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Italy

Blog, Italy, Sicily

Noto, Sicily

November 8, 2016

Noto is generally known as the prettiest of the Baroque towns in the area, and it is undeniably so, in a slightly ‘chocolate box’ kind of way.  It’s richer and more touristy than its neighbours, but also much smaller and felt less ‘local’.  The main sightseeing area is the long Corso Vittorio Emanuele with one beautiful building or church after another.  It’s definitely worth straying from the beaten path and climbing the stairs up (towards Crocifisso).  You’ll get some fantastic views of the rooftops and palaces below.

Noto, SicilyNoto, Sicily

EAT

Noto is known to be quite ‘foodie’ and I was quite excited to explore the restaurant scene here.

We went in search for a recommended restaurant – which took us up steps and more steps (it is a common theme in the area) in the burning sun.  And then we reached Crocifisso.  Which was shut for lunch (don’t believe the websites).  NOTE: It appears that Noto is a better place to visit for dinner, when the likes of Manna (brand new, modern – my ideal kind of place) and Dammuso are open.  Food is meant to be exceptional here.  Having said that, Dammuso is usually open for lunch, just not when we were there.

We did find a place for lunch (Marpessa), where the food and stunning presentation surprised us (the gazpacho was brilliant) and despite the heat we had a fantastic meal.  Though it’s cooler inside, sitting in the shade on their charming little terrace outside is much nicer.

Marpessa, NotoMarpessa, Noto

After lunch we were recommended ‘the best ice cream in the world’ at Caffe Sicilia (it was delicious, but DiVini in Ragusa was still better).  Caffe Sicilia is a quirky, colourful and in many ways very traditional Italian Gelateria, worth grabbing an ice cream for on the go.

Caffe Sicilia, Noto

DRINK

There are plenty of terraces for sundowners, but if you want something different the Anche Gli Angeli concept store also offers a cool bar under red brick arches.  Not only can you have a drink here, but it’s great for a little browse too.  This is not a party town, it’s more cute and sophisticated than buzzing.

Anche Gli Angeli, Noto, Sicily

On a different note, a short drive from Noto (25 minutes) you’ll find some beautiful beaches – and the Agua Beach Bar which is meant to be worth a visit.

Blog, Italy, Sicily

Ragusa, Sicily

August 13, 2016
Ragusa, Sicily

Also known as the ‘Grand Dame’, be aware that this lovely town is split in two – Ragusa Ibla (the historical part of the city, and clearly our focus) and Ragusa Superior (the new town, which we just visited for its ‘pescharia’ – fish shop).

Also be prepared to walk up hill (or up steps) – a lot – though you can actually drive to the top and park there (we only found this out after our vigorous exercise on our first visit).   Most of Ragusa Ibla is quiet, the locals only come out after around 6pm, and the few tourists here tend to flock around the Duomo square.  The rest of the town is yours to explore at leisure.

Ragusa, SicilyRagusa, SicilyRagusa, Sicily

DRINK

Aperitivo is a must at I Banchi, down a quiet side street, with tables outside under the shade of white flowered trees.  They’ll bring you a selection of Sicilian nibbles, and some great wines as well. It is in fact a panificio (possibly my favourite Italian word) –  a bakery – but also has an excellent restaurant (it is owned by the famous Michelin star chef Ciccio Sultano).  Apart from I Banchi there are plenty of other terraces to enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine, but none which really jumped out.

Ragusa, SicilyI Banchi, Ragusa, SicilyI Banchi, RAgusa

EAT

I highly recommend an ice cream at Gelati DiVini (the chilli chocolate was especially exceptional), and they also sell some good wine here too (the SP68 wine is a good, affordable option).  Another place for excellent ice cream and canolo is Pasticceria Giovanni di Pasquale.

DiVini, Ragusa

For more ‘serious’ food, you’re spoilt for choice.  Remarkably Ragusa has two of the best restaurants in Sicily.  The Duomo (2 Michelin star, and Ciccio Sultano’s flagship restaurant) and the Locanda don Serafino (also two Michelin star) constantly compete with who’s got the best restaurant, I’d go for their lunch set menu (far more affordable than dinner, at EUR 45 for 4 courses).  Many locals think the food is overpriced here, as generally the standard of food in most restaurants is very high.  Still, these restaurants remain good value for Michelin star restaurants (especially compared to London restaurants).   If you want something a little more moderately priced, I hear Monsu is meant to be excellent too.

Monsu, Ragusa

STAY

Locando don Serafino also has a small boutique hotel (4 star) very close by, which is the best place to stay in town, quirky, comfortable and right in the centre of town.  If you prefer to stay somewhere more rural, I’d recommend the beautiful Villa Carcara, just 10 minutes’ drive down the road.  Sleeping up to 18 people, with stunning views, gardens and a large pool, this place will make most people very happy.

Villa Carcara, RAgusa

Read more about South East Sicily here.

Blog, Bologna, Italy

Vineria Favalli, Bologna – DRINK

May 22, 2016
Vineria Favelli, Bologna

Wine bars are my favourite places to drink, and Italians get them so right.  As we wandered through the winding streets of Bologna we came across a charming looking wine bar, which seemed ideal for a pre-dinner drink.

We seemed to have picked the right place.  This is really a local hangout, right in the centre of town.  We got lucky upon arrival as a table just came available, but it’s tiny and you definitely want to sit in the front room (there are more tables at the back, but it’s a bit quiet and lacking of atmosphere).  A lot of people just stood by the bar sipping wine, and they could have done with another member of staff.

Vineria Favalli, Bologna

But the wines were excellent, and it had such a wonderful, upbeat, authentic Italian feel.  Further more, the setting was delightful, and you’re in the best location for dinner afterwards (Cesarina is 2 minutes walk, and Drogheria della Rossa probably about 5 minutes).

Definitely one of the best – and non-touristy – bars we came across.

Vineria Favalli

Via Santo Stefano, 5/A

Blog, Bologna, Italy

Ristorante Cesarina, Bologna – EAT

May 22, 2016
Cesarina, Bologna

Bologna is full of beautiful squares and countless stunning churches, but the one square that stands out is the Piazza Santa Stefano, famous for having seven churches.  At night it’s incredibly atmospheric, and so there are few places like Cesarina in Bologna: where you can eat delicious food and (weather permitting) sit outside and enjoy the view of the square.

Cesarina, Bologna

We were not so lucky with the weather, so sat inside – a lovely and refined dining room, very Italian, simple but elegant.  I would always encourage you to book, and if possible to book a table outside, under the charming portico which Bologna is so famous for.

It was here that we enjoyed a dish we had long been waiting to try, Bologna’s signature dish: the tortellini in ‘brodo’ (chicken broth).  We all had this as a starter and it was well worth the wait.  I then continued carb loading and had a wonderful asparagus risotto, which the Italians do so well.  The rest of the party had a mixture of beef and other pasta dishes.  The food was really good, the prices fair and the service excellent.

Cesarina, Bologna

To finish with, while some of us had sambuccas, I was very tempted by the pistachio semi freddo, which I called the leaning tower of Bologna.  A little like panna cotta, but not quite as soft, it was exquisite, and a wonderful end to the dinner.  Rob and I then headed into the more student part of town for a drink at Le Stanze (a bar in a church, worth it for a drink).

Cesarina, Bologna

Cesarina

Via Santo Stefano, 19/B,

40125 Bologna

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.

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