Hands down, the Puglia region of Italy has the best beaches and you can get confirmation of that from locals, European tourists and American visitors. Puglia, also called Apulia, is in the southeastern tip of Italy or the heel of Italy’s boot. The Adriatic Sea is on the East, the Ionian Sea on the Southeast and the gulf of Taranto is on the South side.
The area has been recognized as an undiscovered gem — think stunning coastlines, miles and miles of olive groves, vineyards, charming towns, historic villages with cone-shaped trullo houses and unique cuisine. The Puglia region produces 40% of Italy’s olive oil, about 300,000 tons a year.
Two of the many areas of note in the region are Bari, the capital of the Puglia region and Matera, a city that truly makes you think you’ve stepped back into Biblical times.
If you’d like to see Bari, Matera and Lecce, nicknamed the “Florence of the South” GetAway Travel can arrange your trip, or, check back with us for details on a trip planned for that area in 2023.
Bari: monuments and pasta
Bari is home to two important monuments, the Basilica di San Nicola, or the Church of St. Nicholas and Frederick II’s castle. It is a bustling harbor town with lovely beaches. The largest port on the Italian side of the Adriatic Sea, it gave Italians numerous access to shipping routes, second only to Naples.
It is still a major ferry port. There are up to 15 ferry crossings a day including an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
The Church of St. Nicholas is thought to be the resting place of Santa Claus. Built in 1089 to house the remains of the saint, the church is a mixture of architecture styles. The remains of St. Nicholas of Myra were originally in Turkey, but they were moved to Bari when the Saracens attacked Myra in 1087. It is somewhat fitting his remains are in Bari because he is considered the patron saint of travelers, sailors and children. The church interior features beautiful artwork and mosaics.
The city’s main church is the Cathedral of San Sabino. It was destroyed and rebuilt in 1170 in a more Romanesque style. Take some time to study the front facade which is decorated with monsters and other imaginary creatures.
The Castello Svevo was built by King Ruggero in the 12th Century, destroyed and rebuilt by Frederick II in 1233. It became a social hub in the Renaissance when Isabella of Aragon and her daughter, Bona Sforza lived there and hosted famous artists, writers and dignitaries.
St. Nicholas Church and the cathedral are in the Old Town or Bari Vecchia area of Bari. It’s worth taking a walk through the winding streets in Old Town. You will come upon women practicing a craft perfected by their grandmothers and mothers — making orecchiette (little ears) pasta by hand. You can take a walking tour of the area or take a pasta making class.
Lecce: distinctive architecture and cuisine
This inland city is chock full of Baroque monuments and ancient architecture. It is home to more than 40 churches and many are of a dramatic, ornamental and distinctive architecture made famous in Lecce called Barocco Leccese or Lecce Baroque. One of the best examples of the style is the Basilica di Santa Croce. Built in 1695 with limestone from the area, the facade has intricately detailed sculptures accented with smooth, white columns. The opulent interior has more grand columns, a gold-painted ceiling, 17 altars, paintings and fabulous stained glass windows including a stunning huge rose window.
The Church of St. Irene, who is one of the city’s most revered saints, has a statue of the saint on the front as well as a sculpture of a she-wolf and an oak tree.
The Piazza del Duomo Square, one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, is located in the heart of the city’s Old Town. It is bordered by buildings displaying the city’s intricate architectural style. The Lecce Bell Tower is the tallest in Europe and on a clear day you can see the Adriatic Sea and the mountains in Albania. There is an elevator that will take you to the top observation deck!
The city even has it’s own unique cuisine including rustico leccese which is a street food of crunchy pastry filled with tomato and mozzarella cheese. Fruttone is a shortbread crust pastry shell filled with pear or quince jam and almond paste topped with a thin layer of dark chocolate ganache.
Matera: a magical city of caves and stone
Matera is a city on a rocky outcropping and it includes the Sassi, a complex of caves that housed the original inhabitants of the area. A unique and spectacular place, it is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in history and has been occupied since the Paleolithic period.
Ancient neighborhoods are grottos carved out of limestone and boutiques, hotels, museums and restaurants are located in, of course, caves.
People lived in the caves until 1945 when the “shame of Italy” was revealed by an author who described over-crowded dark living spaces with little to no modern conveniences. The government began relocating Sassi (which literally means stone) residents in 1956 to Matera, some went back to living in the renovated and modernized caves. The Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario is a cave house in the Sassi turned into a museum.
Matera has been the setting for filming for “The Passion of Christ,” “Ben-Hur,” “Mary Magdalene,” and “No Time to Die.”
Churches, including the Madonna Delle Tre Porte, which provided the backdrop for the “Passion of Christ,” are carved into the rock complex. The Cathedral of Matera, dedicated to St. Mary, the patron saint of the city, dates back to the 13th century and offers fabulous views of the city, especially at night when the hills become ablaze with hundreds of small lights.
History, fabulous cuisine and unforgettable, dare we say magical, scenery await travelers to the Puglia region. Join us for a getaway, or let us plan your adventure there. We can be reached at: (262) 538-2140, e-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org