“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.” – Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).
“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.” – Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).
“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.” Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).
As we waited at Bari Palese airport for the Ryanair flight home we began to review the holiday to Puglia and to come to some sort of agreed assessment.
We had travelled to Italy before, to Pisa and Tuscany, Naples and Sorrento, the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, Rome of course, to Venice and the Veneto and the EPCOT World Showcase, but we had never before visited the far south east, the heel of the boot.
Despite almost being put off by the guide books we liked the city of Bari with its mazy old town and eclectic night life and one thing I would say to anyone thinking of going to Puglia then do not miss out the capital city of the region and don’t be scared off by the reviews.
The food was wonderful and although we didn’t have time to try all of the two hundred varieties of pasta I am certain that they would all be just as delicious as those that we managed to sample – the sea food pastas were especially good. We also liked the pizzas and I have to confess that my favourite meal was the horse meat stew in Lecce but please do not tell my granddaughters.
Our accommodation was generally good – all booked in advance through www.booking.com my favourite hotel booking website. The exception was the awful dump where we stayed in Ostuni, the Nonna Isa bed and breakfast and the best was probably the Grand Hotel in Lecce but that is a tough decision to make.
Along the coast we liked Polignano a Mare and Molfetta but we didn’t care that much for Monopoli but that might be unfair because neither of us were at our best that day on account of the stress of driving in Italy which wasn’t a great deal of fun and one thing for sure is that I won’t be doing that again in a hurry!
Although we didn’t like driving we did like travelling by train and Trenitalia was generally efficient, value for money and on time as we used the railway to travel from Bari to Polignano, to Lecce, Ostuni and then back to Bari with one final excursion to Molfetta.
Lecce was a revelation and the ‘Florence of the South’ did not disappoint us with a wonderful Baroque old town, good restaurants and a vibrant night life and we both agreed that we would really have liked a little extra time in that wonderful city.
We didn’t like the taxis because generally I resent paying the exorbitant fares but we had no real choice for our last three days in Bari because I had chosen a hotel that was some way out of the city. But it was a nice hotel and they gave me a discount on the final bill and that was enough to cover the cost of the taxi fares so I shouldn’t complain.
La Città Bianca, the White Cities, were a bit of a mixed bag. Ostuni was lovely but busy, Locorotondo was probably the best of them all (in our opinion) because it was less touristy and had a delightful centro storico. The one that we liked least was Martina Franca but once again this might be unfair, it was another day where we were stressed from driving, the weather was quite poor and we arrived in the middle of the afternoon siesta.
And we didn’t like the siesta period very much because every day the towns and villages just put up a collective closed sign, locked the doors and the people retreated to their bedrooms. We have come across the siesta before of course but never as rigidly and as complete as in Puglia.
The highlight of the fortnight was rather predictably the tourist town of Alberobello and our four night stay in a traditional whitewashed, stone-capped Trulli house. Four nights was probably one too many because there are only so many times that you can walk around the same streets but one thing you can do over and again is go to the same restaurant and we thoroughly enjoyed our four meals at the Foggia trattoria where the chef obligingly gave me some important tips on making a perfect risotto.
Other things we liked were the Peroni beer, the ice cream and the Amaretto.
So that is our short assessment of Puglia and as we pulled our list together we both came to the same conclusion. We had enjoyed ourselves but this sort of vacation didn’t really suit our travelling style. For us Italy is a great place for a short weekend break to one of the famous cities but not for driving or beaches so the next time we go to Italy it will be for just a couple of nights or so and we will most likely return to Greece again next year for our main late summer holiday.
If you have been to Puglia and agree or disagree with us then please leave your views and comments.
Click on any image to scroll through the pictures…
“Garibaldi is the only wholly admirable figure in modern history.” A.J.P. Taylor (English Historian)
It was the last full day in Puglia and our plan was to stay at the hotel garden and swimming pool for the morning and then go sightseeing in the afternoon. It was Monday and I guessed that the garage shop that was closed yesterday would be open today so I ventured out again onto the dangerous road and carefully negotiated the short walk and bought some wine and beer to see us through the last day and evening.
There were even fewer guests at the hotel today than there had been the day before so finding a perfect spot to sit and read presented no problem at all and we let the morning slip away in virtual solitude.
An hour or two of sitting on a sun bed doing nothing is quite long enough I find so shortly after midday we left the outdoor terrace, changed into our walking about clothes and called for a taxi. It was cheaper than yesterday at only €13 but I still resented paying out such a huge sum as the driver dropped us off at the central train station.
Our intention now was to take the train in a westerly direction and visit the fishing port of Molfetta a few kilometres along the coast. So far on these travels the Italian trains had been completely reliable and punctual but this time there was a fifteen minute delay and although the station address system provided some information in English I couldn’t understand a word of it as it crackled horribly through the overhead speakers.
Finally the big electric engine hummed into the station and after a few moments we were upstairs in a double-decker carriage and on our way through the untidy industrial zones of the city and out towards the coast and we arrived in Molfetta after about a thirty minute ride.
We didn’t have a map of course but we were fairly certain of the right direction towards the harbour and we confidently set off in our chosen direction and within a few moments came upon a leafy square and the inevitable statue of Italy’s great hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi who we have come across previously in (no exaggeration here) every town and city that we have visited in Italy.
After the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 the state worked hard at making sure Garibaldi would be perpetually remembered and the number of streets, piazzas and statues named after him makes him probably the most commemorated secular figure in history. Such was the romance of his story of revolutionary heroism and daring-do that Garibaldi was at one point possibly the most famous man in Europe.
In London in 1864 for example people flocked to see him as he got off the train. The crowds were so immense it took him six hours to travel three miles through the streets. The whole country shut down for three days while he met the great and the good. Literary figures including the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson and Sir Walter Scott lauded him as the “Italian lion” and “the noblest Roman of them all”.
Statues of his likeness stand in many Italian squares and in other countries around the world. A bust of Giuseppe Garibaldi is prominently placed outside the entrance to the old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC, a gift from members of the Italian Society of Washington. Many theatres in Sicily take their name from him and are ubiquitously named Garibaldi Theatre.
Five ships of the Italian Navy have been named after him, among which a World War II cruiser and the former flagship, the aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi.
When I went on holiday to Sorrento in 1976 I took a bus ride along the Amalfi Coast the coach stopped at one dangerously precipitous hairpin bend so that the tour guide could point out to us an outcrop of rock in the sea which is said to show the profile of the great man.
The English football team Nottingham Forest designed their home red kit after the uniform worn by Garibaldi and his men and have worn a variation of this design since being founded in 1865 and there is a Nottingham Forest team magazine called the ‘Garibaldi Gazette‘. Rather interesting that they choose Garibaldi and not Robin Hood in my opinion. A college in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire is also named in his honour.
The Garibaldi biscuit was named after him, as was a style of beard, a pop group in Mexico and in Italy there is a cocktail drink called the Garibaldi (based almost inevitably on the Italian drink Campari). The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy has been awarded annually since 2007 in the European Six Nations rugby union competition to the winner of the match between France and Italy.
Other places and things named after Garibaldi include the Garibaldi National Park including Mount Garibaldi, Lake Garibaldi and a Volcanic belt in British Columbia in Canada; the city of Garibaldi in Oregon, USA; a town and a gold mine near the city of Ballarat in Victoria, Australia and a town in Brazil (his wife, Anita, was Brazilian).
There are Hotels in Naples, Palermo, Venice and Milan, but only a bed and breakfast in Rome. In England there are streets and squares named after him in London, Scarborough, Grimsby, Bradford and St Albans and a hotel in Northampton. There is a Pizzeria in Memphis, Tennessee and in the Pacific Ocean near California there is a scarlet fish and a marine reef called Garibaldi. There is a museum on Staten Island, New York; stations on the Paris metro and in Mexico City; a café in Madrid, an area in Berlin, restaurants in Vienna and Kuala Lumpur, a Street in Moscow, a Museum in Amsterdam and a block of high-rise Social Housing flats in my home town of Grimsby.
If I have missed anything important out of my list then please let me know.
I have got rather a lot of photographs of Garibaldi statues from my Italian city visits but I took some more here and then we continued our stroll to the old town and harbour.
“We were for centuries
because we are not one people,
because we are divided.
Let one flag, one hope
gather us all.
The hour has struck
for us to unite.”
Italy National Anthem
On Saturday we woke early, packed our bags, went for a final breakfast at the Trulli Holidays reception room, checked out and promised them a maximum ten points assessment on the booking.com website and then transferred the luggage to the car and left. We had enjoyed Alberobello and when I returned home I was true to my word and gave the accommodation top marks.
It was only a short drive to Ostuni and when we arrived there I was really, really glad to be able to return the car. The man at the hire car desk silently checked the documents and then looked up and with just a momentary look of threat and anticipation in his eyes asked one simple question “what damage to car?” as though this was surely inevitable. I told him that I was absolutely certain that there was none and he looked at me as though I was the World’s biggest liar and came round from behind the desk and went off to check. He inspected both inside and out and then had to concede that there was no damage and then, with a look that had turned from anticipation to disappointment, almost reluctantly it seemed to me, signed off the hire release papers.
Because we had enjoyed our first night there and one morning had simply not been long enough we were now moving back to Bari and this meant going back to the trains for transportation and I was relieved and delighted in equal measures that someone else would now be doing the driving and so while we waited for the Trenitalia train to arrive we sat in the sun at the station bar and had a couple of beers.
I had found a good bargain at a Spa hotel a little way out of the city so when we arrived at Bari station, being unsure of the location, we broke a golden holiday rule and hailed a taxi.
I am not happy about breaking this rule especially when the fare came to €10, bust the daily budget and nearly broke my heart but I was mighty glad that we hadn’t attempted to walk it! The hotel, a once grand mansion on the edge of the city, was quite a lot further out of town than I had imagined it would be and as the taxi continued to drive further and further away from the centre it became quite clear that there was absolutely no chance of walking back into Bari for evening meal but never mind we thought that we might eat at the hotel instead.
It was a lovely hotel with a very good room but when I enquired about the restaurant I was informed that it had closed down for the season a few days previously. Oh dear it was beginning to look like more taxi fares again later. Once again, never mind, this afternoon we would use the Spa facilities while we considered our options. Not a chance because these were closed as well with conflicting stories from the staff about break downs and/or refurbishment depending upon who was making the excuses.
I was annoyed by this and tried to cancel the third night but the hotel staff were reluctant to allow this and I couldn’t find a suitable alternative anyway within our skinflint price budget and so we had to resign ourselves to three nights marooned miles from anywhere on the edge of the city.
Never mind, we would now use the outside pool facilities and have a lunch time snack but once again not a chance of that either because the pool side snack bar was closed and everything was packed and locked away and for certain would be staying that way for at least nine months. I complained again but it made no difference and all I got was more apologies.
So, we had to take a taxi back into the city and going back was even more expensive at €15. Actually it could have been even worse because when the metre hit €15 I told the driver to stop and we got out, paid and walked the rest of the way to the old town.
Before dining we walked around the city walls for a while and then choose a pizzeria and trying to compensate for the cost of the taxi fare choose a very cheap meal and a pizza between us which seemed to surprise the staff. I really hate taxis, they are such robbers and all that they achieve is to suck money from the local economy because if I hadn’t spent so much on fares then it is certain that I would have spent more in the restaurant but later we did find enough loose change in the bottoms of our pockets to splash out on an ice cream in a gelataria in the main square.
The main square was just as busy as our first night in Bari with a tsunami of people coming in waves into the old town and then just walking backwards and forwards like an Atlantic tide. This was the passeggiata where local people descend on the town at dusk and just walk and sometimes stop to talk. Some people had bought fold up garden chairs and were just sitting and chatting, others were playing cards, some were hanging around the bars but mostly they were just walking up and down and around and around and they were still coming in as we battled against the flow and then returned to the hotel rather earlier than normal.
This cost another whopping €12 so when I totted it all up that was €37 in one day on taxi fares – more than I would normally spend in a full year, more than the cost of the fuel for four days car hire! I needed a lie down and a couple of large amarettos!
The plan today was to catch the one o’clock train to the city of Lecce in the Salentine peninsula right in the heel of the boot of Italy and just about as far as you can go in the country with the next stop east being Albania.
With a morning to while away, after breakfast we checked out, stored our bags and set off for one last walk around Polignano but this time we ignored the tourist old town and slipped instead into the chessboard, grid pattern streets of the adjacent residential quarter. This was the old part of the new part if that makes any sense with narrow criss-cross streets and sharp right-angled corners.
At this time in the morning there was more washing of clothes, more scrubbing of steps and more food preparation as housewives prepared fresh pasta and then left it out in the sun under wire mesh to dry. I don’t suppose the people of Polignano get many northern European tourists wandering about in this part of the town and as we walked there were looks of bewilderment and suspicion as we carried on towards the sea through confusing streets bristling with local endeavour. Our favourite moment was when a mobile hardware store clattered over the uneven cobbles, dangerously overloaded and looking as though it would surely topple over at any moment. It reminded me of Mr Tuscon’s mobile shop that used to stop in the village where I lived when I was a boy.
And then it was time to turn our backs on Polignano and say goodbye, we had liked it here but we had to make our way back to the train station. The automatic ticket machine was broken so I worried about how to buy one and we had a wait of about one hour so we found a bar and I had a beer and forgot about the problem for the time being.
The train arrived on time and soon a ticket inspector was lurching from side to side along the carriage in time with the side to side motion. He already knew of course that the Polignano ticket machine was out of order so we purchased our tickets from him in a rather long winded and inefficient triplicate form palava which made me wonder why Trenitalia don’t issue hand held tablets to their staff.
The journey to Lecce took just about seventy-five minutes and the train stopped several times along the way. In between the towns the train clattered through mile after mile of olive groves which stretched out endlessly towards the horizon. There are an estimated fifty million olive trees in this region of Italy and some are said to be almost a thousand years old. Here were gnarled old trees with heavy branches supported by stout stakes and I think some of them may actually have been even older than the Roman Empire.
After a while the train began to enter the suburbs of the industrial port town of Brindisi. Maybe we should have stopped there for a while but as with Bari the guide books were less than flattering making it sound like Middlesbrough or Pittsburgh and so we let it slip past. Brindisi marked the end of the Roman road, the Appian Way but where Roman Emperors stopped (Julius Caesar apparently declared this to be the end of the World) and where Crusaders left Europe as they set off for the Holy Land we carried on a few kilometres further to our next destination.
The railway station in Lecce was hot and busy but outside the main entrance we walked straight into the siesta time again and the streets were as deserted as an abandoned ghost town. I wasn’t going to call for a taxi of course and although I was taking a bit of a chance here after my sorry performance in Bari, I told Kim I was absolutely confident of the hotel location and then I had a massive stroke of good fortune when I came across the entrance barely one hundred metres from the station.
This was the Grand Hotel, Lecce, or perhaps more accurately, the Once Grand Hotel, Lecce because although we immediately liked it, it had a slightly faded elegance, was past its best and was clinging on by its fingernails to its once grand status. But it had a wonderful room full of proper furniture, crisp linen on the bed and a well stocked basket of complimentary bathroom essentials.
There were a couple of important jobs to do now so we walked into the city to find somewhere that we might like later to eat and to find a supermarket for some wine. We dipped into the outskirts of the city as far as the Cathedral but we wanted to save the sightseeing until tomorrow so after spotting some likely dining establishments we walked out of one of the city gates and with another stroke of luck found a supermarket almost straight away.
For the rest of the afternoon we sat in the sunshine in the garden around the swimming pool and drank some wine and then upon going back to the room came across a problem – the standard UK/European plug adaptor doesn’t work in Puglia because for some strange reason they have a different socket system in the south of Italy so four days into our travels and we couldn’t charge anything up and the hotel was unable to help except to give directions to a hardware store somewhere on the edge of the city. It was a problem but it would have to wait until tomorrow to get sorted out.
Later we walked back to the centro storico and in contrast to the siesta period it was vibrant and busy with lots of trattoria to choose from but there was disappointment when we found one that we really liked but it was fully booked and couldn’t squeeze us in. We found an alternative which was fine without being memorable and when we had finished Kim was so determined to eat in our first choice that she led me round and around in circles through the confusing streets and getting hopelessly lost in the process until by chance we found it again and then booked a table for the following evening.
What a shock that was as a Trenitalia train, at least forty years old and liberally covered in graffiti, creaked into the station and pulled up at the platform. The hiss of the doors opening could well have been mistaken for a sigh of relief at the end of a heavy chore. Inside the carriage it was clean but uncomfortable with utilitarian plastic seats that made your bum sweat and a worn out air conditioning system that rattled and groaned with old age.