This trip is for a small group of people all foodies and passionate about learning about the Mediterranean cuisine of Puglia and local wines. They want to meet local people who will guide them through the local cuisine and culture, who speak fluent English and are very professional. They don't want to do what the other tourists do. I would definetely recommend the Stile Mediterraneo Cooking School in Puglia for an authentic experience on how to prepare the traditional cuisine of Puglia
Patria Palace, Italy
Lecce 73100, Italy
Tel: 39 0832 245 111
Starwood, bless its corporate vastness, hasn't ruined this 17th-century palace, though a little bit of soul was lost in the renovation. Still, the 67 rooms, with their shades-of-blue decor and faux-antique TV armoires, are the best in town (especially the second-floor front ones with the little balconies), and the efficient service hits the spot. The Patria Palace is also in a great position, right opposite the Basilica of Santa Croce, and the valet parking means you can leave the car and explore Lecce's Baroque splendors on foot. Atenze, the restaurant, attracts plenty of custom from outside the hotel.
La Sommitá Relais Culti, Italy
Ostuni 72017, Italy
Tel: 39 083 130 5925
Puglia's ultimate design hotel, La Sommità Relais Culti, is one of those places that require a certain effortunless you are a Milanese model or a fashion mag editor, in which case it's a real home away from home. Opened in 2003, this ten-suite inn is a showcase for the holistic lifestyle brand created by "project of the senses" guru Alessandro Agrati. Just about everything you see here is Culti, from the tableware in the elegantly minimalist restaurant to the crisp cotton bed linen, from the Mareminerale products used in the Relais' underground spa to the oversize armchairs that dominate the first-floor lounge. But the branding is discreet, and the setting makes up for the occasional product push. The Relais is carved out of a once-grand aristocratic town house that stands at the highest point of Ostunithe famous cittá bianca (white town) of Puglia. Sensitively restored, the palazzo's rough sandstone ceiling vaults play off against the smooth lines of the Culti furnishings and bathroom fittings. Best of all is the walled orange garden outsideits 40-year-old trees provide the fruit for the Relais' breakfast marmalade. Steps lead up from here to a series of balconies with views over the roofs of the old town to the distant sea: a perfect place for evening aperitivi. The service may appear frosty after all that Puglian warmth outside, but pretend that this is Milan rather than Ostuni and it will seem positively effusive.
Già Sotto l'Arco, Italy
Tel: 39 083 199 6286
It used to be a humble osteria situated under the old arch ("sotto l'arco"), but the third generation of the Buongiorno family, led by chef Teresa, has moved up in the world, in more ways than one. Now on the second floor of an 18th-century palazzo in the center of this delightfully laid-back southern town, Già Sotto l'Arco is considered by many to be Puglia's best restaurant. The decor feels neo-Bourbon (that's the royals, not the drink), with shiny old leather-upholstered chairs and glossy pastel doors being set off by the uniform white walls and ceilings of this elegant arched dining room. But the welcome is warm and the good vibes continue on the plate, with seasonal dishes rooted in the territory. An autumn selection might include bucatini with ricotta and wild fennel on a sauce of bitter tomatoes, or seared lamb chops with caponatina (a local variation on the classic Sicilian vegetable casserole) and roast eggplant. The cuisine is surprisingly simple but spot-onthis is the kind of unfussy high-class joint that even those allergic to high-class joints will enjoy.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays.
The fornello is a brand of ultra-local osteria that exists only in Puglia. A throwback to a time when povertyand the fire riskmeant that few people had proper ovens or grills at home, fornelli are essentially butcher's shops, with an attached grill room where clients can tuck into such delicacies as gnumarieddi, a mix of lamb and goat organ meats stuffed into a casing made from lamb intestines (it tastes better than it sounds); bombette, plump sausages made with cured pork shoulder (capocollo), pecorino cheese, and herbs; or simple pork chops, with or without a dusting of bread crumbs and Parmesan. The drill: First choose the meat at the counter (it's charged by weight), then file through to the back room (or next-door locale); sit at one of the simple wooden tables and salivate while you watch your selection being grilled or roasted on the wood-burning range. Other items on the menu consist mostly of hunks of freshly baked local bread and a flask of robust Primitivo red wine. Some fornelli offer a small antipasti selection, though you'll be hard-pressed to find a salad: This is unrepentant carnivore territory. The fertile Valle d'Itria is fornelli heartland, especially the picturesque hill town of Cisternino. Expect to pay around $25 a head. Here we list a few of Puglia's most renowned fornelli, but most inland villages between Bari and Brindisi will have at least one, and it's invariably good.
Al Fornello Da Ricci, Italy
Ceglie Messapica, Italy
Tel: 39 083 137 7104
Young Antonella Ricci shares her Michelin-starred kitchen with her mother, Dora, and her husband, Vinod Sokar. But with its long tables, copper lamps, and beams, this farmhouse-style restaurant comes on more rootsy than snooty. The culinary style is half suited to the surroundings and half aiming for something less povera: soufflé omelets with mint or spinach, ricotta-stuffed zucchini-flower fritters, grilled skewer of suckling kid, sausage and chicken livers with green salad Afterward, take your espresso (or grappa) in the garden and contemplate the stone building with a conical roof, known as a trulli.
Open Wednesdays through Monday afternoons.
See + Do
Between Bari and Brindisi the fertile Valle d'Itria is one of the great market gardens of Italy. Almonds, fruit trees, and cherry tomatoes grow alongside the grapevines in the cooler hills, and great gnarled olives, some of them hundreds of years old, carpet the coastal plain, with fortified farmhouses known as masserie rising above the green sea here and there. The area is most famous for its conical trulli dwellings, concentrated in the town of Alberobello, but there's plenty more to see. Two historic towns in particular should not be missed. Martina Franca is like a mini Lecce, but here it's more the fabric of the charming sandstone town rather than its individual churches or palazzi that is the attraction. And then there's la città bianca, Ostuni, an M.C. Escheresque warren of whitewashed houses, which seem to have grown spontaneously and merged into each other over the centuries.
See + Do
Alberobello & The Trulli, Puglia, Italy
The countryside around UNESCO World Heritage site Alberobello looks like the homeland of some lost race of fairytale folk, thanks to its trullithousands of extraordinary tiny, whitewashed limestone cylindrical houses with conical slate roofs, some daubed with symbols or topped by finials that have something runic about them. Contrary to their appearance and in defiance of their enduring mysterious reputation, the earliest are less than 300 years old, yet their origins may go back much further, as the trullo is easily made, and easily knocked down again. There are trulli throughout the Valle d'Itria, but only in Alberobello have they strayed from country to townand been turned into a tourist attraction.
See + Do
The Salento, Puglia, Italy
Puglia's wild southern promontory has been compared to Cornwall, and with its spectacular coastline, windswept interior, and deep-rooted folk traditions, it's easy to see why. Stretching south from Lecce, the Salento takes in the historic port towns of Otranto (on the Adriatic side) and Gallipoli (on the western, Ionian coast). The Salento also has some of Puglia's best beachesespecially to the west, where white sand dunes extend for miles north of the resort of Porto Cesareo, and south of Gallipoli. Inland is a primitive landscape of prickly pears, stone walls, and dusty towns, some of which turn out to harbor a few artistic treasures (don't miss the spectacular 15th-century frescoes in the church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria in sleepy Galatina). And if you're here in summer, try to take in a performance of the tarantella at one of the many village festas. This frantic dance, set to a driving guitar, accordion, and tambourine accompaniment, was believed to cure women of the bite of the tarantula (though most anthropologists tend to agree that there's something a lot more sexual going on).
See + Do
Lecce, Puglia, Italy
Lecce is rich in splendid Baroque architecture, but it's also a vibrant, youthful city with enormous brio and style. From the mid-16th century on, dozens of churches and noble palazzi were built in the local honey-colored sandstone, soft enough to encourage the area's skilled stonemasons to indulge in riotous carvings. Highlights include the Basilica di Santa Croce, an exuberant dance of angels, cherubs, symbolic fauna, and botanical festoons that was begun in 1549 and took 150 years to complete; and the Chiesa del Rosario, the final work of 17th-century genius Giuseppe Zimbalo. There's also a well-preserved Roman amphitheater near the main square, Piazza Oronzo.