In recent years, Puglia has been frequented by Hollywood celebrities (the location of Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake’s destination wedding) and fashion royalty (the hometown of bigwigs like Anna dello Russo and Ricardo Tisci) but it has retained the kind of authentic, untainted southern Italian charm that is impossible to replicate. The landscape is strikingly beautiful, from the rugged terrain scattered with vivid wild flowers to miles of clear blue expanse and rolling hills for as far as the eye can see.
From spending the days like sun-worshipping lizards to exploring the towns, there is something for any and every kind of traveller. It is incredibly difficult and not to mention extortionately expensive to get around without renting a car (whoever said that Malaysians are crazy drivers has not driven on country roads in Italy) but the magical, timeless beauty of this region has to be experienced for the mind, body, stomach and soul.
Where to Stay
Masseria Torre Coccaro in Savelletri, a family-friendly converted 16th century farmhouse set within acres of olive groves with all the amenities expected of a five-star hotel. The concierge is incredibly attentive and and the breakfast worth waking up an hour early for. The hotel’s private beach club is considered one of the best in Puglia and no visit is complete without a trip to the spa, set in an underground cave and perfect for seeking refuge from the scorching sun.
Look out for the opening of Masseria Fontana di Vite set atop a hill in Matera, the ideal base from which to explore a region declared as the European Capital of Culture for 2019. The hotel has been lovingly restored by the Lorusso-Bolettieri family, who have owned the property since the early 1900’s and will be welcoming guests in September 2016.
What to See
Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is famous for its unique Trulli buildings – the effect of the 1500 whitewashed conical ‘huts’ dotted along the narrow cobbled streets resembles the Shire from the Lord of The Rings. Basilica di San Martino in Martina Franca is also a recommended cultural pit stop – the facade and interior both exude Italian Baroque extravagance.
Where to Eat
The grilled octopus and pesto spaghetti at Osteria del Tempo Perso in Ostuni makes every minute of the uphill hike through the city centre worthwhile. Before leaving town, enjoy a candlelit dinner outdoors at Acquasale, where a highlight is the crudo with tangy passionfruit. Visit the quaint seaside town of Polignano e Mare for the sea urchin (scoop up the briney goodness with freshly baked bread) and the giant red prawns from Gallipoli.
The seafood at the restaurants Da Tuccino and Pescaria is exceptionally fresh, with the fried octopus and ricotta panini at the latter being my favourite mouthful of 2016 to date – it is fried, slathered in cheese and enveloped in a cushion of carbs…what more could you want? Don’t be fooled by the touristic exterior of El Super Mago del Gelo – this is gelato in its purest form and is considered a local institution. Get either the Pistachio, Coconut or Hazelnut flavours and be prepared to return for seconds (or third).
What to Buy
Given the region’s natural abundance in clay, the production of ceramic and terracotta pottery has long been established in Puglia. Visit the town of Grottaglie to pick up colourful hand-painted dinnerware and pay homage to Nicola Fasano, who many consider a master in his craft.
When to Go
Puglia enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers. Depending on what you would like to do, it is a place that is pleasant to visit throughout the year.