“With its exuberant architecture, striking castles, picturesque kasbahs and rugged shorelines, Puglia provides a feast for the eyes. Whilst at the table, its earthy cucina povera, nutty olive oils and majestic Salentino wines provide a similar feast for gourmets.”
Arrival in Bari
Transfer to our hotel in Bari.
Evening meal and overnight in Bari.
Trani & Vieste
Before departing from Bari, we take the opportunity to explore the town. We visit the Basilica di San Nicola – one of the first Norman churches built in Southern Italy. It was originally constructed to keep safe the relics of St. Nicholas – who is better known as “Father Christmas” – which had been brought to Bari by some fishermen in the late 11th century. Besides the basilica, there is a handsome Swabian castle and an unspoilt medieval historic centre to detain us.
In the late morning, we depart for Trani, an hour’s ride north of the city. Known as the “Pearl of Puglia”, Trani has a sophisticated feel. After lunch by the picturesque harbour, we spend a couple of hours visiting this alluring town. There is a medieval Jewish quarter and some faded but charming palazzi. However, the most arresting attraction is without doubt, the cathedral. Dramatically set above the seafront, this magnificent 12th century building was built over the site of a previous Byzantine church. Of particular note are the splendid bronze doors (now kept inside for safety) cast by Barisano da Trani – who incidentally also cast the bronze doors of Monreale Cathedral in Sicily.
In the mid-afternoon we continue our journey to Vieste (2 hours).
Evening meal and overnight in Vieste.
The Gargano – Europe’s most ancient forest
After breakfast we make an excursion into the Gargano peninsula and the National Park. Covered by the Foresta Umbra of oak, holm oak and beech, the Gargano is the last refuge of the forest that once covered almost the whole of Europe. Several dozen species of wild orchid grow here and in the autumn it is a gold-mine for mushroom collectors. There is a small museum and an opportunity to stroll through the forest to visit the lake, or just enjoy the sound of the singing birds.
In the afternoon we return to Vieste – a handsome town perched on the cliffs above the Ionian sea. For those who are interested, we can take a boat trip to visit some of the fairy-tale grottoes beneath the cliffs. Or alternatively, it is possible to relax on one of the terraces above the sparkling sea, perhaps with a glass of Salentino wine.
Evening meal and overnight in Vieste.
Castel del Monte
Departing from Vieste in the morning we make for the Castel Del Monte high in the Murge (2 hours). This extraordinary building is one of the most iconic castles in the whole of Southern Italy. It was built in the middle of the thirteenth century by the Emperor Frederick II who had inherited the lands from his mother, Constance of Sicily. At an altidue fo 540m, it has a commanding view of much of the coast from Barletta down to Trani and the visit is worth it just for the view alone. But the fortress has some interesting features: built in the form an octagonal prism – unusual in castle design – it has lead some historians to suggest this as an esoteric plan, intermediate between a square (representing the earth) and a circle (representing heaven). Known as the Stupor Mundi – the Wonder of the World, Frederick was a polyglot, a fine mathematician and a keen falconer. There are some fine exhibits illustrating his life inside the castle.
After lunch in Gravina we continue to Altamura, an oasis in the vast plateau of the Murge and one of those pleasant surprises that greet us when we travel. We stay the night in a Masseria – one of the celabrated Pugliese farmhouses, offering fine fare for the traveller.
Evening meal and overnight in Altamura.
With remains dating back to the Paleolithic age and inhabited continuously for around 7000 years, Matera is said to be one of the world’s oldest towns. Grottoes in the Gravina gorge were adapted to become homes, and by the 17th century it had become a prosperous town. By the twentieth century though, more than half of the population were still living in these caves and the city became renowned for being poor and backward. However, Matera has taken huge steps to unbridle itself from its past and in 2019 it was Europe’s capital of culture.
We spend the whole day exploring the Sassi (literally “stones”) – as the ancient part of Matera is now known – visitng ancient basilicas, rock dwellings, underground cisterns and cave churches.
Evening meal and overnight in Altamura
The Trulli of Alberobello and Martina Franca
Departing from Altamura, we head for Alberobello and the land of what has been kindly described as “urban sprawl for gnomes”. This dense mass of 1500 beehive-shaped trulli is quite a sight to behold and it has justifiably put the town of Alberobello firmly on any itinerary. The name trullo (plural trulli) comes from the Greek word τρούλος – or quite simply “cupola” and belies the Greek origin of much of the Salentino peninsula. There is plenty of opportunity here to shop among the trulli houses. or just wander the streets, soak in the atmosphere and take some photos.
In the afternoon, we head of for Martina Franca.
Founded in the 10th century by refugees fleeing the Arab invasion of nearby Taranto, Martina Franca is a confusion of winding alleys, blinding white houses and colourful geraniums, but overall it manages to convey a majestic and grandiloquent air. We spend a free afternoon wandering the narrow lanes and alleyways of the centro storico.
Evening meal and overnight in Martina Franca
Cisternino and Ostuni
We depart Martina Franca for Cisternino – a beautifully unassuming town where one could easily imagine that life has continued unchanged for centuries. As on previous days, there is a chance to wander the kasbah and explore the alleyways, or else just sit in the town square with a coffee and observe the passing of life.
In the late morning we relocate to Ostuni – once the Ancient Greek Αστυνεον (Astyneon) – which marks the end of the Valle d’Itria and the beginning of the hot, dry Salento region. Surrounded by olive groves, Ostuni is the place to try some of the region’s DOC “Collina di Brindisi” olive oil straight from the producers.
After lunch, we continue down to the Manduria region near the Ionian coast for a visit to a winery and to taste the Primitivo wine.
Evening meal and overnight in Lecce.
Justifiably referred to as “the Florence of the South”, Lecce is a pure gem. With at least 40 churches and as many palazzi, the historic centre of Lecce is almost entirely pedestrian, meaning that exploring it is an utter pleasure. Built almost entirely in barocco leccese (Lecce baroque) style, the city boasts some world-class monuments: the Basilica Santa Croce, the cathedral and some splendid palazzi.
We spend the whole day in the city – with a walking tour in the morning, and in the afternoon discovering some of the arts and crafts that have made Lecce famous- for exmple the papier-mache statues, the stone carving and the Tarantella dance.
Evening meal and overnight in Lecce.
On our final day, we depart Lecce for Polignano, two hours drive towards Bari. Arriving towards lunchtime, we enjoy a pleasant lunch before checking in to the hotel.
The afternoon is largely free time, enjoying this gorgeous cliff-top location. There is plenty to see: churches, winding streets and shops. What better way to end this magnificent Puglian journey?
Dinner and overnight in Polignano.
After breakfast, we depart the hotel for Bari airport, whence we say our farewells and depart.