The Puglia region covers the ‘heel’ of Italy and we flew to Brindisi in the southerly part of that region. Our itinerary had us staying in three places and we headed off to Otranto, the most southerly of those when we (finally) landed. I’ll cover all three places in one blog. A shortage of baggage handlers at Manchester meant we were delayed by two hours. We had booked an airport transfer for the hour-long drive (€80) as we knew we would be landing late. This longish drive ensured the rest of our journeys would lead us back north, nearer the airport.
The flights were with Ryanair. We got great a price, but the times were not the most convenient and we arrived at Brindisi at 10.30. I like Ryanair, and we use them a lot, but the cabin service was poor as they had very little stock. They had even less after I’d emptied the trolley. Anyway…
We had booked six nights in Borgo de li Santi, a small complex of about a dozen apartments with a swimming pool. Weighing in at about £120 a night (price varies with the time of year etc) for B&B. Oh God, it was lovely. As it was situated a 10/15-minute walk from the old town and seafront, it is in a quiet spot. The vibe was so mellow we spent a couple of days just relaxing by the pool. I must mention the breakfasts. The hot selection was not the best (almost non-existent) but no fear. The cook was actually a pastry chef. She couldn’t give a toss about bacon and eggs. I do not normally go for the continental sweet stuff for brekky but, my word; cakes, sweeties, pastries, chocolates. Brilliant! I had to have a digestive lie down afterwards. Post breakfast snoozes are so nice.
Otranto is a small medieval, walled town, with a harbour, beaches, and just the ticket for a laid back few days. Within the town walls is the castle with its impressive, formidable ramparts and a delightful cathedral. The old town is a delightful higgledy piggledy collection of little streets and alleyways. No road goes in a straight line, no corner turns quite 90 degrees. The layout is organic, reflecting centuries of making do and adding on. Beautiful.
It is a very Italian town/resort and most visitors are Italian. There are other European nationalities on vacation and a few Brits (usually eccentric ones, for some reason). Otranto is one of those places (again) where the ‘to do list’ involves; dossing about, lying around, reading a book, going for a walk, having a beer, going for a meal, rinse, repeat.
We quite liked a bar called ‘Borderline’ situated at the end of the promenade. Nothing special, but nice views across the bay and harbour. Terrazza San Pietro is an excellent seafood restaurant. €94 for three courses for two, including wine, pretty reasonable. The Primitivo red wine was so good the waiter poured himself a glass and joined me. As we dined this ambient track by Peter Pearson, ‘Fell for You’ came on. It takes me back, magical.
On the beach there are the usual peculiar ‘lidos’ which infest every sandy stretch in Italy. We went to Lido Camillo around lunchtime, €35 for the afternoon, and they took our cash without bursting into laughter. It was a blessing that the lido was fairly empty. The beds were packed in with no thought for personal space. Had it been full, the rising body odours could have formed a smog. Spain organises its beaches better. In fairness, there were nicer beaches in the area, but you would need a car to reach them with ease.
La Bella Idrusa is a very popular restaurant situated by the old town wall at the sea front. You need to book a table in high season as it is very popular. No wonder, with fine pizzas the size of manhole covers and a menu with forgiving prices. Our meal cost €41 for two pizzas, including half a litre of white wine and a bottle of red.
We loved our apartment so much that one evening we just nipped into a supermarket and bought stuff for a picnic on our balcony/sunbathing area. Munching on parma ham, olives and cheeses, slurping nice wine, reading a book, watching the sun go down. Hello.
I am a confessed Italophile and Otranto was just gorgeous. I don’t think I would have been quite so in love with Italy if I had gone in my youth, though I was always a sucker for the Roman classical period. I’ll try to explain why in a mildly pretentious fashion. Just walking about, soaking it up, I feel a real sense of groundedness or connection to history. Spain, has a similar effect on me in Spanish towns like Peratallada and Santillana del Mar, or cities like Seville and Cordoba. Anyway.
After six nights, it was time to bugger off to our next stop. A journey we made via the cutest little train from the sleepiest little station. There was only one train sat waiting and it only went to one place. That was all the station master had to deal with. We asked him what time it was leaving, and he didn’t know, he had to phone a friend. It was like going back to the 1970s, though antiquated rolling stock tells you something about the relative poverty in the south of Italy compared to the north. Incidentally our 90 minute journey cost £6, the same journey in the UK would cost about £30. But we were on our way, and our next stop was…
… is the capital of the region. Renowned for its Baroque architecture, it is known as the Florence of the south. Our accommodation was a five-minute walk from the station and a five-minute walk into the old town. We had an apartment in a reasonably priced B&B called Palazzo Massari. The apartment was fine, with a large balcony/sunbathing area. All the facilities you would expect, my only criticism is that the breakfast was very poor.
It is difficult to blog in an interesting fashion about three days of indolent mooching around, a beer here, an Aperol Spritz there, you know the score. Generally speaking, the prices were very reasonable. On our first evening in town, we had two pizzas, a bottle of red, and a bottle of prosecco for £30; and it was gorgeous. Some places are pricier, so don’t go in ‘em. On reflection, I do prefer to buy drinks at the bar, waiter service is only any good if the waiters are competent. On two occasions I left bars because it took too long for them to take our order. Oddly, these places often have a plethora of staff who run around looking bewildered and stressed.
We bought a pass to visit the places that charge visitors and that was worthwhile. Lecce’s architecture is superb, see the video link below. It gives a flavour. I like a Baroque Church as much as the next Philistine, i.e. the subtleties are wasted on me. But I do like to gawp at stuff. The Church of St Irene was quite fetching and it helped that the choir was rehearsing the hymn in her honour; “Forza, Irene, Irene ta loo ri ay.” I was moved.
We ate at Pizza and Co twice. It is a slightly odd place as it is really a take-away with small tables outside on a busy street. You buy pizza by the slice, two is enough for one person, they sell drinks too. It gets busy and you usually need to wait to pounce on a free table, then order your food. The TripAdvisor reviews are outstanding, and rightly so.
We dined more formally at Tabisca Il Vico dei Tagliati, and had the most gorgeous pork It’s a popular place so you’d be wise to book, they have seating outside and indoors.
Lecce is great, as illustrated by the number of day-tripper tour groups it gets during the day, following the guide’s umbrella like sheep following a shepherd carrying an umbrella so that the sheep can follow. Three days would be enough to see it all, in my view. From here we got the train to…
Our accommodation was a suite of rooms in Palazzo Rodio. Whilst showing us round the staff helpfully told us that it used to be a Palazzo. It still is. With a candelabra in every spacious room, and antiques in abundance, it was sublime. There is a walk-through clip in the video link, the place has a real wow factor. It cost in the region of £120 a night and it was a 15-minute walk into Ostuni old town.
The ancient walls and buildings of Ostuni are whitewashed, and it floats above the coastal plain on a sea of olive groves which reach all the way down to the Adriatic ten miles away. It is a striking sight. We passed the three days there in our usual slothful manner. Searching out cosy bars and yummy restaurants, ambling round medieval streets. A particular favourite for me was a mellow stroll we took down from the town into the olive groves that surround the town. With the afternoon sun lighting up the ramparts it was beautiful.
I must mention the thing that we didn’t do; Alberobello. The Trulli houses are the legends of the region. They are why people go to Puglia, and we didn’t visit them. Local transport would have taken us three hours to get there from Ostuni. The only practical solution was to hire a car, but that was too expensive. Or more expensive than we wanted to pay. We didn’t want to see the Trulli houses that much.
Should you go to Puglia?
Oh yes! It was all good, Otranto was my favourite place. Ostuni was very charming and in retrospect we should have hired a car because then we could have seen the Trulli stuff AND gone to the beach for a paddle. But we didn’t because the hire prices have been crazy since covid. If you are thinking of visiting Puglia you need to bear in mind that the local transport infrastructure is poor. The nearest beaches to Ostuni were only 8 miles away. The bus timetable was unfathomable (my wife speaks fluent Italian) the only thing that was clear was that there were only about four buses a day. Two Tourist Information places gave conflicting advice on when the buses were. The south of Italy is the poor sibling of the north and it is visible in poor transport provision, and other aspects. It’s not easy to get around perhaps, but Puglia is a gorgeous part of Italy.