Everything from the food to the accommodation and local crafts in Puglia are lower in price than its northern neighbours. At the same time, the experiences found in this sunny part of the country are singularly unique. The best way to explore is by self-drive, because the endless rows of olive tree groves, and the glittering sea greeting you after the bend of a road, are sights to behold.
1. Castel del Monte
Lording over the surrounding countryside on its own hill, Castel del Monte is a compulsory stop on any road trip. The aerial view of the castle will reveal its main building in the shape of a perfect octagon, with an eight-sided internal courtyard, and an octagonal tower at each corner. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was commissioned by the emperor Frederick II in the 13th century. Few foreigners know about this national treasure, and even fewer know the significance behind this mystical structure.
2. Sandy beaches
Most of Italy’s coastline is rocky. In Puglia though, it’s interspersed with fine, sandy beaches lapped by the clearest water. Head to the beach clubs, known locally as ‘lido’, where you can rent a pair of sun loungers for a day. Something a bit more upscale is Le Cinque Vele, 20 minutes from the town of Leuca – the southernmost point of the Italian peninsula – which has dedicated parking, a restaurant, cabanas and changing facilities.
3. Unique hospitality
Book a stay at a masseria, which are scattered throughout the region, and use it as a base to explore its nooks and crannies. These gentrified farmhouses, or former country holiday homes for nobility, are typically fortified against attacks by pirates or the Turks in the past. Masseria La Gresca (below) sits 10 minutes from the nearest beach in the town of Castro. Its spacious, well-manicured grounds contain an olive grove and are bordered by eight rooms and suites done up in a rustic-luxury style.
4. The seafood
Most of Italy is synonymous with fresh seafood and Puglia is no different. You cannot go wrong with grilled squid on any menu, particularly at Le Quattro Spezierie Roof Garden (below) atop the Risorgimento Resort in Lecce. Another unmissable dish is the king prawns baked in sea salt and olive oil at La Puritate (Via Sant’Elia 18, tel: 39 083 326 4205) in Gallipoli. And then there is the day’s catch of fish, typically on proud display at the front of a restaurant. La Dispensa Dei Raccomandati (Via Rosario 14, tel: 39 393 906 2718) in Nardo serves theirs lightly grilled, best paired with a sprinkle of lemon to complement the taste of the ocean.
5. Small towns, big architecture
Dotted throughout the region are historical small towns, many of which stand proudly on the coastlines fronting the Adriatic and Ionian seas on the east and west respectively. Must-visits include the quaint Alberobello (below), with its collection of conical roof buildings dating back to the 16th century; the grandiose Lecce, with its extensive collection of Baroque architecture; the imposing Otranto, with its defensive stronghold Aragonese Castle; and picturesque Gallipoli, with its magnificent Sant’Agata Cathedral.
– TEXT BY LOW SHI PING
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This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.