If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-track, wallet friendly, and not swamped-with-tourists destination in Italy, I think Puglia is the answer. For summer last year, I headed out to Puglia for Summer Part 2 (first part being my hot but enjoyable trip to Karuizawa), joining my travelling buddies from Hong Kong. Known for their abundance of olive groves (Fun fact: Puglia is the largest producer of olive oil in Italy), quaint coastal beaches and hilly town, their seafood is also one of the best and relatively cheaper then the central cities of Italy like Milan and Rome.
We booked a large villa called Villa Elia in this small town of Parabita. This is close to the most southern part of Puglia, and the closest seaside town is Gallipoli. The nearest airport to get to here would be the Salento Brindisi Airport (slightly more than an hour to our villa by car). The villa still retains much of the original architecture, including its stone staircase. Complete with 8 bedrooms, the bedrooms are spread over 3 floors. The villa has its own plantation of olive trees, lemon trees, swimming pool, plus they even have their own donkeys somewhere nearby called Dolce and Gabbana (seriously, not a joke!). The villa was constructed in 1792, and owned by an aristocratic family – the Ravenna family, but it was subsequently purchased in 2004 by Gaetano Castellini, son of a famous Milanese couturier, Lella Curiel. To be exact this villa, is more a fortified farmhouse, which was commonly built back in those days as summer homes for the wealthy to escape in from the heat. We booked it through the Thinking Traveller which has a great selection of villas to choose from, but you can see up close more photos on their own dedicated website.
First view of Villa Elia from the front.
Chilling at night with a book.
Iconic clock bedroom – mine!
The great thing about staying in a villa with such large grounds was the flexibility to just do whatever we wanted, like swimming anytime of the day, working out on the greens, and even having cooking classes in our home. We had a pizza chef come in one night to teach us how to make pizza, as there’s a huge pizza oven in the backyard of Villa Elia, and we learnt to make Pugliese food with Chef Anna Maria. Learning to make pasta was seriously difficult, especially with my fat paws. We even laid out on the lawn on our last night there, as it coincided with the blood moon. We had a breakfast chef that came in daily to make us breakfast and on days that we didn’t feel like heading out, we dined at home, which makes it so chill and laidback.
Chilling with my crab.
Count down to blood moon sighting!
Typical lunch spread @ home!
With Chef Anna Maria.
WHERE TO EAT AND SEE
Given we were located quite close to the southern tip of Puglia, we only managed to go as far as Lecce. Here’s my list of the must dos and eats by locations.
Parabita and Alezio
If you happen to decide to stay at Villa Elia like us or in the town of Parabita – gotta check out gelato and patisserie shop – Arte Bianca di Antonio Campeggio (Via Don Luigi Sturzo, 18, 73052 Parabita LE, Italy). They have a fabulous selection of pastries, local Italian desserts and gelato, and can custom cakes – we surprised our friends with a birthday cake from here! We made many frequent runs here for desserts.
For amazing cheese, look no further then this family run dairy shop Azienda Agricola Pastore Bruno (Via Rocci Perrella, 96, 73011 Alezio LE, Italy) Tel: +39 0833 282761. Their burrata is just the freshest.
For an amazing seafood centric lunch from grilled seafood to fresh seafood pastas – look no further than at La Puritate. We only went to this gem of a restaurant on a last day in Puglia, it’s good enough to warrant a repeat visit for sure! Reservations are needed as this place gets really popular. Via Sant’Elia, 18, 73014 Gallipoli LE, Italy, Tel: +39 0833 264205
My all time favourite go to dessert stop, one of many branches in Puglia is Martinucci Laboratory. They have a great location near the Castello di Gallopoli. Known for their gelato, amazing local Pugliese desserts like Pasticciotto, a classic to try when here. However, I really love their tiramisu here and their gelato, which is what I come for here repeatedly during my stay. And they open for long hours which makes it an ideal place for breakfast, tea or even supper! Riviera Armando Diaz, 129, 73014 Gallipoli LE, Italy.Tel: +39 0833 263391. See website for more locations.
Generally, the town area here can be rather touristy, and there’s nothing much to buy honestly, except fresh seafood from the Gallipoli Fish Market (Via C. Colombo Riviera, 28, 73014 Gallipoli LE, Italy). This is a great place here to buy fresh seafood to bring home to cook! There were so many choices, but we decided on just getting a bit of everything to make a giant pot of Italian seafood stew.
Snapshots of some of my favourites from La Puritate.
Tiramisu and coffee – my favourite combi anywhere in Italy especially at Martinucci.
Snippets of the Gallipoli Castle behind me.
From the west coast, we head to the east coast of the Southern tip of Puglia – the quaint town of Otranto. Facing the Adriatic sea, if you wish to visit a town in this vicinity which is a bit less touristy, it’s worth a visit to see the imposing Aragonese Castle of Otranto as well as the charming Romanesque cathedral – Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata, which dates back to 1088 and I really enjoyed admiring the intricate finishes on the ceiling and the 12th century floor mosaics. The town is very easily explorable on foot – we didn’t have so much time to check out the restaurants and cafes here, but was nice looking out at the sea front as we meandered up and down the lanes.
Posing in front of the Santa Maria Cathedral.
Some glimpses of the altar in Santa Maria.
Gorgeous detailing on the ceiling.
Admiring the Adriatic sea which the Aragonese Castle and Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata.
For dinner, head further south to Hosteria Del Pardo (Via Doppia Croce, 17, 73040 Santa Maria di Leuca LE, Italy, Tel: +39 349 286 2788, Reservations better especially during peak periods). A rustic restaurant at the most southern tip, it serves up homestyle Italian cooking. And after dinner, walk to Gelateria Dolce Leuca at Via Cristoforo Colombo for some homemade gelato, especially if you are craving Pistachio. It may not be as good as the ones I have had in Florence, but still decent for Puglia.
Dinner at Hosteria Del Pardo.
Enjoying the beach view on the way to dinner at Hosteria Del Pardo.
After dinner gelato spread at Gelateria Dolce Leuca.
Last on the list is the ancient town of Lecce, known for its many architectural monuments such as the Roman Amphitheatre of Lecce, which I managed to visit in our short half day visit here, a 40 minute drive from our villa in Parabita. Known as the Florence of the South, it’s quite a nice walk around the historic town and narrow lanes flanked by many shops selling everything from olive oil, to linens. I spent a long time obsessing and perusing over which linens to purchase at Epiphany Society, a beautifully curated store of everything linen for your home. Given Puglia produces the largest volume of olive oil, don’t miss out on getting some for yourself at the gourmet shops in Lecce. For food wise, unfortunately, none of us were wowed, the restaurant we went to was supposedly highly recommended, but it was quite a disappointment. Perhaps I am not that into Pugliese food or was I expecting more, given the hype about being the Florence of the South?
Roman Amphitheatre of Lecce.
Gorgeous nightview of Lecce.
There’s still so much to see in Puglia, given we focussed on the most southern tip of this portion in Italy. I hope to be back to visit the central and northern parts of Puglia such as Bari and the UNESCO heritage site of Arborello. Till next time! And gonna just day dream about that insanely beautiful beaches of Gallipoli.
Gorgeous nightview of Lecce.
Last views of our villa in Puglia.