Friday, August 23, 2013
After seven weeks, 5,000 kilometres and three countries, the summer road trip is almost at an end. Hard to choose just one highlight when there were so many....surfing on Cote des Basques, tapas in San Sebastian, aperos in Siena's Piazza del Campo, tasting great reds in Montepulciano and discovering the beautiful and virtually unknown Promontorio del Gargano on the east coast of Italy.
However, Puglia deserves a special mention, not least because the villa we rented, above, was in the most idyllic spot and perfect for exploring the surrounding towns and villages on the days when you could bear to tear yourself away from the pool terrace. Locorotondo, with its whitewashed houses, flower festooned balconies, pretty narrow streets and great fruit and veg shops (everything seemed to be €1 a kilo) was a favourite, along with the baroque splendour of Martina Franca and Torre Guaceto, a nature reserve with one of the best beaches on the coastline.
The deep south is known for la cucina povera, or poor man's food, but the food here is among the best I have eaten anywhere. Order antipasti and an abundance of courgette fritters, fresh creamy burrata, sheeps cheese, proscuitto, griddled aubergines and potato balls will weigh down the table and make you weep at the thought of finishing the next course. How anyone does primi piatti, secondi and dolce after that is a mystery to me.
If you make it to Puglia, you must not miss Matera, below, in neighbouring Basilicata. Founded by the Romans in the third century BC, it has become famous for its Sassi, troglodyte cave dwellings which are reputed to be among the first human settlements in Italy. Incredibly, these cave dwellings dug into the rock were inhabited until the mid 1960s, when a public outcry at the base living conditions led to inhabitants being rehoused just outside the city walls.
Oi Mari was set in a restored cave and offered fantastic pizzas, primi piatti pastas including an amazing wild mushroom ravioli and wines by the (huge) glass as well as great service.
If you need any more convincing that Puglia is where it's at (and I hesitate to keep ramming this point home as I don't really want anyone to know how lovely it is, so please don't go there) then it has to be the fact that after catching sight of the villa we were renting online last winter, the two 18 year olds chose to come on holiday with their parents over heading to Malia/Shagalluf/Ayia Napa with their friends. There can be no higher accolade than that.