Touch-down! We have officially arrived in Italy; home of Gianni's ancestors and of the tastiest complex carbohydrates on planet earth. Our itinerary and agenda is quite simple, we begin our trip in Bari, toward the southern 'heel' of Italy intent on eating our way all the way right up to the North, bouncing from coast to coast on the way.
My husband is quite well-travelled in Italy fortunately for me (and you) so he knows exactly where the best spots are and I simply have to share these gems with you! He is also quite good at being a bad driver I have learnt! By bad I mean crazy, because driving in Italy involves speeding down practically limitless 'autostrade' highways, dodging 15 year olds on Vespas, avoiding careless pedestrians and navigating through tiny old towns and cobble stone streets that were built for horses and carriages, not our brand new little Volvo V40... But without further ado, let the adventures begin!
Polignano a Mare
Our first trip from Bari airport was a short 20 minutes drive (like Schumacher) south to the beautiful, charming town of Polignano a Mare. Difficult to say, but easy to fall in love with. It was a fortunate coincidence that we arrived on a Friday night, so parking outside the city walls, we joined all of the locals on their 'passegiata' stroll through town to the main piazza. We quickly noticed that many of the people in town were in fact not international tourists, but rather Italians who had headed sea-side for a weekend get-away! You could hear the authenticity in the piazza during our dinner as an Italian man casually strummed away on his guitar with many passers-by joining in on some Italian classics. There was even the occasional English song sung in a bad americanised accent (they clearly watch too many Hollywood movies here) but it was all part of the charm. Our first meal in Italy was simply heaven; a 6 euro pizza and 8 euro 'gnocchi alla sorentina' (cooked in a terracotta pot in the wood fired oven with melted mozzarella). Both were delicious reminders of why I married an Italian! :P
After our dinner we grabbed our first gelato of the trip (it will certainly not be our last) and walked 2 minutes from the piazza until we took a wrong turn and came to a balcony... What we saw at that balcony is what makes this little beautiful town an absolute hidden gem in Italy's south. Built entirely on the cliff side it has some of the most picturesque grottos and fjords in all off Europe! It is here that the infamous Grotto Palazzese restaurant sits; photos of which have done the rounds on Facebook with most people oblivious as to its whereabouts! We decided not to visit the restaurant this time though, but to bookmark it for our itinerary next year as they are currently building a hotel above the restaurant on the cliff-side and we will definitely be back!
Return we did, in fact, the very next day! Because the only thing more beautiful than this town at night is visiting this town by day. On the way into town from Bari is another beautiful tiny sea-side port known as 'San Vito'. With a charming population of only 88 seafarers the town is known for the large ancient abbey which sits proudly at the mouth of the port.
Following that same single street from San Vito into Polignano a Mare and you will cross a bridge over 'Lama Monachile' which on a beautiful sunny Saturday (as it was) is where all of the local sun-seekers flock to a very unique (and free) beach flanked by two ominous cliff-sides. What once was a flowing channel where the mountain waters met the ocean is now a rocky, picture perfect beach that the locals would prefer be kept a secret for obvious reasons (so don't tell too many of your friends!). We took a quick dip in the refreshing Adriatic Sea and it suddenly dawned on me that directly in front of me, out on the horizon on the opposite side of the vast ocean was actually my parents home town in Montenegro! A place I am certainly keen to revisit next year. After we let the sun dry us off, we rolled into the piazza we witnessed a beautiful wedding, let the cliff-side views soak in once more and headed for 'Trattoria della Nonna' for a 'spaghetti frutti del mare' (fruits of the sea). I filled my belly with anticipation for the next part of our day trip, a drive to the UNESCO Heritage site of 'Alberobello'.
We took a short detour along the way to see the beautiful beaches of Monopoli (yes, we passed Go, collected $200 and with Gianni's driving we narrowly avoided jail). Alberobello literally translates to 'beautiful tree' and so it seemed aptly named as the roads snaking their way through vibrant green hills were interrupted only momentarily by the 15 or so motorcyclists using the scenic mountain climb as a race track!
The trees and greenery though are not so special. Gianni described to me the little houses called 'Trulli' that this area was really renowned for; small white circular huts with conical black stone roofs? The closest thing he had seen to a smurf village in his opinion. Admittedly, I thought he was joking until we arrived; what an unbelievable place! Excuse the pun, but the town is 'Trulli' amazing. The historical village is built of matching white huts just as he described, as far as the eye can see reaching up the mountain to the top where a beautiful church sits, built impressively in the same method and architecture. I know there is obviously so much history here and it has been preserved so beautifully but I just couldn't shake Gianni's smurf analogy and I literally felt like a little smurfette the entire time we walked the beautiful streets of the old town. This is a place that has to be seen to be believed.
After another day filled with incredible memories and experiences we retreated back to our hotel to refuel with some more pizza (don't judge me!) and to really let everything I had seen sink in. A good idea it would turn out, because nothing could prepare me for what was in store for me tomorrow night in Matera, the next secret that Puglia (and Gianni) had hiding up its sleeve.