Other places to visit
Will it be Positano? Or Sorrento?
For the last twelve years our guests have visited Positano or Sorrento, just before or after their time with us. Many have gone to Cinque Terre and Venezia too.
A shame, really, as there is so much to see that doesn’t involve lots of travel only to arrive where thousands are disembarking from cruise ships.
There is nothing wrong with the aforementioned places- they were once wonderful places to visit, guilty only of being on the wrong side of too much popularity- but the fact that you’re coming to the Salento makes us think that you’d prefer something a little more genuine, places still very much themselves.
This page will help make some plans.
First and foremost, there is a service that you might have never thought of using in Southern Italy that has really been changing the touristic landscape, and that is Trip Advisor. Don’t be scared of switching your languages on the site either, even with no knowledge of Italian, the stars don’t lie.
And further, don’t assume that because it has English-language review that the place is less authentic. As always, sober travellers cross reference to make smart decisions. And most guide books treat the south as 280 pages on the North and Central, 20 pages on the south. Most of these books are so late to the party that they aren’t worth buying, the big exception being The Lonely Planet guide to Puglia and Basilicata.
What follows is a list of cities that we think you’ll really like. Start with this list and poke around a little bit.
A word of warning: The only city that will present any sort of problem with hordes of tourists is Alberobello (the line of 15 tourist coaches upon arrival speaks volumes). Oddly, if you want to see the city, consider doing the opposite, and stay the night there. It’s in the early morning or late night that the day trippers leave and then souvenir hawkers shut their doors. Otherwise, consider skipping the city completely. Or limit your time investment. It’s one of the very few tourists destinations in Puglia that really is overhyped.
Heading south from Roma.
Napoli. A wonderful city that usually makes a really bad first impression. The old adage is correct: go there for a day and you’ll hate it. A week and you’ll love it, a year and you won’t ever want to leave. Arm yourself with a good guidebook and take on one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Just expect it to scare you a bit at first, then for it to charm you completely.
Avellino– Yes, just for the wine, to the point, some of the best whites in all of Italy. Also, Taurasi. Avellino is a little bit of alpine Switzerland, wedged into Southern Italy. Mountain food and world-class wine to go with it. A nice foil to the beaches and warm weather of the rest of Southern Italy.
Matera. Easily one of the most fascinating places you’ll ever visit. One of the oldest continually inhabited sites on the planet, it’s where honest-to-goodness cave people collided with the 20th century. (When the government finally stepped in and forced the evacuation of the caves, it’s said that many used their modern bathtubs as herb gardens for several generations).
Famously Mel Gibson’s ‘Jerusalem’ in The Passion of The Christ, the city’s caves are now being faithfully renovated into beautiful restaurants, hotels and shops, keeping the spirit while updating the underground dwellings. How successfully this is being done impresses deeply.
Also, rather near the spent volcano that is Vulture, Basilicata (the region) has some of the best wine in all of Italy. Look for vintages at least 5 years old and sample one of the great grape-place marriages, aglianico del vulture.
Il Gargano. The ‘spur’ of the Italian ‘boot’, the Gargano peninsula is a great swath of green and blue, with forests that have never been cut down in the history of the planet. You’ll need a car but for rural life and the presence of the sea, it’s hard to beat. Food and wine wise, you’re officially in Puglia even if the food seems much more Abruzzese (montepulicano, arrostitini, caciocavallo, spaghetti alla chittara, etc). In low season many establishments close outright so keep on eye on open and close dates if visiting in the colder months. Plan on saying, ‘That’s the most beautiful panorama I’ve ever seen several times a day’.
Trani. A gothic cathedral right on the Adriatic, one of the best Slow Food cities in Italy, a place where you can take a great picture of an octopus still dazed from being pulled from the water. In everything but the height of summer, you’ll have the city to yourself and the locals, with tourism barely a trickle. Walk the boardwalk, tuck into startling fresh seafood.
Giovinazzo. A gem. Be certain to book at the former monastery, San Martin. A yellow stone city right on the sea. Check out, it’s Wine o’Clock, my wine mentor’s wine bar. Ask for the bombino for a white, a nero di troia for a local red. The seafood is excellent, eat your fill and then stroll the boardwalk after dinner with seemingly the entire town.
Locorotondo. Literally, the round place, which might just be the best-and truest- name for a city ever. White washed and quaint, the city has thrived as a wine town for centuries (and odd for Southern Italy, Locorotondo is famous for its whites). Fiano minutolo, bianco d’Alessano, verdeca, easy going sippers perfectly inline with a relaxing town.
Martina Franca. A charming town with lots of baroque architecture and a great culture of salumi, unheard of in Southern Puglia. Here, primitivo reigns (named not after for its ‘primitive’ side, but because it’s prima, or the first to ripen come summer). Aside from the beautiful palaces, Martina Franca has a quiet elegance, easily appreciated within minutes.
Ostuni. The white city. A wedding cake of city up on a hill. White-washed and sun-baked, it’s easy to imagine how the city was created to ward of sieges. The Adriatic in the distance, the valley below sprawling with uncountable olive trees, this might just be the first city of the Salento, geographically speaking. Depends who you ask.
Gallipoli. Still, very much a real fishing town, an island attached to a natural cause way. Here you’ll still find men mending their nets along the harbor, tossing small fish to the cats on the dock. Atmospheric and genuine, it’s a great small town to get a sense of the important of the sea here in Puglia.
Otranto. We visit Otranto during all our courses except for our advanced course for returning students, where we go to Castro.