Southern Italy: A Travel Guide From Mark & I | AD

Why visiting Puglia is a goooood idea

*This post features an advertorial from VillaPlus

Last week my parents, Mark and I headed east to spend seven days in Puglia, in the south of Italy thanks to the guys from Villa Plus and it was glorious. You know the heel of the boot? That’s where we were. Slap bang in the the middle of that with coastline a 30 minute drive either side of us, more olive trees than you could shake a stick at and more sunshine than I’d seen in months. We spent our time visiting neighbouring towns, meandering on the cobbled streets and introducing my parents to the joys of bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic, Italian tomatoes, Primitivo wine, fresh pasta, pizza that’s so sloppy that it gets EVERYWHERE and amaretto ice-cream.

See here’s the craziest thing. Mark and I had actually visited Puglia before. In fact last time we stayed, we did so just a 30 minute drive up the road from where we did this time and we’ve always wanted to visit again. The weather is cracking, the food even more so and we just found it to be a place that’s super relaxed and forces you into the same rhythm. There are plenty of places to visit, eat and explore and so along with a few road trips out, we also spent plenty of time basking in the sun at our villa, reading books and drinking wine. IT. WAS. BLISS. Here’s everything that we got up to…

How To Get Around

We took the almost three hour flight from London Gatwick to Bari with British Airways, but both them and EasyJet offer flights most days from the UK to Bari, Brindisi and Naples (although the latter is about a four hour drive from where we stayed, Bari was a 90 minute drive). Car hire is essential to getting around and we had no trouble picking ours up at the airport, or any problems driving it around. Most towns have parking areas – look out for big ‘P’ signs with ‘Parcheggio’ on them – and offer all-day parking for a good rate that’s usually around the €5 mark.

For our accommodation we stayed with Villa Plus in their Villa Trullo Oro Verde, about a 10 minute drive away from the centre of Ostuni (for more info on Puglia click here). Have a watch of today’s vlog for the full tour, but it slept up to six people, had generous amounts living space, a private pool, table tennis table and an outdoor pool table. Their villa selection comes with more free added extras than any other villa provider and I fully appreciated the speedy WiFi complimentary perk. All villas come with their very own rep that are just a phone call away should you have any problems; think of them as your very own concierge. Our rep Pamela helped us out with organising taxis and a wine-tasting. BABE! We thoroughly enjoyed our home-from-home with its little touches of luxury and loved the freedom we had to sit by a pool in peace without the need to do the whole ‘towel reserves my sun-lounger‘ thing and eat in thanks to the fully-equipped kitchen if we wanted to. We’ll be back, and I think this the time the whole family wants in. Cousins, Aunties, Uncles and all. It’s also worth noting that all Villa Plus holidays have ABTA/ATOL back-up; which are the two travel bodies who protect customers. Find out more about that here.

Where To Eat

I mean, where do you even start? We didn’t have a bad meal in Italy and I’d suggest keeping off all those ranking and review websites and instead going off your gut; seeing if you can spot what is on other customer’s plates and keeping an eye out for where the locals are heading. We had all our breakfasts in the villa, just picking up fresh fruit and yoghurt from the supermarket, and we did the same for most of our lunches too. Although, if you do find yourself in Alberbello I can highly recommend the Trulli Bakery for a ham and cheese stuffed focaccia. It was truly exceptional. Pair that with a stop off at Arte Fredda for some gelato on the walk back to the car and that’s a great lunch break right there.

Our favourite meal of the holiday – you know the one that you go back to a second time because it’s just that good? – had to be from Impasto Napoletano in Ostuni. I’ve had a lot of pizza in my time and that was one of the best; plus the service in there was a great laugh and so, so friendly. We stopped off at Garabaldi’s in Martina Franca too, which as I explain in the vlog we’d actually been to before. It certainly wasn’t the cheapest meal we had all holiday, but it’s always a great experience and if it’s good wine and pasta that you’re after then this is the place.

One night the Villa Plus team arranged a one-of-a-kind experience that we’ll all never forget. We ended up visiting Antimo, a restaurant founded by a chef called Antimo who previously was head of a cooking school in Milan, and his wife. Not only did we get to chomp down on some Italian classics (the risotto was out of this world!), we were also treated to wine pairings from Giuseppe who owned a local vineyard called Schiena (I can highly recommend the Dama Negromaro Rosato Salento). The night was hosted by local guide and wine and olive oil sommelier, Alessandro. It was a glorious evening and if you’re ever in the region go and dine at Antimo’s restaurant, have a tour with Alessandro and visit Giuseppe at his vineyard for a wine tasting.

Where To Explore

We tended to split our days up into three. We explored in the morning, spent the hottest part of the day back at the villa and then headed back out under the cover of darkness for food. We were spoilt for choice with adventures to pack into that first slot and even though we’d done a bit of research before we left for Italy and had a couple of places on our list that we wanted to return to with my parents, the info pack in the villa was completely chocker with recommendations.

Our favourite place to hang was Ostuni. Not only was it really close and easy to get to from the villa, the town is relatively quiet and has plenty of streets to get lost in, or lookout points to just stand and stare from. My parents LOVED it. Although we didn’t visit this time round, last time we did head to Leece which is one of the larger towns on the heel of the boot. There are shops, restaurants and churches galore. I also have a soft spot for Martina Franca too. We visited on a Sunday evening when a local market was on and the place was completely buzzing. A really different and fun experience to see.

In terms of specific attractions I’d recommend adding to your ‘to-see’ list when you visit? Well, the town of Alberobello is quite a place as the streets are lined with traditional ‘Trulli’ buildings that are typical of the region. It is however a busy stop, so head there early morning if possible and plan to head back after lunch. In Ostuni we stumbled across the Museum of Preclassical Civilisations of the Southern Murgia, which houses the bones of ‘La Donna di Ostuni’, a pregnant cavewoman who they reckon existed 28,000 years ago. How nuts is that? Download the app and the English audio tour before you head in. The Basilica di San Martino in Martina Franca, is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever been lucky enough to see (head in after your pasta stop at Garabaldi’s!). Towards the end of the holiday we visited Grotte de Castellana, an underground cave network close to Bari and it was incredible. It’s definitely worth paying a little extra for the full tour and make sure you check the website first so you can time your visit with a tour in your language. The white caves at the end are UNREAL!

Photos by Mark & I, taken on a Canon EOS 33

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