an overview, see here.

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Puglia: An overview

July 19, 2015
Ostuni

It’s remarkable that Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy, isn’t overridden by tourists. But that’s perhaps why it’s one of my new favourite holiday destinations and why you should go now, or as soon as possible.

Puglia is all about quiet, whitewashed hilltop towns, rich red earth, immense age old olive groves, bright blue skies, and its quirky and characterful Trulli.  It’s about charming locals, few foreigners, Puglian wines, and surprisingly stylish bars and restaurants with wonderful value for money.  It is completely different to any Italy I know.  Some will say it’s also about its small, sandy beaches with clear blue waters like those at Monopoli, Savelletri and close to Lecce, but we focused more on the villages and towns around the Valle D’Itria.  Every day we visited a new village or town, each with their own similarities and differences (apart from Matera, which is in a league of its own) and every one of them a joy to discover.

IMG_2551IMG_8631Here is a brief overview of my favourite places, each of which I will write a separate blog on over the next few weeks, but this is just to give you a taster:

BARI

Known to many as the ‘gateway to Puglia’, it’s where the airport is and where you can catch the ferry to Greece, Croatia and Montenegro.  While it has a slightly gritty reputation, Bari is not without charm.  Stick to the Old Town and explore alleyways decorated with washing lines, small market stalls, its lively harbour and the old city walls.  Bari has a vibrant nightlife and some great AirBnBs, and prices are low.  For breakfast head to Martinucci for a cappuccino and Pasticciotti (pastry from Lecce) with a view of the main square, for pre-dinner drinks and sunset views try Caffe sotto il mare, for dinner opt for Black & White with its great pizzas and charming service, and finish your night at my favourite local bar La Ciclatera, for a late night vino or cocktail.

Bari

IMG_8617

LECCE

While beautiful, Lecce is known wrongly as ‘Florence of the South’.  It boasts stunning Baroque palazzi and churches, but it is no competition to the grandeur of Florence.  Having said that, it certainly has its own charm, which makes it one of Puglia’s most famous towns.  Sante Croce’s intricate and slightly crazy facade is unforgettable, while the Duomo has a more gentle beauty and I loved drifting through its labyrinth of honey-coloured sandstone streets.  Around every turn we’d find a pretty archway, a frescoed stairway or an enviable rooftop terrace.  Lecce is a student town, so during the summer it is so peaceful often you’ll find yourself completely alone.  My favourite place was Doppiozero, a Deli and breakfast/lunch hangout (though they do dinner too) where every detail is thought through (and I love their juices).  If you’re in search of something more authentic, Trattoria Le Zie is as local as it gets, where they serve ‘peasant food’ to the highest standard, with big, welcoming smiles.

Lecce

Doppiozero, LecceDoppiozero, Lecce

OSTUNI

The most glamorous of Puglian towns, ‘la citta bianca’ sits high on a hill with views of both the sea and the countryside.  Built by the Greeks in 1 AD, Ostuni has a distinctly Greek feel about it, with white washed houses, colourful shutters, narrow winding streets and lots of staircases.  It’s also more popular with tourists (mostly Italian though), and the restaurant & bar scene is more developed here.  My favourite bar Controcorrente has unrivalled views of the old town itself (and delicious G&Ts), while the Cafe Riccardo and Mela Bacata are trendy local hangouts with a view of Ostuni’s surroundings.

Ostuni

Controcorrente, Ostuni

CISTERNINO

This was our ‘local’.  And how lucky we were to be just a 5 minute drive from this pretty white town in the Valle D’Itria (AKA Trulli country).  It seems to have some of the best restaurants in the area (while lacking in bars, but nearby Locorotondo helps out there).  There are pots of plants and flowers everywhere: blood red geraniums spilling over windowsills, big green ferns in shady corners and cacti a reminder that you’re in the hot south. We had dinner on the stylish roof terrace of La Capase (which was phenomenal), but Enoteca Il Cucco (we bought some lovely wines here) and Osteria Sant’Anna are both meant to be really good too.   Forno Pronto is what we really should have tried: the local favourite where butchers allow you to choose your meat and they BBQ it for you on the spot.  An excuse to return, not that I need it.

Cisternino

La Capase, Cisternino

LOCOROTONDO

You can see the beautiful facade of this tiny white washed town from afar, a contrast to Cisternino’s and Martina Franco’s blander ‘new towns’.  Locorotondo does bars as well as Cisternino does restaurants, but it’s all on a very modest scale.  Walking around you can’t help but notice its subtle poverty, while the houses are pretty, look closely and you’ll see the windows and doors are plastic and its ‘palazzi’ are modest to say the least.  But the locals are so friendly, and you don’t need a map as you wander through there quiet, winding streets.  You don’t really expect a stylish bar like BBeP (Barfi, Baffi and Pellicce) – which has a serious cocktail list – in a little place like this, nor the even trendier (but less cosy) Dock 101 with its all white and wooden decor, live music and views of the valley (across a road though).  The surprise just adds to the pleasure of an evening stroll in Locorotondo.

Locorotondo, PugliaBBep, Locorotondo
MARTINA FRANCA

The Queen of Valle D’Itria, this beautiful town is clearly a lot bigger and wealthier than its neighbouring towns.  It being our first outing in Puglia, we were not sure what to expect, and Martina Franca certainly exceeded expectations. On a Sunday it’s a hive of activity, locals going for early evening strolls, eating gelato, attending mass.  We watched the sun set and the light turn the sandstone buildings a warm yellow.  We found a newly opened wine bar, Cibando, on Piazza Roma and enjoyed trying the various types of Puglian wine (Nero di Troia was our favourite).  The staff were exceptionally friendly.

Martina FrancaCibando, Martina Franca
MATERA

A place like no other.  Matera is town built of ‘sassi’ (caves) built into the rock, and which are Italy’s oldest continually inhabited dwellings.  Best described in Carlo Levi’s book ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’ (a pre-holiday must read), which gives a detailed account of its abject poverty, and of how thousands of peasants (and their livestock) lived in the caves, in terrible conditions.   As the Lonely Planet rightly points out, Matera’s lack of development meant that it preserved its original state.  It has now gone through a re-birth of kinds, and many Sassi are now elegant places to live (especially in the more developed Sassi Barisana), some of which have become boutique hotels, restaurants and bars.  For me, Matera was one of the most fascinating places I have visited in Italy.  For lunch with a view try the Tarrazzino (though the views are ten times better than the food).  If you’re in need of a gelato for your stroll through the town, go for the I Vizi Degli Angeli.

Matera

POLIGNANO A MARE

Puglia’s most picturesque fisherman’s village, complete with pretty houses built into its steep Limestone cliffs, the bluest of seas, and a famous restaurant in a cave (and part of a mediocre 4 star hotel): Grotta Polignano.  It certainly leaves an impression and the views of the Adriatic sea and coastline are fabulous (as are the views of the daring cliff divers).  The village is bustling with tourists and locals a like, most of whom you’ll find on its tiny beach during the weekend (where I’d recommend making the beach bar Fly your base).   If you fancy something quieter, grab a fresh vegetable juice at Luna Coffee Shop (otherwise not hugely interesting) or have a delicious white pizza or seafood pasta at Bella ‘Mbriana, on the main (and rather beautiful) square Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

Polignano a mare

Polignano a mare

More detailed blogs on each place will be posted in the next few weeks on City Turtle, so stay tuned!  For more photos of my Puglian discoveries, check my Instagram.

Looking for the latest London tips and travel suggestions?

Stay in the loop and sign-up for City Turtle's monthly newsletter.