A Trip to Puglia Is Pure Flavor
By Miranda Plunkett
Specks of rain started to fall as we stood in the curved piazza of Martina Franca and hopes of thin crust pizza at the cool beach club, White Beach, began to fade. Feeling slightly under pressure as the organizer of our house party I chivvied everyone down a side street. The god of lunch spots was with me as an old-fashioned sign, La Porta di San Pietro caught our attention. And there began one of those truly Italian experiences that remain in your memory archives.
After bringing jugs of water and wine to our table the waiter simply said “Lunch?” and realizing there were no menus we simply replied, “Si.” Four courses of one ingredient dishes followed; vegetables, carne crudo, cheese, and giant ravioli. Nothing fancy but each holding pure flavor. We wanted to thank the chef before leaving and were invited into the kitchen where standing alone was a young woman calmly wiping surfaces. The daughter of the owner, Maria confirmed that all the food was made from scratch by her family.
Puglia in Italy’s heel has always played second fiddle to its grander northern cousins. In centuries past locals were taxed according to their homes’ number of windows which explains the windowless, round trulli for which the region is known today. The landscape is not particularly attractive and the coastline rocky but for those looking for an alternative to well-trodden Florence and Umbria Puglia is full of treasures. The city of Lecce is a must for its Baroque architecture, Ostuni, perched on a hill, is worth the climb up to the cathedral and the attractive old fishing port of Monopoli is perfect for a late afternoon stroll, to name but a few.
To experience how smart-set Italians spend their vacation, spend a few nights at Masseria Cimino. Down a dusty track flanked by the inevitable olive trees the buildings do not shout five-star hotel. Its subtle, elegant style however soon becomes evident – olive oil bottles reflecting a golden glow against stone walls, day beds with white linen wafting in the breeze and a charming staff. Evenings are when the hotel comes alive with a set dinner of incredible local dishes which can best be described as simple and robust: an array of seafood, tomatoes, burrata, chickpeas and orecchiette. This is Anthony Bourdain territory.
Daytime is for sightseeing, going to the nearby beaches or golf at the course adjoining the hotel. July and August are very hot and crowded with most hotels requiring a 7-night minimum. Spring and fall are more comfortable. Connecting flights in Rome to Brindisi and Bari are frequent, or there is an efficient train service.
Miranda runs a ravel consultancy business, mlpdestinations.com, and advises clients on all areas of travel — from whom to travel with to preparing outline itineraries.