Holidaying and Eating in Italy 2018 (Part Two): Maremma, Tuscany

Just look at this chef’s face! He’s happy, very happy and so are we who enjoy his food. Continue reading “Holidaying and Eating in Italy 2018 (Part Two): Maremma, Tuscany”

Holidaying and Eating in Italy 2018 (Part One): Veneto to Marche and Tuscany (and back)

“Are you sitting comfortably?” my man asked as I mounted our motorbike upon departure. My day was made with this concern of his over my well being, let alone the fact we were heading to Italy for a summer vacation.

By the early evening we would arrive to a wonderful town of Urbino
First stopover: Menegaldo in Veneto

Since we left home a bit later than planned, we needed to adjust our plans for where to stop for lunch. Continue reading “Holidaying and Eating in Italy 2018 (Part One): Veneto to Marche and Tuscany (and back)”

Traditions to be kept

Traditions are meant to be kept. Some of them at least.

Throughout history certain rites, beliefs and customs were repeated over and over again by human kind, modified by new notions that developed and accumulated along the way as time passed, and most certainly by newcomers, then finally and definitely upgraded by new generations that unavoidably followed. This time of year, when it nears its ends, it is apparently the time when I appear to be ponder-ish and kind of blue. Continue reading “Traditions to be kept”

Touring Piedmont, Italy, or Reminiscence of Summer

It’s a shame this site has not been keeping on for a while now and I’m sorry about that. Today’s post has been long in the making, the seasons changed dramatically in the meantime. Listing my reasons for not posting would just be too lame so I’m simply inviting you to step a few months back with me into the wondrous land of Piedmont, Italy.

A view ofGovone, a very pretty village in the region of Langhe in Piedmont
Govone, a very pretty village in the region of Langhe in Piedmont. Not only wine also hazelnuts are big here.

Lately (please keep in mind this post was first beginning to take shape almost two months ago) every time I looked out the window towards the park or around me outdoors I was struck by how wonderful this year’s autumn was. September was a true disappointment weather-wise, so I guess it wasn’t too hard for October to outperform it. Outperform it did: the nature’s treasures are glorifying. The generous sun provided for all possible shades of yellow, red and brown. Marvellous.

Piedmont, Italy

Continue reading “Touring Piedmont, Italy, or Reminiscence of Summer”

Matera in Basilicata, Italy

It must be one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever visited: an ancient town named Matera in Italian region of Basilicata, occupying the arch of the Italian foot, bordering the southernmost regions of Italian peninsula: Campania, Puglia and Calabria.

The coulds gathered over Matera emphasizing the dreariness of the times past
Matera in Basilicata bathing in the grey

Now, as I’m writing this, contemplating the travels past on a rainy evening, I’ve poured myself a glass of red wine to keep the meandering thoughts going, and it must be more than a coincidence that the wine is a superb Primitivo di Manduria, the one we fell in love with during our holiday to Apulia last summer. A holiday when we devoted a day to visit Matera in the neighbouring Basilicata.

Continue reading “Matera in Basilicata, Italy”

Nova Gorica and Gorizia Revisited or the Fragrant Bourbons

After last year’s visit to the magnificent Bourbon tomb in Franciscan Monastery in Kostanjevica I was promised another visit to see the glorious Bourbon rose garden next door. Yes, the last (Bourbon) king of France is buried in a tiny monastery above Nova Gorica and Gorizia on the Slovenian side of the Slovenian Italian border. I’ve written about it here. This last weekend we went to see them, the fragrant Bourbon roses. As always with my man, the trip included a delicious lunch and also a nice walk, this time through another garden. Another new discovery. More on it below.

Lunch at Rosenbar in Gorizia. This time I resisted (the usual) alici and opted for insalata di polpo e sepia. A wonderfully fresh and delicious starter.
This time I resisted (the usual) alici and opted for insalata di polpo e sepia. A wonderfully fresh and delicious starter.

I’m no expert on roses, or gardening for that matter, Continue reading “Nova Gorica and Gorizia Revisited or the Fragrant Bourbons”

A Glimpse of Le Marche, Italy

Ever heard of Senigallia? Me neither. Until last summer that is. As it turns out, it’s one of the most popular sea-side resort towns on the Italian side of Adriatic coast in the region of Le Marche. It’s where masses of Italian families spend their beach holiday. I was shocked by the sheer size, i.e. length of it.

Sunflower field in Le Marche
A field of sunflowers in lovely countryside of Le Marche, Italy

Continue reading “A Glimpse of Le Marche, Italy”

Aperitivo Time

On everyday occasions, which family lunch or early dinner certainly are, I, not unlike many working women and men, tend to resort to staple dishes that can be whizzed through with no recipe, quickly and without an extra trip to the store. Every home cook has a selection of fail safe dishes up their sleeve that can save the day and feed the exhausted and famished loved ones.

Sage thoughts

Continue reading “Aperitivo Time”

Corvara in Badia, Italy

I’d like to say that Corvara in Badia (1568 m) is a lovely little village but I’d be lying. Not that I’m saying it’s ugly but the magnificent part of it is its surroundings. Huge Alpine-style houses, almost all of them dedicated, to some extent at least, to the tourists and their needs, and numerous hotels line the main road and narrow service lanes. Everything is very tidy, no unruly parking anywhere, no mess, no chaos. It’s almost as if it wasn’t Italy.

 

Corvara in Badia

Corvara is one of six little places that form Alta Badia in the majestic Dolomites. The mountains in fact are the biggest draw here, winter or summer. What used to be a giant coral reef up until some 250 million years ago when the prehistoric sea subsided is now the exceptional mountain range that we know today for its unusually shaped formations and colour, so very different from the encircling Alpine classics. It’s the mountains and the views of them and from them that take your breath away. It’s Unesco heritage for a reason. Continue reading “Corvara in Badia, Italy”

Italy, I Miss You

Sometimes I wonder why I like to go to Italy so much. Well, there are many obvious and profane reasons, all of them perfectly legitimate, like shopping for shoes and food, chancing upon history and sights around each and every corner, sensing the arts, learning about la vita italiana.

 

Martina Franca, Apulia, Italy

It makes sense that the more often you visit the same place the more details you notice: not only the obvious ones nor solely the pleasant. Continue reading “Italy, I Miss You”

Tarvisio, Italy

It’s a little town, so little that it can easily be missed. Nevertheless, Tarvisio is a town not a village. It’s nestled within a very narrow Alpine valley and it’s where, figuratively, at the end of the road Italy ends. Before the EU and its Schengen Agreement it was rather notoriously known in the neighbouring Austria and Slovenia (or Yugoslavia) as a shopping Mecca where one could stock on cheap textiles and leather goods of dubious provenance at its numerous market stalls. The memory attributes to it much more romance than it actually ever offered even to those who were the buying customers and not mere passersby. The market is still there although moderately gentrified.

Roughly, it could be said, the town is divided on lower and upper part, which means it runs the length of two parallel roads. The lower part is the old, medieval centre with the narrow winding main road on which traffic runs the regular two-way as if there was enough room. In truth, there’s hardly enough room for two pedestrians to meet let alone the motor vehicles. Sadly, nowadays it is mostly lined with closed businesses and empty (and dirty) shop windows, but the more the road ascends the more lively the town seems to be becoming. Luckily, for my grandmother at least, Preschern, an old school hardware store, is still in business at its ancient premises: it’s where my brother and my son though decades apart got their first bicycles from.

When the road somewhat snakily turns the steep way up under the disused railway underpass it widens substantially. There’s a decent if not surprising selection of shops for a town of such a small scale: mostly fashion and sports equipment but also unmissable alimenti, enoteceedicola, quite a number of coffee bars and restaurants. The tourism is probably what keeps the things stirring. Lately, the town has been into skiing seriously. Quite a step from trading and border guarding.

Men used to come to work in Tarvisio from other more pleasant (and warmer) parts of Italy. It was where the Italian state had sent them to fortify and protect its border. It’s easy to imagine the resentment of their wives and families who had to oblige and follow. Consequently, people from elsewhere were brave and stubborn enough to have brought with them their own traditions. And so, on the bare banchetto at first, the feisty Signora Emma, coming from a coastal town and unaccustomed to the cold and snow but unwilling to give in, started out her idea of feeding fish to the locals. (I should remind myself to ask my grandmother about it: she might remember it.) The unpretentious Ristorante Adriatico (link below) was born. It’s a homely place with dated decor but a nice view over to the ski slopes and the mountains. Fish is fresh and delicious. It’s been a while since we’ve had such a satisfying meal of spaghetti alle vongole so heartily prepared. Tiramisu was just as good.

They have certainly used their winter wisely, the Tarvisiani. For as long as I can remember the winters in Tarvisio have been real, solid winters with loads of snow and freezing cold. Well, truth be told, the snow doesn’t come in abundance these days but the cold of winter is nevertheless very actual and harsh. Never forget to bring a hat, a shawl and a pair of sturdy shoes.

 

And we haven’t started discussing the summer yet. Hiking the majestic mountains, breathing deeply on green pastures, wandering through the endless forests, biking along the bike lanes or uphill, or meditating in this lovely mountainous recluse. It seems tempting enough especially, but not only, under the thick blanket of snow. It’s so pretty it’s almost kitschy, don’t you think?

 

Related:

Ristorante e Albergo Adriatico

Doni di Bacco probably the best enoteca cum alimenti in this part of Italy (they even stock Mancini pasta)

Tarvisio facts

 

The First Run of the Year or The Curious Case of Storytelling

Here we are, in the coldest time of the year, and I ran for the first time this year yesterday. The morning was quite chilly with -13 Centigrade and the temperature didn’t rise significantly by the afternoon. Still, I chose running instead of skiing as day’s main activity. For a seasoned runner I consider myself to be the cold isn’t believed a hindrance. And one warms up running much more than skiing.

It’s one thing to be running and listening to music, but it’s entirely something else to be running and listening to spoken word in podcasts. I find that way, to simplify, the whole body is employed: the limbs and the mind. Sometimes I find myself so absorbed in the listening that I either run too fast or too slow. A human mind is a fantastic space. Especially the aspect of telling and listening to stories, which in a broader sense of all beings only humans are capable of, and I mean not only pure (fictional) stories but the act of being able to transform the heard word, the text listened to, to images in one’s mind is fantastic, isn’t it? It’s a complex activity of our brain: making up stories, storytelling, listening to stories and visualising them simultaneously. It is magic. I find it truly overwhelming.

So, where did this ability take me to yesterday on the coolest of afternoons? Sicily. There I was among the heaps of immense heads of green cauliflower in the Palermo’s market. I attended the lavish banquets together with the noblemen of the 19th century Sicily. I watched Garibaldi’s ships land at Marsala. I entered the not-so-secret-anymore chocolate making shops of Modica. Quite a journey. Just before arriving back home I noticed nasty cool wind picked up sometime during my run and if it hadn’t been for somewhat numb fingers I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. I wondered if and how these polar winter conditions are manifested in Sicily. From the warmth of our home it seems quite romantic. Deceitfully so, I know.

 

Related:

In fact, there’s a whole science on the subject: Brian Boyd on why do we tell storiescritics on the subject and On the Origins of Stories via auslit.net

Sicily’s secret chocolate obsession via BBC

Ever wondered what else to use cauliflower for?

The top-selling book in Italian history

Freezing Europe

Tuscany Revisited, Autumn Continues

Soon, the bricks and mortar of Florence were replaced by gentle hills of rural southern Tuscany. The weather, the food, the wine, the mood – everything mixed and moulded into perfect getaway.

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People were picking olives on sunny slopes of olive groves with nets carefully laid under the trees. Every frantoio we passed was busy, the tractors parked at the entrance waiting to unload the crates of precious fruit. Continue reading “Tuscany Revisited, Autumn Continues”

Florence, Tuscany

Early on Saturday morning we left for Florence for a short break. We were eagerly anticipating that trip for we didn’t stop in Florence this last summer en route further south for the summer holiday. We thought we better leave it out so we have a relevant reason to return to Tuscany again later in the year. Not that one actually needs a relevant reason; there are plenty more or less simple and basic ones. Delightfully, we stuck to that plan.

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Florence is a magnificent city as anyone who ever visited will tell you. I haven’t met a soul who’d complain about it or think ill about it (although the hordes of tourists are in fact quite overwhelming and at times very much suffocating).

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Anyone heading to Florence (or further south) from the east please note that the new route between Bologna and Florence is now finally open (we gladly found that out back in July already), so a traveller can choose between Panoramica (the pre-existent motorway) and Direttissima (new and faster way, lots of tunnels). The two meet at the top of the hills near Barberino di Mugello. This part of the way between Bologna and Florence used to be the most tiresome because the lanes were dramatically narrow for all the heavy traffic (trucks! trucks!), continuing ups and downs and endless curves. Now, if you’re lucky, you’ll be jammed only for a (relatively) short period of time (of course the never-ending road works are on-going) before descending downhill to Florence.

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Which reminds me of my childhood, when driving in our parents’ car towards the Adriatic coast for the summer holiday my brother and I competed impatiently who was going to be the first to glimpse the sea. Cheerful exclamations of “The sea! The sea!” were the proof the holiday had commenced. Even now, as a grown-up, when approaching that last curve before the descent, I usually feel the excitement of a child: the sea is still a vast blue breadth holding a promise of good times and jolly. This same captivating feeling upon descent down the Apennines onto the plain where Florence spreads out all elegant and classy moves me dearly, and the restless eye looks out for the tremendous cupola of the Duomo. The child in me shyly exclaims “Duomo! Duomo!” thus confirming the good time is here.

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We had the best possible time in Tuscany this autumn. Two days in Florence and two in the country. The four days were sunny and warm (no socks! short sleeves! sunglasses!) and we could enjoy the impressive colours and fruits of autumn without limits.

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The flavours of autumn were persistent too: marroni (glazed and roasted), freshly pressed olive oil, ribollita on day one, trippa alla fiorentina on the last. And many other delicious meals in-between.

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Marrons glaces at Caffe Giacosa
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Tiny kitchen, delicious dinner at Coco Lezzone

Despite the leading motifs of autumn and the cool nights, we simply couldn’t skip the best Florentine ice cream. We walked to Carabe after dinner (every additional trip up Via Ricasoli makes the walk seem shorter) and I (of course) had a cup of Sicilian agrumi and crema. So good! As I remarked to the master how delicious his ice cream is every time we have it (for we have been returning customers for years now), he smiled and humbly said it was the quality of the ingredients that made the end product reliably superb.

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Two days are scarcely enough to explore Florence if one is to do it justice. But to take it all in it’s enough to submerse into its elegant streets, turning the head more often upwards at the marvellous Tuscan facades and peeking past the ajar doors into craftsmen’s workshops or brick paved courtyards with cisterns. Notice the Duomo looming large above and behind the narrow streets. Carelessly sip the coffee or Negroni which is what Bellini is for Venice. Watch the people and scan the exquisite shops.

See some of the obvious sights en route: Piazza della Signoria, Ponte Vecchio, Davide, Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, Basilica di Santa Maria Novella – there is more art, beauty and history than you can imagine. Breathtaking.

Shop for fantastic designer goods (many of the great Italian designers originate in Florence) or for refined Florentine prints in countless tiny shops or for medicinal herbal tonics and fragrant soap.

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By all means, plan to return. Florence like Venice is pure magic.

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Related:

Our favourite eatery in Florence is Sostanza in Via del Porcellana but it’s open weekdays only. So we chose this one instead and it was very good. EDIT: We ate at Trattoria Sostanza again in summer 2018. It was delicious as ever.

Ai Weiwei exhibition in Pallazzo Strozzi till January 2017

Ignore the silly fashion industry photos lining the walls if you please but do take your coffee at Caffe Giacosa because it really is excellent. The interior itself has been painstakingly renovated so it retains the same old school charm – a must-see – and the service is attentive. Alternatively, Gilli is another Florentine institution (for more info in Italian only see Italian wikipedia).

A few weeks ago saw a launch of a much anticipated TV series on the Medicis, the most famous of Florentine dynasties. As it turns out, it’s so far been aired in Italy only but pay attention to when it comes to your country. According to the frenzy it seems to be a good one.

Official site Florence tourism

Gorizia, Nova Gorica and Charles X of France

It’s fascinating to be European. With so many tribes and rulers and nations and states interchanging, mixing, succeeding one another, one is sure to not know the whole history of one’s own let alone the one of the others. The history of Gorizia and Nova Gorica, two neighbouring towns, one in Italy and the other in Slovenia, is figuratively and actually an interesting one. Both have been relatively unknown beyond their geographic region but this might be changing soon. Enter France.

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My first time ever to visit both towns purposefully was last June. True, I happened to pass them by many times before especially on our way to Collio and Goriška Brda. I was told that both of the towns are fairly uninteresting so I never really felt like I was missing much by not seeing yet another Austria-Hungarian merchant town and yet another bleak communist settlement.

The region surrounding them (on both sides of the Italian-Slovenian border) on the other hand is well known among wine connoisseurs. The soil and climate conditions and hard-working people give some spectacular wines that can be found in restaurants’ wine lists worldwide. And where there’s good wine there’s good food, right?

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Primo piato in Rosenbar, Gorizia

Plenty good options for either lunch or dinner around here. The countryside is wonderful for a daytrip alone: meandering roads, manicured hilly vineyards, many lovely villages, a castle or two (Spessa, Dobrovo), lots of wineries, different options of bicycle tours or horse riding (La Subida), or just plain good old lunching time in the country.

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The two towns are rather dull but Gorizia’s charms are good food (it’s Italy after all), rose lined corsi (and come spring every other house’s wall is transformed into curtain of jasmine so the wonderful perfume follows you around like a faithful dog) and some grand palazzi. Nova Gorica (meaning New Gorizia) as an alternative is a town of no big secrets lest the last resting place of the penultimate king of France.

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The Franciscan monastery Kostanjevica on the hill above Nova Gorica is a lovely spot. Tranquility and serenity are at home there and the views especially are nice. It’s where locals come for some peace and quiet. The summer’s day at the end of June was hot, the light was harsh, the colours stark. The man showed us in and accompanied us to the crypt where the tombs are. He was very busy so we were offered to do a little tour on our own which was marvellous. The whole place was solely at our own disposal.

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The last (Bourbon) King of France (next one (and truly the last one) cleverly denoted himself as the King of the French) Charles X is buried here along his entourage. Don’t know why this fantastic information was kept from us growing up under Yugoslavian communist rule. It wasn’t because the king had to flee France as a result of the revolution. Communists praised the revolution. Possibly the venue was not to be promoted since religion was a no-no. As I said, I don’t know. I’ve known about the Bourbon tomb in Slovenia only for a few years now which is a disgrace but ever since I found out I’d wanted to go and see.

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The monastery also houses the perfect (and second largest in Europe) collection of Bourbon (surprise!) roses within its walled garden. We’ll return next May when it’s in full bloom. It is another thing I long to see.

As for the French, suddenly they want him back. Apparently, he’s the only king buried outside France. R.I.P.

 

Related:

France calls for remains of King Charles X to be returned from Slovenia

Bourbon Tombs, Monastery Kostanjevica

Bourbon Rose Collection, Monastery Kostanjevica

http://www.touringclub.it/itinerari-e-weekend/weekend-in-friuli-che-cosa-fare-e-bere-nel-collio

 

Lecce, Apulia, Italy


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Whenever I flip through the photographs I took, a warm feeling comes over me. Mostly, I remember the mood not only of the place but the one I was in at that moment.

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Different occasions provoke different responses: these days it is a regretful sense that the holiday season is over. I know, I know, the whole world is back to work again (myself included) so stop moaning and groaning, right? Right. Let me take you on a trip to Lecce then, as promised. This way please.

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There was this store we were passing every day for it was just around the corner of the garage where we parked. Its shelves were full of wine and champagne bottles and other liquor from all over the world. The loaded pallets were stacked outside on the pavement in front of the store waiting for lorries and vans to collect them. On our second evening in Lecce we decided to stop by and ask if one or two bottles can be bought since it gave the impression more of a wholesale. Well, we could’ve bought the entire pallet had we known how good the wine was going to be and spent the holiday happily surrounded by emptying bottles. We’d end up lying under the table soon enough though because the Apulian reds are intoxicatingly strong. So, instead of doing that we healthily opted for two bottles to drink on our terraces (yes, we had four at our disposal) before going out or after we’d return or for no reason at all – just to enjoy them. Not only did the signore serving us suggest two lovely wines, Primitivo di Manduria and Negroamaro, when asked he would happily recommend a place for dinner.

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“Fish?” he asked. Upon our confirmation he stepped outside and we obligingly followed because, well, of course, you have to be outdoors to give directions properly, and murmuring to himself and counting using his fingers directed us, verbally and manually alla italiana: “Seconda left, porta grande, prima right, corner e li ristorante Blu notte.”

To be honest, the restaurant didn’t look very convincing upon our inspection (it resembled a regular tourist trap). But we were shown the day’s fish and decided to dine. The restaurant filled up completely by nine (mostly locals; lady from the kitchen came out to greet them that’s how we knew) and was bursting with muted voices of diners’ satisfaction. It was soooo good. I’d like to say that it was then and there I had the best octopus and the best fritto misto of my life but I’d be lying. I had the best octopus and the best fritto misto a few days later when we chose Blu Notte to be the venue of our last Apulian dinner. There may be better ones but haven’t been discovered yet.

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No surprise then that the next evening when we were passing the wine store I asked: “Another place?” Signore was genuinely happy and gleamed with pride when he heard we liked his previous recommendation. This time the directions were in higher numbers but nevertheless quite straightforward: “Quattro left, sette, no, otto right, venti metri, right: Degli spiriti.”

There, we entered the oasis of calm and elegance that this restaurant is. It was exactly what we needed after the hustle and bustle of the whole day around town. The food was to die for. The antipasto of melanzane was too good to be true as were the orecchiette with clams and chickpeas – what a wonderful combination. Mind you, the dish was filled with full halves of the clams only – where else do you get that?

The wine we had was superb as was the passito that rounded off the meal nicely. We returned to the apartment hypnotised by the deliciousness of it all.

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By all means, there’s more to Lecce than food and wine. There had been the Messapians, the Greek, the Romans, the Normans, and the Ottomans. The rich mixture of cultures and their clashes caused the town to have developed a distinctive charm. There are countless impressive churches, terrific villas, monuments of astounding proportions, colourful roof tiling, extravagant baroque facades that blow your mind, not one but two Roman theatres, infinite number of ornate balconies with bearded plants hanging over them, huge pedestrian area for passeggiata and numerous picturesque streets of the golden centro storico. Proximity to the coast adds appeal and the climate is fantastic. I’ve said it before, Lecce is overwhelming. Breathtaking. Astonishing.

We were very lucky to have had selected a fantastic accommodation and I highly recommend a rooftop place to stay: the views over town’s landmarks, terraces, flat roofs, aerials and church bells are unforgettable. Plus, the gentle movements of the evening air are priceless in the summer heat because the only place to feel the gentle breeze is on top.

Last but not least, beginning another new day with a delicious breakfast under the shade surrounded by blue skies and lush Med greenery is a rare luxury several floors above the dried up stone pavements.

As for the signore from the wine store, we never met him again although we passed the store almost every evening, carrying our helmets at the near ending of yet another joyful day. I regret we couldn’t fire the sparks in his eyes with praise of his recommendations again.

Related:

Wikipedia on Lecce

Roof Barocco Suite B&B

Primitivo di Manduria Felline 2011

Negroamaro Salento Notarpanaro 2007

Antico Palmento Acini Spargoli Primitivo di Manduria

Jorche Primitivo di Manduria Riserva 2011

Ristorante Blu Notte

Osteria Degli Spiriti

La Bottega del Corso

Linciano Vini

Salento, Apulia, Italy

I went for a run yesterday. Only my third after the holiday, and after initial lack of will and motivation I can proclaim I’m back in the saddle: it felt good again. Sadly, I noticed the more than slight change en route. The leaves on the trees are beginning to wither. The shadows are becoming longer and darker as the days shorten and the cyclamen are here again. Their bewitching scent was a nice company although it meant the autumn was just around the corner. A perfect moment then to recollect the summer holiday memories and order them up.

A spectacular Adriatic coast of Apulia
A spectacular Adriatic coast of Apulia

Oh boy, what a holiday! It’s pretty obvious I was smitten with Apulia from day one. It’s very well possible that it was one of our best travels ever.

Colours, tastes, scent, delights for eyes and mind – all is there, making you healthily aware of your senses and feelings. I guess it’s what biology, history and sociology of a place fuse into within an attention-paying mind. A deep and long-lasting satisfaction is almost palpable.

Deep blue Adriatic and colourful oleanders
Deep blue Adriatic and colourful oleanders

When we entered the crypt of Otranto duomo perching above a coastal town I did expect to see a ‘forest of columns’ (as described in one of the guides) but nothing could actually prepare me for the real thing. It’s simply amazing. Not two columns seem to be alike and there are more than seventy.

Forest of pillars in the crypt of the duomo in Otranto, Apulia, Italy
Forest of pillars in the crypt of the duomo in Otranto

Striking as it is, the main sight awaits you upstairs though: the grand Tree-of-Life mosaic. The mosaic itself is quite basic in terms of execution and it appears a bit naive to the untrained eye but it’s its size and age that humble you immediately. The 12th century masterpiece namely covers the entire floor of the cathedral. By all means brace yourselves for sighting of relics of Martyrs of Otranto that are housed in the glass cabinets in the cathedral. Shocking.

Apulia, Italy
Ancient mosaic floor in the duomo of Otranto

De-stress outside on the public beach – it couldn’t be any closer, just steps from the old town.

Apulia, Italy
A view of municipal beach in Otranto

The Apulian Adriatic coast is like that: turquoise waters and alternating sandy stretches and sensational cliffs and rocky bays.

Solitary sunbather on the beach near Lecce
Solitary sunbather on the beach near Lecce
Crystal clear waters of Adriatic Sea in Apulia
Crystal clear waters of Adriatic Sea

Fantastic scenery of a coastal road leading from Otranto to Leuca is interspersed occasionally by little and large man-made wonders. Palazzo Sticchi in Santa Cesarea Terme evokes the fantasy of One Thousand and One Nights. There may not be another reason for visiting this fairly unattractive little coastal and thermal town but marvelling at this Moorish palace in its commanding position on a hot summer’s day in the south of Italy is a joy.

The magnificent palace in Santa Cesarea Terme, Apulia, Italy
The magnificent palace in Santa Cesarea Terme

While we were down there, only a couple of dozens kilometres away from the south-easternmost point of Italy and definitely the southernmost point of its heel, it would’ve been regretful not to dip into the Adriatic at Bagnisco. Or any other bay or beach – there are plenty but from the road mostly accessible on foot. In July you can expect them to be relatively peaceful and not too crowded. August is another matter altogether being a “holy” holiday month for most Italians.

A hot summer’s day is best spent on the beach in Bagnisco
A hot summer’s day is best spent on the beach in Bagnisco

The Ionian coast of Apulia is heavenly, too. The sand is golden and macchia smells divinely.

The Ionian coast in Apulia: golden sand, turquoise sea, silver green macchia
The Ionian coast in Apulia: golden sand, turquoise sea, silver green macchia

The tourist Mecca of Gallipoli, an ancient town on the costa ionica, with monumental fortified walls, has retained its own golden beach just behind the old town looking out towards the distant Calabria. Spreading out of town on both sides there are countless miles of party and family beaches. Be warned.

The clouds gather over Gallipoli in Apulia, Italy
The clouds gather over Gallipoli

The modern part of town is dominated by a long wide avenue of sorts, which ends at the foot of the bridge connecting it to the old town. The old town is lovely, reminiscent of Dalmatian flair: local ladies cooling off in the gentle breeze seated by the wide open door leading from the street directly into the kitchen. Men are playing cards or watching television. From time to time, during roaming the labyrinth of narrow semi-deserted streets, a nice smell sneaked out from within of a simmering broth or something equally appealing.

Under the bridge, there are stalls abound with freshest from Gallipoli.

Frutti di mare to be eaten raw in Gallipoli, Apulia , Italy
Frutti di mare to be eaten raw in Gallipoli

If you have the nerve, the top specialty (ask any Italian if you don’t believe me) is ricci di mare, thankyouverymuch.

The greatest extravagance of Gallipoli: sea urchins to be eaten raw
The greatest extravagance of Gallipoli: sea urchins to be eaten raw

Inland, tranquillity of olive groves continues.

Apulia, Italy
Olive trees galore

In Manduria I had freshly squeezed pomegranate juice with my cappuccino.

Coffee break in Apulia, Italy
Cappuccino and spremuta di melograno (pomegranate)

I don’t know why the culture of spremuta hasn’t spread out of Italy. It doesn’t seem to bother any Italian bartender to prepare it either with agrumi (there goes my little obsession with citrus again) or even pomegranate as was the case in Apulia. A welcome and refreshing change.

The white town of Ostuni, Apulia, Italy
The white town of Ostuni

The prevalence of gold and leisurely is pushed aside in the northwest of Salento where the dominating citta bianche rule the hills. Ostuni‘s patron is St. Oronzo, apparently a very busy man taking care of Lecce as well.

Ostuni, Apulia, Italy
St Oronzo is looking over Ostuni

Ostuni is chic and stylish not least because it’s so very photogenic. One could easily imagine to be in another place altogether (Oia on Greek Santorini comes to one’s mind) or maybe in one of the charming places up on Amalfi coast.

One of the many ceramic shops in Ostuni (colours! colours!)
One of the many ceramic shops in Ostuni (colours! colours!)

The white town offers splendid views down the plains full of olive trees (all that green between the houses and the sea on the photo below are olive trees) to the intensively blue Adriatic. Consider it a must-see.

View from Ostuni to the Adriatic, Apulia, Italy
There are so many breathtaking views, this one from Ostuni to the Adriatic being no exception

The best thing in Apulia is you can eat really well. Furthermore, you can enjoy a nice view at the same time. One day we stopped for lunch in Torre Santa Sabina. True, we decided for Ristorante Miramare because of Rowley Leigh‘s article published in Financial Times a few years ago, so we had some idea what we can expect. It was good, I can tell you that.

A delicious lunch at Ristorante Miramare in Torre Santa Sabina, Apulia, Italy
A delicious lunch at Ristorante Miramare in Torre Santa Sabina
Lunch with the view at Ristorante Miramare, Apulia, Italy
Lunch with the view at Ristorante Miramare

Locorotondo felt dearest to my heart in that part of Apulia. Expect narrow spiralling streets, tiny and more roomy piazze full of flowering pots, the all-over white carefully embellished with romantic patterns of vivid colours. Everything is so clean and tidy one would nearly want to change to slippers before stepping in.

Locorotondo, Apulia, Italy
Endearing Locorotondo
A typical lane in Locorotondo, Apulia, Italy
A typical lane in Locorotondo

After these boutique-like towns, Martina Franca feels like stepping back into reality again: it’s grandiose and impressive. Its elegance oozes down the lanes packed with proper townhouses. No matter how narrow the roads of the centro storico the traffic within is surprisingly lively yet smooth. The piazze are spacious and the churches loom large over them.

The largest of the white towns: Martina Franca, Apulia, Italy
The largest of the white towns: Martina Franca
Apulia, Italy
It’s hard to imagine but this is a motorised street (Martina Franca)

The Val d’Itria is not only home to these remarkable white towns (and many others), it is an extraordinary place in its own right.

View over Val d’Itria, the land of trulli of Apulia, Italy
View over Val d’Itria, the land of trulli of Apulia

The countryside looks manicured to the last metre, the fields and the vineyards may remind you of Tuscany but with one pronounced distinction: trulli.

Val d’Itria, Apulia, Italy
Val d’Itria is full of vineyards …
Val d’Itria, Apulia, Italy
… and is reminiscent of Tuscany
Apulia, Italy
Trulli!

And then, you enter the fairy-tale-ish Alberobello. Only this is not Las Vegas or Disneyland, it’s incredibly genuine. Once we approached the viewing point on the opposite side my jaw dropped approximately two storeys below.

Alberobello, Apulia, Italy
Trulli wonderland: Alberobello

There are masses of intertwined trulli, mortarless (at least used to be mortarless) stone constructions, that are still populated. It’s Unesco World Heritage site and it’s very popular with tourists but I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Trulli of Alberobello, Apulia, Italy
Trulli upclose in Alberobello

Alberobello, Apulia, Italy

As much as I love walking down memory lane of our albeit recent summer holiday I have to tell you it’s been an exhausting one (indulging in memories not the holiday). That’s why I’m saving the jewel of this trip, Lecce, for another time (there are some appetizers in my previous post as well). Stay tuned.

Nevertheless, just a tiny glimpse of what’s cooking:

Lecce, Puglia
Rooftops of Lecce

IMG_1121

You’re welcome.

 

Related:

Otranto Cathedral

Martyrs of Otranto

Santa Cesarea Terme

One Thousand and One Nights

Gallipoli

Manduria

Ostuni

St. Oronzo

Rowley Leigh in FT on Puglia

Ristorante Miramare da Michele

Locorotondo

Martina Franca

Alberobello

The Guardian on Salento, Puglia

Salento

The Guardian readers on Puglia

The Guardian on Puglia (2004)

We’ll Always Have Apulia

Photo of typical Apulian feast
There’s always food first in Apulia

A traveller arriving to Apulia by way of Campania is greeted by rolling, seemingly endless, wide and flattened hills of wheat fields. If one is lucky enough to arrive in full sun of a mid July afternoon, it appears as though one entered an enormous treasury. All around, practically everywhere, for as far as the eye can see, to the ends of the horizon, there are interconnecting fields of wheat. Some pure golden, others in deep antique gold colour, some already harvested and loaded with bales lying around in a semi-scattered order, just like diamonds set in a necklace of a frivolous heiress, waiting to be escorted to some grand ball. One feels almost hypnotised by all that golden delight on both sides of a modern motorway.

Then, after a while, after tens and tens of kilometres of ripe wheat fields and nothing else, one notices slender white windmills dot the landscape of golden infinity. Somehow, they’re not obtrusive: in different sizes they line the soft borders of smooth hilltops in a never-ending sight. The immensity and vastness of it all is overwhelming.

After another while, kneaded within the gold appears a lonely vineyard. The vines are fascinatingly spread over a pergola-like structure the height of a man forming a rather dense shade overground. Gradually, the land gets filled with nothing else but vineyards. As much as everything was golden for quite a stretch of the way now everything changes to fresh and gleaming green. The landscape is still wide without an obvious interruption in visual field. Wherever one turns the head, all vineyards. Some are, for unknown reason (possibly some kind of a protection against heat? birds?), completely covered with what seems to be dense cloth of some sort. Again, tens and tens of kilometres of everything green. In awe, a first-time traveller to this fertile land needs to be pinched to make sure it’s not all a dream.

Apulia, Italy
An enormous olive tree by the road in Apulian inland

Every now and then an olive grove squeezes in between the vineyards. Those are huge olive trees, clearly very old even to an unaccustomed onlooker. Their crowns are almost as high and voluminous as those of chestnut trees in the north. How can they let them grow so big, one can’t stop to wonder. As a déjà-vu of some sort, step by step the land fills up with nothing but silvery green olive trees and it goes on and on and on. Once more, whatever you see for tens and tens of kilometres are gigantic olive trees.

Apulia, Italy
There’s a lot about olives in Apulia

Above it all, a painfully blue sky. A-l-l t-h-e t-i-m-e. The images of luxurious variations of gold, green, silver and blue are doomed to remain forever embossed in traveller’s mind. So, obviously, Apulia welcomed us royally. Although very hot and quite exhausted by a long ride, we were both continually being astonished by yet another kilometre of breathtakingly wonderful landscape.

Not to neglect the rows of colourful oleanders lining the motorway for hundreds of kilometres on end. Alternating in spectacular pinks and reds and whites, some of them are as big as houses. And fragrant too.

Apulia, Italy
Oleanders as big as houses lining the Apulian motorways

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise then, that once we arrived to Lecce, the heart of Salento, our final destination, we were nearly speechless. True, we were captivated even more by a soft pink sunset but the town is a precious haven even without it. The dusk, though, lends it a special feeling of magic-like magnetism.

Lecce, Apulia, Italy
An unforgettable view from our apartment’s window: St Matthew’s church in Lecce, Apulia

This is how our uncovering Apulia started. We fell in love with it on the very first day. So much so, that I’m enchanted even after a few weeks of everyday. It will certainly take more than one post of praise.

A breathtaking view from our apartment’s terrace over early evening Lecce, Apulia
A breathtaking view from our apartment’s terrace over early evening Lecce, Apulia

For any of you out there contemplating a perfect Apulian lunch (as presented in the photo at the beginning of this post) this is what you need:

(serves 2)

– a kilo of ripe, locally grown pomodori (firm and meaty, juicy but plump)

– a jar of large, green Apulian olives with pepperoncino

– a bunch of rucola selvatica (a woody silver leaf kind of rucola, extra sharp and spicy)

– a pouch of silky soft, creamy burrata, super fresh from Mercato di Porta Rudiae in Lecce

– sea salt

– Apulian extra virgin olive oil

– a bottle of Primitivo di Manduria

– a sunny day

– a roof top terrace in Lecce with unbeatable view over town.

That’s it. Buon appetito!

Lecce, Apulia, Italy
The magical terrace in Lecce

Do come back for more on our Apulian trip. This one post can’t do it all the justice.

UPDATE: my other post about our Apulian trip

and another one on Lecce

The Land Where Lemons Grow

I read some very good books in the past few months but the first prize, so far, goes to The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee. The way by which I was pulled into its contents is to put it mildly empowering.

Lemons in a bowl

Using the TV analogy, it’s the grandest documentary on such a prosaic subject as citrus growing. Well, as prosaic as a book on growing anything might be, actually, to a person not deeply connected with soil and its produce but only (or at least) caring about the simple facts of life: one has to drink, one has to eat, one has to sleep.

It’s much more than this; it is a monument to citrus and to Italy and what it represents. It is about the long and hard travels of the fruit, its holistic meaning through the eras of wealth and despair on every leg of the journey and how valuable it’s been to people.

There are thousands of different varieties of citrus but they all evolved out of three respectable ancestors. A few of the varieties have had a very special place within culturally and economically diverse parts of Italy and they still do. Citrus is an essential part of Italy, now I’m certain of it. Some of the most magical places in Italy are home to a child of a citrus family: Amalfi coast, Liguria, Sicily, Calabria, Garda, Tuscany. To every true lover of Italy this book is a must-read.

A book cover of The Land Where Lemons Grow

In practically every bar in Italy you can have a spremuta d’arancia, a freshly squeezed orange juice. There’s no doubt Italians have a very special relationship with them. Citrus rulz.

The writing is very gentle and well-balanced. The reader immerses in jaw-droppingly interesting stories about the Arabs, the Normans, the Jews, the Mafia, the Austrians and the Medici among others, and about the actual people of now, living their hard working lives surrounded by fabulous smell of zagara and delicious food. The book is also very informative: there are many historical and scientific facts along with the tender details about the food (rare ice-cream find in Turin or pasta with Amalfi lemons) and the landscape – it is certainly not your typical food book.

I will never again take poor old lemons or blood oranges & co. for granted. Before, I never really truly thought about them, consider them, you know. They’re simply always there at your disposal, omnipresent. But now I find myself even looking at them at the greengrocers’ with an attitude. I wonder about their provenance, the smell of their pre-fruit blossom, the vivid colours of their bumpy skins.

I’m a faithful reader of books: I never go on a trip without one and there is always more than one on my bedside cabinet. I cannot imagine going to sleep without reading at least half a page (I’m being joked about my waning reading stamina before turning in), I suppose reading is a sleeping pill to me, in a good sense, it makes my dreams more colourful. This book was a very pleasant companion and it takes a special place on the shelf.

 

When Is the Best Time to Visit Venice?

Anytime. Really. Well, a proper downpour might not be the desired weather to accompany you but any other choice of weather is just fine. Just go.

One of numerous canals in Venice with parking slots for gondolas
One of numerous canals in Venice with parking slots for gondolas

I’ve been a faithful returning visitor for the best part of my life and I’ve never grown tired of it. Been there countless of times, on day trips, for a couple of days or just a night, summer, winter or spring, slept in desirable luxurious old school hotels by Grand Canal or in shabby pensioni at the end of a scary dark and damp calle, by train, bus or car, and it still overwhelms me every time. It must be the most magical place in the world. I’ve been quite lucky to have so many opportunities to see and feel La Serenissima, I know, and I am grateful for it. Every time another visit is planned I’m just as impatient to get there as a child promised a toy. Once there, it’s pure joy, content and tranquilita.

One of my favourite views during any careless stroll through Venice in Castello, one of the Venetian sestrieri
One of my favourite views during any careless stroll in Castello, one of the Venetian sestrieri

I can clearly remember my first time in Venice. There was an aunt in our extended family that was very dear to us all. She never married and had no family of her own, thus she was very fond of my brother and me, her favourite nephew’s offspring. She considered us two treasures: we were allowed more when we were in her care than at our grandparents’ (not to mention the parents), she was never restrictive, never resentful and always in a good mood despite innumerable broken glasses, vases and decorative lamps. She always had a great story up her sleeve to calm us down after rioting in her wonderful apartment. She would take me to cinema and buy me exquisite pieces of clothing. She took me to holidays on the beach every summer until I finished primary school where she let me harvest the mussels off the rocks on the beach and have them for dinner. Although appalled at the sight of slimy orangey flesh within the black shell, she did try one just to please me. Aunt Olga was a woman who was invited to dine in the most elegant Parisian restaurants, travelled the world, probably had a fair number of suitors yet kept her life simple, modest and devoted to us. When I was 9 or 10 she decided it was time I saw Venice. So we went.

Grand Canal of Venice in a timeless view from Accademia bridge
Grand Canal of Venice in a timeless view from Accademia bridge

It was summer and the sky was as blue as it gets, it was most likely packed with tourists, noisy and what not, but we had a marvellous time. Although I went to Venice a myriad of times after that it was with her that I had my one and only gondola ride. We had lunch in a restaurant overlooking a canal, the dining room lined with heavy velvet curtains in burgundy, the tables set with thick tablecloth so that no noise was produced when a glass was put on the table, very romantic and elegant. We saw all the basic sights, St Mark’s, Rialto, Campanile, Orologio, the pigeons. It was a beautiful trip.

So, don’t hesitate if contemplating a trip, don’t waste too much time on planning what to see and how to squeeze it all in, just go and feel it. Spend time on the walkways, look up to spot the wonderful altanas, enjoy glimpses of hidden courtyards behind rotten walls, breathe in the smelly, salty air and watch the way locals shop at greengrocers’ around the corner or have a glass of aperitivo before dinner. Just go.

A lonely wisteria adorning a calle in Venice

 

Pigeons are a longtime trademark of Venice

A winter fog over Piazza di San Marco and Il Campanille
A winter fog over Piazza di San Marco and Il Campanille