Had you heard of Puglia before this post? To start with, it’s an unusual word (well to us English lot anyway). In fact, in English it is also known as Apulia which to be honest, made it even more confusing for me. I dreaded having to tell anyone where I was going as I had no clue on how I should pronounce it. “Where are you going then?” they’d ask. “Oh, you know, southern Italy, in Europe. If you imagine the shape of Italy as a boot, it’s the area that would be the heel of that boot.” Luckily for me, they’d still be none the wiser after my geography lesson. To save you the embarrassment, it’s ‘Poo-lee-ya’, and Puglia or Apulia is fine, though for us Brits Puglia seems to be the on-trend name to use.
Frankly despite my (possibly our) ignorance, the chance to discover a ‘new’ destination is pretty inspiring. Boarding my cheap RyanAir flight (£70 return from London) I seemed to be the only English person on the full flight. Once in Puglia, I realised it was a secret gem just waiting to be explored. No hoards of English tourists or tacky tourist traps. Puglia remains authentic, brimming with possibilities and full of natural, stunning landscapes, people and food. Not to mention stunning and unique accommodation choices (try Masseria Cervarolo).
Jump Right In
Adorned with beaches (a greedy 800km of coastline), Puglia enjoys a mixture of sandy beaches (more common in the southern most part) and picture-pretty pebbled ones. Regardless of the shores though, the waters are some of the bluest and clearest I’ve seen in a long time. The shades of vivid turquoise ripple under the sun. Even stood on one of the rocky edges up above one of the many coves you’ll feel the temptation to abandon sanity and jump right in. Perhaps one of the other interesting pulls to this hidden Italian region is that on a clear day you can see Albania from the coastline of the town, Ortanto. It certainly surprised me (despite the insistent clouds).
Art by Nature
A largely flat expanse full of some sixty million (yes, sixty million) olive trees, not to mention the beautiful fig and cherry trees (and the rest), Puglia is a land sculpted by nature. Olive trees that are thousands of years old bend and twist in the most amazing shapes; they can’t seem to decide if they want to lie on the ground or reach up to the sky. I was in my element snapping the arty trees. Not literally snapping them. The Italians are bigger tree lovers than me, so you’ll get a hefty fine for that kind of business.
Paint by Countries
The generous coastline is the reason behind the beautiful scars of past invasions. Lots of Greek and Turkish influences are present as you walk the maze of streets in many of the towns. From the vivid blue doors that ping out from the white-washed homes, or the climbing stairs and photo frame arches covered in bright flowers – you can’t help but notice them. The nearby countries and a mass of history have undoubtedly helped to paint Puglia in a diverse palette of cultures. You have no choice but to oblige and greedily indulge in all that this beautiful region has to offer (see my top recommendations here).
The Poor Man Diet
If you’ve ever wanted glossy hair and glowing skin, the secret lives in Puglia. Cucina povera (peasant cooking) is big in Puglia and tastes a whole lot better than it sounds. Italians know how to feast and every meal is turned into a social occasion, with plate upon plate stacked full of fresh, organic salads, cheeses and of course, olive oils (there are seven famous flavours). You’ll thrive on healthy, organic dishes, mostly made from home grown ingredients. Well, that’s if you exclude the delicious panzerotto (fluffy, puffy pizza imitations), taralli (crunch bread rings), and the legendary gelato (try the pistachio, or and the dark chocolate with fresh orange). Don’t forget the tempting limoncello too.
It is worth noting that unlike us Brits, the Italians don’t like to queue. You won’t see them waiting patiently in line. Instead, they all huddle together as near to the front of whatever it is they’re waiting to see. Rather than chaotic or annoying, it’s somehow sociable and inclusive. However to be quite honest, it’s pretty rare that you’ll see a large queue in Puglia. It’s such a laidback, rustic region of Italy. You’ll probably notice it the most when you’re boarding your flight.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you should be prepared to be enamoured by the handsome and beautiful locals. Rugged men somehow manage to pull off that model look despite their peeping grey hairs and faces of stubble. Curly haired women running errands ooze chic sex appeal in their black ensembles and heels. Even the farm workers and adorable pasta-making ladies tell a story of beauty, their deep wrinkled faces etched in the effects of ‘the good life’.
Make the effort to speak Italian and the locals will love you, showering you in dramatic hand gestures of praise and big, wide grins. As Puglia is largely undiscovered by the English, you’ll need to learn a little to get by in some of the villages.
A Present Waiting to be Unwrapped
Puglia is such an amazing destination, full of amazing towns and villages (recommendations and pictures coming soon). It really has something for everyone. I can’t believe it hasn’t been crowded by tourists (other than the Italians). It’s a beautiful present waiting for you to unwrap it, so grab hold of that shiny bow and get stuck in. I’ll be visiting again for sure, so I’ll see you there. X