Have You Been to Puglia Yet?
Photo: Romeo Hotel
If the answer is no, then I highly--highly--suggest you add it to your wish list. I made my second sojourn there last week and found it's still made with my favorite ingredients: wonderful food (a cuisine that utilizes both ingredients from the coast and interior countryside), fascinating architecture (Greek, Norman, Baroque, you name it), beautiful beaches, and intimate hotels.
I parked myself back at Il Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, a gorgeous former convent that has been restored to great effect by Alistair and Athena McAlpine and packed with treasures from their travels. (There is no Web site for the hotel; you need to call an English cell phone to make a booking 44-773-636-2328). I lazed by the pool, went for a stroll around the charming nearby village of Marittima, ate just-caught sea bass and shrimp, and enjoyed Athena's great conversation. I also made a side trip to Lecce, which has been described as the Florence of the south; after driving past arid fields bordered by massive gnarled olive trees, I took in the beautiful carvings in local churches. Puglia is definitely coming onto the radar, but I am surprised it isn't as well known by American travelers as it is with Brits. It should be.
To break up the trip back to Tuscany, I stopped in to Naples for a night. Another of Italy's underrated treasures, Naples is a place that most people only stop in on the way to Capri and the Amalfi Coast. Yes, it is gritty and chaotic, but I love the colorful dilapidated neighborhoods, the emerging contemporary art scene, and of course the pizza (more on that in a moment). I had been looking forward to checking out the Romeo hotel, which was on Condé Nast Traveler's 2009 Hot List. Talk about a hotel with a view. Vesuvius? Check. Sorrento and the Amalfi coast? Check. Even Capri? Check. But then there are the empty warehouses and a humming port, too; it's a vista that captures the soul of Naples. (And the small suspended pool on the rooftop is genius.)
Now back to the subject of pizza. This is, after all, the city that invented one of Italy's culinary treasures--don't even mention the pizza pies of Little Italy or Rome to a local. Da Michele sticks to the marinara and margherita varieties, both of which it has truly perfected. Then it was on to Sorbillo, a spot highly recommended by a Neapolitan friend. When I arrived, a huge crowd had congregated, and people were shouting, waving their hands, and talking on cell phones. A pint-sized old lady with a clipboard dealt with them as easily as a New York City club doorman. Once seated at our table, surrounded by generations of pizza worshippers, we tucked into chewy but crispy-crusted pies, the mozzarella just a tad smoky from the oven, the tomatoes perfectly crinkled. No matter that it was ten o'clock on Sunday night and work, school, or long drives awaited most of the diners. None of those things matters when a famous pie is on hand.