People have been talking about Puglia (or Apulia, depending on who’s doing the talking) for years now. It’s not surprising. The region’s amazing food, along with its unspoilt cities, towns and beaches have long been favourites among Italophiles searching for a genuine Italian experience, far away from wandering packs of tourists looking to tick another Michelangelo off their lists.
It seems like this is the year that the world’s media is finally getting the message that there’s something magical going on in the heel of the Italian boot.
We noticed the buzz building last summer, when The New York Times spent 36 hours in Lecce. Even though 36 hours is hardly enough to get under the skin of Southern Italy’s best city, they did pick out a few gems, especially the unique relaxed energy that bathes its centre every evening.
“Locals tend to congregate on the lively outdoor terrace of Caffè Alvino on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo, which sits alongside the partly excavated ruins and other landmarks from Lecce’s past. Sit back, order a Lecce specialty called caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla (espresso with ice and almond milk) and admire the majestic stone Sedile — a former town hall and armory built in the late 16th century — and the soaring stone pillar topped by a statue of the city’s patron saint, St. Oronzo, from the Baroque period.”
A few months earlier, the intrepid sippers at Wine Enthusiast Magazine had named Puglia as one of the World’s 10 Best Wine Destinations, gushing with adoration for the entire region.
“The historic city of Lecce offers the purest expression of Moorish-Italian Baroque. Weathered stone and whitewashed buildings pop against green olive groves. Trulli are the mysterious cone houses in the Itria Valley, and all of Puglia’s stunning beauty is surrounded by some of the bluest waters in Europe... To say that Puglia has Italy’s best food is no exaggeration.”
The gastronauts at The Independent had shorter to travel, but they didn’t hesitate to name Puglia in their Top Eight Foodie Destinations of 2014. Try to read the ‘Make Sure You Try…’ section of their story without salivating:
“Make sure you try Puglia's sublime orecchiette pasta served with cime di rapa – bitter turnip tops tossed with anchovies. Pugliese pane (bread) is legendary; the best is cooked in a wood-fire. Local sheep and cow's milk cheeses are excellent, including burrata – made by treating mozzarella and placing a bit of cream inside. The outside is impeccably smooth; when you cut it open, you release strips of cheese encasing the cream.”
But we really realised something special was happening when National Geographic Traveler named Puglia as one of its Best Trips for 2014, gushing about its unique, unspoilt southern charms.
"If you go to Tuscany nowadays, you have to know where to go and what to do to have an off-the-beaten-path experience... But Puglia is always off the beaten path. Will Puglia change? Probably, someday. But not yet. For now, Puglia boasts the best of southern Italy: the pace, the traditions, the beauty."
We agree with everything that’s been written. Now is the time to visit Puglia. And we’re looking forward to sharing all of it with you.
Photos courtesy of Gianni Cipriano for the New York Times.