Postcards from Puglia
This time last week I was in Italy, sipping an Aperol Spritz and gorging myself on carbohydrates. Now I'm sat cross-legged on the sofa, wearing a thick jumper, wrapped in a blanket sipping a peppermint tea. Going away someplace hot at this time of year is odd. A last little glimpse of summer before being bombarded with an onslaught of Autumn, a too-fast jump between two seasons. I'm fully embracing the new season, but can't help wistful reminiscing for last weekend's three days of exploring beautiful old towns and swimming in the sea.
We stayed in the small town of Torre Santa Sabina, a short drive from Brindisi airport and the perfect base for exploring the region. We had booked our apartment (Villa Buenavista) purely because it was close to the sea and near Ostuni, but we couldn't have stayed anywhere better. The villa was split into three floors (the owners live in the basement) and we had the top floor, complete with a wrap-around terrace boasting views of the sea at the bottom of the street. On our first night we stood on the terrace in the dark, watching a distant thunderstorm and listening to the waves crashing against the rocks.
There's not much to see in Torre Santa Sabina in terms of sights, but it's a lovely little town with several beaches to choose from. Our villa was on the south edge of the town, just a couple of minutes walk from a rocky beach where I swam one morning. A word of caution: swim shoes are mandatory here if you don't want to cut your feet to shreds on the jagged rocks on the sea bed. The villa came with bikes, and we spent a slow Sunday exploring the local coastline, heading north to find the best beach in town. A vast expanse of sand backed by dunes, we almost had the beach to ourselves apart from a handful of locals and spent an hour or so just relaxing on the sand.
Our first full day in Puglia, we visited Ostuni. This enchanting white town was the reason I'd been so keen to visit the region, and I wasn't disappointed. We drove for just 15 minutes down roads flanked by ancient olive groves (either hire a car or find a driver, public transport is non-existent here) to reach the town, perched on a hill overlooking miles of olive trees in every direction. I had heard how easy it was to get lost in Ostuni's old town but as we wandered around the maze of tiny streets, we somehow always found our way back to a corner that we recognised. It reminded me of Alfama in Lisbon as we climbed steep stone staircases, slipped on cobbled pavements and admired the abundance of greenery outside each home.
We ate constantly throughout the day, starting off with mussels and swordfish in a vibrant square and finishing with a seafood tasting menu at Porta Nova, one of the best restaurants in town (if only for the incredible views at sunset). Throughout the afternoon we indulged in gelato and every bar we stopped at thrust olives, bread and nuts at us, meaning that we could have rolled back to the coast that evening. I honestly don't think I've ever eaten so much (delicious!) food on a holiday!
One of the highlights of our day in Ostuni was meeting Giuseppe, a local man who has been hand-carving wooden utensils in his workshop for over forty years. I love meeting local people when I'm travelling - there's no better way to get a true sense of a new place than talking to someone who lives there. Giuseppe didn't speak a word of English and we don't know any Italian, but he talked us through his processes and we bought an incredibly well-crafted wooden spoon from him with lots of gesturing involved.
We found Giuseppe's workshop on Via B. Continelli. Look out for an unassuming glass doorway on the winding white street with a piece of paper on the glass reading 'La Cucchiara Artigianali'.
Our last day in Puglia, we arranged for the driver we'd discovered (I hesitate at saying a 'taxi' as Paulo, our driver was more of a tour guide, telling us about the history of the towns we passed and suggesting the best places to eat) to take us to Polignano a Mare, a 45 minute drive north from where we were staying. I'd seen photographs of the famous beach and of the Red Bull cliff diving competition here, but had originally thought it was too far away to visit on such a short trip. However, this was a highlight of the holiday and I'm so glad that we made the journey!
After indulging in the best foccacia I've ever tasted at Fcazz e Birr and the best gelato I've ever tasted from the ice cream parlour on the square opposite, we wandered down the steep staircase under the bridge to reach the beach. If you're visiting in the height of summer, I imagine the photo below is quite misleading but at the end of September it was pleasantly quite with barely any other people, although it did fill up slightly later in the day. We spent several hours here, soaking up the last of the summer sun and swimming in the warm, crystal-clear sea. I could easily have spent the entire day in the water, but the old town on the cliff above beckoned.
Akin to Ostuni, Polignano's old town is a rabbit warren of maze-like streets, perfect for aimless wandering. We spent the afternoon seeking out terraces to admire the views of the Adriatic Sea, falling in love with decaying buildings and sipping aperol in the sunshine. For our last meal in Italy, we ate delicious pizza (I opted for a white pizza with goats cheese, walnuts and pear) at Bella Mbriana, indulging in a a spot of people watching as we ate.
Puglia, I'll definitely be back. Hopefully for a longer trip when we have more chance to explore the area. Bellissimo Italia!
All photos my own.