Puglia, or Apulia as it is called in English, is Italy’s boot heel. Gateway to and from the East, it has been conquered by legions of foreign rulers, most of whom were careful to live elsewhere.
The notable exception was Frederick II (1194-1250), the last Emperor of the Hohenstaufen line. An enlightened man, he built many castles which still grace the region, along with acres and acres of vineyards and olive groves. Apulia produces one-tenth of the wine drunk in Europe; its olive oil is renowned. Traditionally both of these commodities were mainly used to dilute their finer counterparts up north, but lately the local food artisans have begun creating some first-rate oils and vintages that are available throughout the region. They perfectly complement the super-fresh seafood and vegetables that are the staples of la tavola pugliese.
If you have already toured the northern part of Italy and are looking for something equally fascinating, completely different and much less crowded, this is a wonderful area to consider. It offers at least one excellent archaeological museum, a host of cathedrals dating back to the 10th century, several Greek and Roman ruins, lively fishing villages, one of Europe’s largest forests, a chain of medieval hill towns and some of the very cleanest beaches and water in the Mediterranean. It also has its own subspecies of architecture, called barocco leccese. Characterized by extremely ornate carvings that cover the entire surface of churches and palazzi, its apex is reached in the delightful little city of Lecce.
There is one other attraction that you will see only in Apulia – i trulli.
Whitewashed cones made of stones held together without mortar, they are visible in almost every wheat field and olive grove, where they serve as miniature barns. But they are at their most picturesque when clustered together to form a town. This is Alberobello, a wonderful site you will never forget.
A great way to see this region is by car. Traveling along narrow roads lined with ancient stone walls, you’ll come upon dozens of wonderful hill towns, a few spectacular valleys and one of Europe’s most beautiful coastlines.
Each year Apulia is visited by a staggering array of exotic birds. Hundreds of animal species live in its protected woodlands. In springtime the valleys are blanketed with colourful wildflowers. Nature is one of Apulia’s leading attractions.
Because it is essentially flat, Apulia is a cyclist’s paradise. Here’s a great itinerary for all athletic abilities.
One of Italy’s loveliest cities is hidden in the south of Apulia, rarely visited by foreign travellers. Lecce, known as Florence of the South, or Florence of Baroque, offers the chance to glimpse ancient history in a dynamic modern context. The old town, Lecce Vecchia, boasts plenty of architectural monuments and palazzi characterised by splendid and magnificent baroque architecture carved in pietra leccese, a local limestone.
The small town has been made a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unusual districts of trulli, the characteristic white-washed conical-roofed houses of the area. It makes an interesting day-trip destination or a pleasant base for a few days – especially if you stay in a trullo of your very own.
A trullo is a small dwelling built from the local limestone, with dry-stone walls and a characteristic conical roof. It is a traditional and simple type of structure which you’ll see dotted around this part of Puglia, sometimes in its most basic form used as a kind of shed among the olive groves.
The most visited part of Alberobello is Rione Monti, a district on a slope facing the modern town centre. It consists of several narrow lanes sloping upwards, with others winding along the hillside, and is extremely picturesque both from afar and close up.
The second trulli district is called Aia Piccola. This is very different to Rione Monti and is less visited by tourists. It is still a residential area, with quiet lanes lined with little inhabited trulli.