Last september was rich in discoveries for Cosmic tomatoes. Ariana was off to explore Andalusia while I was practicing my Italian in the Puglia region, in the south of Italy. I decided share some of culinary discoveries with you or not and give you some tips on getting around and enjoying a nice a 10 day vacation in this region even when you don’t have a car (which was my case).
During my 10 days there I stayed in two cities, Ostuni and Gallipoli which allowed me to discover different aspects of Apulia (or as the locals call it, Puglia). I had planned a lot of things in advance thanks to my lonely planet guid of the region.
Ostuni is a town where the narrow streets and the whitewashed houses guide you to the top of the historic center with breathtaking views of olive groves and the sea. It is a good starting point for visiting the Valley of Itria and why not make a trip to Matera.
It’s been a few years now that I got the habit of taking my vacations in september. It avoids finding yourself in an overflow of tourists and in the heatwave, as the temperatures in Puglia can easily reach 37 ° c. So I discovered Ostuni, almost in its original atmosphere. We stayed in an Airbnb combining traditional and Scandinavian decoration resulting in a really neat place, and if you’re not convinced by my words, maybe this beutiful view of the terrasse will do it!
Small restaurants hide in every corner of the many allyways of the city. You’ll just have to let yourrself be guided by chance, bassing by beuutiful door and plants and you might find an authentic cozy place to try some local food.
Places to eat or to have a drink :
The lovely entrace of the Mamrie rosetta resaurant
Casa San Giacomo
A family restaurant where you can discover the typical flavors of Puglia. The open kitchen and Jazz music gives much charm to this place. The fresh pastas are made by the grandmother of the family in the rstaurant a few tables away from you, so you may wanna try them. I also recommend the antipasti plank of the house which you can share. Mine came with an Eggplant flan, swordfish croquettes, small pepper spread …
Located on one of the great marble squares of the historic center this bar offers cocktails of all kinds. The have different variations of the Spritz, and many combinations with liquor and almond milk which is very common in Puglia. They lso prepare apperitivos that didn’t look bad at all. As for me, I fell for the Mai Tai Salentino (Rhum, lemon, triple sec, almond liqueur).
* Don’t forget to have cash on you at all time because few restaurant accept credit cards.
Monopoli & Polignano a mare
My two favorite cities in Puglia! Monopoli and Polignano a Mare are constructed on cliffs facing the Adriatic sea. As you stroll on the ramparts, you will discover Limestone and whitewashed houses contrasting beautifully with the turquoise water. (PS: Pay attention to the waves breaking on the walls, or you may end up soaked.)
Puglia is a region with many influences. The Turkish and Greek have left their marks to the point that some views really give you the impression of being in another country. Observing the architecture you can see how it changes from bright white in the Itria Valley, to solid colors in Salento. It also feels that way for the food where you can find saffron, almonds and fruit pastes, mixed with common italian ingredients.
Places to eat or to have a drink:
An idealized image of southern italy. Small tables that fit together in a large vaulted room, huge pasta dishes and fish to share on the tables. The waiter and restaurant owner have a lot of humor and you will have a great time in this restaurant. On the walls, you will find portraits of Italian stars eating pasta. It’s reassuring to see even Sophia Loren galleys with spaghetti 3 meters longstruggles with her 3 meter long spagettis. I had some octopus salad as a starter and spaghetti vongole as my main dish.
Now there, my cosmonauts, is really the best focaccia I ever had! Buon Gustaio is a typical grocery sore with Salento products located in Polignano a Mare and held by a large bearded man who joined the comedia del arte haha as a lifestyle. Besides the jars of artichoke paste, ham and cheese panini, he makes amazing focaccias to fill hungry wandering stomaches like mine. After recieving a line of one of a kind reasonings from the grocer we tasted his focaccia filled with bean paste, straciatella, rocket and ham.
The sun was not always there so my pictures are quite different from those we usually see in travel guide books.
Alberobello & Martina Franca
Trulli houses the typical and very ancient structures of Puglia. Very rudimentary, they are shaped like several conical domes, bringing together small rooms, a space to heat and one or two small windows for ventilation. They are found everywhere in the country but Alberobello is where we find the highest concentration of these houses. It is a very touristic town so I must admit that the charm is lost amongst the crowd and locals selling keychains and other derivatives. but if you try to get away a little bit from the main road you will find breathtaking views.
Wandering through the narrow streets of Rione Monti Alberobello I had the chance to taste Carrube. It’s a sort of a dried bean which has flavors close to dates. They are apparently very good for the intestinal transit. Besides that are the chilis, a little more aggressive for the stomach haha, which you can find in any fruits and vegetables market throughout the region.
Puglia is a very dry region so we do not find a lot of fresh vegetables. However canning, pickling and paste all kinds abounds. Besides small chili peppers, there is the prickly pear. You can find them everywhere. They are not only beautiful but tasty too, and a bit tricky to eat. They are surrounded by tiny thorns. So watch for your fingers!
Succulents are everywhere in the cities of puglia. I was so in awe of these balconies covered with flowers, I wanted to photograph everything.
For the second part of my stay in Puglia I headed south to discover the heart of Salento. Gallipoli (Beautiful city in Greek) is a fishing town whose historic center is located at the end of a very long avenue.
Here, the white walls have given way to bright colors and pastels. We find beautiful churches with carved facades and whose doors open on the Ionian Sea. The atmosphere is very different from Ostuni, more festive and younger but each of these cities have their own charm.
Gallipoli gives you access to two beautiful beaches, La Spiaggia della Purità in the historic center and the baia verde, which is 25 minutes walk away. But if you’re going to see a little bit further, I recommend the beaches of Torre Lapillo, towards Porto Cesaero. You will find crystal clear water and nice public beaches. The coastal road that takes you there has breathtaking views, filled with oriental villas and masserias.
I think I’ve spend as much time writing this article than fighting with myself not to inundate you with photos: D
Places to eat or to have a drink:
A large selection of panini that you can compose yourself : bread, meat or fish, cheese, vegetable, sauce … As for me, I chose one of the region’s classics, bread with octopus and caciocavallo cheese. In Alsace it is difficult to eat seafood, so when I go in Brittany or Italy I seized the opportunity to attain my annual quota 🙂
Martinucci is a small chain pastry shop in southern Italy that offers very good selection of sweets so everyone can discover the typical desserts of the region. There is cake with candied fruits, almond cream, watermelon and lemon puffs … Yum!
Once populated with Messapians (ancient populations of Puglia), the city later became an important Hellenistic city of the Great Greece before falling into the hands of the Roman conquerors. They made it a municipium, which means, a city with its own rights, but tied to Rome.
The importance of its harbor made turned this city into a bridge, between Orient and Occident. Otranto would become a Byzantine, a Norman, an Angevin and then Aragonese center. Its cathedral, built between 1080 and 1088 and subsequently amended, is a reflection of of these successive rulers.
The various influences have fed the local culture. In Salento they speak, for example, different dialects combining Greek and Italian.
The typical products of Puglia:
As always in Italy, we eat very well in Puglia. It is a simple cuisine with a lot of fish and seafood. Puglia has also very good cheese. The famous burrata for example, which is a typical product of the area and I can tell you that I’ve took advantage of it! In grocery stores you can buy it in the form of small individual bowls or as straciatellas.
Almonds, saffron and broad bean puree are also very present, allowing a quiet diverse cuisine. And finally there’s the prickly pear that grows like a weed everywhere. It’s beautiful, it’s good, but it stings!
If you can not find what you are looking for in the restaurants we talked about, or if you have a mini budget, there is no problem because you can cook good dishes with the products of small grocery stores in these southern cities.
To live a beautiful experience, do not hesitate to go beyond your first impressions as the beauties of Puglia know how to stay hidden. As for myself, who took the train and the bus a lot, I often landed in industrial and really insignificant places. But a ten minutes walk was sometimes enough to reveal a beautiful historic center in marble. So stay curious;)
*to move around without a car: The Salento Bus company is the most reliable and offers trips suitable to tourists. Trains from the south ferrovie may be convenient but you’ll have to be patient because delays are almost systematic!
Have you ever visited Puglia?