3 days around the Salento
Trip Start Jan 25, 2007
31Trip End Jun 30, 2007
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
I head out from Matera to Taranto, a sizeable city at the point where the inside of the heel starts, then along the Gulf of Taranto. I drive into the town of Gallipoli, which is very similar to Siracusa - the old part of town is a rabbit warren of narrow alleys and streets on a promontory joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus - try and say that after a few grappas. This Gallipoli was probably founded by the Greeks at the same time as Gallipoli in Turkey, which Australians are familiar with as a massive waste of life in the first World War when hundreds of thousands of Australian, New Zealand and British (there were soldiers from other countries too I think) young men were cut down on the beaches near Gallipolli as they invaded Turkey.
I stop at San Isidoro not far past Gallipoli for a little refreshment at a bar, and a Canadian couple are speaking English and trying to find out where there's a wine shop and the owner of the bar is asking them what they would like, so I step in and explain to each what the other is saying
Besides cheap sweet rosè wine for the lady amd beer for the man (sorry to sound catty but I've got to let it out of the bag occasionally and let it have a run), they are looking for breakfast things. I gently try and tell them that people here only have coffee and a sweet bun for breakfast and they're unlikely to find bacon, maple syrup, baked beans, cereal, etc which their corpulent forms suggest they are after (will somebody put that cat back in the bag - and I'm not picking on Canadians, they just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time as my cat is let out of the bag). Anyhow I direct them to the right places, have a lemon granita, and head off along the coast, having done my good deed for the day.
The sea is that beautiful Meditterranean blue/green and the coastline is varied - rocks, sea caves, villages on high cliffs and down by the sea, stone towers, stone terraces and cactus - you can just imagine all the ships and boats have sailed these waters - from Phoenicians and Greeks, Roman galleys, Arabic ships through to Venetian fleets
So far, so good. Then Mario brings out a plate of a selection of fresh fish and asks which one I want - I ask him to tell me what they're called (which doesn't help much because they're different to Australian fish, but I'm just buying time), then I ask what he thinks is best and he says X fish (forgotten what it's called) and a couple of grilled scampi (about halfway between a large prawn and a small crayfish in size), so I say 'va bene' and he says what do you want to drink and I say you choose something as I don't know the wines of this area, and he brings me a Castel di Salve, which is really dry and crisp and perfect with what I'm eating, so I drink the whole bottle
Now it's dessert time and Mario rattles off a whole lot and I hear semifreddo, which I'm very partial to, so that's what I have. For those of you who don't know semifreddo is a sort of a mixture of sponge cake and icecream or frozen ricotta, but the icecream/ricotta will have candied fruit and maybe nuts in it and the cake part may be doused with liqueur, so the description of ice-cream cake is woefully inadequate. Mario keeps suggesting things - a coffee, a grappa and I keep saying 'va bene', and eventually I finish and try and walk it off along the Lungomare (literally along the sea), while trying to avoid falling in, and back at my B&B fall happily into bed after all the exertion of eating.
Caterina has told me that breakfast is served from 8.30am (how civilised - no power breakfasts at 7am here), but I wake up at 10.30, but that's no problem, she says 'si accomoda' (make yourself comfortable), and I have lovely fresh fruit (with flavour), and a couple of chocolate and vanilla cream filled pastries, and it's already 35 degrees and the sea is a beautiful colour, so I decide to go for a swim.
I drive up the coast seeing all these lovely little coves and bays, most surmounted with a crunbling tower erected anywhere between the 12th and 17th century, and eventually choose one and stop for a swim and sunbake - I'm very brown in the face and forearms, but the rest of the body is white so I need to even it up a bit
In the late afternoon I drive to Lecce, a small city whose historic centre is beautifully preserved and is full of lovely baroque buildings, then continue on to Brindisi, which has a colourful port area and is the jumping off point for ships to Greece and Turkey, and eventually in the dark I make it to Ostuni, which is a beautiful hilltop town built on a rock a little inland. It is a maze of steep little streets and alleys and it's delightful wandering around trying to find somewhere to eat and sleep. I look up an alley that's less than 2 metres wide and see some people sitting at skinny little trestle tables so I decide to investigate and end up eating at the Locanda dei 7 Peccati (Seven Sins). Francesco, mine host, tells me in rapid fire fashion ... (you've heard this all before), so I order what he tells me I should have, which comprises the antipasto of the Sette Peccati (fried fennel, eggplant, broccoli, pumpkin, zucchini, etc), then a plate of orecchiette e cime di rape (little ear-shaped pasta with a vegetable that looks a bit like broccoli and you use the leaves and stalks and is a little bitter), then a main course of fried baccalà (dried cod soaked for 24 hours then formed into little cakes and fried). The French couple next to me eat pizza - why eat pizza when there's so much more interesting food available here? I feel sorry for all the tourists who eat just pizza and pasta with tomato sauce, as these are just a miniscule part of the Italian kitchen
By now it's very late and I have no accomodation so I ask Francesco if he can recommend anywhere, and he says he has a room available so we cross the alley, walk up half a dozen stairs, through a narrow door, and I have a lovely room with vaulted ceilings overlooking the alley where I just ate.
In the morning I walk around the city walls, which encircle the rock that Ostuni is built on. It is already very hot and the walls are blinding white so I look for a cafe to have breakfast. I must be blessed with a sixth sense for good food because after walking past several cafes I have an urge to go in to Gran Caffe Tito Schipa. The first thing I see is Sicilian ricotta cannoli and I'm greeted by a lovely friendly lady. I ask if she has almond granita and she immediately asks if I'm Sicilian (must be stamped on my forehead, but actually it's my accent), then tells me she's just made some canteloupe granita, so I have that with a brioche AND a cannolo. I sit out on the cool shaded terrace with a magnificent view over the plain to the sea. The granita is fresh and cleansing and delicious. What a beautiful way to start the day. It's a shame to leave - I'd love to set up a little bed here and have an afternoon nap, but it's 10am and I have a lot of ground to cover.
I ask the lady why the cafe is called Tito Schipa and she tells me he was a famous opera singer from Lecce in the 1920's and 30's and he stopped by and had a coffee here in 1935
I leave Ostuni and head towards Alborebello (beautiful tree) and spend an enjoyable 10 minutes blasting down the windy, narrow road between endless stone walls, until I see my first trullo. From then on I have a huge smile on my face as I drive through a landscape dotted with trulli - little stone houses with conical roofs made out of overlapping stones. I reach Alberobello, the trulli capital - the ancient town centre has an area full of them and it looks like a town of Italian hobbits. Each cone roof usually tops a separate room, so houses have 3,4,5,6 and more. The original reason they were built like this is that in the 1400's a tax was imposed on houses by the reigning authority, but as the trulli were built without mortar, they weren't classified as a house and could evade the tax. My mind tries to imagine what Alberobello and the surrounding countryside would have looked like before modern buildings were put up. The vision is enchanting - little whitewashed houses topped with multiple conical grey stone roofs set in a sea of forests, olive trees and vegetable gardens, with the bright blue sky overhead.
I leave Alberobello and drive down the coast to Polignano sul Mare where I've been told there are little places where you can eat fresh raw seafood by the sea but I can't find any so opt for a restaurant virtually on the water and have cavatelli ai frutti di mare (a shell shaped pasta with vongole, prawns, squid and octopus), a swordfish steak, and a fruit platter, with half a bottle of crisp Salentine white wine. This gives me the energy to drive into Bari for a quick look around (I've been told it's dangerous and that it has some of the worst traffic and drivers in Italy, but I escape unscathed), then back to Matera, after a jolly 3 days around the Salento.