This past week, we’ve hit the southern Italian roads hard and have toured around as much of the tip of Italy’s stiletto as possible.
You might have heard that the roads around the southeastern peninsula of Puglia are crazy, dangerous and terrifying. They’re not.
In fact, after you’ve been behind the wheel for a little while here in Italy, you find yourself overtaking inappropriately, driving too fast, picking out parking spots that aren’t really there and gesticulating wildly at anything that moves. It’s a lot of fun.
But in this IG Edition, we’d love you to follow us through the little towns, cities and spectacular coastlines of Puglia, southeastern Italy.
Cincin – Jim & Christina xx
We’re so sad to leave the beautiful town of Monopoli behind.For the both of us, this amazing little coastal city has really captured our hearts. From last week’s IG Edition, you can see the fun we had here.
To make our separation from Monopoli a bit easier, we’ve gone a little way south to Porto Rosso.
In fact, if you’re in Monopoli, you’ll struggle to find good places to eat and drink at the little city beach there. Porto Rosso is only a short cab or bike ride from Monopoli – or a decent hike if you’re feeling active – but the beach is even more local and the bar and restaurants right on the water are the big reward.
Our next stop on our road trip is to the beautiful little hilltop town of Martina Franca. Mrs Romance stayed here as part of her photography course recently and she’s keen to show me around.
Martina Franca is absolutely lovely – full of the fascinating nooks and alleys hiding treasure after treasure we’ve come to expect from these Italian towns.
We’ve stopped at Garibaldi Bistrot for lunch and in spite of the scorching day, this ristorante has me in the palm of its hand. No wonder Mrs Romance loves this spot so much.
[We also had a bit of drama: after our beautiful lunch, we stepped inside the nearby church Basilica di San Martino. Its elegant high ceilings and lavish walls were impressive… it was also nice and cool inside.
But we were surprised to hear shouting and discovered the priest confronting a young guy and then chasing him out of the church doors, taking photos of him on his smart phone.
Mrs Romance said the priest was calling him a thief and asking people to take photos as the lad escaped. Like the Vicar of Dibley and Cops all in one!]
Halfway between Martina Franca and the UNESCO listed town of Alberobello, we stop at our accommodation for the night. Le Dieci Porte (The 10 Doors) is one of the most remarkable places we’ve ever stayed in.
This building is called a ‘trullo’ and has an amazing history. The nearby town of Alberobello is mostly made up of these odd looking houses, which is why it has a UNESCO listing.
There are quite a few BnBs where you can stay in trulli, but this village is definitely the best we’ve found.
Le Dieci Porte is the culmination of a husband-and-wife team’s 10-year labour of love. From mere ruins, they converted these trulli into an amazing little village of 5 rooms each with its own en suite bathroom.
The bathrooms, by the way, are particularly interesting as they’ve been set into the walls of the trulli. When they were first in use, the trulli didn’t have bathrooms, but Stella and Christophe (and Stella’s dad) have used the incredibly thick walls (we’re talking meters thick) to fit a toilet, bidet, shower, vanity and sink in each trullo.
Not only is the stay at Le Dieci Porte an historical delight, the breakfast here is also amazing. You’ve got the best of both foodie worlds combining each morning you stay here with Stella being Italian and Christophe being French.
It’s a breakfast/prima colazione/petit déjeuner to remember.
Our next stop is to the historic town of Ostuni, further south on the east coast of the Italian heel.
There’s a longer shot of this place in the title pic, but even from this photo you can see why they call this the White City. Every year, they whitewash every wall and step.
It gives a very Greek feel to the place, which isn’t so far wrong. Greek tribes, including the Spartans, settled in this area a long time ago and the vestiges of their culture lives within the walls of many parts of southeastern Puglia.
Our next stop – and where we’ll be for a few nights – is the much bigger town of Lecce. This town is very much the capital of southern Puglia and it feels quite strange to be in a place that has so much more of a city feel to it.
As night draws in, bars begin opening and the al fresco tables and chairs grow into the street. The feeling of busyness here has an odd effect on Mrs Romance and myself; it’s somehow accelerated us and slowed us down at the same time.
Lecce is most famous for its Baroque architecture. If you ask any southern Italian what they think of when you say Lecce’s name, it’s probably going to be this architectural period.
The grandeur of the city and its crumbling façades and plaster rendering takes us right back to Cuba. There’s very much a feeling of a modernised Havana about this city… I mean, there’s even a MacDonald’s here!
In spite of all the history, beautiful architecture and culture to be had in Lecce, our favourite find of all here is this place: the Saloon Keeper 1933. However, unlike its name or its look, this beautiful little bar has only been open for about 8 months.
The cocktails here are superb, Giuseppe here has some amazing skills and the bar itself looks like a speakeasy time warp. We’re even getting to sample a couple of Italian gins in two beautifully made martinis.
Today, we’re out exploring the coast around Lecce. Otranto and its harbour beach is a draw card for a lot of Italians each summer and I can see why.
As we look out over the battlements of the old town, which were built in defence of pirates, the glowing blue waters of the Adriatic look very welcoming.
It’s a hot one, but there’s always time for a quick selfie when you’re 50m above the sea in the ancient city of Otranto!
A bit further down the coast is the beach resort town of Laghi Alimini. It’s a bit over-developed for what we’re used to with the free and easy Aussie beaches, but the atmosphere on the beach here is amazing.
Even though it’s mid week and not even the start of the summer proper here, the beach is loaded with families and couples enjoying the sunny weather and clear, warm seawater.
The beach clubs that line a lot of Italy’s shorelines are often expensive and over-populated.
We’re not fans of the clubs, so we’ve popped to a little deli in a little town by the sea, bought a couple of prosciutto and cheese panini and a bottle of beer to share.
That’s the way to do it. Dangle your legs over the cliff and enjoy the Italian dolce vita.
Our AirBnB host in Lecce has put us onto this amazing place. Grotta della Poesia is a bit like the cenoté in Mexico – huge eroded holes in the bedrock where seawater has formed a natural swimming pool.
This area of Italy is famous for its cliff divers. I don’t know if the pros bother with this place, but the idea of jumping off a high cliff into water is obviously contagious.
Mrs Romance and I spend about an hour here photographing and videoing the locals leaping off into the water. It’s incredible and a lot of fun.
Our next stop is a place called Ciolo, where the waters from the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas begin mingle. The result – along with the soft limestone cliffs – make the water the most incredible clear blue.
Finally, we come to the town of Gallipoli. Don’t get confused with the Turkish coastal town that features so heavily in the Anzac WWI story.
This town was named Gallipoli by the Greeks – as in kalle polis or ‘beautiful city’.
It is indeed beautiful – these ramparts are the walls of the old town, which is set on an island right off the mainland, and is accessible only by bridge. In fact you can see part of the ‘new town’ in the distance, though even that’s got a Baroque feel to it.
The first thing we do once we’ve checked into our hotel in Gallipoli old town is head out for a spritz. We’ve landed a table on the sea side of town at a bar called La Spingula or ‘The Spindle’.
Just across the road from the bar is a little place that makes fishing baskets and craft out of reeds. The tool the craftsmen use is called a spindle.
And here I am – across the road from La Spingula with our new friends Antonio, Luigi and Giovanni. We’re watching England play Germany in the under 21s quarter final. It’s not looking good.
Antonio, Luigi and Giovanni on the other hand aren’t doing too badly at all. Only Luigi is under 80… and he’s 79! Weaving fish baskets must be good for you!
Not to be outdone, Mrs Romance has found her own basket weaver. We didn’t catch this fella’s name, but he’s quite excellent.
Mrs R is having a go at weaving herself, though the spindle she’s got seems to take on a life of its own when he’s using it.
We love how friendly the locals are here in Gallipoli even though this place gets hammered every August with tourists. Perhaps because we’re here before the silly season, everyone’s in a better frame of mind.
Gallipoli’s city beach is really very pretty. It’s actually quite lovely to see people still living a normal life within these ancient city walls that have undoubtedly seen so much.
The water in this area still keeps taking us by surprise too. Its brightness and warmth are certainly reflected in its citizens.
Today we’ve continued our way round to southernmost tip of the heel of Italy on our way to our last stop before we leave. We’ve made a lunchtime pit stop at the little town of Torre Vado.
This local gem – Antichi Sapori, which means ‘ancient flavours’ – is amazing. It’s a quiet weekday afternoon, so only us and a couple of locals are here, but even at peak times, I can’t imagine anyone but locals coming by here.
And that’s the charm of Italy. You don’t have to go far from the main road before you’re immersed in the kind of everyday life travellers yearn for. It’s here in Italy in abundance.
And the best thing: if you’re polite, the locals really don’t mind sharing what they’ve got.
Our final stop in Italy before we move on to pastures Scandinavian is in a little country retreat set in the middle of olive orchards about 30 minutes from Brindisi, where we’ll catch our flight out to Sweden.
We’ve popped to a local supermarket and bought way too much food for 2 nights, but the cheese and meats they had there were just too tempting. As for the figs, they’re just growing in the tree outside our front door.
Lunch today – as if we didn’t have enough meat and cheese last night – is the most delicious cheese and ham roll you’ve ever imagined. I mean, look at my face!
Cheese and ham doesn’t really paint the right picture though. In here, Mrs Romance has stuffed delicious prosciutto, rocket, tiny rich tomatoes and – best of all – oozy, creamy burrata. It’s a mix of stringy mozzarella and thick cream. If you haven’t had it before, get some pronto!
I think I’ll need that hammock in a minute after I’ve finished my prosecco!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this IG Edition. We’ll see you soon from another part of Europe next week!
Jim & Christina xx