If you want to get off the beaten track and enjoy something a little less frantic head for Puglia, the southern heel of Italy’s boot. Some of the tourist hot spots in Italy can be a bit busy and themed, to say the least, and Puglia offers an authentic alternative without the crowds plus it’s an all year round foodie’s heaven and has a great choice of self-catering villas.
Known for its whitewashed hill towns, ancient farmland, the longest coastline of any region in mainland Italy and its own microclimate it’s hard to beat. It is much larger than people think and as well as the spectacular coastline there are regions famous for their wine such as Salento, which also has an interesting combination of Greek and Turkish history. In contrast the Valle d’Itria lowland region has a diverse collection of medieval towns with little in common except a unique lasting beauty.
The regions capital Bari is a lively port and university town, a great place to explore on foot with its historic centre sitting on a small headland reaching out into the Adriatic sea; a very Italian affair with winding lanes, women making pasta in open doorways, an art gallery and lots of people going about their daily business. Between the old town and the sea is the 11th century Romanesque Basilica di San Nicola, an important destination for all religions.
Lecce is the second most popular place to visit and known as the Florence of the South’ as full of Baroque masterpieces. It’s the only city south of Naples that has become a tourist destination and surrounded by pretty countryside, small towns and a fabulous seashore you will soon realise why. It dates back to Roman times but the 17th century was a period of real prosperity leading to grand developments in the now known ‘Lecce Baroque’ style with cherubs decorating facades and doorways. It has a lovely old centre where you can easily spend a couple of days exploring the town’s treasures, art and architecture. A good way to get your bearings is to take the small tourist train which is great fun and you can hop on and off at various stops.
Brindisi is one of the other larger cities and as well as being a Roman settlement is a ferry departure point if you are heading for Greece. Traditional food fairs that date back many years are wonderful to buy and sample locally produced delicacies, the locals will be delighted to advise you and help you choose the biggest and best melon in town! You will hear music reverberating from the small town squares giving a real carnival feel. For a bit of sun, sea and sand head to the coast with interesting towns and villages or perhaps the uplands of Gargano and the Murgia National Park. The region is also home to the largest colony of pink flamingos in Europe on rich lakes, Varano and Lesina in the north.
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