By Meredith Pollock, MA 2015-16
Last weekend the MAs spent a magical weekend in Puglia, affectionately known as the heel of the boot. We visited the towns of Lecce and Santa Maria di Leuca, swam in the Adriatic Sea, dined in a farmhouse from the 11th century, and explored many other wonderful offerings of this beautiful region of Italy.
The journey began on Thursday with a chartered bus ride from Florence to Bologna and an overnight train from Bologna to Fasano. The overnight train was quite an experience – the cabins are tiny and you share a bathroom with the entire car, but it is a very efficient way to travel throughout Italy. We arrived in Fasano at around 9:00am Friday and boarded our bus to Alberobello!
Alberobello is a town of around 11,000 that is famous for its trulli, which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. A trullo was a typical house of the Apulian region from the 17th through 20th centuries, and many of them now operate as bed and breakfasts, shops, and museums.
Trulli have conical roofs that were much easier to build than domed roofs, and the limestone used was taken from below the house. The empty space was then used as a cistern to collect water, as months can go by in Puglia with no rain. The roofs have symbols, often for good luck, painted on them with Christian, Pagan, and Muslim origins. After a fun and interesting tour led by our guide, Mimmo, we had a rooftop wine and cheese tasting – all was delicious!
Our next stop was Lecce, a town of about 95,000 inhabitants in the southern half of Puglia. The city is well-known for its Baroque architecture, and many of the buildings have intricate and beautiful Baroque statues incorporated into them. It also has a number of Roman ruins, including an impressive amphitheater that could fit more than three times the number of people who lived in Lecce during the time.
After a quick lunch in Lecce we headed further south to the very tip of the boot’s heel, Santa Maria di Leuca. Our accommodations, Messapia Hotel & Resort, overlooked the sea and had an amazing pool that we spent quite a few hours enjoying every day we were in Puglia!
We relaxed by the pool and then had a delicious dinner at the hotel Friday night. It included a wine tasting of three local wines and more seafood than we knew what to do with.
Saturday began with breakfast at the hotel, and then we walked for about ten minutes to the harbor where we boarded two boats for a tour of the coast! The Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet off the coast of Leuca, and our tour explored the Adriatic Sea, which is on the east side of the region.
One of the highlights of the trip was swimming in a cove in the Adriatic! The first few seconds after jumping off the boat were slightly painful as the water was freezing, but we quickly went from chilly to cheerful as we splashed around and explored the cove. The water was extremely salty, but that just made it easier to float and relax. There was a cave that you had to swim underwater to reach, but once inside the water seemed to be glowing neon blue. After about thirty minutes of swimming we unfortunately had to board the boats and continue on the tour, but we were excited to see what else the coastline had to offer.
After the tour we hopped on the bus and headed north to one of Italy’s national parks. Our awesome guide for the weekend, Corrado, led us on a short trail hike with beautiful panoramic views of the sea.
Our hike led us to a lovely seaside lunch with seafood, wine, and delicious lemon sorbet for dessert! After lunch we explored the area a little longer and then headed back to the resort for an afternoon of sunbathing, napping, and doing the occasional homework assignment.
For dinner we drove an hour away to the countryside for dinner at Masseria Le Stanzie in Salento. We were greeted by four people playing traditional music from the region on two tambourines, a violin, and an accordion. We then received a tour of the building, which was a farmhouse built in the 11th century that monks used to make olive oil in. We were treated to fresh bread with olives right from the oven, and then to one of the greatest dinners of our lives. There were at least a dozen different dishes with fresh fruits and vegetables, amazing cheeses, and local wine. Every thirty minutes or so the musicians would play for us right at our table, and at one point we all danced around the table as they taught us some of the lyrics to the songs. It was a magical night!
The next morning we spent breakfast on the pool deck talking about how we wished we never had to leave, but at around 10:00am we reluctantly boarded the bus and headed to our last destination of the trip. We drove to Torre Specchia Grande, a tower located at 127 meters above sea level with stunning views of the Adriatic Sea. It was built in 1584, and we were able to climb to the top to take in the scenery. We could even see Greece from the top! We were treated to a delicious lunch on the property, and Corrado gifted each of us with a copy of a book he wrote about the tower.
After lunch at the tower we boarded the bus and headed to the airport in Brindisi. We spent the entire trip home reminiscing about how Puglia was the vacation of a lifetime. As we enter our last five weeks in Italy, this adventure reminded all of us about how special this country is and how lucky we are to live here!
Photos by Meredith Pollock