Puglia and Basilicata 2012- Trip Notes

This trip report was originally written for Fodor's European Forum, we went on the trip in 2012.
We were in Puglia this summer and I'm just going to put down our impressions, suggestions and anywhere we could really rave about. So, just like everyone else we loved Puglia and Matera in Basilicata. We've seen quite a bit of Italy but I had never ventured south of Rome. We found such warmth and enthusiasm in this region, people stopped to help us when we seemed lost, walked us to restaurants we couldn't find and in one case in Canosa de Puglia a man got into his car and led us to a restaurant, through a maze of increasingly narrow streets, waving and smiling as he went. 

Ahh the food, the food, or rather I should say the antipasti, the antipasti. We were constantly moved to eloquence in the face of the extraordinary antipasti de casa. Vegetables of all forms, hot and cold, crisp and soft, mixed cured meats, beans, varieties of ricotta that tasted tangy, rich and interesting, We were ready to sing before the main meal had even begun. But the truth was the antipasti were almost always the star of the show and we learnt quickly that we had to order accordingly.

One of the first things we learnt is that you can order the antipasti for one and split it, it will be enough food. You can of course do the same with the primi, indeed in several places they allowed us to order half orders of pasta so we could try two dishes without ordering too much food.

We used the Slow Food Bible, Osteriee Locande, a Guide to Traditional Places To Eat and Stay In Italy and I highly recommend it, particularly when you seek out their picks marked in the text by a snail! 

We can highly recommend the much discussed Antichi Sapori in Montegrosso and Antichi Locanda in Noci which is in the same league. Both offered incredible food at very reasonable rates and provided great hospitality and a warm welcome. These places provide a real introduction to the cuisine and the sensibility of the area. While the former was heavily reviewed we picked the later from the Slow Food Guide and their recommendation was stellar.
In Lecce we ate at Due Corti and particularly enjoyed learning about the food from the daughter of the owners, she speaks very good English and was able to educate us as to the particular ways in which the make and treat the pasta and what is specific to Lecce and the surrounding region. People here are proud of their food and their traditions and are happy to share it with you when they see your enthusiasm and appreciation. We also ate at the highly recommended Le Zie, Trattoria Cucina Casareccia. Like most of these places you'll need to make your reservations in advance and on the midweek night we visited it was packed. It is an experience and you will be made very welcome. It feels like you are eating home cooked food in someone's living room but this was not a highlight for us.

Along the coast we stopped at Da Tuccino which was recommended by the hotel and is well known for seafood. The Place has a very dated interior and is clearly one of the more expensive options in town. We visited on a very slow midweek night and were seated next to some extremely obnoxious tourists that were uncouth and embarrassing. The whole place reminded me of a country club from the mid 1970's with overly attentive silver service style waiters. I was very disappointed by the ambiance UNTIL we tasted the food. It was excellent. Both the pasta and the crudo were outstanding. They sell the fish by weight and the crudi they brought was among the best we've ever had, extraordinary. However, we ordered carefully, this is the kind of place where the bill could escalate very quickly.

The drunk loud group next to us really were like a stereotype of how to behave badly. One of the women complained loudly because they didn't have crème brulee on the menu and then tried to convince the waiter that the chef could easily whip one up for her. His bemused expression was priceless poor man.

In Matera we had a great meal at Osteria Pico which was recommended by the hotel, again an incredible antipasti. The food had a slightly modern refined bent and we enjoyed it very much. If only I could remember exactly what we had!

I've written about some of these more extensively on my blog, where you can see pictures. Here I'm just going to pick out a couple of places that we would recommend.

We enjoyed Celafacchio Country House which I would recommend in particular for its proximity to Piero Zitto's Antichi Sapori in Montegrosso. The regular rooms are quite small and rather plain but it's all about the welcome, the surroundings and the opportunity to learn about the local products including their wines. The public spaces and garden were very elegant.

We also loved the rather glamourous but understated Sextantio, Le Grotto della Civita in Matera. I had seen pictures of their cave rooms and was very keen to visit. This is an amazing hotel, elegant and sophisticated without being over the top. The rooms are carved out of the rock and offer simplicity and luxury, you have to see it to believe it. There was an enormous low slung egg shaped bath in the middle of our room! This is a place with minimal service, but the staff were very helpful and rustled up some wine and olives so we could sit out and enjoy the sunset view over the hills.

We would not recommend the Risorgamento Resort in Lecce though we loved the town itself and would recommend the  Il Melograno Monopoli, if you can get a cheap rate as we did on Luxury Link.

We also went to look at La Somitta in Ostuni which I had considered staying in. The hotel was quite lovely and beautifully decorated, I would certainly consider an overnight stay to try the Michelin starred restaurant but overall we found the area a little lifeless, as if  Old Town Ostuni had been given over predominantly to tourists, we were happy to pass through but I was very glad we hadn't opted to stay here.

Well there's a lot to see, castles, beaches, churches, both Romanesque and Baroque, crypts, caves and lots more. 
Churches We saw a lot of Romanesque churches which my husband loves. When I say loves I mean LOVES and lots as in way too many! This was true dedication, particularly on the days when it hit 40 degrees. If you're interested in Romanesque architecture I recommend buying the Approach Guide to Romanesques Churches of Puglia, it's available as an app you can download easily. It offers floor plans and architectural/historical details of each site . Highly recommended for those of you who will be trailing around the sites in the wake of your partners.

We particularly enjoyed Bitonto, Trani, Troia, Molfetts, Ruvo de Puglia in no particular order. You do have to watch out for the opening hours as the churches tend to be closed between lunch and 4 or 5pm. This can be particularly vexing if you've driven to a place soleyl to see the cathedral.

In Trani we stumbled upon a festival celebrating their relief from the plague, it is given annually in honor of the Virgin who is believed to have interceeded on their behalf.. You have to love a culture that is still saying thank you more than five hundred years later! There were crowds of devotees and a statue of the Madonna was brought into the Cathedral with a full police escort. There is so much to say on the se ancient cathedrals and I'm hoping to convince my resident Romanesque enthusiast to write a guest blog post or two on this topic but I haven't persuaded him yet! In Trani do seek out the various synagogues, there's an elderly chap who hangs around and offers to show them to you which is well worth it. 

Matera - I am so glad we visited and stayed the night, though if I were planning the itinerary again I would certainly leave more time in Matera. This is a charming town and both the older and newer parts are worth visiting. We ended up here in the middle of the saints day (see pictures on the blog) and were captivated. It's a fascinating place, greatly enhanced by the guide we found through Fodors Nadia Garlatti (details on blog) who I recommend very highly. As a bonus we met some other Fodorites -Jamiekins and her husband.

The Crypt of Original Sin outside of Matera this site was quite fascinating and highly recommended. Reservations for the guided visit to this rock cave church are required but they are easily made and it's well worth driving out of town to see. There is a post with all the details plus plenty of pictures here.

Lecce - We were very glad to have three relaxing nights in Lecce though you could get away with two. The architecture is very interesting and we enjoyed wandering around the town.

Bari - This is certainly somewhere we will return to. When the town was given over to a cruise ship crowd it was quite intolerable but once they left it was lovely. I expected nothing of Bari but were quietly charmed by what is a very real city. Lots to see and a lovely promenade. On this visit we passed through, but next time we will certainly stay.
Overall we had a wonderful trip which also included Naples, Positano, Ischia and Cilento south of Salerno. I've covered some of these other destinations on the blog and hopefully I'll get arround to some more soon . We really enjoyed Puglia and will certainly return, I hope some of our recommendations and suggestions will help with your plans. 
Let me know if you have any questions? Have fun, there's always so much more to see.