Puglia

By | Category: Travel destinations
bari's Pillar of Shame

the Pillar of Shame in Bari

Puglia, the region covering the stiletto heel of Italy,  has a lot to see but rather than just jumping in a car it is an area where it is worth researching what you want to see as there are so many little pockets of interest.

The region is surrounded by water on one side the Adriatic, and on the other the Ionian Sea. A lot of the coastline is rocky and although the sea is a beautiful greenie blue colour, the southern area on the Ionian coastline is where the sandy beaches of the film are to be found.

In days gone by Bari, on the Adriatic coast played a significant role as a stop off point on the crusaders’ route.  Occupied by the Normans, Romans, Greeks and Spanish all the different cultures have had an influence on the city’s architecture. Now a cruise destination, it has an international airport, and is also a university town.

Originally a walled city, the streets of the old town have distinctive paving stones and narrow winding streets. At night, the Piazza Mercantile buzzes with people. In a corner of the square the Pillar of Shame, where debtors and miscreants had to sit, still stands as a reminder of how people were once punished. Catholicism is still important in Southern Italy not only from a religious perspective but also for the artefacts found in its churches. Twenty-nine in this small area of Bari include the Basilica, consecrated by the Pope, of St. Nicholas who bones are entombed in the crypt making it a place of pilgrimage for Russians. A packed service was taking place during our visit.

orecchiette pasta making

making orecchiette in the Arco Basso in Bari

Eating pasta is very much a part of the Italian experience. Orecchiette ‘little ears’ is a speciality of the area and in the alleyway of Arco Basso, the street of pasta, ladies sit in their homes making, and selling them to passers-by. Tasting the local focaccia, a form of bread, is also a must. In this part of Italy it is made with fresh tomatoes, black olives, and oregano, and if you arrive at the right time, is served warm out of the oven. Panificio Fiore, a bakery in what was a former church, was recommended as making the best in the area. For a spot of retail therapy, in the new town, parallel to the harbour there are two wide pedestrianised streets, Via Sparona and Via Argiro. Designer name shops can be found next to the more popular, well-known brands.

Out of the city centre, olive trees are everywhere. I was told that there are about 65 million in Puglia with olive oil one of the region’s main industries.

Limestone is all around the area, and white stone buildings can be seen everywhere. Bitonto, a city that was once surrounded by walls still has a magnificent gate, Porte Barsani leading into the main square. Facing it, the Sylos Calo palace has an ornate loggia. Within the building, which is Puglia’s National Gallery of Paintings, works are mainly by local artists, and date from the 15th century until the present day.

Bitonto - Porte Barsani

Porte Barsani in Bitonto

The collection includes paintings by Velasquez and Delacroix. The cathedral dating back to the 12th/13th century is used as a reference for people studying the Romanesque period. The sculpture on the building is very intricate and detailed. At the time when it was built, services were held in Latin. As many people couldn’t understand the language, images were carved onto the church depicting scenes from the bible. A must see is the recently discovered church from the 5th century, in the crypt of the cathedral. A painted, mosaic floor is still intact. Items also found, and on display include pottery, jewellery, and coins.

At Polignano, a village built on the rocks we took a rickshaw bicycle ride. This mode of transport seems to be very popular in Puglia (I saw it again in Bari) although walking through its winding, narrow streets seemed more fun. Here, cut into the rocks I visited a hotel with a restaurant the Grotta Palazese, carved into the rocks, overlooking the sea. Because of its position, the outdoor restaurant, there is an indoor one too, is only open from the beginning of May until the end of October. At the back of the restaurant, there is a space where I was able to look down into a cave and see the water lapping against the rocks.

Further along the coast, we joined a 21 metre wooden Turkish gullet for a boat ride sailing along the coastline. Sadly, in November the weather wasn’t hot enough for us to enjoy a swim in the sea but during the summer this is an option. The Yasemin Sultan has four en-suite double cabins for anyone who wanted a more leisurely, private cruise.

Alberobello

the conical houses of Alberobello

Not to be missed is a visit to Alberobello in the Itria Valley. An UNESCO World Heritage site, there are 1,400 trulli, conical-shaped stone houses, some of which have been converted into places to stay.

Spread throughout the region and particularly from August to November, visitors can stay or visit educational farms, known as masseria. Great fun for children is the opportunity to earn how to milk sheep and be involved in the harvesting of local products such as wheat, almonds and olives.

Feasts are very popular in the region and various celebrations are held throughout the year. Some are related to a patron saint while others are linked to pagan rituals.

Worth noting that the Italians eat their main meal at lunchtime, and then have a siesta, so the majority of places, except restaurants, are closed between 1pm and 4pm.

The Heathrow Express is a quick, 15 minutes, easy way of getting to the airport from Paddington Station. A cheaper but longer way is by taking the Piccadilly tube.

For more information about Puglia, click here.

 

 

 

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