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Northern Standard

TRAVEL

BY GEORGE KEEGAN wk feb 2nd 2012

PUGLIA - REGION OF TWO SEAS AND TRULLI HOUSES

Puglia or Apulia is an area of Southern Italy stretching from the Gargano peninsula to Salento the heel of the Italian boot. It’s a land of two seas Adriatic and Ionian and the gateway between East and West.

In 2011 Irish Company ‘Discovery Puglia’ based in Dublin, began offering a select range of interesting holiday tour programmes, to include Photography, Self Drive, Cookery, Food and Wine, and Luxury breaks for those who enjoy being pampered. This is a region of stunning landscapes, coves and beaches, beautiful towns and villages, excellent food and so not surprisingly has become more and more popular with Irish holidaymakers. For anyone with even a minor interest in historical buildings go to Puglia because every town has at least one castle or archaeological site to visit.

One of the most interesting aspects of the region are the famous Trulli houses in Alberobello. Unusual in style many are still used as permanent living accommodation but most are now holiday homes. At the end of 1400 when the town was a forest area the first trullis were constructed by the peasants of the time. A Trulli was a small traditional whitewashed house with a conical roof (to keep out rain water) and built using various sized stones without mortar. The reason for this, it would be easily taken apart should taxes be introduced. Many have symbols on the chimneys depicting the primitive, christian and the magical. In holiday resorts around the region replica buildings are now used as guest accommodation. On my walk I was lucky enough to see reconstruction work taking place on one of the fascinating chimneys.

Then there are the Masseria or large country houses (originally farms) located on estates. These homes have been completely refurbished and modernised to the highest standards and opened as 4* & 5* hotels or guesthouses. All are perfect retreats for both short and long stays. The main building is used as the hotel and the numerous out buildings are also converted with modern furnishings while maintaining a certain old style ambiance. Some estates even have their own private church.

One of the best ways to discover Puglia is taking the car hire option and being flexible to enjoy the 400km coastline and free to stop and start as you please. Travelling along this coast of towering cliffs, caves and natural arches you will pass through several towns, picturesque villages, and harbours filled with fishing boats. Look out for the watch towers, built in times past to defend against Turkish or North African invaders.

A real plus for Apulia is the clement weather, enabling a visit there at any time of year but of course mid summer is hot. For up to the minute information on current tours log on to the web site, or tel 087 9170517 and speak to Concezio or Anita (directors of the company). Both are originally from Puglia and know it well, and their story contains an Irish twist - they met for the first time 3 years ago in Dublin.

MUST VISIT

Bari - the capital city. Be sure to allow time to explore this lovely city. The old town Borgo Antico with its narrow streets and alleyways its craft shops and restaurants and of course the Norman Swabian Castle, Basillica San Nicola and Court of Catapano.

Stroll through an archway into a tiny street to see residents sitting outside their homes making orecchiette pasta, piece by piece, in the traditional way. In the centre of town you can shop till you drop in Via Sparano street, or sit for a while in the excellent Vox café/bar and enjoy a snack with a glass of Apulian wine. Try to organise an official walking tour and get a real sense of Bari’s history.

Conversano - This is a delightful town on the Murgian hills. The cathedral dedicated to Our lady of Assunta was erected between the 11th & 12th century and the castle, originally used by the military, dates from the same period. Check out the very special café Dell’Incontro at Piazza XX Settembre. Well worth a visit.

Lecce - Sadly I must say I was disappointed with my visit here. I felt there was an air of neglect about the place with lots of litter and graffiti everywhere. However a friend told me she loved it, so there you are. The historic buildings are certainly impressive and in the town square of Sant’Oronzo are the remains of the 2nd century Roman amphitheatre and a short distance away the cathedral door specially commissioned for the Millennium celebration. Leece contains a large number of churches, monasteries and convents and was known as a ‘church city’. It also has many stately homes hidden behind electric gates. Perhaps part of my problem was that I expected too much and visiting on a Sunday, when everything was closed, didn’t help.

Alberobello - the main centre of the trulli houses. Visit the church of Sant Antonio di Padova at the top of the steep hill. On the way watch out for the charming elderly lady on a chair selling her own knitted garments - she also looks after the public toilets.

Savelletri - famous for its fish restaurants.

Ostuni - known as the White City. Built on a steep hillside there are great views on approach roads of the white washed houses glistening in the sun overlooking the clear blue Adriatic sea. Worth walking around and spending some time in.

Otranto the fortified city - a really beautiful seaside resort with many traditional craft shops and stunning sea views.

Polignano a Mare another lovely town on the sea with many caves and houses perched precariously on cliff edges. Drop into the interesting restaurant Bodeguita de Cuba located in a cave, serving light meals, tropical cocktails and the classic mojito. The bar stocks over 300 rums from around the world.

Egnazia Museum & Archaeological Park - situated among secular olive trees and close to the sea at Savelletri di Fasano. Its one of the most interesting working sites of Apulia. Here you will find many traces dating back to the Roman Age. Open daily from 8.30am - 7.30pm.

MASSERIA ACCOMMODATION

There are many to choose from but here are a few suggestions;

Il Frantoio - close to Ostuni this masseria (80km from Bari , 40 km from Brindisi) is a large organic farm on a 150 acres estate and an ideal place to relax and enjoy the countryside. The house was built over an old underground oil mill (now a museum displaying machinery of times past) It nestles among ancient olive groves (15 different olives are produced here) and all food served comes from the estate. Highly recommended.

Alchimia - at Fasano close to Brindisi owner Caroline Groszer from Switzerland has transformed a 19th century mansion into innovative stylish self - catering accommodations of 10 studio apartments with individual entrance. All differing in size, form and lay out. Very modern style throughout with designer furnishings. A quiet ambiance and a perfect retreat from today’s hectic pace. Recommended.

Marzalossa - also Fasano was built in 17th century and present owners the Guarini family have lived here for past 200 years. Has 8 doubles and 4 suites. Recommended

Borgo Egnazia - A new purpose- built estate comprising the central building - a modern luxurious hotel La Corte with 63 beautifully appointed guest rooms, a number of Villas with personal swimming pool and The Borgo, a white stone village with central piazza, narrow streets and many town houses. All this to choose from plus 3 outdoor swimming pools, a championship 18 hole golf course and 4 restaurants. Recent guests include Steven Spielberg with extended family. Expensive.

Sister hotels of the San Domenico Hotel chain in this part of Italy are Masseria San Domenico and Masseria Cimino.

Other Masserias to check - Lamiola Piccola (Ostuni) Cervarolo (Ostuni) and Torre Coccaro (Fasano)

EATING

There are many good restaurants and cafes to be found when touring around and of course freshly caught fish is available on most menus. I have listed some in the Must See section.

BEDTIME

Tenuta Monacelle, Selva di Fasano - Originally a convent this hotel complex on some 20 hectares of land is set in a quiet location on the outskirts of Selva di Fasano, just 50km from Bari. It consists of a cluster of trulli style houses plus small apartment blocks containing spacious modern bedrooms on 2 floors. Choice of Classic, Superior and De Luxe (48 rooms in total). Also in the grounds a fine dining restaurant “Il Ciliegeto” (Cherry Garden) serving Apulian and International dishes, and a separate building with breakfast/tea room. There is a conference centre and large outdoor swimming pool. A very nice meal was produced on the final night of our stay.

Best Western Executive Business Hotel corso Vittorio Emanuele in Bari. Basic amenities but centre city location so ideal for a walking tour of the Old Town. Perfect also for late airport arrivals and early departures as there is a bus top close by with direct services to Bari Palese from approx 5.00am. Note taxis in Bari are expensive.

DISCOVERY PUGLIA TOURS

Theme Tours: travel on minibus with guide - minimum 8 people

Photo: this is ideal for beginners or those seeking to capture stunning locations

Self Drive: If you enjoy freedom this is ideal

Cookery in Itria Valley: enhance culinary skills while enjoying this area of Puglia.

Food and Wine in Salento: discover local scents and flavours ,an opportunity to sample the region’s excellent produce and wines.

Luxury: stay in 5*accommodation and be pampered throughout.

Other specialist tours such as Romanesque Cathedrals or the archaeology of Northern Apulia are also available.

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