This less explored corner of Europe basks in the sun facing the Adriatic inside the heel of Italy’s boot. Puglia pulls your eyes to the horizon where you can see the rolling hills and desert-like expanses of the region. Puglia is a region filled with small and historic towns and a breathtaking countryside boasting endless rows of olive trees, grape vines, and the famed conical stone huts known in the area as Trulli. Erin, Mandy and I spent a few relaxing and beautiful days in this region taking in the scenery and breathing the warm and dry air that reminded us so much of home.
Upon landing we rented a car and drove about an hour to our AirBnb. The landscape immediately drew me in and I felt at home right away. The highway eventually gave way to dirt roads as we drew closer to our destination and the dirt roads narrowed so much that our car barely missed scraping the waist high, stacked stone walls constructed around the time of American Independence. The area was very rural - each property sitting on a huge piece of land. So much so that at any given moment you could only see a home or two on the horizon, the rest of the space taken by vineyards and olive trees.
Having flown in from Milan, I was incredibly struck by how different Puglia was from Northern Italy. It was clear that resources and wealth here were sparse in comparison to the affluence of Milan and Northern Italy in general. The cars driving around were older and more weathered, the homes much more modest and the occasional shop we passed along the way needed a coat of paint or new signage. This shabby aesthetic added to the charm of the region, mixing with the warmth of the people, salt in the air, and ever-present sun in the sky, to create a feeling of serenity that cannot be replicated - only pursued. The richness in wealth that was lacking was more than made up for in the depth of this area’s spirit. We arrived at our place and were met by a very kind older woman who didn’t speak a word of English. Through smiles, gestures, and Spanish spoken with an Italian accent, we were able to get the lay of the land and settled into our space.
We stayed in a small-scale example of a Trullo – the conical stone huts that characterize the region. I had never seen a structure like this before in my life and knew there had to be a story behind the oddly shaped buildings. It turns out that Trulli were constructed as rudimentary field shelters and eventually as permanent dwellings by small business owners or agricultural laborers. It is thought that due to high property taxes, the people of the region built these dry-stone wall buildings, so they could be dismantled quickly when tax inspectors were in the area. To think that such beautiful structures and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site are the result of tax avoidance is comical to me. Our very own Trullo had two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a dining room. There was also a staircase leading to a roof terrace with plenty of room to sit and enjoy the sunsets.
Upon arriving we were starving and drove to the nearest town to eat a late lunch. It was late afternoon at this point and the entire town was shut down with almost no shops opened anywhere. We luckily found a coffee shop and were quickly disappointed to hear they weren’t serving any food. A man overheard us discussing how disappointed and hungry we were, and he was quick to introduce himself and offer a hand. His name was Giuseppe and he was kind enough to let us follow him while he drove across town to a restaurant that he thought would be open. Upon discovering that it was closed until dinner as well, he jumped back in his car and led us to a nearby market where we were able to buy groceries for a meal at home. That was our first taste of Puglia hospitality and our first notion that we were in an area that had not been inundated with tourists for generations like much of the rest of Italy.
We returned home and set to cooking. We made spaghetti with both pesto and tomato sauce, bruschetta, and plenty of extra bread, cheese, and prosciutto. We headed up to the roof and enjoyed our meals alongside a few bottles of wine. We got there just in time because as soon as we started eating the sun began to set. There are moments in life that you look back on and for me great memories persist as brief snapshots in time. Looking out at the sun beginning to set on the horizon, wine in hand, belly full of pasta, good friends for company – that is the tableau that occupies my mind when I think back to Puglia.
Having Erin with us was such a blessing. She is so positive, and full of good vibes that it rubs off on you. Mandy and I had been travelling alone for awhile prior to Italy and we had settled into a familiar rhythm. Erin brought a new energy that was contagious and her excitement for the experiences we were enjoying really brought our trip into perspective. The three of us laughed a ton, ate even more, and made the best of any situation. She was a travel buddy we hope joins us again at another stop along our journey.
The rest of our time in Puglia was spent exploring the neighboring towns, enjoying some local restaurants – including one built into a cave on the side of a cliff overlooking the Adriatic, and hanging out in our Airbnb. We really put most of our efforts into unwinding and enjoying the simple things. We took a few walks, made friends with the neighborhood cats, cooked at home, and listened to music. Puglia is a place that seemed to promote a slower pace of life. One that requires you to enjoy the simple things more, take time for the people you are with, watch the world go by. It is in those moments when you typically find clarity, have an epiphany, and resolve to refocus your energies towards the more important things. I will look back very fondly on my time in Puglia. Warm sun, ocean views, and the Trulli dotting the landscape – Puglia grabs you by the heart and leads you deep into a corner of the Italian culture that is not widely known but profoundly moving. // Jeff