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

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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)

A Bowl of Cherries

Finally, it’s the cherries season!

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I have this thing with cherries. You know how there are cat people vs. dog people? In my opinion there are also strawberry people vs. cherry people. I’m a cherry person myself, no doubt about it, and it’s the one segregation I don’t object to.

The best way to eat them is directly off the tree of course. Regrettably, this is a fairly rare indulgence.

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It’s not only the fruit that satisfies my appetite, I love to see a cherry tree in every guise. I love to watch the cherry tree’s transformation through the seasons: first, in the dead of winter, there are black trunk and branches with wonderfully patterned bark and nothing more. Then, in the spring the branches get covered in white fragrant blossoms, which look like quilted down sleeves. Next, it turns elegant dark green with ruby red fruits hanging in couples or triplets resembling the most precious earrings. Finally, in autumn, its leaves steadily become a sunset’s mirror as they turn the warm spectacular red before they fall off.

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I was growing up in a concrete neighbourhood of apartment buildings bordering on one side a highway and on the other a large area of detached houses. The houses typically had their cute little backyards, flowerbeds, kitchen gardens and at least one fruit-growing tree (if I were to inspect the area today I’d notice most of the front lawns transformed into parking lots since every household now has more cars than the side road can accommodate).

Needless to say, we, the kids from the boring urban community, shamelessly raided the cherry trees every June when they were laden with fruit. Some people didn’t really mind our self-invitation to their garden as long as no damage was done, but the great majority of them weren’t all too happy with sharing their fortune with us. Those trees were particularly attractive because by some unwritten rule they bore the sweetest, the reddest, the best fruit. Usually a group of four or five of us sneaked on the fence and snatched as much cherries as possible off the branches and straight into our mouths, continuing until we were discovered and made to run away as fast as we could. The cherry raids we called them, our expeditions. On a good day we had a chance to raid several trees in a row so in the end we would feel pleasantly full (and our mothers wondered how come we’re not hungry after a whole afternoon out).

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Also, my both grandparents, who lived in the countryside, had had a cherry tree each, so when I stayed with them in cherry season I could stuff myself dead with cherries until my stomach neared an explosion.

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Nowadays, I normally buy them from the farmers at the local market. I’m known to consume a kilo in one go all by myself. Day in day out. Yes, cherries are by far my most favourite fruit. Not only do I adore eating them fresh I also like to have them in desserts: clafoutis, cherry strudel, cherry and apricot gallette to only name a few. I might just poach them with a few slices of ginger and a strip of lemon zest. I might even buy a jar of those candied cocktail decoration stuff when I crave cherries out of season. I even used to freeze them – they freeze well. I never bother to pit them before using them.

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I simply love clafoutis but it’s probably been years since I attempted to make it myself. It’s not that difficult, it’s just that quite often I wasn’t really happy with the result. The best clafoutis I had was the one in  London at Le Cafe Anglais. To my deep regret the restaurant has been permanently closed but fortunately the chef’s Mr Rowley Leigh’s columns for the Financial Times are still running (too seldom though). I must admit it amused me to read his confession about the common disappointments in this classic French dish.

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Today I followed his recipe (yes, I separated the eggs) but I didn’t pre-cook the cherries. I don’t find it neccessary since I prefer the cherries firm. When I arranged them in the dish I tossed some little pieces of butter over them, sprinkled them with a spoon or two of sugar and a spoon of cointreau (in place of kirsch which I don’t stock). The rest by the book recipe (follwo the above link for it). It turned out remarkably well. Delicious too. Very much so, indeed.

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The Weekend of Doing Nothing

I’ve finally warmed up this weekend. Up until Friday I was constantly cold partly because of the weather that stubornly refused to bring the warmth (at least this is a natural fact, something that can’t be controlled, so what the hack, right?) partly because of the office air-conditioning already turned on ignoring the actual outdoor conditions (simply bloody too much). So, a sunny and warm weekend at last delivered the long desired comfort.

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I enjoyed it very much. Contrary to everybody else who’ll be going on and on about what they’d been up to this weekend my reply to the eminent question of What did you do over the weekend? will be simply Nothing.

We drove to the Croatian coast for the weekend, true. Left the town pretty early on Friday, a rare indulgence, true again. We had a lovely late lunch of fresh fish on the way just on the edge of Karst. The nearer we got to the coast the warmer it was getting. The early evening was the colour of antique gold. We had a glass of amaro before we called it a night.

On Saturday we slept late, later than usual at least, and had coffee in bed. We drove to Umag, the nearest town, for breakfast …

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… and shopped at the local market. There are all kinds of vegetables and fruits in season right now, some of them our favourites: fresh cherries, crisp peas, sweetest carrots, young soft cabbage heads, fragrant strawberries, the not-yet-too-bitter radicchio verde, fantastic lettuce and whatnot. After that, we took a short stroll through the old town.

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We stocked up with a stack of magazines and newspapers at the newsagent’s and grabbed a fresh loaf of white bread at the baker’s. The one that we always crave for back home.

Then, we did some work around the house but nothing too exhausting. We enjoyed the sun and the warmth and the calmness of the day. We took a really long walk along the coast and admired the macchia and pine trees and the sweet up-coming smell of the summer.

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Before we turned in we had a glass of local pelinkovac, a remarkable wormwood liquor. One would assume we’re heavy on the alcohol but rest assured the quantities we had were purely medicinal.

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On Sunday, I went for a morning run and when I returned my man had already laid out a sumptuous breakfast. Afterwards, we read. And we read. We lounged in the sun and read. I podded the peas and then read some more. We were delighted by the birdsong and a tender breeze.

We cooked risotto primavera (simplified but nonetheless delicious) for late lunch and watched the tranquility pass us by.

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During our drive back home I watched the moon moving slowly over the sky of dying light. It was huge and deep yellow.

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Come to think of it it was no nothing at all.