It’s that time of year again when everyone starts reading all the travel articles in the various Sunday papers, hoping they’ll be inspired by some report of an idyllic island paradise that has just recently been discovered and which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Chance would be a fine thing! The reality is that if you want somewhere idyllic that isn’t overrun by hordes of other tourists just like you, then unfortunately, you’re just going to have to pay for it. Privacy, exclusivity and rarity all come at a price — whether that price be paid on land or afloat. Travel products — whether they be cruise ships, resort hotels or even the destinations themselves — are all prey to the economic law and supply and demand so if you want to find somewhere quiet but which also ticks most of the other boxes then you’ll either have to pay through the nose for it; go there out of season or perhaps even get ahead of the curve and visit somewhere that hasn’t been ‘discovered’ by mass tourism.
Puglia is such a place and although it is very popular with Italians themselves, has yet to enjoy the same profile as somewhere like Tuscany. Puglia is to Italy as Connemara is to Ireland. It is authentic, steeped in history and boasts some of the finest beaches and cuisine that you’ll find anywhere in Italy — or indeed the world!
Getting there is now relatively easy and inexpensive as Ryanair operate a direct service to Bari which is one of the gateway cities to the region (the other being Brindisi). A word of warning though: Italy and in particular, southern Italy is not like the Spanish Costas or even the Portuguese Algarve with it’s self-contained beach resorts. Regions like Puglia are less dominated by such monuments to mass tourism and are much the better for it. The downside is that unless you are prepared to hire a car, getting around could be a bit of a problem as the regional rail network is limited and many of the locals do not speak English so utilising public transport such as busses can represent a bit of a challenge. It is however a challenge that will be richly rewarded when you visit places such as Lecce — ‘the Florence of the South’, Otranto, Monopoli, Polignano a Mare or the regional jewel in the crown that is Alberobello, the epicentre of the unique ‘Trulli’, a conical-roofed dwelling that just oozes character and for which Puglia is justly world renowned.
It is the food though that really defines Puglia and puts nit into another league altogether. 1,000-year-old olive trees, organically grown vegetables and a rich maritime tradition all combine to produce memorable meals at even the most unassuming of family-run restaurants. Puglia is perfect for anyone who: loves their food; loves exploring; is interested in history, culture and architecture. It therefore appeals to couples and those who like to move around rather than necessarily base themselves in the one spot all the time although there are plenty of exclusive hotels and mazzerias (up-market, converted farmhouses) where you can do precisely that.
So, if the above describes you then look no further as you’ve just found what you’ve been looking for!