If you are still in search for some sun bathing opportunities and warm weather in September head to the South of Italy, in Apulia region! You will love the food, relax in the true ‘Dolce vita’ style on the Adriatic coast and most importantly, pay half the price of a holiday in August.
If your travels took you to Italy before, you probably have been warned to avoid August at all cost. In the South, August means very hight temperatures and busloads of tourists. I can still remember a very unpleasant experience of waiting for a funicular for about 2h last August on Capri Island.
September is kinder on the wallet but also lets you really enjoy the peaceful olive tree landscapes as well as the unspoiled coast. You will not need to queue for the more famous sites or struggle to find a lounge chair/towel spot on the beach. Once there, you will find that distances are not too big and easily negotiated by rented car, particularly as there is already much less traffic than late in the Summer.
We travelled between 11 and 15 September and focused on the area between Bari and Brindisi, also called Vale d’Itria. We spent about four days visiting the region and choose Ostuni as a base. Here are the top things to do and visit while in the region:
- Food. Glorious, organic and farm-sourced food! You might think I have an obsession with food by now as this comes up quite frequently in the latest blog posts. Although you would not be entirely wrong, I really try to avoid making the hunt for the best food spots the only purpose of my travels (I do make some active research before I get there but do not book tables 5 weeks in advance). However, this inevitably happens in places a have visited on more than one occasion…including always in Italy. For me, the food is such a big part of Italian culture that I would really feel that I am missing an important part of the experience if I do not find a nice fresh pasta or delicious fruity olive oil to accompany the exploration. So back to my recommendations, in and around Ostuni: Masseria Salinola (they do dinner even if you are not lodged on the property but a reservation is necessary as they have a small number of tables) located at about 1.5 km from Ostuni and Osteria del Tempo Perso (in the winding alleys of the old city. Both delicious wand with many dishes particular to the region. Vegetarians will love Orecchiette: Literally meaning “small ears” in Italian, this homemade, ear-shaped pasta is usually served with vegetables, fresh tomatoes and ricotta cheese and Melenzane/Peperoni ripiene (stuffed aubergines/paprika). For antipasti, try the Fava Bean Puree and Chicory Greens – the local take on humus, simple but delicious and filling.
- Splash in the blue water and explore the caves under Polignano a Mare. This was quite an unexpected find. We were looking for a nice place to bathe and our masseria recommended this small city, perched on the Adriatic. There are several beaches that can be reached from the city center, including one that features a natural swimming pool, carved in the rock (photo below). There is no sand here so some water shoes will come in very handy to get in/out of the water easily. There is another beach that can be reached by taking a few winding steps down from in front the entrance to the old city of Polignano. The water was a bit clearer in the cove just outside the city but the city beach was also nice for a refreshing break after a day of sightseeing.
- Wander around the small cobbled streets of spectacular old cities: Ostuni and Locorotondo. Ostuni is a white medieval town located about 1 h by car from Bari airport and 30 min from Brindisi. Also, called “cita bianca’ (white city in Italian), it has one of the best preserved historical city centers in all the region. The old city is located on a hill and makes for an impressive view when driving up to Ostuni overland. The Cathedral is located at the very top and adds a bit of solemnity to the entire vista. Locorotondo is smaller, a bit flatter and more compact. It is part of the Borghi piu belli d’Italia (Italy’s prettiest cities). If you have time to spare Cisternino, about 10 km from Locorotondo is also worth a visit. Although tempting, try to stay off the highway and drive through the olive groves. The road from Ostuni to Locorotondo is surrounded by thousand-year old trees. Many masserie stand out amidst these olive trees: imposing buildings, which began to be built in the 16th century as towers to defend the underlying olive mills where the real wealth of this territory, the olive oil, was produced.
- Go underground in Grotte di Castellana. You do find longer/older/deeper grottos elsewhere in the world and even in Europe for that matter but Castellana has some charm. You need a lot of imagination to see the natural rock sculptures inside and good walking shoes to keep you from sleeping away on the rocks.
- Finally, discover the UNESCO Heritage site in Alberobello that includes a “garden” of about 1000 pointy Trulli. The trulli are historic buildings characterized by circular plants, white dry stone walls, small windows and pinnacles and still function as houses, hotels and shops. Unfortunately much of the trulli village is invaded by small souvenir shops that take away from its charm.
One good local tip, in case you fly out in the evening from Brindisi airport. About 15 Km North from the airport is the WWF reserve Torre Guaceto. Torre Guaceto is a nature reserve and protected area, so while the rest of the surrounding coastline is now home to many beach bars and restaurants, this patch of sand and sea has remained totally free from development. If you want to spend a relaxing half-day before heading for the airport, the sea here is clean, warm and perfect for swimming. If you would prefer a place that also offers some snacks and drinks and the possibility to take a shower, go out of the highway SS379 at Apani and head for Guna Beach club (http://www.gunabeach.com/#!guna/guna.html), just bordering the reserve.
Do you have any Apulia travel secrets to share?