Guide to: Puglia

Make a beeline for this still relatively undiscovered corner of southern Italy, an area that has been undeservedly misunderstood as the “New Tuscany”.

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If you come here looking for cypress-fringed, manicured hills, immaculate fields bursting with sunflowers and poppies, vineyards with ornamental topiary and pristine medieval castles, you’ll be disappointed. Puglia has all of the above and more but without the spit and polish. It is a landscape where trullis and cacti intertwine, where castles are innately more crumbly, where things are still a little raw. A landscape that possesses a wildness which Tuscany cannot match. You’ll need a set of wheels as infrastructure in these barren lands does not extend perhaps as far as it should. Yet this is one of its strengths as hordes in search of the “new Chianti-shire” thankfully don’t make it much beyond Lecce. So much beauty lies in between: Bari Vecchia and its swish Murat district is unmissable; the Baroque masterpieces of Lecce and Martina Franca; the mazy lanes of vertiginous Ostuni; the barren wilderness in between, where one wonders how on earth even the hardiest gnarly olive trees survive and the unspoilt primitivism of the Penisola Salentina. Summers can be stiflingly hot so enjoy its bounteous delights out of season in either April, May, September or October. Come for the food, the welcoming locals, the piercing blue sea that glints like the Caribbean, but more importantly embrace the simplistic, slow pace of life.


Eat Early

Frutti di Mare, Lungomare waterfront | Bari
Saunter down to the waterfront in the shadow of the Teatro Margherita and sample the freshest seafood straight out of the Adriatic as fishermen return to port with their daily catch. Anything from oysters, sea urchins, calamari and mussels, all glistening atop trestle tables in the midday sun, served up on polystyrene plates (there’s no standing on ceremony here) for a bargain €5 a pop – including slabs of local bread and lemons to freshly squeeze over the crustacea. Restorative bottles of Peroni can be purchased at the El Chiringuito bar for a euro each – you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Eastern Europe in the ’90s with these prices. Live like a king for a moment while paying an absolute pittance for the pleasure.
Molo S. Nicola, 70121 Bari

La Tavernetta | Martina Franca
Bang in the centre of town close to the magnificent Palazzo Ducale yet reassuringly free of tourists, La Tavernetta gives off a no-frills, nonna’s home-kitchen vibe, where the etiquette is to order a succession of small plates, a kind of Puglian take on tapas. These can be anything from steamed spinach and olive-oil laden Padron-style peppers to pickled onions and artichokes that are delivered to your table in small terracotta bowls – which you pick at alongside mains such as grilled fish of the day or Braciole, typically cooked in tomato sauce. I wouldn’t normally condone this type of behaviour, but do as the locals do and shun the commercially labelled bottles of vino in favour of the homemade organic house plonk which is dispatched in mini carafes. If it tastes this good, why wouldn’t you? You feel rude to decline a digestif here – my pick of the bunch is La Tavernetta’s ginger-infused take on a limoncello, a sharp antidote to the rich tiramisu, which is to die for.
C. so V. Emanuele, 30, 74015 Martina Franca; Tel: 080 430 6323

La Casa dell’Angelo Ristorante | Vignacastrisi
Sandwiched between Poggiardo and Marittima in the Penisola Salentina, this is a great-value lunch spot for simply prepared but flavoursome dishes like cosce di pollo (grilled chicken), aragoste alla griglia (grilled lobster) as well as a plethora of pasta and risotto dishes with a well-chosen, Puglia-centric wine list: everything from Malvasia Nera to Bianco d’Alessano and Minutolo, help to showcase the region’s diverse collection of vineyards which cover thousands of hectares from Daunia to Serre Salentine – all of which give life to a great variety of intense red, white and rosé wines. The owner seems to wear many hats: front of house, sommelier and waiter. It’s the kind of place you could easily lunch at every day with its unpretentious, welcoming atmosphere.
Via Umberto I, 73030 Vignacastrisi; casadellangelo.eu/

Eat Late

Pizzeria Il Rustico | Bari
There are flashy, hipster pizzerias aplenty these days, where the oven-fired dough rarely lives up to the quality of its surroundings. Then there are old-school joints like Il Rustico, where the aesthetic is unknowingly Wes Anderson and the dough is bang on the money. Another one for the big spenders too: any pizza, with a bruschetta starter, bottle of Peroni and a limoncello all for 10 euros.
Via Quintino Sella, 95, 70122 Bari 

Ristorante Al Sagittario | Martina Franca
Come here for the finest Orecchiette (pronounced oh-reck-ee-ET-tay) Pugliese, which you simply must indulge in at least once while you’re in the region. Orecchiette, meaning “little ears”, is a really ancient type of pasta from Puglia and neighbouring Basilicata. House style here features spinach and anchovies and is delightfully paired with a crisp Puglian chardonnay – yes you read that right. A cooler-climate grape normally, it thrives in the region’s limestone soils while the warm temperatures and cooling sea breezes ensure ripeness and bright acidity.
Via Quarto, 15, 74015 Martina Franca

Borgo Antico Bistrot  | Ostuni
Hidden among the intricate maze of tiny alleyways of this whitewashed town – one of the most stunning in southern Italy – and boasting some of the finest views across the plateau, this restaurant ranks among Ostuni’s most romantic spots with successions of tables-for-two lining the terraces where couples work their way through delicious sharing platters, cocktails and bottles of local Primitivo rosé. 
Via Fina, 8, 72017, Ostuni; facebook.com/people/Borgo-Antico-BistrotOpen April-November


Factory | Bari
An industrial-style pub in a quiet back street on the south side of Bari Centrale station with super-welcoming staff. Local intel suggested I head here for their “Infartory Burger”, a 150g double Irish beef patty layered with bacon, cheddar, red onion, Brazilian salsa and topped by a fried egg and it didn’t disappoint. I’d go as far as saying it’s the finest gourmet burger I’ve eaten in Italy. Craft beers included an Italian export of our very own St. Austell Proper Job which was nectar of the Gods and, at 7.2%, while not for the faint-hearted, it did ensure a beautifully uninterrupted sleep.
Via Luigi Milella 33, 70124 Bari; factorypub.it/

Caffè Tripoli | Martina Franca
Caffè Tripoli shot to fame when coffee brand Lavazza filmed a TV advert here in the mid-’90s, starring the amply endowed model Maria Grazia Cucinotta – gratuitously focusing on her décolletage and a procession of ogling gents. A true bastion of art nouveau, the finest espresso in town is to be had here, still served by the 80-something owner who became a household name in Italy on the strength of the ad. On a swelteringly hot summer’s day, a granita iced coffee with whipped cream is just the ticket. And you cannot leave without sampling the delights of a Bocconotti, a small ricotta-filled pastry topped with a dusting of icing sugar. Sublime and worth the trip here alone.
Via Garibaldi 12, 74015 Martina Franca

Officine Birrai | Lecce
The best and certainly the largest taproom in central Lecce offers up 20 different craft draughts, largely from its own-label IPAs, Hells Lagers, Bohemian Porters and weizens as well as guest beers from the likes of Birra Salento and L’Olmaia – accompanied by an infinite carousel of delicious fries, rich sharing platters, pizzas and imaginative gourmet burgers to help soak up the excesses. Knowledgeable staff include the charming Nigerian bartender, who not only welcomed me and guided my selection but even arranged for the chef to knock me up a freshly cooked basket of crisps straight from the fryer to accompany my flight of pale ales.
Via G. D’Annunzio, 52, 73100 Lecce; www.officinebirrai.it/


Dimora Scipione Crisanzio | Bari
Blend in like a local and rent this palatial abode, located within an utterly beautiful art nouveau building in the centre of Bari. Palazzo Colonna De Robertis was built at the end of the 19th century as a private residence and restored in 2004. Inside the building, there is a jaw-dropping entrance hall decorated with precious stucco bas-reliefs depicting an opulent patrician villa. Gracious owner Ello, who greeted my arrival with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot (classy touch) is always on hand to furnish you with insider tips on the very best of the city’s below-the-radar haunts.
Via Scipione Crisanzio, 119, 70123 Bari; booking.com/hotel/it/dimora-scipione-crisanzio.it

Masseria Iazzo Scagno | Martina Franca
Irritating in their ubiquity they may be to some, but staying in a traditional trullo is de-rigueur in these parts. While the majority of these iconic conical-roofed properties are still inhabited by locals, many have been converted into chic holiday rentals with pools like Iazzo Scagno. Thick whitewashed stone walls ensure you stay cool in the height of summer and warm and toasty in the winter. Set in splendid rural isolation, yet only a 15-minute drive from the centre of Martina Franca, this beautiful gated estate features a salt-water pool flanked by ancient dry stone walls and holm oaks with a succession of white daybeds whose wispy muslin curtains billow in the gentle breeze. 
Via Monti del Duca, 307, 74015 Martina Franca; masseriaiazzoscagno.it  

Palazzo Daniele
An exclusive bolthole catering for stylish arty types intent on exploring the wild beauty of the Salento coast, a five-minute drive away. This 10-room boutique hotel, a collaboration between art collector Francesco Petrucci and his hotel magnate friend Gabriele Salini, has been elegantly repurposed by Milanese design duo Ludovica + Roberto Palomba. The property centres around an open-air courtyard with an egg yolk Fiat Cinquecento perennially positioned beneath its central arch. While away the afternoon sipping on a cocktail beside the black-bottomed pool – designed to cleverly absorb heat from the sun, making the water warmer and ultimately more invigorating to bathe in.
Corso Umberto I, 60, 73034 Gagliano del Capo; palazzodaniele.com 


Giuseppe Ancona | Martina Franca
Have a bespoke suit crafted for less than the price a UK off-the-rack offering by master tailor Giuseppe Ancona, son of a former coat maker. He may have started out in shirt making, but the guy is nothing short of a sartorial wizard. Besides, anyone who can rock a navy blazer, white ankle-skimming denim jeans and Air Force Ones with such nonchalance, is cool in my book.
Via dei Fiori, 25, 74015 Martina Franca; giuseppeancona.it

Bread | Altamura
If you’re after life-changing bread – and let’s be honest, who isn’t? – then look no further than the town of Altamura on Italy’s heel, renowned for its traditional large knotted loaves, kneaded from 100% durum wheat, known locally as “priest’s hats” and often rated the best bread in the world. It’s the only bread in Europe that has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status and its quality wasn’t lost on Latin poet Horace, who, as early as 37BC, declared ‘Altamura bread, by far the best bread to be had, so good that the wise traveller takes a supply with him for his onward journey.’

Ceramic tableware | Grottaglie
Dine in any restaurant in Puglia and chances are you’ll be eating off vibrant, Jackson Pollock-esque, paint-spattered crockery. The small, somewhat unglamorous town of Grottaglie, close to Taranto is where you need to beat a path to in order to revitalise your crockery cupboard back home. Recognised for centuries for its artisan ceramic production, load up on these striking plates and bowls to re-enact those orecchiette and fritto misto moments. 


Bari | Tenuta Bocca di Lupo
Not visiting one of the region’s prized vineyards would be unforgivable. Tenuta Bocca di Lupo, one of Puglia’s most photogenic estates, takes its name from the wild characteristics of the Murgia, the karst topographic plateau located in the Castel del Monte DOC around 300 metres above sea level. Owned by the auspicious Antinori winemaking dynasty, the property’s renovation was overseen by architect Marcello Corboz. 130 hectares of vines are cultivated with an array of varietals from Aglianico, Nero di Troia, Fiano, Moscato di Trani to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which can be sampled in the facility’s stately tasting room.
Contrada Torre d Isola, Minervino Murge BT 76013

Baroque majesty | Lecce
The Baroque beauty of Lecce is simply unmissable: palaces and churches of every epoch have been chiselled out of the malleable local limestone which seems to change colour and reflect natural light in a unique way, depending on the time of day. The stone has given rise to nine stunning churches, the best of which is the sensationally ornamental Basilica di Santa Croce. Not many cities can lay claim to having a Roman amphitheatre in its main piazza. Built during Hadrian’s reign in the 2nd century CE, the building was a chance discovery made by construction workers building a bank in 1901.

Troglodyte kingdom | Ginosa
Matera (in neighbouring Basilicata) gets all the plaudits, but Ginosa gives it a proper run for its money in the troglodyte stakes. It’s another pretty whitewashed Puglian town in itself, but head to the Rivalto district, an abandoned ghost town settlement of cave dwellings and melancholic rock chapels scattered across a crescent-shaped ravine. It’s quite a surreal experience as the whole place is left open for visitors to navigate the ancient ruins as they so wish. It would be unthinkable not to pay a visit to G.Inglese and have yourself a bespoke shirt made – after all, Angelo Inglese crafted Prince William’s wedding shirt.
G.Inglese, Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, 22, 74013 Ginosa


Antica Dimora Giardini Segreti
Most visitors to the region opt to bed down in a trullo, but the more discerning live out their Puglian fantasies by hiring out a Masseria – fortified farmhouses typically built in the 16th century – generally comprising a complex of buildings running along two sides of a central high-walled courtyard. Impeccably furnished inside and out, Giardini Segreti, quite frankly, would not look out of place in the esteemed pages of The World of Interiors with its vaulted ceilings and warm Lecce stone walls. It’s an oasis of calm in the historic centre of Giuggianello, the smallest municipality in the province between Otranto and Castro Marina and once settled in, it’s truly a hardship to leave.
Via G. Mazzini, 22, 73030 Giuggianello; anticadimoragiardinisegreti.com

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