Otranto, Alberobello, Gallipoli, & Ostuni

Ostuni

Ostuni- The White City

Now that winter is setting in I am having a serious case of summer withdrawal. Specifically Italy withdrawal. In my many posts about Puglia this summer I left out a few of the cities I visited. These are 4 of the little towns we skipped through from our base in Lecce. Perfect little getaways from the city.

OTRANTO

Otranto was a mellow little port town full of charm and not many tourists. My favorite place was this little gallery near the main church called Officina Mosaico. The owners were a lovely couple that made all their mosaics by hand.  Just outside of town was a little lake that they would get minerals from to make some of their glass. They drew us a map so we could drive up there and see it for ourselves. We still managed to get lost but eventually found the little oasis. Smart Cars are really great for abrupt and excessive U-turns.

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OSTUNI

This small and beautiful city on the top of a hill is called “the white city.” We only got to spend an hour or two walking around and buying more leather sandals while enjoying its insanely gorgeous scenery. ❤ ❤ ❤ Very romantic.

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GALLIPOLI

Hate to say it but Gallipoli was not my favorite. We had heard a lot of good things about it but found it to be very grimy, polluted and touristy. Every single shop and restaurant in this town seemed to be aimed at tourists. The harbors were filled with trash. The beaches weren’t nice. It was a sad day for us but it meant we got to spend more time in Lecce, which was a far more appealing to me. Many people we spoke to really loved Gallipoli so it’s possible we just experienced it on an off day….

Exhibit A: This is what the whole harbor looked like….

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Cute little truck full of succulents. The only site worth seeing!

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ALBEROBELLO

By the end of the trip I still couldn’t say the name of this town without tripping over my tongue. Alberobello is home to the little stone cottages called Trulli. This little town was very picturesque and quiet. Definitely stop by if you are in the area, it’s adorable!

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Sleeping in Ancient Caves: Matera, Italy

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Our last stop before Rome was the ancient town of Matera. This is one of the oldest cities in the world and was used as a backdrop for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I had randomly seen a picture of it while googling Puglia and decided we needed to go here. It’s not technically in Puglia but it’s only a short 1.5 hour train ride from Bari, which is the only way to get there unless you are driving. This is probably why we seemed to have the whole town to ourselves besides one lovely Japanese woman that was also staying at our hotel. What’s interesting about this town is that up until the mid-1900’s people lived in the caves that line the sides of the canyon. These caves, or sassi, have normal looking stone structures externally so it’s hard to even see them. Our hotel, L’Hotel in Pietra, was constructed inside a 13th century cave-church. It had 9 rooms built into the caves which go deep into the side of the canyon. The owner said it took 4 years to renovate. It was a magical place to stay.

Matera is just starting to see more tourism and more inns and small hotels are being built in the sassi, but it’s slow going and very expensive. There were a ton of empty caves we saw while walking up and down the labyrinthine stairways. The museums inside the caves were small and run by locals. It seems the city itself does not have a hand in running these museums which I guess is good and bad as they definitely need some work. The food here was excellent and we managed to have a few amazing meals with a view like no other. We also burned off this pizza in about 5 seconds walking up and down the endless stairs. One thing we didn’t get to do was hike across the ravine to view the city from the other side of the canyon. We were unfortunately too hungover.

L’Hotel in Pietra— AMAZING!!

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Amazing views.

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We had one killer sunset on our last night.

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Along with some PIZZA! and wine from Matera.

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The Heel of the Boot: Lecce, Puglia

We spent three really great nights here in Lecce -one of the larger cities in Puglia- and as most vacations go, wished we had stayed longer. Lecce is a prime jumping-off point for day trips into southern Puglia. We got a sweet little apartment right in the dead center of the historical district and next-door to Solento Rent which has smart cars at a daily rate of 50 Euro. Lecce itself was a beautiful pedestrian friendly city with lots of great restaurants and shopping– who needs 5 pairs of Italian leather sandals?? ME.

The BEST BEST BEST thing about Lecce was a great little cookie/pasta/pastry shop on Via Giuseppe Libertini right across from the Duomo. They had the most mind-blowing delicious almond cookies. I could eat them every day for the rest of my life and never stop daydreaming of them. And the old man that owns it gave us a million free samples of everything we wanted, plus things we didn’t want but ate anyway.

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Puglia is known for a savory pastry called the Rustico. Its basically a calzone that is made out of heavenly substances instead of the usual gobs of cheese inside a hard crust. I wish I had taken a picture of one. It was epic. We also really enjoyed a restaurant called Doppiozero. We stopped here for lunch one day and feasted on focaccia and pasta salad.

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Besides eating all the carbs in the entirety of the country, we did a little site seeing. The usual: Churches, churches, churches.

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And our last night we made (Andrea made, I drank wine) an amazing rooftop dinner. Airbnb was once again the way to go.

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Lovely Lecce, we will miss you!!!

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Grotta Poesia

When I was researching places to go in Puglia I randomly came across a beautiful picture of a natural ocean pool tucked into sandstone rocks that was protected from the surf. The name of it was Grotta Poesia. That was all I knew when we were driving through the countryside asking local Italians where to find it. I thought everyone would know what I was talking about but we were sent on a little bit of a wild goose chase at first. Apparently there are many places similar to this in the area. We eventually found Grotta Poesia in the town of Roca Vecchia and spent the day cliff jumping, eating fresh watermelon, soaking in the sun, and enjoying the incredible view.

How to get here: Drive into the tiny town of Roca Vecchia and get to the coast. Once you see a tall obelisk-like monument out near the water, park in front of the church or near it. Walk towards the monument and then down to the left you will see the grotto. This is an easy day trip from Lecce.

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If you see the crazy eyes you are almost there.

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You can cliff jump into the grotto or on the side where the waves are. It’s a little harder to get out of but the ocean side jumps are way higher and scarier–and way more fun!

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One Week in Puglia: Monopoli

When I told people I was going to the Puglia region of Italy for my next trip most people had never heard of it. The easy way of explaining where Puglia is located is by describing it as the heel of the boot. I actually didn’t even know what this area was called until my Italy-loving friend Andrea said we HAD to go here on our trip because it is the last place in Italy she hadn’t yet traveled. She said it was where many Italians take their vacations because there are less tourists and the beaches are amazing. One quick google image search later and I was sold. We bought our tickets and then started researching each of the little towns along the water. There were too many to choose from so we kind of randomly picked Monopoli, Lecce, and then Matera on our way out. Monopoli was our first stop and easily one of our favorite places from the whole trip.

Monopoli is located just down the coast from Bari, the main port town in Puglia, and easy to get to on a regional train in about an hour after taking a 4 hour train from Rome. The town sits right on the crystal clear blue waters of the Adriatic. It dates back to 500 bc so needless to say it does not lack in charm. The historical part of the town has streets barely big enough for cars that you can amble up and down all day. We were surprised to find very few tourists here and felt like we had the town to ourselves. Our first day we decided to go on a little sailing trip to Polignano a Mare, the next town up the coast, to relax and soak in some sun and views.

Andrea taking in the views off Polignano a Mare

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After taking our boat trip we spent the rest of our time walking up and down the sidewalks and going into little churches and stores, sitting in cafes, and eating some really good food. There was a boutique hotel named Don Ferrante right near where we were staying with an amazing rooftop restaurant. We sat here one night, prosecco in hand, watching the sunset. If I ever come back, this is where I am staying and I don’t care how expensive it is. We were eating, or trying to eat here, the night Italy lost their futbol game that ended their time at the World Cup. After the game was over the waiters came out to serve us practically crying into our drinks they were so sad. If the scenery wasn’t so amazing it would have certainly ruined the mood.

Don Ferrante

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The town was ready for the futbol game.

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Monopoli by night

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Puglia has many towns like this but Monopoli is a must-see. It’s a sleepy little town, but very romantic and relaxing. If you like jewelry there is an amazing store owned by a German couple down near the water called FLY. We used Airbnb to find an apartment here and found an abundance of cute little places for a good price.

Rome: Eating and Shopping

Accompanying me on my recent trip to Italy was my good friend Andrea. She was the best traveling partner for a trip like this not only because we get along like two peas in a pod, but also because she lived in Rome for three years while getting her master’s degree and speaks fluent Italian. Basically she was my own personal translator, food picker outer, shoe store finder and gypsy shield. This trip would have been near shit without her. Her one true love is Rome since that’s where she spent most of her time living, so we tucked away two extra days here with the sole purpose of eating and shopping. I have been to Rome before and seen all the major tourist sites so our aim was to find some leather shoes, Italian linen shirts for our boyfriends, and the best Roman pizza there is. Mission accomplished on all fronts with some extra site-seeing as an added bonus.

First things first I NEED to mention this pizza place in the Trastavere neighborhood that blew my mind. It’s called Dar Poeta. We went here two nights in a row it was so good. Andrea says when she lived here it wasn’t too crowded and only open certain hours, but since then has definitely started to welcome an increasing number of foreign patrons. Despite this it did not seem touristy to me. We never had to wait more than five minutes to get a table but I would have waited a week if I had to, it’s that good. I highly recommend the Bufala Mozzarella pizza towards the bottom of the menu, it will melt all your brain sensors with the first bite. We finished off our pizza with the ricotta-nutella calzone for dessert and I was in heaven and thankfully wearing a elastic waistband.

Andrea digging in, round one.

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Pizza Perfection- Bufala

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There was not room in my stomach for this but it happened anyway….

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For breakfast- which was hard for us since we were usually still full from the night before- we would go to Compagnia del Pane in the Prati neighborhood. We were staying in a flat just 2 blocks from the Vatican so this was easy walking distance. The apple pastries here were incredible, along with everything else. One of my missions on this trip was to start developing a taste for coffee. Before coming to Italy I associated coffee with what hot sewage might taste like, and could barely even stomach a spoonful of coffee ice-cream let alone a latte. This was the first and only latte I drank and I could barely swallow it even with 3 packets of sugar, but Andrea said it was divine so you can take it from her. I did drink the whole thing and would like to think my taste buds are making improvements so I may enter the adult world of coffee-drinking one day.

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In the middle of our shopping and eating we would sometimes venture to one of Rome’s attractions, but quickly found that the city decided to put all their major tourist spots under construction at the same time. Why they did this in the middle of tourist season is beyond me. The Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and multiple other sites were all covered in scaffolding and ugliness. Thankfully, Andrea took me to Gianicolo Hill which overlooks all of Rome. It is a little bit of a hike but worth the view. At the top there is a beautiful Piazza and also a big fountain called the Fountain of Acqua Paola. It was a perfect sunset walk before stuffing our faces at Dar Poeta. We also did a quick jaunt through St. Peter’s basilica because I remembered that being one of my favorite spots last time. Seeing it just after visiting the Blue Mosque was an interesting comparison.

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To top off our day we had gelato at Gelateria die Gracchi. Andrea assured me this was the best place in Rome. Everything was seasonal and they use very fresh ingredients. You could tell it was good because nothing was colored with bright dyes, and the place was loaded with locals. My favorite mix was chocolate and almond or lemon.

It was a quick two days in Rome, I guess I will just have to come back again!