Puglia opens up slowly… Long forgotten and not until recently a popular tourist destination, this land in the “heel” of Italy’s map was left alone to get on with the simple things in life, the land and the sea. But what a land! One of sapphire blue sea and deep dusty green ground, filled with olive groves and vineyards, the simple life that is definitely very tasty.
It is easy to draw parallels between the white washed hill towns of Puglia’s Valle d’Itria to those of okra coloured fortresses in Tuscany. It won’t take long to take in that the land itself defines the differences more than the similarities. From two lands that live off the earth and farming, both produce excellent wines, and olive oils they at the same time live quite different lifestyles. Tuscany is noble, historical, and refined. Puglia is attractive yet unassuming, quiet yet unreserved, very much a land of contrasts. From the sharp white of the towns to the deep colours of its nature, there are even sharp contrasts with the grandness in the architecture, at once severe in its simplicity yet ornate with its casual flounces of baroque details scattered here and there, on a doorway, or an arch. It makes the traveller feel like they have discovered a secret when they round a non descriptive corner only to find a normal everyday house with the most ornate decor around its doorway. Its as if it quietly screams for no attention. Indeed these little towns in Puglia are a Baroque lovers dream. Some excellent examples of the most decorative and ornate worked baroque designs can be found in Puglia due to the type of local stone which allows for more intricate carving without crumbling. Churches are grand, many buildings gush cake frosting type decorating all the way down to their violin curvy style iron balconies. Yet turn the corner and things are much more restraint, and even with the glamour on the piazza, life is simple, muted. Its peaceful. This is farmland and life is uncomplicated.
Baroque details in Ostuni
Ostuni The White City, is one of the larger towns in the area has that swagger of having a bit more sophistication than you would expect. And that too is surprising about Puglia, and especially in Ostuni, this extra bit of flair, or trendiness. Small bars have colourful modern chairs in bright colors, the lounge bar feel spills out like a small puddle onto the street next to a traditional caffe with old men reading the local paper. Not going over the top, but showing that little bit of leg to entice and promise a bit more excitement while not drawing too much attention. And that is Ostuni, a bit of flair among the normalcy of what has been there for hundreds of years.
The focal point of the White City is its tiara shaped Duomo at the very top of town. It sits happily in an oasis of a piazza with a grand archway. Around the corner is a landing that offers astonishing views to the surrounding landscape. For as far as you can see it is olive groves, and in the far distance the glistening sea. The white washed winding streets are attractive with their flower pots and the occasional cactus. The winding road down has some tourists shops next to local artists selling their pastoral paintings. If it wasn’t made locally they aren’t selling it which is a refreshing change. There is nothing left to do but enjoy.
Martina Franca There is something grand and operatic about the small town of Martina Franca. Beginning with the commanding baroque archway that leads to the main piazza, to the curvaceousness of the buildings, the streets, the balconies… Even one of the main piazza areas is curved. Such commanding presence it screams drama. The best way to see and enjoy is to get lost in the streets, eash one of them prettier than the last.
Alberobello Of all the towns in the Valle, Alberobello is the most unique. While it has an old town part similar to other towns in the region, it also possesses the magical Truli village, a fairy tale style community of pointed topped houses reminiscent of The Hobbit. Indeed it is said that perhaps Tolkein, author of the Hobbit drew inspiration from these whimsical houses. While now a days walking through the trulli is very much like walking through Disneyland with many houses selling typical tourist plastic, it is still an enchanting place and like no other.
Cisternino Charming, petite, and laid back Cisternino offers an authentic look into everyday life in Puglia. In the centre of the Valle it offers stunning views to the surrounding land but really here is all about the locals and a typical life. Wander through the quiet streets and perhaps stop for lunch as Cisternino is known for its meat. That and a good Puglia red wine and you will be living like a local.
Locorotondo The pretty hill town of Locorotondo sits like a shiny white crown a top its mount looking down to sprawling groves below. Less grand than Martina Franca and Ostuni, yet just as attractive and perhaps the most charming of all the towns. Its a perfect place to inspire artistic desire as every street is its own painting or photograph, with picturesque houses and small street cafes surrounded by flowers. Harmonious in its appeal that sums up the feel of its surroundings, of Puglia.