CISTERNINO, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to spend in Puglia, southern Italy? Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors to get the most from a short visit.
Puglia is going to be the new Tuscany. Or maybe the new Umbria. Anyway, the not so well known bit around the heel of the Italian boot has always been popular with Italians going on holiday but hasn’t been overrun by foreign tourists yet.
The best places to stay are trulli — ancient stone farm buildings with conical roofs refurbished as holiday homes. Ours was a three-pointer near the town of Cisternino, standing in an olive grove with fig trees outside the door.
6 p.m. Campari and soda on the terrace of the trullo, watching smoke from a bonfire across the valley drifting upwards above a line of beehives.
8 p.m. Drive into Cisternino for dinner at the Osteria Sant Anna down by the station, on via Stazione, in fact. The mixed antipasti is pretty much all you need, but the roast meat is a good follow-up if you’re still hungry. The main part of the restaurant is in a hushed and elegant vault-like room, a cathedral of gastronomy. Next door they serve pizza and you can watch football on a big screen.
9 a.m. Drive to Grottiglie to look at the pottery workshops. Great stuff here to suit all tastes and it’s not too expensive. The wacky-looking pottery sheep in the ceramics museum will make the grumpiest visitor smile. We bought a celadon bowl and a cream jug for 30 euros ($38.55) from Nicola Fasano on via Caravaggio, who also supplies big shops in London and other capitals. It cost rather less here.
1 p.m. Head for Matera, a town of caves and narrow alleyways dramatically located around a great gorge. It’s actually in neighbouring Basilicata, but it’s worth the trip. Many of the caves were in continuous habitation for hundreds of years until the government concluded in the 1950s that the overcrowded and often windowless dwellings were decidedly unhealthy. People were moved out to modern apartment buildings and some of the caves have become smart hotels and restaurants. Try the spectacular sausages at the Taverna La Focagna on via Ridola.
5 p.m. Lecce, southern Italy’s exuberantly Baroque answer to Florence. It isn’t a match for Florence, of course, but it’s still pretty fabulous. The local stone is soft and easy to carve, encouraging flights of fancy from the masons.
8 p.m. Eat at Il Giardino on via Battisti just outside the old town for beautifully presented local dishes with a bit of a modern twist and afterwards stroll into the centro storico (historic center) for an ice-cream at the Gelateria Natale on the via Trinchese.
9:30 p.m. In the courtyard of the nearby Monastero dei Celestini, we found a symphony orchestra giving a concert of movie sound tracks to a packed audience. The finale? The Godfather, of course.
9 a.m. More trulli. The town of Alberobello is composed of hundreds of the conical, and comical, dwellings. It looks like something out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Try and get there early, before the tour buses. The place looks better without hordes of visitors. In a deserted street it’s easy to imagine that a little hobbit might emerge from one of the tiny houses.
12 p.m. There’s a buzzing restaurant in the seaside town of Santa Maria al Bagno called La Pergola. The decor is for some reason Egyptian-themed but the menu is Italian and the fish is pretty good.
2 p.m. After lunch, head down the coast to nearby Gallipoli, described locally as a miniature Naples. It’s a fishing port with a beautiful centro storico. Worth a look are the old underground olive oil works carved out of solid rock. Close by is the nunnery where you can see the rotating hatch used by local mothers to deposit babies they could not afford to bring up.
6 p.m. Cisternino has several restaurants attached to butcher’s shops, where you can choose a piece of meat and they will grill it for you on the spot. We also liked La Bella Italia on via Duca D’Aosta, where again they do a spectacular mixed antipasto and delicious local sausages.
Editing by Paul Casciato