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Puglia - Italy as we love it

Sleep, eat and drink
Masseria Palombara Resort & Spa
Soul Food, Torre dell'Orso (not online)
QuintoQuarto Arrosteria, Oria (not online)
Le Chicche, Cisternino (not online)

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puglia     italy as we love it

Josefina & Wolfgang Bleier
Austria, December 2017

By the time you read this we are back from a wonderful vacation in Puglia in the very south of Italy. Busy days of sightseeing, leisure at the fabulous Masseria Palombara Resort, sun and sandy beaches and festivities in Oria - our program was varied. We came to Puglia at exactly the right time to experience the Palio in Oria, a great medieval festival with magnificent processions in the streets of Oria and thrilling competitions among Oria's four districts, that lasted three days. On the mild evenings Oria's central Piazza turns into a vibrant place for the young and the old to eat, drink and chat until late in the evening. This is Italy at its best!

Holiday among the crowd

It is quite a long trip going by car from Vienna to central Puglia, all the more as we were travelling at the time of Ferragosto, which is the time in August when most Italian businesses close and many people set out for vacation. It is not so nice when driving at that time on Italian Autostrade, but it's very nice at the places where Italians enjoy their best time of the year. Joie de vivre everywhere, the Italian way of life.
We took it slow as time wasn't of essence. During an overnight stop partway in Bologna we could visit at least the most important places of interest in Bologna's city center. Bologna, as the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy, appeared half-empty, the "other half" must have been heading into different directions going to their holiday destinations. It was good for us, as we could move around in the city center without rush, taste delicious Italian snacks here and there and see the one or other sight.

Masseria Palombara Resort & Spa

After an opulent breakfast the next morning in the Savoia Hotel Regency we hit the road for Puglia, . . . long, lazy summer days in front of us. Our destination was the Masseria Palombara Resort & Spa nearby the town Oria. The Palombara has surpassed all our expectations. It is more than just a very beautiful resort - it is an atmospheric place, extraordinary in every sense. We've been so warmly welcomed by Fabiola and Angelo on our arrival at the resort, as if they knew us since long. Stefania, the hotel's sommelier, surprised us with a big basket filled with ripe fruits and an excellent bottle of white wine after she has guided us to our suite. Fabiola and Angelo together with their lovely staff Francesca, Stefania, Mateo, Marianna and all the other staff are doing their "thing" seemingly effortless, always at ease and with a smile, while unobtrusively doing professional work for the wellbeing of their guests. The tried and trusted recipe for this must be: passion. It's like they are a big family, who really made us feel at home. They make Palombara what it is: an exquisite place to relax body and soul, to enjoy the moment and sweetness of life.
Our room was very spacious, beautifully furnished and decorated with a blend of selected, restored furniture, giving it a very personal touch. And the best in this concept: no TV's in the rooms - we loved it! Simple luxury.

We miss the long, mild evenings at the calm courtyard, watching the rise of the moon while enjoying delicious dishes assorted by Angelo and Fabiola, paired with excellent wines from Puglia, and we miss the joyful chats with Francesca. At Palombara food is a passion. It is soul food Italianate, made from delicious ingredients of organic produce with extraordinary flavours and cooked just like Nonna used to make. Remarkable fragrant wines mainly from Puglia were perfectly recommended by Stefania, who is an accomplished sommelier. Every breakfast was amazing, composed of home-made honey and lemon jam, a variety of bruschetta recipes, filled aubergines or "torta della nonna", just to name a few of the treats to start the day. Everything is organic and fresh - and - very delicious!

Breakfast at the Masseria Palombara

The resort's central location nearby the town Oria is ideal to visit Puglia's landmarks and historical places of interest, as well as some of Puglia's best beaches on day trips. For those who are not after sun & sand, the Palombara resort has a wonderful pool area with shadowed places to escape from the sun, and a nice pool restaurant where lunch is served.

Soon after our arrival in Puglia we have realised that we were so lucky to stay nearby Oria. During daytime Oria appears as a quiet, mousy town, but in the evening it changes into a very lively place. Day by day during summer, locals and only a few tourists like us have dinner in the narrow streets, chat at the piazza while sitting over their drinks or coffee and children play until late in the evening. It is the genuine, vibrant Italian lifestyle in a cheerful atmosphere, which makes Oria very special.

Torneo dei Rioni di Oria - The Palio

We came to Puglia at exactly the right time to experience the Palio in Oria, a great medieval festival for which the whole town is up and about. Magnificent processions in the streets of Oria and exciting contests among Oria's four "reones" (districts) Castello, Judea, Lama and San Basilio last for three days. A thousand or so locals, dressed in colourful, historical costumes fill the streets to feature scenes of Puglia's past, the sound of fanfares and drumbeats goes on for hours. This impressive spectacle is viewed by thousands and thousands of locals and visitors coming from other places. If we remember rightly, everyone of the Masseria Palombara is supporting the district Judea, except Angelo. The winner of this year's Palio was the district Judea, so we could admire Francesca in her gorgeous dress leading the recessional parade after the final contest in the castle of Oria. What a wonderful experience.

On the day of the procession mainly meat comes onto the plates and we had an opulent dinner in the Arrosteria Quinto Quarto. In the cuisine of modern Rome, "quinto quarto" (literally the "fifth quarter") is the offal of butchered animals. The name makes sense because offal amounts to about a fourth of the weight of the carcass, because the importance of offal in Roman cooking is at least as great as any of the outer quarters, and because in the past slaughterhouse workers were partly paid in kind with a share of the offal. Legends say that the first quarter of a butchered animal was given to the rich and nobles, the second to the priests, the third to the bourgeoisie, and the fourth to the army. The rest of the Romans were faced with the question, what to eat? The answer was "offal", called "quinto quarto", or fifth-quarter meats. These rejected bits of heads, hearts, lungs, glands, feet and tails went to "average Joe" of Rome. Today the name quinto quarto goes along with an entire cuisine around offal.

Between Salento and Valle d'Itria

Puglia is shaped by many footprints from different cultures, but the Greek influence is the strongest. With its white-washed towns, the ever-present sun, scorched red earth and millions of olive trees, Puglia seems closer to Greece than to the pomp of Rome. Don't come to Puglia looking for picture-perfect towns and villages, abundant vegetation and trimmed gardens - the heat during summer is unforgiving. The charm of Puglia is rather in the unexpected.
Puglia is a large province. While it takes just an hour by car from the Adriatic to the Ionian sea, which is great for travellers, a trip from the north to the south of Puglia comes close to four hours. Don’t try to cover too much ground when planning excursions, as Puglia’s attractions are spread far and wide. Preferably focus on a smaller area, and, like a true local, take it slow.

Oria's central location is ideal for day trips to many sights and places of interest in Puglia. On our excursions to the Salento, Puglia's southern region, we have visited the town Otranto, an absolute must-do first of all because of its cathedral with its mosaic covering the entire floor of the church, Torre dell'Orso, where we highly recommend to taste delicious seafood in the Soul Food ristorante, Porto del Badisco and the Punta Faci lighthouse, which marks the easternmost tip of Italy. Near the Punta Faci lighthouse, just a few hundred metres away from water’s edge, stand out the red hills of an abandoned bauxite cave, which surrounds a lake with green shades, a picture-postcard view nestled in the cliff. Puglia is a sun-kissed region with endless wild beaches. Some of it we have enjoyed at Puglia's west coast at the Ionian sea, going from Campomarino and San Pietro in Bevagna towards south to Gallipoli.

In the north of Oria we went on a nice trip along the Itria valley, the home of the Trulli, going to Alberobello via Villa Castelli, Martina Franca and Locorotondo. The cozy town Cisternino near Locorotondo is among the most beautiful small towns we've seen in Italy - calm but with great Italian flair. After a trip to Ostuni, the white town, we stopped in Savelletri and dropped into the popular Pescheria 2 Mari to get most delicious seafood crudo. One of the absolute highlights among our trips was a visit to the historic town Matera in the neighbouring province Basilicata. Besides of its important history, Matera became also famous after a number of historical films produced in this town. Large parts of "The Passion of the Christ", directed by Mel Gibson, were shot in Matera.

The photograph above shows a cozy piazza in the lovely town Cisternono, the photograph below is a picture-postcard view of Ostuni, also named the white city.

It is true, we felt sad to leave the Masseria Palombara and Puglia, to say bye-bye to Fabiola and Angelo, their lovely staff, and Blu, the black labrador retriever. All things come to an end.
En route going back to Vienna we spent a few days in the Riviera del Conero region, a beautiful area at the Adriatic sea, which hides tiny secrets unknown to mass tourism, places to experience the genuine Italian way of life. The Regional Natural Park of Conero extends across the municipalities of Ancona, Camerano, Numana and Sirolo. It lies on a stretch of coastline and over an extensive hillside, offering unique scenic views. Mount Conero, at an altitude of 572 meters, rises directly from the sea in a region of unspoilt nature, where the the colours of the bay change with the season in a magnificent blend with the impressive Conero rocks that embrace the turquoise sea. Portonovo and its wild beaches, Sirolo, Numana, Scossicci, Marcelli and the pilgrimage destination Loretto are places one should visit in this part of Italy. Being in the region, we were of course looking forward to visit again those nice people in the Ristorante Emilia, whose way we came across in Portonovo many years ago.

On our last evening before leaving Italy, we've enjoyed delicious seafood at the terrace of the "Emilia" and contemplated our experiences we made in Puglia. The calm Mediterranean sea in the Baia di Portonovo, softly lit by the last rays of sun, was the canvas for our meditation, two glasses of Verdicchio the accompaniment.

Ciao Puglia, . . . there will be another time for us to return.

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