Last Day in Ostuni



Friday was bright and sunny, though very breezy. We decided to drive over to Martina Franca, one of the larger of the town in the area. Like others, it has a beautiful Baroque core, with elegant piazzas and winding, tiny streets. Using Jonathan’s directions, we easily found a parking space. We enjoyed walking around, and got thoroughly lost.

20140620_051812     20140620_053242


Our plans for the afternoon had been for heading back to Pilone to sit on the beach, but with the wind so strong, we didn;t think that would be too comfortable. So instead, we had a lazy afternoon of reading up on the terrace, using the time to relax before heading to Matera tomorrow. Just before six, we began hearing air gorns and cheering, as the Italy game was about to start. From the terrace we could hear singing, groans, cheers, and at the end of the game, silence as Italy lost. Our neighbor’s cat was unimpressed.



For dinner, we had reservations at Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale, one of the nicer places in Ostuni.We wandered down the hill and then climbed up to the restaurant. It”s a beautiful room, and the owner very charming and helpful. We began with a special antipasto of stuffed eggplant, really delicious. Larry had scallops and their roe, glazed with balsamico and served over greens. I had baby lamb shops, simply grilled with herbs. We had a bottle of wine that was much better than what we’ve been buying, and ended with a torta della nona, with dark chocolate in addition to the usual nuts. Wonderfully enjoyable meal, and extremely reasonably priced.

2014-06-20 20.59.18 2014-06-20 21.22.18 2014-06-20 21.42.14-2 2014-06-20 21.42.182014-06-20 22.11.512014-06-20 22.08.14

Good night, Ostuni!

20140620_142323            20140620_141948





One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to go to the tourist office and look through the brochures for local sights that don’t make it into the English-language guidebooks. The Brindisi province one was quite thick, with lots of beautiful photos that corresponded to an index at the back of the book. I was able to identify three nearby sites to visit, did a bit of internet research, and threw them on my Google map.

A short drive from Ostuni is the town of Montalbano near Fasone, and the “blink and you’ll miss it” sign pointing to the Dolmen of Montalbano. The small road leads to an even smaller one, and finally you turn down a stone-walled track barely wider than a Fiat Panda. And just off the road, in an abandoned olive grove, is a bronze age dolmen. Depending on which source you read, it’s been dated between 11 and 15 B.C. Not something you see every day.

20140619_042542            2014-06-19 10.19.35

Next up, also in the Fasone area, was the site of a medieval village that had been built into caves, Lama D’Antico. Surrounded by fields is an overgrown area ringed by caves where people lived for hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years. Archaeological finds such as Roman coins and bronze age metals and pottery found in the cisterns show that this place was inhabited for long periods of time, and was abandoned in the 15th century. There are cisterns, grain storage pits, caves used for living spaces, and even churches built into caves. It’s incredibly eerie to step into a crumbling church built into a cave, and see faded 10th century frescoes. There’s a little visitor center, and good signs around the site giving info, with some English as well.

20140619_050203                 20140619_051313


20140619_051500      20140619_051039


Twisting through more small roads (turn right at the eggplant field in Egnazia) led to the excavations at Egnazia. There’s a small museum where you first go to buy your ticket, and then go across to the ruins. Near the museum is a necropolis, one part from the Messapian and the other Roman. A short drive leads to the main excavation, of a Roman settlement,  Gnathia . There are helpful signs around the site, identifying the various parts of the city and explaining the history and functions of what has been found. It’s a lovely, quiet place, although I’m sure crowded in Summer from people visiting the nearby beaches and the huge water park you can glimpse.

20140619_055911          20140619_061452


20140619_062434           20140619_063022

By now it was lunchtime. We headed over to the nearby town of Salvelletri. It’s a cute beach resort-looking town, and people seemed to be settling in for lunch at a place called La Taverna di Umberto . We started with gratineed mussles (salty to our tastes), then I got spaghetti al volgole; and Larry a sort of faro or local grain with an assortment of seafood. Both very good, especially Larry’s.

20140619_072525 20140619_070432

20140619_073255 20140619_074728 20140619_074732


Drove the hillsides around town.


Back home, walked through the park. The old guys in the neighborhood have their benches staked out.


We met up with Jim and Anne (Alpinista from ST) and had a really enjoyable time walking them around town and sitting in the Piazza having drinks and a chat.

Salad, zucchini carpaccio, and a simple pasta for dinner at home.











City and Towns


Wednesday morning was sunny though with dark clouds hovering on the horizon and the weather report promising more afternoon and evening rain. We drove up to Bari, an old port city that from what I read had spent years being somewhat the Bronx of Puglia, now benefitting from several years of fresh initiatives and well-placed money. There is an interesting area near the port of centuries-old buildings surrounding two churches called Bari Vecchia. We’d plotting out some parking lots using Parkopedia, and once in the city dodging insane drivers, found a lot just past the  Castello . We walked into the Barrio, through tiny streets lined with plant-filled balconies and strings of laundry. The doors open right onto the street, sometimes covered by a lace cloth if the family wants privacy, sometimes open. Peeks inside as we walked past showed surprisingly large rooms with steep stone staircases leading up.

20140618_051338                 20140618_052732

We wandered over to the Basilica, where well-dressed people were greeting each other outside, waiting for the bride to arrive for her wedding. We spent some time inside, and then with everyone else went outside to see the bride arrive–in a Ferrari. The two tiny flower girls were convinced to walk down the aisle, and we continued our walk.


2014-06-18 04.51.08       20140618_045016

20140618_044414          20140618_043241

There are two small streets where women sell  their hand-made orecchiette. This morning with the threatening rain most of them we working inside, but a few had tables outside. As we walked the winding streets, we noticed women lowering a bucket from their high balconies to a friend or delivery person on the street below, so they could haul something up without resorting to the steep stairs. We stopped for a coffee and cornetto, and sat for a while at a corner where we had a good view of the scene, everything from local kids playing soccer to a herded group from a cuisse ship, clutching their bags and cameras. There’s a lovely new seaside promenade, and unfortunately we did not get to walk over to see the fish market. From what we saw of the newer part of town, the buildings are well kept and the streets lively. I would like to spend more time in Bari.

  20140618_061207     20140618_054340

The weather was turning worse, so we drove out and down to Polignano a Mare, a pretty town on the water. Parked, walked around admiring the houses and edges of town perched about the sea, and then found a recommended place for lunch (after the one we really wanted to go to was found with a Chiuso sign)

20140618_091204            20140618_071550

We ate at a table inside, with was smart because after 1/2 hour a thunderous rainstorm began, with heavy sheets of rain. We shared an antipasti of tuna crudo; and after Larry had frito misto and I had tiella, a layered dish of rice, mussels, vegetables and potato. We met the only other Americans we’ve seen in Puglia, two couples from Pittsburgh.

20140618_074245 20140618_080352 20140618_080356

After lunch we drove around, following a sign for the Selva di Fasano. We went up and up and up a curving road, through pine woods and large, beautiful houses, many multi-coned trulli, some new ones, and one very odd thing–a Venetian-style villa.

2014-06-18 16.30.01    20140618_102920

Back home, we dried off the slippery stones of the roof patio, and were able to enjoy the view–and finally, a rainbow!

2014-06-18 18.05.47

For dinner, we wandered through he park and over to the Tavola Calda. This is sort of an Italian fast food place, where you can get cooked food to eat there or take away. Lots of local people doing just that, and the place was doing a huge business in fried potatoes. We got a plate of ravioli, a plate of tagliata (beef strips on a bed of arugula, topped with parmesean, and a plate of sautéed zucchini and peppers. All good home cooking, huge portions, and 3-5 euros a plate. And wine.  Beats McDonald’s any day.






Over and Under the Valle d’Itria


2014-06-17 04.18.08

We’ve seen trulli, those cone-shaped houses characteristic of this part of Puglia, as we’ve been driving around. One of the nearby towns, Alberobello, is famous for its concentration of them. It’s become very much a tour bus destination, so we figured we’d want to get in and out early. We had a lovely drive on the roads connecting the towns–from Ostuni to Cisternino, to Locorotundo, and then into Alberobello. You can see many of the multi-coned trulli have been renovated into fancy vacation homes, but also many that are gently crumbling.


We easily found free street parking on the main road just past the train station, and walked into the trulli district. There are actually two hillsides covered in Trulli–one has been transformed into shops selling every sort of trulli-themed made-in-China junk you can imagine; the other is more residential and much quieter. Guess which we preferred? There is also a sweet little public garden between the hills, a nice place to sit. We wandered around, snapping photos. Ominous rumbling in the sky prompted the shopkeepers to quickly haul their junk indoors, and soon enough the rain started.


20140617_040512               20140617_042015


Back in the car, we considered our options. We weren’t far from the Grotte di Castellana, caves that I’d heard were interesting to tour. I was a bit hesitant, what with my lizard-brain fear of slipping on slopes, but figured, I’d just clutch Larry when needed.

You can take a long or short tour; we opted for the short. The next one in English wasn;t until 1, so we tagged along on the next one in Italian. You first walk down an immense staircase, which gets wetter as you descend. We entered into a huge cavern, with a hole in the ceiling letting in light. This is the only place you’re allowed to take photos, which everyone but two gentlemen complied with as we were led through the caves. It really was magical, with the stalactites and stalagmites highlighted by lighting as you walk from large to small spaces.

20140617_054244                    20140617_054041

And happily, there is an elevator to get you back to the top, hooray for my knees!

The area around the caves is filled with cheap cafes and stands selling trinkets, we decided to get far away before looking for lunch options. We ended up in Cisterina, found parking just outside the old part of town, and walked in. Spooky quiet, as shops were closed for lunch, and probably half the restaurants a well. It’s a charming old place, with white houses and tiny alleyways.

20140617_092613                  20140617_091747


The town specializes in butcher shop-restaurants, where your selections are grilled and served.  We found an allyway table at Trattoria Bere Vecchie, just because there were good smells coming out of the door. We didn’t want a huge lunch, so ordered an antipasto of fave y chicoria (mashed favas topped with sautéed chicory, a popular dish here, classic poverty food that tastes great), then a mixed grill for one, and a contorni of grilled vegetables. We loved everything-the mixed grill had two kinds of meat rolled around fillings, pieces of lamb, sausage, and delicious livers. Good stuff.

20140617_082317          20140617_084649


After lunch, we explored the back roads for a while, enjoying the scenery. My map has scenic routed outlined in green, and its fun to just follow those.


20140617_073230 20140617_071130

20140617_033239     20140617_032440

Back home, we stopped at one of the guys selling cherries from a truck. He kept adding more and more to the bag in spite of Larry’s protests–“it’s a gift!” (probably his boss doesn’t want him bringing a ton of cherries back!) Anyone want some cherries? What I wouldn’t give for my canning equipment.


Burrrata. It’s what’s for dinner.




Morning in Lecce


We headed down to Lecce this morning. Mondays can be funny in Italy, with many businesses (and so town centers) closed down tight. We figured that Lecce, with more of a big city and touristic influence, would be “open.” It was an easy drive into the city, and we found parking around the public gardens.
Lecce is an old city with a partially uncovered Roman amphitheater, but really came into its own during the 15th century, when there were a staggering number of churches and palazzos built. The local limestone carves easily, and as the Baroque was in full swing, thousands of putti and swirly columns decorate just about every surface. It’s a bit dizzying, actually, but since the interiors of many of the churches are usually decorated in the carved stone, there’s a lovely lightness to what are usually dark spaces.
20140616_054208        20140616_054310


20140616_051214                  20140616_045647


20140616_044035         20140616_040047


We enjoyed walking around the city, following walks detailed in a little book we found in our rental. When our feet gave out, we rested in the public gardens and searched for a restaurant. Just about all the choices I had researches were closed Mondays. We ended up wandering into a simple place, and had decent though forgettable lunches.

By 3, the clouds were gathering and the wind was picking up, so we decided to drive home. The skies opened, and a thunderous rainstorm began. When the water started sheeting on the road, we pulled off into a gas station, where many cars, and several police officers all convened to wait things out. Hailstones dropped for a while, bouncing around the pavement. When things slowed down we got back on the road.

Back home, Larry walked over to the fish store, and bougth some large whole scampi. Not like they’re sold at home–these guys had heads and claws, the real deal. I marinated them in oil, garlic and salt, and we threw them onto the grill. Divine. You know when people say shrimp are sweet? These really were.




Ostuni and Around


The drive south from Rome was uneventful, just tiring. We’d picked up the car at Termini (after the agent sternly told us “always use a parking garage in the South or the car will be stolen!” Guess those North-South attitudes are still with us). Got Italy’s Worst Panino at the Autogrill (I am not one charmed by the Autogrill) and continued through Lazio, Campana, and into Puglia. Following a mixture of the owner’s directions and the GPS, we got thoroughly lost in the outskirts of Ostuni. Revising somewhat, we got back on track, only to be caught unawares by a blocked off street with a pile of rocks–the street we had to go on. We eventually found our way around, navigating the one-way streets, and those that should really be one-way, with a healthy dose of cursing from driver and navigator. Found parking, found the lovely house, and gratefully opened a bottle of wine left by the keyholder. The house is in the second oldest part of town, just across from the hill containing the maze of streets of the oldest, surrounding the Cathedral. Our street has many elderly residents–we have a chorus greeting us each time we pass by now. Like many of the houses, it’s tall and narrow, one room on each floor. As the ceilings are high and arched, the staircases are alarmingly steep, with high risers. Us with short legs are getting a workout–I have no idea how the old ladies in the neighborhood do it. For us, the view from the top terrace is totally worth it.

Found the supermarket, got provisions for a few days, and threw together a pasta with local ricotta, tomatoes, arugula and basil.

20140614_151201                  20140614_151657


On Sunday morning, we walked around town before the tour buses showed up. The old part of Ostuni is crowded with shops selling local products–olive oil, dried pastas, rather ugly items made from the local white stone. There are still obviously real residents here in the back streets, judging by the plenty of laundry drying by doorways and across lines. The Greek-influenced architecture is especially lovely against the blue sky.

20140615_032853   20140615_033259

20140615_033409               20140615_034413

20140615_034751      20140615_034647


For lunch, we drove over to Ceglie Messapica, a lovely 15th century town. The rain that had been threatening finally came down in buckets, so we stopped our walk and found the restaurant that J had recommended, Osteria Guiseppe. We were the first ones there at 1. They do a fixed price four-course meno, with 2-3 choices for the pirmi and secondi. The food started arriving, and continued for two hours. Meanwhile the small place was filled with Italian families. The food was largely traditional, including things like ricotta forte, a horribly stinky version of the usual sweet ricotta, lots of marinated vegetables with the antipasti, orechiette served in the sauce the bracciole was cooked in, and tiny local nut cookies. We paced ourselves, couldn’t possibly eat it all, and enjoyed talking with the lovely owners. Best dishes were the antipasti, the pasta with a pesto of arugula, and the carpaccio. Lunch finished with fruit salad, nut cookies, and homemade digestifs.

  20140615_070355         20140615_073959

20140615_065951               20140615_080909

20140615_064031 20140615_091319

Rolled out, and drove around a bit, past endless old olive groves and stone fences. Finally headed toward the coast, and pulled into a place recommended by our apartment owners, Pilone. Most of the coastline is highly developed, with rather scrubby looking beach towns and gated-off beach clubs, but this little cove is lovely. The sun came out for a few minutes, turning the water green and blue. href=””>20140615_094504     20140615_094447


20140615_095559                  20140615_095549


We plan to come back here some morning to laze.