Puglia which encompasses the heel of the Italian Boot, is one of Italy’s hottest destinations and is especially popular in the summer when holiday makers flock to its’s glorious beaches and chic resorts. But there is more to the region than its stunning seaside. It’s bucolic countryside is made for year-round touring while its headline cities are rich in historic and cultural interests.
I met a lot of foreigners who came to Puglia, fell in love, and now have a house there and are happy. That says a lot! Below is what attracted me to Puglia.
Authentic People and Traditions
The warm hospitality of Apulian locals makes travelers feel at home. Apulians are friendly, approachable, lively, generous, and authentic. They welcomed me into their homes, educated me about their culture, took care of me, made sure I was comfortable, well fed, and entertained, I spent quality time with real people and discussed real issues. My stay in Puglia was extraordinary, I left richer, calmer, more appreciative, educated, happier, and mostly because of its people.
Puglia is so Italian, much more than anywhere else I visited in Italy (and I visited most of Italy), its like being in an old Italian movie; nonnas sitting outside their houses chatting, old men on the balcony in their pajamas smoking a cigarette, young guys rushing in an ape, children playing in the street at 11pm, local dishes in restaurants, indicators not used on a roundabout, very few people speaking good English, no LVs, Guccis or Pradas, no pretenses, no show-off.
Life follows a slower pace here, I felt like Apulian’s live for their enjoyment and comfort, truly living the moment. I noticed long siestas which in Puglia is called “La Controra”. Coming from the cosmopolitan, rushed Dubai, the 2pm-4pm controra frustrated me at the beginning, but when I went with it, I actually enjoyed it. “When in Puglia do what the Apulians do”. So I did my visits in the morning and enjoyed the beach in the afternoon.
From the first day I arrived in Puglia, I learnt about the Pizzica Salentina, which is a popular folk dance from the Salento peninsula, it is part of the larger family of Tarantella. According to popular belief, a woman is bitten by a "taranta", the tarantula, and leads her to an altered state. The "victim”, is healed thanks to the music of the rhythm and the chanting. So my fascination with this tradition lead me to different towns (like Galatina) to learn more about it, and experience it (Notte della Taranta music festival in August).
Superstition is big, and an old habit that is hard to break in Puglia. I realized that when my friend took me to his family house to watch the England vs Italy in the final of Euro 2020. I thought I was being nice when I said “I am sure Italy will win”, not knowing that I cursed Italy at that instance! Never wish someone 'good luck'. Don't wish someone a happy birthday before the actual date; don't wish farmers a good crop, hunters a good hunt, nor athletes a win. Instead, say 'In bocca al lupo', or 'in the mouth of the wolf'.
My favorite Italian tradition is “Fare la Scarpetta” which means little shoe, it describes the gesture of taking the little boot-shaped piece of bread to soak up the remaining sauce left in the pot of one’s home kitchen. A good scarpettaro – that is, the doer of the deed – will leave the plate with nearly no trace of sauce, representing the indulgent pleasure of savoring a meal down to its very last taste.
Up and coming destination
Puglia has been among the fastest growing tourism destinations in Europe over the past few years. There is a big potential that has still to be realized. Investors are pouring in from all over the world. Puglia still has an old world sense of history, beauty and charm.
Ciceri e tria: is a traditional Apulian dish with Arabian and Sicilian origins. Today, it has become an unofficial symbol of the Salento region in Apulia. The dish consists of pasta and chickpeas.
Rustico: common street food especially in Lecce. Puff pastry filled with a combination of béchamel sauce, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese
Focaccia Barese: Focaccia is sold in every corner of the Apulian cities and it is consumed at any time of the day.
Frisele: is a traditional Italian rusk originating from Puglia. When served, friselle are usually soaked in seawater or springwater. If the rusks are topped with fresh tomatoes, they are then known as friselle Salentina, a specialty of Salento.
Orecchiette pasta with ragù alla Pugliese: Orecchiette means small ears.
Taralli: A cracker similar in texture to a breadstick. one of the most iconic and widely consumed foods of Puglia.
Burrata and mozzarella di bufala Campana
Seafood: Octopus (Polpo), Sea Urchin (Ricci), Mussles (Cozze), Purple shrimps (Gamberi Viola di Gallipoli). Mostly enjoyed raw.
Spaghetti ai ricci di mare (with sea urchins), and Spagetti alla Vongola (with clams)
Bombette: balls of capocollo salami stuffed with cheese
Primitivo Wine from Manduria: dark colored, high in tannin and strong in both alcohol and flavor.
Gellato: and the best is in Polignano a Mare town
Olive Oil: Puglia supplies around 40% of olive oil production in Italy (it is the first region for quantity and quality of Extra Virgin Olive Oil produced per year). The Italian heel also provides around 12% of the olive oil production in the whole world.
Torta pasticciotto: a type of filled Apulian pastry
Nature and Coastline and Weather
Puglia’s long and tumultuous history is writ large on its ancient landscape. Medieval rock churches lie buried in rocky gorges, Roman ruins cascade into the sea, castles loom on hilltops while Romanesque cathedrals jostle for space with baroque basilicas and noble palazzos. Everywhere you go here, you’re reminded of the region’s priceless cultural legacy
There are tons of beautiful properties (much more coming soon also, like big famous chains), but if you are coming to Puglia I highly recommend you come to experience the Authenticity and the Apulian people, stay in a Masseria, or a family owned hotel. Immerse as much as possible. Contact me to recommend to you the best fit for you.
When to visit
I would skip August as Ferragosto (a holiday when Italians go on vacation) falls in that month, also August is really hot. So to avoid crowds and heat, visit Puglia in the months of May, June, July, and September.
There are not many taxis really in Puglia, so rent a car? Yes and no, you surely need a car as there are a lot of land to cover, and a lot of amazing towns that are a must see, but the old towns create a congested system of narrow streets, and very few parking spots. The best thing is to have a driver with you at all times.
In Puglia, the custom of afternoon siesta (La Controra), is a fact of life. Everything closes between 2-4pm in the summer.
To take home an authentic piece of Puglia, consider buying a pumo (plural, pumi). You’ll see these colorful ceramic buds all over the place, displayed on balconies, placed on stairways, in gift shops. Named after the Roman goddess for fruitful abundance, these ancient good luck charms were traditionally given as wedding gifts.