My son Brett and his partner Catriona have just visited us here in Puglia. They have been here before, but this time we decided we wanted to give them a little more of the Puglia experience. Each day we tried to do something different. They are both real “foodies” so their short Puglia holiday centred a lot around food!
On the day after they arrived, having driven from Liege in Belgium, via Lake Garda, we wanted to keep things fairly relaxed. We opted for lunch at a beachside restaurant. This little restaurant, Lido Bar Kariff, at Torre Rinalda is under new management this year. We sat inside as it was very windy on the outside patio. It’s very informal as you would expect with a beach restaurant. Unusually for a small place like this we were presented with menus to choose from. The food and wine were excellent and we ate, drank and relaxed. Val and Mino, our friends, joined us for a digestivo. A perfect start.
Day two saw us heading for Mesagne, the fifth largest towns in the province of Brindisi, and with one of our favourite old cities. A stoll around the beautiful “centro storico” followed by lunch at Osteria del Vicoletto, a completely different dining experience to yesterday’s beachside lunch. The restaurant is beautifully renovated with vaulted ceilings and lots of stone walls and flag-stoned floors. Service is excellent, we were seated and served with a complimentary glass of prosecco. The antipasti of the house here is superb, and completely different from other house antipasti we have had elsewhere. After lunch, coffee in the sunshine in front of the Chiesa Madre, soaking up the warmth of a spring day in Puglia and the local ambience.
Day three, an early start. Ylenia of YlTour had arranged a “sampler day” of some of the Puglia experiences offered to visitors to Puglia.
We met up with Ylenia at a central point in Lecce, and headed off for coffe and a pastry to start the day. Or so we thought! Ylenia took us to the pasticceria of Luca Capilungo, a young and well known pastry chef in Lecce. We were invited back into the kitchens to watch Luca and his staff making pasticiotta, beautiful custard filled pastries. I’ve eaten pasticiotta before but Luca’s were sublime, the best I have ever tasted and fresh from the oven. We also tasted Luca’s rustica, light flaky pastry filled with mozzarella, bechemal sauce and tomato. Again fresh from the oven, the lightest rustica I have ever tasted. In addition to seeing the staff at work in the kitchens Luca offers “pastry” making lessons in his kitchens. He is also owner of the Cin-Cin bar in Piazza S.Oranzo, a favourite or many of our Puglia visitors. Luca sent us off with complimentary pasticiotte to enjoy at home.
From the pasticceria we headed out to the countryside for a cheese tasting experience. But Ylenia had a little surprise for us. Before we the cheese experience she had arranged for the six of us to be taken in two classic cars, a Morris 8 (affectionately known as Hilda( and a VW Beetle) to the fortified town of Acaya. We were given a personal tour of the newly renovated castle before heading back to the masseria. At the masseria we watched a demonstration of ricotta making, followed by a tasting. All the products are made from the owners own livestock. We were given a tour of the farm and met the sheep, goats and a solitary cow. One of our classic car drivers then treated us to a rendition of his favourite international and italian songs!
Getting close to time for a lunch we set off for another masseria hidden away in the olive groves close to Casalabate. Privately owned and beautifully renovated the masseria is an oasis of calm and relaxation. A private tasting of olive oil and olive pate’s was first on the menu followed by a light, delicious lunch. Then we set to work, our cooking lesson with Mamma Giulia, learning how to make home made pasta “orecchiete”. I’m afraid my little ear shapes didn’t turn out too well but I will definitely be making more pasta from scratch at home now.
All in all, a fabulous day, with lots of ideas of how we can introduce our guests to a taste of Puglia. We will be working closely with Ylenia this year and in the future to offer different Puglia experiences to all our visitors.
Day four – after our busy day yesterday, and with another busy day planned for the next day, we wanted something a little quieter today. A brief visit to Casalabate Sunday market where Brett and Catriona bought olives, parmesan and other cheeses and deli delights to take home. Then we set out for Brindisi., together with our Russian visitors for a planned a quiet Sunday Lunch at the Buena Vista, at the foot of the Appian way and overlooking Brindisi harbour. The Buena Vista is one of our favourite restaurants, especially for al fresco dining. Good company, good food and wine, interesting conversation, no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Puglia. We rounded off a long lunch with coffees at Bar Betty, watching the world go by.
Day five – an early start today, at 8am we set out with our friend Paola, on a wine tour. We have been on the wine tour with Paola and Sapori del Salento before, but it was new for Brett. And definitely worth the second visit for us. We visited three totally different wineries, a cooperative, a family owned winery and a more commercial operation. Each different, each with fantastic wines to taste and buy and lots of information about the grapes, the wine and the area. Highly recommended. Lunch in a local restaurant after the visits to the wineries rounded off the day nicely. We’re nicely stocked up on great wines for the summer now and Brett and Catriona are going home with a truck full of wine. It’s a good job they are driving home.
Day six – Brett and Catriona struck out alone today, tracing their footsteps back to the wineries to collect the wine they purchased yesterday and to buy fresh fish from the local pescheria and other items for todays lunch. Bravely they volunteered to cook for the Mino, who is was an Italian chef, but is now retired, and Val. We were treated to garlic prawns, spiced fillets of fish in warm tortillas with a freshly made salsa accompanied by garden salad. We also carried out an olive oil tasting of our own, Paola and Jim’s own oil came out tops! Val arrived with her own freshly made tiramisu which, after Brett and T’s lemon sorbet, went down well with a few fresh garden strawberries.
Day seven – the final day. A very early start as we had to be in Bari early. We had booked a guide for a walking tour of Bari and had to meet up at the Cruise Terminal at 8:45am! Our only previous experiences of Bari were going there by train and then taking a bus across to the airport. The area around the station is commercial and not very pretty but we knew there was so much more to Bari than this.
Our day started out by a walk along the old city walls with the Adriatic sea on one side and the old city on the other. The guide is informative and provides a an interesting historical viewpoint of the city and all the changes. The centro storico is, as with most, full of life and bustle. The more so for us as we were visting on the last day of the celebrations of San Nicolas, one of Bari’s patron saints. As you might expect the tour included quite a few visits to cathedrals and churches, with stunning architecture, internal and external. We learnt a lot about Bari and the surrounding area and will visit again, next time under our own steam, to soak up “everyday life”.
From Bari we headed south again to Polignano a mare and the Hotel Grotto Palazzese for lunch. A stunning location set in caves overlooking the sparkling Adriatic for a more formal (and somewhat expensive) restaurant. Definitely the place for a special location and a perfect finale to our weeks holiday with Brett and Catriona.