Flying over the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic sea on one side and Ionian on the other, Puglia immediately strikes you as utterly different from the rest of Italy.
Far removed from the gentle hills of Tuscany, the flatter countryside of Italy’s heel stretches out before you, covered in puffs of green – endless groves of ancient twisted olive trees, as old as the hills, scattered with white houses, which lead to the beaches and blue sea.
In the fertile hills of Valle d’Itria, round ‘trulli’ houses pepper the countryside, with their conicle stone roofs and pinnacles. It is here that the pretty hills towns of Alberobello, Locorotondo, Cisternino and Ostuni rise out of the flat valleys below, reminiscent of Greece, with their white stone buildings and cobbled streets, dramatic by day but lit up at night, they seem almost magical.
Further south in Salento is the cultured ‘Florence of the South’ – the historic town of Lecce with its warm sandstone baroque churches and coastal Otranto with its mosaic floored cathedral and castle.
The proud ‘Pugliese’ people describe themselves as ‘nearly in Africa’, not only a reference to the hot summers and southerly location, but also to their Moorish past and strong traditions. Italian musicians perform in some of the most beautiful settings in Puglia throughout the summer months, at coastal towns and village piazzas.
Even the smallest villages sprout ‘feste di paese (village festivals), attracting the residents to dance the ‘pizzica tarantata’ to the ancient rythms of the haunting tarantella music.
Nearby seafood restaurants are plentiful, but for many it is the informal coastal cafes which hold more appeal, where a plate of fresh sea urchins and local wine after a refreshing dip in the sea is just part of daily life.