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HOW TO USE THIS ROUGH GUIDES SNAPSHOT

This Rough Guides Snapshot is one of a new generation of informative and easy-to-use travel-guide ebooks that guarantees you make the most of your visit. An essential tool for pre-trip planning, it also makes a great travel companion when you’re on the road.

Introduction to Puglia is a good place to start, with an overview of the region’s big attractions and a list of highlights. From the table of contents, you can click straight to the main sections of the guide, which includes features on all the major sights. You’ll find practical information on the country as a whole, including details on flights, in Italy Basics. Shorter contents lists appear at the start of every section in the guide to make chapter navigation quick and easy. You can jump back to these by tapping the links that sit with an arrow icon.

Detailed area maps can be found in the guide and in the dedicated map section, which also includes a full country map, accessible from the table of contents. Depending on your hardware, you can double-tap on the maps to see larger-scale versions, or select different scales. There are also thumbnails below more detailed maps – in these cases, you can opt to “zoom left/top” or “zoom right/bottom” or view the full map. The screen-lock function on your device is recommended when viewing enlarged maps. Make sure you have the latest software updates, too.

Throughout the guide, we’ve flagged up our favourite places - a perfectly sited hotel, an atmospheric café, a special restaurant - with Author pick. You can select your own favourites and create a personalized itinerary by bookmarking the sights, venues and activities that are of interest, giving you the quickest possible access to everything you’ll need for your time away.

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INTRODUCTION TO PUGLIA

Spanning 400km from north to south, Puglia forms the heel of Italy. For centuries it was a strategic province, colonized, invaded and conquered by just about every major power of the day – from the Greeks through to the Spanish. These days clean seas and reliable sunshine are the draws for holiday-makers both Italian and foreign, and acres of campsite-and-bungalow-type tourist villages stud the shoreline, though there are still quiet spots to be found. Low-cost flights to Bari and Brindisi have opened up the area to British tourists, many of whom have been buying and doing up trulli – ancient storehouses – and masserie (farm estates) as holiday accommodation. There’s a brisk air of investment in many resorts, from the new top-of-the-range spa hotels in converted masserie to agriturismo places where you can holiday among olive groves and orchards. B&Bs continue to spring up everywhere, often in the historic centres of towns, some simple, some splendid, all of them better value for money than most hotels.

Puglia has plenty of architectural interest, as each ruling dynasty left its own distinctive mark on the landscape – the Romans their agricultural schemes and feudal lords their fortified medieval towns. Perhaps most distinctive are the kasbah-like quarters of many towns and cities, a vestige of the Saracen conquest of the ninth century – the one at Bari is the biggest and most atmospheric. The Normans endowed Puglia with splendidly ornate cathedrals, while the Baroque exuberance of towns like Lecce and Martina Franca are testament to the Spanish legacy. But if there’s one symbol of Puglia that stands out, it’s the imposing castles built by the Swabian Frederick II all over the province – foremost of which are the Castel del Monte (immortalized on the Italian €0.5 coin) and the remnants of the palace at Lucera.

  Puglia’s cities, generally visited only as transport hubs, merit some exploration nevertheless. Taranto and its surroundings have fought a losing battle with the local steel industry, but Lecce is worth a visit of a day or two for its crazed confection of Baroque churches and laidback café life. Though Bari is not a traditional tourist destination, reinvestment in its maze-like old city is drawing visitors in-the-know for its ambience and excellent restaurants; while Brindisi, best known for its ferry connections with Greece, lies just 15km away from the dunes of the Torre Guaceto nature reserve.

  Puglia is geographically diverse, though it has to be said that the Tavoliere (tableland) of the north with mile upon mile of wheatfields, is hardly the most exciting of landscapes. More alluring is the hilly, forested Gargano promontory jutting out to the east, fringed by gently shelving, sandy beaches, seaside hotels and campsite villages that make good places for a family holiday – though you’ll need to catch a ferry to the Tremiti islands for the clearest sea. The best escape is to the southernmost tip, the Salentine peninsula where the terrain is rocky and dry, more Greek than Italian, and there are some beautiful coves and sea caves to swim in.

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NATURAL ARCH NEAR VIESTE

Highlights

1 Vieste For sun and sea, head to this resort on the dramatic Gargano promontory, which also serves as a gateway to the remote Tremiti islands.

2 Castel del Monte Puglia’s greatest Swabian castle is a testament to thirteenth-century engineering.

3 Martina Franca This lively town with its Moorish feel makes a good base for exploring the surrounding area’s trulli – Puglia’s traditional conical whitewashed buildings.

4 Ostuni One of the most stunning hilltop towns in southern Italy, with a sun-bleached old quarter and a sandy coastline 7km away.

5 Lecce Dubbed the “Florence of the South”, Lecce is an exuberant city of Baroque architecture and opulent churches.

6 Otranto Pressed against clear Adriatic waters at Italy’s easternmost point, Otranto’s whitewashed medieval core makes a great base for getting around Salento’s windswept coast.

GETTING AROUND: PUGLIA

Getting around Puglia by public transport is fairly easy, at least as far as the main towns and cities go. FS trains connect nearly all the major places, while small, private lines head into more remote areas – in the Gargano and on the edges of Le Murge. Most other places can be reached by bus, although isolated village services can be infrequent or inconveniently early – a problem that can only really be solved by taking, or renting, your own car. In July and Aug buses connect coastal towns.

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PUGLIA – ITALY’S BREADBASKET

Puglia is known as the breadbasket of Italy. It’s the source of 80 percent of Europe’s pasta and much of Italy’s fish; it produces more wine than Germany and more olive oil than all the other regions of Italy combined. It’s famous for olives (from Cerignola), almonds (from Ruvo di Puglia), dark juicy tomatoes (often sun-dried), cime di rapa (turnip tops), fava beans, figs (fresh and dried), cotognata (a moulded jam made from quince) and for its melons, grapes and green cauliflower. The influence of Puglia’s former rulers is still evident in the region’s food. Like the Greeks, Pugliesi eat lamb and goat spit-roast over herb-scented fires and deep-fried doughnut-like cakes steeped in honey; and like the Spanish they drink almond milk, latte di mandorla.

  The most distinctive local pasta is orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta that you will still see women making in their doorways in the old part of Bari. Look out, too, for panzarotti alla barese, deep-fried pockets of dough stuffed with tomato or prosciutto and ricotta. Otherwise, there is a marked preference for short, stubby varieties of pasta, which you’ll find served with peppers, cauliflower and cime di rapa. Not surprisingly, fish and shellfish dominate coastal menus. There are some good fish soups (zuppe di pesce) whose ingredients and style vary from place to place – the Brindisi version, for example, is dominated by eel. Vegetarians are well catered for with a range of meat-free antipasti, and combining pasta and vegetables is a typically Pugliese trait.

  A local meat dish is gnummerieddi: resembling haggis, it’s made by stuffing a lamb gut with minced offal, herbs and garlic – best grilled over an open fire. There is little beef or pork eaten in Puglia, and poultry is uncommon, aside from small game birds in season; as a result, horsemeat is popular, especially in the Salento area. To confound your prejudices, go for pezzetti di cavallo, bits of horsemeat stewed in a rich tomato sauce.

  Cheeses are a strong point, including ricotta, cacioricotta, canestrato (sheep’s-milk cheese formed in baskets) and burrata (cream encased in mozzarella, a speciality of Andria). Pair these with the local durum-wheat breads, the most famous of which, pane di Altamura, carries the DOP seal of quality.

  Puglia also produces some of Italy’s best-value wines, particularly its formidable reds – Primitivo di Manduria (aka red Zinfandel), Salice Salentino, and Negroamaro. Locorotondo is a straightforward, fresh white from Salento, a region known also for its rosati (rosé) called Salento Rosato and dessert wine called Aleatico.

For details on getting to Puglia and travelling across the rest of Italy, as well as information on entry requirements and currency, plus travelling with children, national holidays and sport, turn to the Italy Basics section.

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THE TAVOLIERE

The province of Foggia, known also as the Tavoliere (tableland), occupies a broad plain stretching from the foothills of the Apennines in the west and the Gargano massif in the east. FOGGIA, the capital and transport hub of the province, is not somewhere to linger – for more of an idea of what the Tavoliere is like, head for the walled town of Lucera or the little village of Troia.

Lucera

LUCERA (pronounced Loosh-airer) makes a wonderful introduction to Puglia. A charming small town with a bright, bustling centre and a lively passeggiata on summer evenings, it was once the capital of the Tavoliere – a thriving Saracen hub. Frederick II, having forced the Arabs out of Sicily, resettled twenty thousand of them here, on the site of an abandoned Roman town, allowing them complete freedom in religious worship – an almost unheard-of act of liberalism for the early thirteenth century.

The Duomo

Piazza del Duomo • Daily 8am–noon & 5–7pm • Free

Lucera’s timber-roofed Duomo was built in the early fourteenth century after Frederick II’s death, when the Angevins arrived and a conflict with the Saracens began. The Angevins won and built the cathedral on the site of a mosque; by the end of their rule, few of the town’s original Arab-influenced buildings were left. However, the Arabic layout of Lucera survived and there’s a powerful atmosphere here – best appreciated by wandering the narrow streets of the old town, peering into the courtyards and alleyways.

Museo Civico

Via De Nicastri 74 • Tues–Sat 9am–1pm & 3.30–7.30pm, Sun 9am–1pm • Free • tel_icon0881 522 762

Housed in Palazzo de Nicastri behind the cathedral, the Museo Civico has an appealing collection ranging from Roman portrait busts, mosaics and a pair of muscly miniature gladiators tensed for battle, to moulds used by the town’s medieval artisans to create terracotta Madonnas.

The Castello

Piazza Padre Angelo Cuomo • Tues–Sun: May–Sept 9am–2pm & 3–8pm; Oct–April 9am–2pm • €3 • From Piazza del Duomo, follow Via Bovio and Via Federico II to Piazza Matteotti and look for the signs; it’s a 15min walk west of the centre

The main sights are outside the old centre, most notably the vast Castello, built by Frederick and designed to house a lavish court that included a collection of exotic wild beasts. The castle commands spectacular views over the Tavoliere, stretching across to the Apennines to the west and the mountains of Gargano to the east. Contained within the kilometre-long walls are the remains of Frederick’s great palace, evocative fragments of mosaic-work and fallen columns now surrounded by wild flowers.

The Roman amphitheatre

Viale Augusteo • Tues–Sun: May–Sept 9am–2pm & 3–8pm; Oct–April 9am–2pm • Free, tours €3

At the Roman amphitheatre, a fifteen-minute walk east of the old centre, audiences of eighteen thousand once watched gladiatorial battles; there are guides on hand to show you round, but in Italian only.

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: LUCERA

By train and bus Ferrovia del Gargano buses and trains run at least every 30min from Foggia East. Buses are slightly more convenient as they stop at both the train station (20min walk south of the centre) and in Piazza del Popolo, just outside the old city.

Tourist office Around the corner from the cathedral at Piazza Nocelli 6 (Tues–Sun 9.30am–1.30pm & 3–7pm; tel_icon0881 522 762, web_iconcomune.lucera.fg.it).

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ACCOMMODATION

Mimosa Via De’ Nicastri 6 tel_icon338 457 0070, web_iconmimosalucera.it. This small, family-run B&B occupies the seventeenth-century palace that also houses the Museo Civico; breakfast is served in the garden, and guests have access to a small kitchen and washing machine. €75

Residenza Federico II Piazza del Popolo tel_icon0881 201 421, web_iconresidenzadifedericosecondo.it. Fifteen well-equipped rooms near the centre of town, in a beautifully restored medieval building with its own hydromassage pool and sauna, as well as a pizzeria. If it’s full, try its cheaper sister hotel, Villa Imperiale (€80), just opposite the piazza. €90

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EATING AND DRINKING

Il Cortiletto Via De’ Nicastri 26 tel_icon0881 542 554, web_iconristoranteilcortiletto.it. Set just behind the cathedral in a series of vaulted rooms, this restaurant serves excellent local food, with a constantly changing menu – primi from €8, secondi from €15 and a degustazione menu (€27.50) that offers a great chance to sample whatever is in season. There is a vast array of Pugliese wines, too. Mon–Sat 12.30–2.15pm & 8–9.30pm, Sun 12.30–2.15pm; closed second week of July.

Lupus in Fabula Via Schiavone 7 tel_icon0881 530 593. Restaurant, wine bar and jazz club with a cool brick interior and outdoor seating in the heart of the old town. The menu features typically Luceran dishes such as orecchiette (€6) and grilled sausage (€6.50), and there are decent pizzas, too (from €3.50). Daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8pm–midnight.

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Troia

Some 18km south of Lucera, the tiny hilltop town of TROIA is a quiet, dusty village for most of the year. The locals seem curiously blasé as to the origin of their village’s name; it means “slut” in Italian, but no one is able to offer a logical connection with the village. Whatever the reason, the Troiani atone for the name by having three patron saints, whose relics are paraded around town in a procession during the Gesta dei Santi Patroni every July 17.

The Duomo

Via Regina Margherita 77 • Daily 8.30am–noon & 3–7pm • Free

Troia’s only sight is the fine Duomo, an intriguing eleventh-century blend of Byzantine and Apulian-Romanesque styles, with a generous hint of Saracen. Its great bronze doors are covered with reliefs of animals and biblical figures, while above, surrounded by a frenzy of carved lions frozen in stone, is an extraordinary rose window. Distinctly Saracen, the window resembles a finely worked piece of oriental ivory, composed of eleven stone panels, each one delicately carved. There’s more exact detail inside, too, including a curiously decorated pulpit and some ornate capitals.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: TROIA

There are several daily buses from Lucera (about 30min) and more frequent ones from Foggia (about 30min).

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THE GARGANO PROMONTORY

The Gargano promontory rises like an island from the flat plains of the Tavoliere. It has a remarkably diverse landscape: beaches and lagoons to the north, a rocky, indented eastern coast and a mountainous, green heartland of oak and beech trees – more reminiscent of a Germanic forest than a corner of southern Italy. For centuries the promontory was extremely isolated, visited only by pilgrims making their way along the valley to Monte Sant’Angelo and its shrine. Tourism has taken off in a big way, especially around the seaside resort of Vieste, but in 1991 the whole peninsula became a national park, helping to protect it from overbearing development and ensuring that much of the interior remains supremely unspoiled and quiet.

  It may seem as though the promontory is one long strip of private beach, but bear in mind that by Italian law everyone has access to the actual seashore, as well as the 50m length between the reserved areas. Check with your hotel – often the price of a sunbed and umbrella at the nearest beach is included in the cost of an overnight stay.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: THE GARGANO PROMONTORY

By bus and train Approaches to the promontory are pretty straightforward. FS trains run from Foggia to Manfredonia on the southeast side of Gargano, from where it’s only 16km by bus to Monte Sant’Angelo. To get to the north of the peninsula, Ferrovie del Gargano (tel_icon0881 587 211, web_iconferroviedelgargano.com) runs trains from Foggia to San Severo, where you change for onward travel to Peschici–Calanelle: here a bus connects to Peschici (5km). Note that most FG stations are quite a distance from the towns and villages they serve, so always go for the connecting bus if there is one.

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GETTING AROUND

By bus and train Getting around the interior can be a little more tortuous. Buses are run by two companies: SITA (tel_icon0881 352 011, web_iconsitabus.it) which serves the inland towns and operates the inland route to Vieste; and Ferrovie del Gargano, which runs the trains and connecting buses in northern Gargano, including a coastal bus route to Vieste via Manfredonia, Mattinata and Pugnochiuso.

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Monte Sant’Angelo

Perched almost 800m up in the hills, MONTE SANT’ANGELO is the highest – and coldest – settlement in the Gargano. Pilgrims have trudged up the switchback paths and roads for centuries to visit the spot where the archangel Michael is said to have made four separate appearances, mostly at the end of the fifth century – making the sanctuary here one of the earliest Christian shrines in Europe and one of the most important in Italy. Today, the pilgrims come by bus, and the village is a bit of a tourist trap. But the annual major festivals on May 8 and September 28, 29 and 30 attract locals from far and wide, some of whom turn up in traditional dress.

THE PILGRIM ROUTE: SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO

The ancient pilgrim route weaved its way along the Stignano Valley between San Severo in the west and Monte Sant’Angelo, and until comparatively recently was the only road that linked the villages of the Gargano interior. With your own transport, it’s still a good route for exploring a couple of the region’s most important religious centres. If you want to follow any part of the pilgrim route by bus, you’ll have to plan your itinerary carefully and be prepared to travel in leisurely fashion.

  Nestling under Monte Calvo, the highest peak hereabouts, San Giovanni Rotondo is a modern centre for pilgrimage on a massive scale: it’s the burial place of Padre Pio, a local priest who died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002. Pio received the stigmata and won an immense following – especially among Italian Catholics – for his piety and legendary ability to heal the sick. Proof of his divinity was announced in 2008 when his body was exhumed and pronounced to be in good condition and without signs of the stigmata, forty years after his burial. Two years later, his jewel-encrusted, silver coffin was moved to his own golden crypt.

  Padre Pio is hugely popular in Italy, and you’ll see his image – bearing an uncanny resemblance to the late John Peel – stuck on the walls of bars, shops and petrol stations throughout the south. A whole industry has grown up around him in San Giovanni Rotondo, fuelled by the seven million and more pilgrims who pass through every year, making it the most visited pilgrimage site in the world after Lourdes. In 2004, renowned architect Renzo Piano completed a striking new church, the shape of which resembles a large snail – its “shell” forming the roof and enveloping the pilgrims below. The town takes its name from the Rotonda di San Giovanni, a building of indeterminate origin on the edge of the old town – like the Tomba di Rotari, it’s thought to have been a baptistry, built on the site of an earlier pagan temple.

Santuario di San Michele Arcangelo

Via Reale Basilica • June–Sept daily 7.30am–7.30pm; Oct–May Mon–Sat 7.30am–12.30pm & 2.30–5pm, Sun 7.30am–7pm • Free • tel_icon0884 561 150, web_iconsantuariosanmichele.it

From the central Piazza Duca d’Aosta the road runs uphill to the edge of the old town and the Via Reale Basilica, where you’ll find the famous Santuario di San Michele Arcangelo. From the small courtyard on the right a flight of stone steps leads down to the crypts that form the entrance to the church, built on the site of the cave in which the archangel first appeared (in 490).

Tomba di Rotari and the Castello

Opposite the sanctuary, a set of steps leads down to the nearby ruins of the Complesso di San Pietro, behind which is the so-called Tomba di Rotari (daily 10am–1pm & 3.15–7pm; €0.60) – an imposing domed tower that contained a baptistry; the large baptismal font is just on the right as you enter the tower. Little remains of the church itself, wrecked by an earthquake, but the rose window – a Catherine wheel of entwined mermaids – survives.

  Back on Via Reale Basilica, it’s an easy clamber up to the ruined Norman Castello (daily: July & Aug 8am–1pm & 2.30–7pm; Sept–June 9am–1pm & 2.30–6pm; €2; tel_icon0884 565 444), whose views over the town and valley make a nice finale to a visit – especially at sunset.

ACCOMMODATION AND EATING: MONTE SANT’ANGELO

If you intend to stay overnight, don’t count on finding anywhere to sleep at the last minute during the main festival times. For snacks, ignore the touristy places in the lower town and head instead for the bakery outside the castle.

Casa del Pellegrino Via Carlo d’Angio tel_icon0884 562 363, web_iconsantuariosanmichele.it. A three-star hotel right next to the sanctuary, run by a religious institution but open to everybody. The rooms are modern and well looked after, and there’s a set lunch and dinner menu for €15. Only downside is the midnight curfew. €65

Hotel Sant’Angelo 1km out of town on the road to Pulsano tel_icon0884 562 146, web_iconhotelsantangelo.com. Comfortable hotel with a swimming pool, and its own restaurant and pizzeria, and a panoramic view from most of the rooms’ balconies. A good choice for families. €75

Medioevo Via Castello 21 tel_icon0884 565 356, web_iconristorantemedioevo.it. One of the best restaurants in town, serving excellent seasonal local dishes such as pancotto con cavoli, patate e fave (bread soup baked with cabbage, potatoes and fava beans; €8), fave e cicora (broad bean and wild chicory soup; €8), and delicious home-made desserts (€3–5). Daily 2.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm; Oct–July closed Mon.

Taverna Li Jalantuùmene Piazza di Galganis tel_icon0884 565 484, web_iconli-jalantuumene.it. Set in a pretty piazza with an ever-changing menu to reflect seasonal produce, this restaurant features both traditional and innovative recipes, with the mucca podolica, a rare-breed Pugliese cow, featuring prominently. You can eat à la carte, or choose one of the fixed menus – a vegetarian menu at €24 or a tasting menu at €48, both excluding wine. There are also two competitively priced suites, furnished with antiques. €140

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Vieste and around

The best base on the Gargano peninsula is VIESTE, jutting out into the Adriatic on two promontories. Fifty years ago there wasn’t even a proper road here, but today Vieste, with its excellent beaches, is the holiday capital of Gargano, and the streets and sands are packed in August. Despite the crowds, it is a lively and inviting town, with an interesting historic core and, in summer at least, a fairly lively nightlife.

  The old town sits on the easternmost of the two promontories, at the tip of which stands the Chiesa di San Francesco, once a thriving monastery, and a trabucco – used by fishermen to catch mullet. Probably Phoenician in origin, these cantilevered arrangements of wooden beams, winches and ropes are found on the rocky Gargano coast and further north around Vasto in Abruzzo.

  From the church, climb up Via Mafrolla, walking through the old town to Piazza Seggio. Straight ahead, Via Duomo is the site of the so-called Chianca Amara, the “bitter stone”, where five thousand local people were beheaded when the Turks sacked the town in 1554. Further down, past the stone, the Cattedrale, eleventh century in origin but tampered with in the nineteenth, provides a cool retreat from the fierce glare of the sun in the whitewashed streets.

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: VIESTE

By bus All buses arrive at Piazzale Also Muro, to the west of the town centre. Vieste is a stop on the Pugliair service (May–Sept) linking the Gargano peninsula with the airports of Bari, Brindisi and Foggia.

Destinations Bari (4 daily; 3hr); Foggia (5 daily; 2hr 45min); Rome (daily at 3.30pm; 7hr 15min).

By ferry In summer (June 11–Sept 7) a handful of ferries run each morning from Vieste to the Tremiti islands, returning in the late afternoon; there are also several departures each week from April 24–June 10 and Sept 8–24. Tickets are available from the agencies at the port, or you can visit the Gargano Viaggi office at Piazza Roma 7 (tel_icon0884 708 501, web_icongarganoviaggi.it).

Tourist office Piazza Kennedy, on the seafront at the end of the main drag, Viale XXIV Maggio/Corso Lorenzo Fazzini (June to mid-Sept daily 8am–2pm & 4–8pm; mid-Sept to May Mon–Sat 8am–2pm, Tues & Thurs also 3–7pm; tel_icon0884 707 495, web_iconviaggiareinpuglia.it).

DAY-TRIPS FROM VIESTE

Beaches The most obvious day-trip is to the beaches. Head for the small one between the promontories; north to San Lorenzo, with fine, soft, gently shelving sand; or just south of town, to sandy Pizzomunno. They all go in for the grill-pan variety of sunbathing with rows and rows of sunbeds. Slightly less crowded, if you’re lucky, is the marvellous Scialmarino beach, 4.5km up the coast towards Peschici. Nicest of all is the small Baia di San Felice, squeezed between two headlands and backed by pine trees, just before you get to the Testa del Gargano, several kilometres south of town.

Boat trips If you want to swim away from the crowds, consider an organized boat trip to the grotto-ridden coastline around the headland of Testa del Gargano. Boats leave for the three-hour grotto excursion from next to San Francesco church at around 9am and 3.30pm; tickets cost €13. Alternatively, you can rent your own boat for the day from Noleggio Gommoni, at the port (tel_icon347 133 9215, web_iconmarinavieste.it), from €70/day (four–six people).

The interior Inland, the Gargano promontory can make a cool break from its busy coast, although there’s not much public transport, apart from the odd bus from Vieste. The tourist office in Monte Sant’Angelo, however, can help organize mountain bike rental, jeep safaris and pony trekking, and Noleggio Gommoni rents scooters for €50/day.

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ACCOMMODATION

Giada Lungomare Europa 18 tel_icon0884 706 593. Easily among the cheapest options in Vieste, this welcoming family-run place is a few steps from the beach and a 10min walk from the old town, with simple but clean rooms, decent free wi-fi and free parking, though you’ll have to pay extra for a/c. €80

Punta San Francesco Via S. Francesco 2 tel_icon0884 701 422, web_iconhotelpuntasanfrancesco.it. Though showing its age, this hotel enjoys a quiet position in the old town with lovely views over the promontory from the rooftop terrace. All rooms are en suite. Closed Nov–March. €125

Rocca sul Mare Via Mafrolla 32 tel_icon0884 702 719, web_iconroccasulmare.it. Housed in a charming eighteenth-century building with a great old town location overlooking the sea, this friendly family-run hotel has simple rooms and a wonderful terrace with views across to the lighthouse. Piano and violin performances are held on summer nights in the restaurant, and the helpful staff can arrange activities – they will even show you how to make pasta. Big discounts outside Aug. €150

Seggio Via Veste 7 tel_icon0884 708 123, web_iconhotelseggio.it. An upmarket option in the old town with vertiginous views down to its swimming pool, and its own private sandy beach and lagoon. Closed Nov–March. €130

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EATING AND DRINKING

There are plenty of fish restaurants to choose from in and around the old town. If you’re on a budget, try the pair of cheerful pizzerias in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. The terrace bar at Seggio is a perfect place for a predinner drink.

author_pickAl Dragone Via Duomo 8 tel_icon0884 701 212, web_iconaldragone.it. Located in a once-inhabited cave, Al Dragone is good for fish dishes, such as the antipasto of marinated grey mullet (€8), and twists on local dishes you won’t find anywhere else, such as orecchiette with turnip greens, salted anchovies scattered with bottarga and shards of thin crispy bread spiked with capers, parsley, basil, garlic and chilli (€9). Tasting menus cost €32 including drinks, and there are some unusual desserts too, such as mostazzuoli – made with almonds, wine must (the syrup made by boiling down what is left of the grapes after making wine) and egg white. Daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm; closed Nov to end March, plus Tues in April, May & Oct.

Osteria degli Archi Via Ripe 2 tel_icon0884 705 199, web_iconosteriadegliarchivieste.it. Occupying a restored stone building in the sea wall at the Punta di San Francesco end of the old town, this restauramt specializes in locally caught, grilled seafood. Primi (€7–11) include a fine dish of troccoli (local pasta) with stuffed cuttlefish (€10), and the fish soup (€22) is good. March–Nov daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm; Oct–April closed Mon.

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Peschici and northern Gargano

Atop its rocky vantage point overlooking a beautiful sandy bay, PESCHICI is a little smaller than Vieste and one of the most attractive village resorts in the Gargano. Though originally built in 970 AD as a buffer against Saracen incursions, its labyrinth of tiny streets and houses sporting domed roofs has a distinctly Arab flavour. Beach-lazing is the focus, although the town also makes a good base for exploring some of the caves and defensive medieval towers of the nearby coastline. The easiest trips are to the grotto at San Nicola, 3km east of town (some buses), or 5km west to the Torre di Monte Pucci for fine coastal views (and where there’s a trabucco restaurant for refreshments in summer).

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: PESCHICI

By train The FG train line ends at Calanella, 6km west of Peschici, but there’s a bus connection to the town.

By bus All buses drop you along Via Montesanto in the newer, beach-resort part of Peschici, from where it’s a short walk down to the main street – Corso Garibaldi – and the sea.

Destinations Rome (1 daily at 4am; 6hr 40min); Vieste (9 daily; 45min).

Tourist office A couple blocks from the old town on Magenta 3, though useful for little more than maps and brochures (Mon–Sat 9.30am–12.30pm & 5–8pm; tel_icon0884 937 090).

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ACCOMMODATION

Baia San Nicola Località S. Nicola tel_icon0884 964 231, web_iconbaiasannicola.it. Along the coast at Punta San Nicola, 2km east of Peschici, this campsite features sandy beaches and shady pine groves. Mid-May to mid-Oct. Pitches €31

author_pickLocanda Al Castello Via Castello 29 tel_icon0884 964 038, web_iconpeschicialcastello.it. Perched at the far edge of the old town, down a narrow lane of whitewashed houses, Al Castello has very friendly staff and simple but well-kept rooms with some of Peschici’s best views. There’s also a restaurant offering five or six daily specials, and a neighbouring pizzeria with a pretty terrace. Closed Jan to late March. €120

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EATING AND DRINKING

Fra Stefano Via Forno 8 tel_icon0884 964 141. An informal place in the heart of the old town, serving moderately priced, delicious raw and cooked seafood antipasti, cavatelli (home-made pasta with seafood; €10), ruoto (baby goat or lamb roasted with onions and potatoes; €16) and good tasting menus from €25–30 (drinks excluded). Daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm; closed mid-Jan to Feb.

Grotta delle Rondini Via al Porto 64 tel_icon0884 964 007. Built in a natural cave overlooking the port outside the old town, this restaurant specializes in fish and the antipasti are especially good. Reasonably priced local dishes include sautéed clams (€10), and if you choose carefully you can have a full meal for €25 including wine. March–Oct daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm.

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West along the coast

A string of white sandy beaches stretches from San Menaio to RODI GARGANICO – originally a Greek settlement (“Rodi” is derived from Rhodes) and now a highly popular summer resort. It’s busy and expensive in August, but a couple of months either side it can be delightful. SAN MENAIO is much quieter than Rodi – more compact and with fewer villas – and even in high season it’s easy to get away from it all by walking a few hundred metres south along the strand.

  From Rodi Garganico, both road and rail skirt the large Lago di Varano, a once-malarial swamp that swallowed the ancient Athenian town of Uria in the fourth century BC. The preserve of eel fishermen, it’s the least-visited region on the Gargano promontory, and consequently attracts a great variety of birdlife, particularly curlew and warbler. Further west, the thin Lago di Lesina is a highly saline, shallow lagoon, cut off from the sea by a 27km stretch of sand dunes. It’s still mercifully free from development – unlike the northern spit of Varano, which has a growing number of campsites and hotels.

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THE TREMITI ISLANDS

A tiny cluster of rugged islands 40km off the Gargano coast, the Tremiti islands – Isole Tremiti – are almost entirely given over to tourism in the summer, when the tiny population is swamped by visitors. Despite this, they remain relatively unspoilt and the sea crystal clear. The main Tremiti group consists of three islands: San Nicola, San Domino – the biggest – and Capraia, of which only the first two are inhabited.

Brief history

The islands were traditionally a place of exile and punishment. Augustus banished his granddaughter Julia to the islands, while Charlemagne packed his father-in-law off here (minus eyes and limbs) in the eighth century. Monks from Montecassino, on the mainland, first set about building a formidable fortress-abbey on one of the islands in the eleventh century, which managed to withstand frequent assault by the Turks. Later, during the eighteenth century, the islands returned to their old role as a place of confinement for political prisoners, though the Bourbons, concerned at the decline in the local population, shipped in two hundred single women from Naples to encourage a recovery.

San Nicola

Most ferries arrive at SAN NICOLA, where you can wander around the monastic fortress and the tiny church of Santa Maria a Mare, built by the monks in the eleventh century on the site of an earlier ninth-century hermitage. San Nicola is barren and rocky with no beaches, although there is nude bathing on its east side and good swimming off the whole island.

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San Domino

Ignore the offers of pricey boat-trips to the other islands and instead jump on the regular ferry that takes about a minute to cross to SAN DOMINO. It’s a greener island than its neighbour, its pines offering welcome shade from the heat. Although there’s a sandy beach – Cala delle Arene – right where the ferry lands on the northeast side of the island, it’s packed in the summer. Your best bet is to follow the signs for the Villaggio TCI and make for the west of the island and the quieter coves, such as Cala dello Spido. If you’re walking, head for the Punta di Diamante; maps are pinned up in some of the bars or can be bought from souvenir shops.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: THE TREMITI ISLANDS

By helicopter Year round, there is at least one helicopter trip daily to San Domino heliport from Foggia airport, operated by Alidaunia (tel_icon0881 024 024, web_iconalidaunia.it; €57 one way).

By ferry There is at least one daily ferry service (mid-June to mid-Sept) to the Tremiti islands from Vieste and a service three times a week in mid-season. Ferries and fast ferries for foot passengers run throughout the year from Termoli. There are also summer services from the Abruzzo ports of Vasto and Ortona. In summer, you’ll find plenty of tour boats in Vieste, Peschici and Rodi Garganico touting day-trips to the islands, including Navi Tremiti (tel_icon0884 962 732, web_iconnavitremiti.com).

Destinations Ortona (end June to early Sept 1 daily; 2hr); Termoli (June–Sept 2–3 daily; 50min; Oct–May 1–2 daily; 1hr 40min); Vasto (early April to early Sept 1 daily; 1hr); Vieste (June–Sept 1 daily; 1hr).

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ACCOMMODATION

Accommodation on the islands is limited to San Domino and is largely full board in high season: count on paying at least €60 a night/person. Finding a place on spec in low season won’t be a problem, but in high season you should book in advance. Bear in mind that mosquitoes can be a serious problem in summer and that, as provisions have to be ferried across from the mainland, eating out can be costly – shop on the mainland before you leave.

La Vela Via Amerigo Vespucci 17, San Domino tel_icon338 882 1583, web_iconhotel-lavela.it. One of the best of the island’s small hotels, set among the pine trees just a few minutes’ walk from the town and port. Rooms are simply appointed but spotless, and there’s a great sundeck overlooking a pretty beach. Rates are half board only. €95

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TRANI

The initial part of the coastal route south from Manfredonia is unremarkable, with flat lands given up to saline extraction. The first town of note down the coast is TRANI, a beautiful stone-built port and fishing village with an unusually cosmopolitan air. One of the most important medieval Italian ports, it was a prosperous trading centre with a large mercantile and Jewish community, and rivalled Bari as a commercial port. A wander through the streets around the harbour gives an impression of the medieval city, not least in the names that echo the town’s mercantile and Jewish origins – Via Sinagoga, Via Doge Vecchia (the port had strong – not always amicable – links with Venice) and Via Cambio (Street of the Moneychangers).

The Duomo

Piazza del Duomo • Daily: Nov–March 8.30am–12.30pm & 3.30–6.30pm; April–Oct 8.30am–12.30pm & 3.30–7.30pm • Free • Belltower Mon–Sat 9.30am–noon & 4–6.30pm, Sun 10am–noon & 4.30–6.30pm • €5

Centrepiece of the town is the cream-coloured, eleventh-century Duomo, right on the sea at the edge of the old town. Dedicated to San Nicola Pellegrino, it consists of no fewer than three churches, stacked on top of each other like an inverted wedding cake – the facade austere but lightened by a pretty rose window. The interior has been restored to its original Norman state, the stark nave displaying a timbered ceiling, with the original doorway standing in the back corner. You also can climb the belltower for great views over the town.

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ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: TRANI

By train Trani is on the main train line between Bari and Foggia and well served by services from both cities.

By bus Buses arrive and depart from Piazza XX Settembre, outside the train station, a 10–15min walk from the port. There are regular services to Bari and Foggia.

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ACCOMMODATION AND EATING

BB60 Via La Giudea 60 tel_icon366 341 6550, web_iconbbtrani60.it. An outstanding B&B in a medieval house in the heart of the ghetto, with three contemporary-styled rooms within its exposed stone walls. There’s no breakfast, but for an extra €10/night guests can have the use of a small kitchen. €65

Conteinfiore Via Ognissanti 18 tel_icon0883 508 402. Inspired contemporary fish dishes that change according to the day’s catch, in a tree-filled patio (heated in winter). A selection of five antipasti (€10) makes for a stunning lunch – there might be sea bass with a salsa of orange and courgette, swordfish rolled around ricotta, or grilled octopus on couscous, for example – while a full meal should cost around €35/head. Tues–Sat 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm, Sun 12.30–2.30pm.

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BARI

The commercial and administrative capital of Puglia, a university town and southern Italy’s second city, BARI is an economically vibrant place, with few pretensions to being a major tourist attraction. People come here primarily for work or to leave for Greece, Croatia and Albania on its many ferries, though the regenerated old city is well worth exploring – in recent years it’s made considerable strides to shake off its image as a den of thieves rife with bag-snatchers (though it’s best to keep your wits about you in the narrow old alleyways).

RG

Brief history

Bari was already a thriving centre when the Romans arrived. Later, the city was the seat of the Byzantine governor of southern Italy, while, under the Normans, it rivalled Venice both as a maritime centre and, following the seizure of the remains of St Nicholas, as a place of pilgrimage. Since those heady days, Bari has declined considerably. Its fortunes revived briefly in 1813 when the king of Naples foisted a planned expansion on the city – giving the centre its contemporary gridded street pattern, wide avenues and piazzas. And Mussolini instituted a university and left a legacy of strident Fascist architecture. However, the city was heavily bombed during the last war, and today its compact and dynamic centre is a symbol of the south’s zeal for commercial growth. Fortunately, heavy investment in redeveloping the old centre has given Bari a new lease of life.

The old town

Even if you’re only in Bari to catch a ferry, try to make time to explore the old town, an entrancing jumble of streets that’s possibly the most perplexing place to walk around in southern Italy. Situated at the far end of Corso Cavour, its labyrinth of seemingly endless passages weaving through courtyards and under arches was originally designed to spare the inhabitants from the wind and to throw invaders into a state of confusion. This it still does admirably, and even with the best of maps you’re going to get lost. Life is lived very much outdoors, and on summer evenings it’s full of people sitting outside their kitchen doors.

Basilica di San Nicola

Largo Abate Elia • Mon–Sat 7am–8.30pm, Sun 7am–10pm • Free

The Basilica di San Nicola, in the heart of the old town, was, as an inscription at the side of the main door testifies, consecrated in 1197 to house the relics of the saint plundered a century earlier from southern Turkey. The real beauty of the church lies in its stonework, with the twelfth-century altar canopy one of the finest in Italy. The motifs around the capitals are the work of stonemasons from Como, while the lovely twelfth-century carved doorway and simple, striking mosaic floor behind the altar are heavily influenced by the Saracens. Best of all is the twelfth-century episcopal throne behind the altar, a superb piece of work supported by small figures wheezing beneath its weight. Down in the crypt are the remains of the saint – patron of Bari and many surrounding towns, plus orphans, pawnbrokers, thieves, sailors and Russians.

Cattedrale di San Sabino

Piazza dell’Odegitria • Mon–Sat 8am–12.30pm & 4–7.30pm, Sun 8am–12.30pm & 5–8.30pm • Free

It’s not far from the basilica to Bari’s other important church, the Cattedrale di San Sabino, off Piazza dell’Odegitria, dedicated to the original patron saint of Bari, before he was usurped by Nicholas, and built at the end of the twelfth century. Come just for the contrast: uncluttered by arches, it retains its original medieval atmosphere and – unlike the basilica – a timbered roof. The cathedral houses an eighth-century icon known as the Madonna Odegitria, brought here for safety from Constantinople by Byzantine monks. It’s said to be the most authentic likeness of the Madonna in existence, having been taken from an original sketch by Luke the Apostle, and is paraded around the city at religious festivals.

Castello Normanno-Svevo

Piazza Federico II di Svevia • Daily except Wed 8.30am–7.30pm • €3 • tel_icon080 521 3704

Due west of the Piazza dell’Odegitria, the Castello Normanno-Svevo sits on the site of an earlier Roman fort. Built by Frederick II, much of it is closed to the public, but it has a vaulted hall that provides a cool escape from the afternoon sun. You can also see a gathering of some of the best of past Pugliese artistry in a display of plaster-cast reproductions from churches and buildings throughout the region – particularly from the cathedrals at Altamura and Bari, and an animated frieze of griffins devouring serpents from the church of San Leonardo at Siponto.

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The new town

There’s not a lot to the “new town” of Bari: straight streets are lined with shops and offices, relieved occasionally by the odd bit of greenery. Bordered with trees, Corso Cavour, Bari’s main commercial street, leads down to the waterfront.

  The Pinacoteca Provinciale on Via Spalato (Tues–Sat 9am–7pm, Sun 9am–1pm; €2.50) contains mostly southern Italian art ranging from the twelfth to nineteenth centuries, but there are also works by Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese that were moved here from the cathedral, and a small collection of paintings by the twentieth-century Bolognese painter, Giorgio Morandi. If your timing is right, it’s also worth visiting the town’s most prestigious performance venue, the extravagant Teatro Petruzzelli (Sat 8–11pm; free), whose design was influenced by Naples’ San Carlo and the Paris Opera.

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ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: BARI

BY PLANE

Bari airport (tel_icon080 580 0200, web_iconaeroportidipuglia.it) is 25km northwest of the city centre and served by low-cost airlines from the UK. Autobus Tempesta (tel_icon080 521 9172, web_iconautoservizitempesta.it) runs shuttle buses from the airport to Bari Centrale (at least hourly 5.30am–midnight; 30min; €4), and there’s a faster train connection to the same station (15min; €5). Pugliairbus (web_iconpugliairbus.aeroportidipuglia.it) connects Bari airport with those of Brindisi and Foggia, and with Lecce, Taranto, Matera and the Gargano promontory.

BY TRAIN

Bari has excellent rail connections and three train stations.

Stazione Centrale This station in Piazza Aldo Moro is on the southern edge of the modern centre and serves regular FS trains and those of the private Ferrovia del Sud-Est line (tel_icon080 546 2111, web_iconfseonline.it), which run down to Taranto via Alberobello, Locorotondo and Martina Franca.

Stazione Bari-Nord Just to the west, also on Piazza Aldo Moro, the separate Stazione Bari-Nord is for trains run by the private FerroTramViaria company (tel_icon080 529 9342, web_iconferrovienordbarese.it), connecting Bari with the airport, Andria, Barletta, Bitonto and Ruvo di Puglia.

Stazione FAL Apulo-Lucane Adjacent to Stazione Bari-Nord, on Corso Italia, is the Stazione FAL Apulo-Lucane; trains and buses from here are run by Ferrovia Appulo-Lucane (tel_icon080 572 5211, web_iconfal-srl.it) and go to Altamura, Gravina, and Matera and Potenza in Basilicata.

Destinations Alberobello (FSE, every 30min–1hr; 1hr 30min); Altamura (FAL, 18 daily; 1hr); Andria (Ferrovia del Nord Barese, hourly; 1hr); Barletta (48 daily; 55min); Brindisi (36 daily; 1hr 20min); Fasano (35 daily; 40min); Grotte Castellana (FSE, every 30min–1hr; 1hr); Lecce (33 daily; 1hr 30min–2hr); Locorotondo (20 daily; 1hr 40min); Martina Franca (20 daily; 1hr 50min); Matera (FAL, 14 daily; 1hr 30min); Ostuni (25 daily; 1hr); Polignano a Mare (34 daily; 30min); Putignano (36 daily; 1hr); Rome (5 daily; 4hr 40min); Ruvo di Puglia (Ferrovia del Nord Barese, 13 daily; 1hr); Taranto (20 daily; 1hr 20min); Trani (40 daily; 35min).

BY BUS

From the coastal towns north of Bari you’ll arrive at Piazza Eroi del Mare; SITA buses from inland and southern towns, Miccolis buses from Rome and FAL buses from Basilicata pull up in Largo Sorrentino (behind the train station). FSE buses from Brindisi pull in at Largo Ciaia (Mon–Sat), and on Largo Sorrentino (Sun), when they substitute for the train service. Bus services to Naples (3hr) are quicker than the train.

BY FERRY

Ferries all use the Stazione Marittima, next to the old city, which is connected with the main FS train station by bus #20.

FERRIES FROM BARI

International ferry services run from Bari to Greece, Albania and Croatia; for information and timetables call tel_icon800 573 738 or visit web_iconaplevante.org, which also has an updated list of the day’s arrivals and departures. Travel agents often have special offers on tickets, so it is worth comparing the prices they can offer with those you find on the websites. As a general rule, you will save twenty percent if you buy a return ticket. Once you’ve got your ticket, you must report to the relevant desk at the Stazione Marittima at least two hours before departure. Prices given below are for travel in high season.

ALBANIA

Ventouris (tel_icon0805 217 609, web_iconventouris.gr) and Adria (tel_icon0805 211 069, web_iconagemar.it) run car ferries to Durazzo/Durres in Albania daily all year round; the journey takes eight or nine hours overnight (from €60 one way, €64 for a reclining seat).

CROATIA

Jadrolinija (web_iconjadrolinija.hr) operates services to Rijeka, Stari Grad, Dubrovnik, Korcula and Split in Croatia, departing late in the evening for an overnight crossing of the Adriatic. For the full timetable, you can contact Agenzia P. Lorusso (tel_icon0805 217 619, web_iconagenzialorusso.it) in the Stazione Marittima (tickets start at €44 for deck passage, €53 for a reclining seat one way to Dubrovnik).

GREECE

Ferry services to Greece are operated by Ventouris, Anek Superfast (web_iconanek.gr), and Agoudimos (web_iconagoudimoslines.it). All three companies offer online booking. Ventouris runs services roughly every other day to Corfu and Igoumenitsa; one-way prices start at €57/person on deck, €59 extra for a car, plus port fees. The service to Igoumenitsa takes about twelve hours and to Corfu about ten hours. Anek Superfast runs afternoon and occasional overnight trips to Corfu (9hr), Igoumenitsa (10hr 30min) and Patras (16hr 30min) year-round. Prices start at €58 for deck passage to Corfu in low season, rising to €81 in July and August, while vehicles cost from €60 in low season to €96 in July and August.

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INFORMATION

Tourist office The main tourist office is at Piazza del Ferrarese 29 (daily 10am–1pm & 4–7pm; tel_icon080 990 9341, web_iconinfopointbari.com), with a smaller office (closed for renovations at the time of writing) just to the right as you come out of the Stazione Centrale.

Bike tours Puglia in Movimento (tel_icon327 824 0564, web_iconpugliainmovimento.com) runs daily 25–40km bike tours to a different city each day, among them Alberobello, Ostuni, Polignano a Mare (€50/person). Meet in front of the main tourist office.

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ACCOMMODATION

Most accommodation is in the modern part of Bari although some small B&Bs are opening up in the old city (see the tourist office or web_iconinfopointbari.com for a comprehensive list). The most affordable hotels are found around the train station, though the area takes a turn for the worse after dark.

Casa dei Venti Via Dante 182 tel_icon345 740 6687, web_iconcasadeiventi.com. Stylish new B&B in the modern town, about a 10min walk from the train station. Five spacious rooms and a suite, with classic furniture and contemporary decor, all with a/c, fridges and TV. Large breakfasts, including scrambled eggs and other savouries on request, are served in a splendid room wallpapered with Nina Campbell butterflies. Free wi-fi. €80

Hotel Boston Via Piccinni 155 tel_icon080 521 6633, web_iconbostonbari.it. A stone’s throw from the old city, this business travellers’ hotel has comfortable, if characterless, rooms and is in a safe area convenient for an evening passeggiata. €125

author_pickOlive Tree Hostel Via Scipione Crisanzio 90 tel_icon0331 196 3949, web_iconhostelabari.com. Sparkling new hostel situated about 5min walk from the central train station, with dormitories and private rooms, and welcoming, helpful staff. There’s wi-fi, lockers, a/c (at night), a laundry service, a communal kitchen and a nice shared patio. Dorms €22, doubles €55

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EATING AND DRINKING

There are lots of colourful choices of places to eat in and around the old town of Bari. Most offer traditional Pugliese dishes and seafood, along with the Bari speciality of orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta. In the evenings, stalls sell panzarotti and sgagliozze (fried polenta cubes) around Piazza Mercantile and Piazza del Ferrarese.

Ai 2 Ghiottoni Via Putignani 11 tel_icon080 523 2240, web_iconai2ghiottoni.it. One of the town’s best restaurants, serving good shellfish and a refined version of Pugliese cuisine in attractive surroundings just outside the old town. There are mixed fish plates from €15: expect to pay €40 for a full meal. Daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm; closed Aug.

Il Rustico Via Quintino Sella 95 tel_icon080 521 6727. Friendly and hugely popular local trattoria and pizzeria, where heaps of appetizers arrive at your table in waves, followed by the pizza of your choice. Including a drink, the entire meal costs only €8–10. Mon–Sat 7pm–1am.

La Locanda di Federico Piazza Mercantile 63–64 tel_icon080 522 7705, web_iconlalocandadifederico.com. Lively osteria in the old town, attracting a young crowd with mixed appetizer plates, such as mozzarella, fava beans and chicory flan, and house specials like seafood calamarata (ring shaped pasta; €12) and orecchiette with rocket pesto (€8). Daily 1–3pm & 8pm–midnight.

Panificio Fiore Strada Palazzo di Città 38. Locals queue for their delicious focaccia barese, simply garnished with tomatoes, olives, salt and olive oil (€1.50). Mon–Wed, Fri & Sat 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm, Sun 12.30–2.30pm.

Terranima Via Putignani 213–215 tel_icon080 521 9725. Informal café-restaurant serving a daily changing menu of regional specialities such as orecchiette with aubergine and Martina Franca sausage (€9.50) and fava bean purée and baby squid (€12). There’s often live Pugliese music in the evening. Mon–Sat noon–3.30pm & 7–11.30pm; Sept–June also open Sun noon–3.30pm & 7–11.30pm; closed first week of Aug.

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DIRECTORY

Police Via Paolo Aquilino 3 (tel_icon080 549 1331).

Post office The main office is near the university in Piazza Umberto I 33/A (Mon–Fri 8am–6.30pm, Sat 8.30am–12.30pm).

Taxis Radio Taxi (tel_icon080 554 3333, web_icontaxibari.it; 24hr).

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LE MURGE

Rising gently from the Adriatic coast, Le Murge – a low limestone plateau – dominates the landscape to the south and west of Bari. The towns in the region are not natural holiday destinations: the area is sparsely populated and the small settlements that exist are rural backwaters with a slow pace of life. But they do make an interesting day out or a good stopover if you’re heading for the region of Basilicata.

GETTING AROUND: LE MURGE

By train Andria and Ruvo di Puglia are on the Nord Barese train line from Bari, and Altamura and Gravina on the FAL line. Trains run at least hourly, sometimes half-hourly. For the more out-of-the-way places, it’s much easier with a car.

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Andria and the Low Murge

Easily reached from Barletta or Bari, the main town of the Low Murge is ANDRIA, a large agricultural centre at its best during the Monday morning market. There’s little here to entice you to stay, unless you are heading to Castel del Monte on public transport.

Castel del Monte

Via Castel del Monte, Contrada Castel del Monte • Daily: March–Sept 10.15am–7.15pm; Oct–Feb 9.15am–6.45pm; ticket office closes 30min earlier • €5 • tel_icon0883 569 997, web_iconcasteldelmonte.beniculturali.it • A shuttle bus runs from the train station in Andria (Mon–Sat 5 daily, Sun 2 daily; €1)

Despite its lack of appeal today, Andria was a favourite haunt of Frederick II, who was responsible for the major local attraction, the Castel del Monte, 17km south – the most extraordinary of all Puglia’s castles and one of the finest surviving examples of Swabian architecture.

  Begun by Frederick in the 1240s, the castle is a high, isolated fortress built around an octagonal courtyard in two storeys of eight rooms. A mystery surrounds its intended purpose. Although there was once an iron gate that could be lowered over the main entrance, there are no other visible signs of fortification, and the castle may have served merely as a hunting lodge. Nonetheless, the mathematical precision involved in its construction, and the preoccupation with the number eight, have intrigued writers for centuries. It’s argued the castle is in fact an enormous astrological calendar, or that Frederick may have had the octagonal Omar mosque in Jerusalem in mind when he designed it; yet, despite his recorded fascination with the sciences, no one really knows the truth. There is only one record of its use. The defeat of Manfred, Frederick’s illegitimate son, at the battle of Benevento in 1266 signalled the end of Swabian power in Puglia; and Manfred’s sons and heirs were imprisoned in the castle for more than thirty years – a lonely place to be incarcerated.

Ruvo di Puglia

Southeast of Andria, the old centre of RUVO DI PUGLIA is an attractive stop, with a quiet, timeless atmosphere. In autumn, the pavements of the old town are strewn with almonds, spread out to dry in the sun. Ruvo’s thirteenth-century Duomo, tucked into the tightly packed streets of the town’s old quarter, is well worth a look. Its beautiful portal is guarded by animated griffins balancing on fragile columns, with a staggering amount of decoration on the outer walls, a fine rose window and arches that taper off into human and animal heads.

ACCOMMODATION AND EATING: THE LOW MURGE

Antichi Sapori Piazza Sant’Isidoro 9, Montegrosso tel_icon0883 569 529. On the main road from Andria to Montegrosso, this restaurant serves fine local produce, with dishes prepared by internationally renowned chef Pietro Zito: try troccoli, a local pasta, with aubergine, tomato, wild fennel and seasoned ricotta (€8). Mon–Fri 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm, Sat 12.30–2.30pm.

Lama di Luna Località Montegrosso tel_icon0883 569 505, web_iconlamadiluna.com. This luxurious and engaging agriturismo, 10km southwest of Andria on the road to Canosa di Puglia, may well tempt you to stay for a while. Serene, minimalist, but very comfortable rooms occupy an eighteenth-century house on an estate producing organic olive oil and fruit. Sheets are unbleached cotton, soaps are natural olive oil, and you breakfast on jams of organic fruit and wood-baked bread. There is also a good-sized swimming pool, set among a vast olive grove where some of the trees are more than a thousand years old, and free use of mountain bikes. €180

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Altamura and the High Murge

Around 45km south of Bari (and reachable by FAL train), ALTAMURA is the largest town in the High Murge, originally a fifth-century-BC Peucetian settlement – you can still see some parts of the old town. Given its many historical layers, it’s perhaps appropriate that Altamura is home to one of southern Italy’s best archeological museums (Mon–Fri 8am–7.45pm, Sat & Sun 8am–1.45pm; free; tel_icon080 314 6409, web_iconaltamura.cchnet.it) at Via Santeramo 88. The collection here traces the history of the people of the Murge from prehistory to late medieval times, with plenty of exciting finds from all over the peninsula.

  Altamura’s most striking feature is its Duomo, a mixture of styles varying from Apulian-Romanesque to Gothic and Baroque. Take a look, too, at the tiny church of San Niccolò dei Greci on Corso Federico di Svevia; built by the Greek colonists in the thirteenth century, it housed their Orthodox religious ceremonies for more than four hundred years.

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DOWN THE COAST FROM BARI

The coast south of Bari is a craggy stretch, with rock-hewn villages towering above tiny sandy coves, offering easy escapes from the city. In summer, and on hot weekends, expect beaches to be crowded.

Torre a Mare and Polignano a Mare

About 10km down the coast from Bari, TORRE A MARE is situated on a rocky ledge high above two large caves. Being so close to the city, the village can become quite crowded, but things are quieter at the small, low-key port of POLIGNANO A MARE, a further twenty minutes or so. Its whitewashed medieval centre, sprinkled with bars, souvenir and focacciarie shops, is perched on the edge of the limestone cliffs, where people head on a Sunday to watch the waves crashing against the rocks or to sunbathe on the clifftops.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: TORRE A MARE AND POLIGNANO A MARE

By train and bus Both villages are on the FS train line south of Bari, though services to Torre are slightly more frequent. The journey takes around 12min to Torre, 20min to Polignano. Torre is also served by bus #12 from Piazza Aldo Moro.

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ACCOMMODATION AND EATING

Casa Dorsi Via Porto 58, Polignano tel_icon080 425 1168, web_iconcasadorsi.com. A beautifully renovated bed and breakfast in the heart of the old town, with rooms equipped with a/c, LCD TVs, wi-fi, kitchens and patios overlooking the sea. Staff rent out boats and offer cooking courses, and there is parking available about 300m away (€10/night). €110

Covo dei Saraceni Via Conversano 1, Polignano tel_icon080 424 1177, web_iconcovodeisaraceni.com. An appealing hotel which sits right above the rocks with comfortable rooms – some with large balconies and private terraces (from €185) – and a continental breakfast buffet in its restaurant with panoramic views. Excellent deals via the website – even for high season, as long as you book a couple of months in advance. €165

Da Tuccino Via S. Caterina 69/F, Polignano tel_icon080 424 1560, web_icontuccino.it. One of the region’s most renowned seafood restaurants, Da Tuccino is popular with middle-aged celebrities, though unless you are a keen follower of 1970s and 80s Italian pop music you probably won’t have heard of any of them. What they come to eat is the magnificent, fresh raw fish, which you can select from a tank. The menu varies according to the catch of the day and booking is essential. Expect to pay around €100 a head for a full meal. Mon 8–11.30pm, Tues–Sun 2.30–3.30pm & 8–11.30pm.

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Egnazia

Contrada Losciale near Fasano • Daily 8am to 1hr before sunset • €3 including museum • web_iconegnaziaonline.it

Some 10km south of the commercial port of Monopoli is the site of the ancient city of Egnazia. Here, an on-site museum houses an array of artefacts, including a stunning mosaic of the three Graces, an exquisite white-marble head of the Egyptian fertility god, Attis, and examples of the distinctive earthenware for which the ancient town was prized. Right next to the seafront excavations, the water is tempting and clear, so bring swimming stuff and a picnic.

Brief history

Egnazia (also known as Gnathia) was an important Messapian centre during the fifth century BC, fortified with more than 2km of walls, large parts of which still stand in the northern corner of the ruined town – up to 7m high. It was later colonized by the Greeks and then the Romans (in 244 BC), who built a forum, amphitheatre, colonnaded public hall and temples: one was dedicated to Syria, a popular early Roman goddess, who, according to Lucian, was worshipped by men dressed as women. Horace is known to have dropped by here to see the city’s famous altar, which ignited wood without a flame.

  With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city fell to subsequent barbarian invasions, and was almost completely destroyed by the Gothic king Totila in 545 AD. A community struggled on here, seeking refuge in the Messapian tombs, until the tenth century when the settlement was finally abandoned.

BURRATA – A LUXURY MADE FROM LEFTOVERS

In some of the fancy restaurants around Egnazia, you’ll see burrata on the menu, a local delicacy in which still-hot mozzarella is formed into a pouch, which is then filled with scraps of leftover mozzarella and fresh cream before closing. It seems to have been invented on a farm in Andria in the early twentieth century, as a way of using up the spare scraps of mozzarella at the end of the day’s cheese making. It’s at its best when eaten within 24 hours, which has led to its becoming a prestige food, with upmarket delis throughout Italy vying to have the cheese flown in fresh from Puglia.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: EGNAZIA

By train The nearest train station to Egnazia is at Fasano, 4km or so inland: there’s currently no bus service from here to the site, though a taxi costs €18 (call tel_icon333 741 6999).

Destinations Bari (33 daily; 40min); Brindisi (24 daily; 35min); Monopoli (33 daily; 8min).

By bus From Fasano, there are buses almost hourly to Martina Franca (20min).

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ACCOMMODATION AND EATING

La Silvana Viale dei Pini 87, Selva di Fasano tel_icon080 433 1161, web_iconlasilvanahotel.it. An unpretentious family-run hotel with large, simply decorated rooms, balconies and plenty of terrace space. The restaurant serves good, genuine local food: rooms with half board cost €70/person. €90

Masseria Torre Maizza, Contrada Coccaro, between Fasano and Savelletri tel_icon080 482 7838, web_iconmasseriatorremaizza.com. Stylish resort hotel with spacious rooms in outbuildings once used to house passing pilgrims. There’s an Aveda spa, a chic heated pool, a Moroccan-influenced roof terrace and a restaurant that serves sophisticated Pugliese food. Facilities also include a golf course within the grounds, cooking classes, a beach club 4km away, and the chance to sail on the hotel’s 14m yacht. €430

Pescheria Due Mari Piazza Amati, Savelletri tel_icon080 482 9161, web_iconpescheria2mari.it. Don’t miss the chance to sample spanking-fresh fish in a stylish glass cube on the seafront in the little resort of Savelletri, where the local fishmonger serves raw seafood and deftly cut slivers of fish, accompanied by a glass of chilled white or sparkling wine. A set menu, based around seven types of fish, costs €25. Daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm; closed Sun in winter.

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THE FSE LINE: GROTTE DI CASTELLANA TO MARTINA FRANCA

Meandering lazily down towards the Valle d’Itria, the Ferrovia Sud-Est (FSE) train passes through some of the prettiest of Puglia’s landscapes. Olives gradually lose ground to vineyards and cherry and peach orchards, neatly partitioned by dry-stone walls. The barren limestone terrain of Le Murge swallows rivers whole producing a landscape cut by deep ravines and pitted with caverns and grottoes.

Grotte di Castellana

Piazzale Anelli, Castellana Grotte • Daily hourly tours: April–July & Sept 9am–5pm; Aug 9am–8pm; Oct 10am–4pm; March 10am–noon; Nov–Feb by reservation only • €15 for a 3km/2hr tour, €10 for 1km/50min tour excluding Grotta Bianca • tel_icon0804 998 211, web_icongrottedicastellana.it • From Castellana-Grotte station, it’s about 500m to the grotto

About 40km out of Bari are the Grotte di Castellana, a spectacular set of underground caves. A lift takes you down to the largest of the caverns, La Grave, 60m below ground. From here, there’s more than 1km of strangely formed caves to explore, ending in the most impressive, the Grotta Bianca – a shimmering sea of white stalagmites and stalactites.

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Alberobello

Beyond Putignano, traditional trulli dominate the landscape, with around 1500 of them packing the narrow streets of ALBEROBELLO: most are south of Largo Martellotta in the Rione Monti zone, the rest to the north in Rione Aia Piccola. You can pick up a town map from the tourist office. Inevitably, a rampant tourist industry has grown up around the cute, conical stone huts, and the proprietors of trulli given over to displays of woolly shawls, liqueurs and other souvenirs practically drag in passers-by and don’t let them go until they’ve bought something.

TRULLI

Curious-looking trulli are dotted throughout the Murge area of Puglia. Cylindrical, whitewashed buildings with grey conical roofs tapering out to a point or sphere, they are often adorned with painted symbols. Unique to Puglia, their ancient origins are obscure, but are probably connected to feudal lords who made people working their land build their houses without mortar so they could easily be pulled down if tax inspectors came round. The thick walls insulate equally against the cold in winter and the summer heat, while local limestone is used to make the two-layered roofs watertight. Most trulli have just one room but when more space was needed, a hole was simply knocked in the wall and an identical structure built next door. Although originally they were both dwellings and storehouses, these days they’re being snapped up as holiday homes, and some are rented out as self-catering or B&B accommodation. An organization called Trullidea (tel_icon080 432 3860, web_icontrullidea.it), based in Alberobello, rents basic trulli in town and in the countryside for short- and long-term stays (from around €100/night) and can also arrange wine-tasting tours, cycling excursions and cooking courses.

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: ALBEROBELLO

By train The FSE line connects Bari (approx hourly; 1hr 30min) and Martina Franca (approx hourly; 15min); trains do not run on Sun.

Tourist office Just off Largo Martellotta at Via Montenero 3, the tourist office (daily 9am–1pm & 3–7pm; Nov-March Fri–Sun only; tel_icon080 432 6030) runs guided walking tours on Sat and Sun at 3.30pm (40min; €3.50)

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ACCOMMODATION AND EATING

B&B Pietradimora Via Monte S. Marco 28 tel_icon349 565 0106, web_iconpietradimora.it. Complete your trulli experience by staying in one of the three rooms in this beautifully restored set of trulli – it’s a bit like sleeping in a giant stone igloo. Breakfast is served on a panoramic patio. €120

L’Aratro Via Monte San Michele 25–29 tel_icon080 432 2789. Inside a trullo, this is a stellar option, rigorously sourcing all its ingredients locally, and serving a dizzying number of vegetable and cheese antipasti and local specialities including that Pugliese staple, purè di fave e cicoria (puréed broad bean and wild chicory; €10) and orecchiete con cime di rapa (pasta with turnip tops and salty anchovies; €10). Three-course meals cost as little as €16. Daily noon–3pm & 7.30–10.30pm.

Osteria del Poeta Via Indipendenza 21 tel_icon080 432 1917, web_iconosteriadelpoeta.it. Alberobello’s top restaurant is just down the road from Largo Martellotta, with an alluring vaulted interior and split between a posh, fine dining restaurant (full menu €65) and a more low-key, reasonably priced section for the masses, with primi for €8–9 and secondi €9–12 – try the pork sausage with white wine sauce (€9). July–Sept daily; Oct–June closed Mon.

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Locorotondo and Cisternino

Just a few kilometres south of Alberobello, LOCOROTONDO, which owes its name to its circular layout, has good views over the whole area, speckled with red- and grey-roofed trulli in a sea of vines and olive and almond trees. It’s a great place to wander for an hour or so.

  Beyond, on the road between Locorotondo and Ostuni, CISTERNINO rejoices in the nickname “La Vera” (“the Real Thing”) and is a marvellous antidote to touristy Alberobello: it’s a pleasure to wander around the tiny, whitewashed alleyways of its old town. A series of open-air concerts is held in the main square, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, between late June and September: among them is Pietre che Cantano (“The Stones that Sing”; web_iconpietrechecantano.com) in August.

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Martina Franca

Trulli are still plentiful by the time you reach MARTINA FRANCA, a surprising town with a jubilant Baroque sensibility and a lively passeggiata at weekends. It is reputed to have been founded by settlers from Taranto fed up with constant Saracen attacks during the tenth century, but it was the Angevin prince of Taranto who bolstered the community in the early fourteenth century by granting it certain tax privileges. The town derives its name from this – franca meaning duty or stamp. Today its medieval core is adorned with some of the most subtle and least overbearing examples of architecture from the Baroque period you’ll find.

  Through the Porta di Santo Stefano, which marks the entrance to the old town, Piazza Roma is dominated by the hulking Palazzo Ducale (Mon & Wed 9am–1pm; Tues, Thurs & Fri 9am–1pm & 4–7pm; Sat & Sun 10am–noon & 5–7pm; free), which dates from 1688, and is now the town hall. A handful of rooms are open to the public most mornings (Mon–Fri) – most of them smothered in classical eighteenth-century Arcadian murals. Just across the square, the narrow Via Vittorio Emanuele leads right into the old town and Piazza Plebiscito, fronted by the undulating Baroque facade of the Chiesa di San Martino (daily 9am–11pm), an eighteenth-century church built on the site of an earlier Romanesque structure, of which only the campanile survives. From adjacent Piazza Immacolata you can either bear left down Via Cavour, with its Baroque palazzi and balconied streets, or wander further into the old town; the roads running around the edge of the surviving fourteenth-century town walls offer an excellent panorama of the Valle d’Itria, with its neatly ordered fields dotted with trulli.

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: MARTINA FRANCA

By train From the FSE train station it’s a 15min walk to the town centre – go left out of the station and up Viale della Libertà to Corso Italia, which leads to the old town centre.

Tourist office Piazza XX Settembre 3 (June–Sept Mon–Fri 8.30am–2.30pm & 5–8pm, Sat & Sun 10.30am–12.30pm & 5–8pm; Oct–May Mon–Sat 9am–1pm, Tues & Thurs also 4–7pm; tel_icon080 480 5702).

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ACCOMMODATION AND EATING

Lisi Via Verdi 57 tel_icon080 480 1547. It is a summer tradition in the Murge for butchers to light a stove in the back of their shops, set a few tables outside, and serve a limited selection of hot dishes – along with some of the excellent local cured meats. Lisi keeps the tradition alive – expect to find the likes of grilled lamb kebabs, beef tagliata (a steak grilled rare, and cut into thin slices) and home-made sausages (€16). Daily 8–11pm; Sept–June closed Tues.

Villagio In Via Arco Grassi 8 tel_icon080 480 5911, web_iconvillaggioincasesparse.it. The most atmospheric accommodation in Martina Franca is in these traditional apartments in the old town, which are run like a B&B. Studios include breakfast. €75

THE FESTIVAL DELLA VALLE D’ITRIA

Southern Italy’s top performing-arts festival, the annual Festival della Valle d’Itria (tel_icon080 480 5100, web_iconfestivaldellavalleditria.it), takes place in Martina Franca from mid July to early August. On a par with the Maggio Musicale in Florence, the festival is mainly operatic, with performances – often of rarely performed works – in the appropriately grand Palazzo Ducale, as well as classical concerts and film screenings. It’s a congenial and unpretentious event, though tickets aren’t cheap; they’re available from the festival office in the Palazzo Ducale.

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TARANTO AND AROUND

Straddling two harbours and set beside the deep blue waters of the Ionian, TARANTO is an unpretentious city with a thriving fish market, fabulous restaurants and a top-notch archeological museum. It also makes a good base to visit the nearby caves and grottoes of Massafra.

  The city divides neatly into three distinct parts: the northern spur is the industrial area, home of the steel works and train station. Cross the Ponte di Porta Napoli and you’re on the central island containing the old town. The southern spur holds the modern city centre (Borgo Nuovo), the administrative and commercial hub of Taranto, linked to the old town by a swing bridge.

RG

Brief history

Known as Taras to the ancient Greeks, the port became the first city of Magna Graecia (the area of southern Italy colonized by the Greeks) and was renowned for its oysters, mussels and dyes – the imperial purple was the product of decayed Tarentine molluscs. Resplendent with temples, its acropolis harboured a vast bronze of Poseidon that was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Sadly, little remains of ancient Taras or even of later Roman Tarentum, although their monuments and relics are on display in the city’s magnificent museum. After being destroyed by the Romans, Taranto was for years little more than a small fishing port, its strategic position on the sea only being recognized in Napoleonic times. It was home to the Italian fleet after Unification, and consequently heavily bombed during World War II; attempts to rejuvenate the town have left its medieval heart girdled by heavy industry, including the vast and ailing Ilva steel plant that throws its flames and lights into the skies above.

The old town

In Greek times the island holding the old town wasn’t an island at all but part of the southern peninsula, connected by an isthmus to the southern spur. The Greeks raised temples and the acropolis here, while further south lay the residential districts. There’s one extant fragment of ancient Taranto – the Doric columns, re-erected in a corner of Piazza Castello, which once adorned a temple of Poseidon. The rest of the tiny island is a mass of poky streets and alleyways tunnelling between massive palazzi, buttressed by scaffolding seemingly to prevent the whole place from falling down. Now owned by the navy, the Aragonese Castello, at the southern end (daily 9.30am–3am with sporadic breaks throughout the day; free; web_iconcastelloaragonesetaranto.it), surveys the comings and goings of warships and fishing boats. The narrow canal they slide through, between the city’s two inland “seas”, was built in the late nineteenth century, on the site of the castle’s old moat. “Seas” is a bit of a misnomer: the Mare Piccolo is really a large lagoon, home to Taranto’s famous oysters and the Italian navy; and the Mare Grande is actually a vast bay, protected by sea walls and the offshore fortified island of San Pietro.

The Duomo and the fish market

Piazza Duomo • Daily 8am–noon & 4–8pm • web_iconcattedraletaranto.it

At the heart of the old town lies the eleventh-century Duomo, which once did duty as a mosque – dedicated to Taranto’s patron saint, Cataldo (Cathal), a seventh-century Irish monk who on returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land was so shocked by the licentiousness of the town’s inhabitants that he decided to stay and clean the place up. His remains lie under the altar of a small chapel. As for the rest of the church, restoration has stripped away most of the Baroque alterations, and fragments of a Byzantine mosaic floor have been revealed. A few blocks away, check out the city’s fish market, on Via Cariati, a lively affair where the best of the local catch is displayed at the crack of dawn.

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The Borgo Nuovo

It’s a short walk across the swing bridge to Taranto’s modern centre or Borgo Nuovo – its wide streets laid out on a grid pattern that forms the focus of the city’s passeggiata, around piazzas Vittoria and Archita. Nearby, the Villa Peripato was the place for the Tarentini to take their early evening stroll at the beginning of the last century, but today the city’s gardeners seem to be fighting a losing battle with the ponds and undergrowth.

Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Taranto (MARTA)

Piazza Cavour • Daily 8.30am–7.30pm • €8 • web_iconmuseotaranto.org

The only real attraction in the modern part of town – and it’s a gem – is the recently renovated Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Taranto (MARTA), which offers a fascinating insight into the splendour of ancient Taras. The work of the goldsmiths of Taras is a particular highlight, all delicately patterned and finely worked in gold filigree. Several finds from Greek tombs are also worth a look, including a tiny terracotta model of Aphrodite emerging from the sea (dated end of fourth/early third century BC).

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ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: TARANTO

By train The train station is on Piazza Duca d’Aosta, with the old town a 400m walk across the bridge. Most buses from the station run to Corso Umberto I, useful for the archeological museum.

Destinations Bari (18–20 daily; 1hr 15min); Brindisi (12 daily; 1hr); Lecce (1 direct train daily; 1hr 15min; plus Mon–Sat 10 daily via Brindisi; 1hr 40min–2hr 20min); Martina France (Mon–Sat 9 daily; 40min).

By bus Buses for most destinations (including Gallipoli and Martina Franca) arrive at and depart from Porto Mercantile, except FS connections with Metaponto and Potenza, which arrive at Piazza Duca d’Aosta, just outside the train station. Timetables for city buses can be found at web_iconamat.taranto.it.

Tourist office Piazza Castello (April–Sept daily 9am–7pm; Oct–March Mon–Sat 9am–3pm, Sun 9am–1pm; tel_icon334 284 4098, web_iconviaggiareinpuglia.it).

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ACCOMMODATION

B&B Buonanotte Margherita Piazzetta S. Francesco tel_icon349 295 8959, web_iconbuonanottemargherita.it. One of the very few B&Bs in the old town, this recently renovated little place has two spick-and-span rooms with balconies plus a living room with tea-making facilities and a small fridge: breakfast can be taken at a nearby bar. €65

Hotel Akropolis Vico I Seminario 3 tel_icon099 470 4110, web_iconhotelakropolis.it. A modern-style hotel with fourteen rooms in an old building: it’s aimed more at business travellers than tourists, though it has a picturesque wine bar in an ancient corn-store underground, and good views of the old town from its rooftop restaurant. €120

L’Arcangelo Via Garibaldi 3 tel_icon099 471 5940, web_iconhotelarcangelotaranto.it. Just steps from the bridge over to the train station, this business hotel – renovated a couple years ago – is easily among the most comfortable options in the crumbling old town, facing onto Piazza Fontana. The rooms are spotless, some with balconies and sea views (€90), and all with wi-fi. €80

Ostello La Locanda Vico Civitanova tel_icon099 476 0033, web_iconostellolalocanda.it. About 100m from Piazza Fontana, near the entrance to the old city, this bare-bones hostel has beds in single and triple rooms and dorms. There’s internet access, a sun terrace and a laundry for guest use. Guests get discounts at the restaurant downstairs. Dorms €18, doubles €60

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EATING AND DRINKING

Al Gatto Rosso Via Cavour 2 tel_icon099 452 9875. Refined, long-established fish restaurant near the archeological museum that delivers friendly service, excellent antipasti and inventive pasta dishes – try gnocchetti with prawns, basil and crispy aubergine (€12), and for a main course, go for deep-fried catch of the day (frittura mista di paranza; €13). Tues–Sun 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm.

Caffè Tarentum Via Anfiteatro 97 tel_icon099 453 3956. Come here for excellent coffee, lovely cornetti, wicked krapfen (pastries filled with home-made jam) and typical almond-based sweets like mustazzueli as well as savoury snacks. Wed–Mon 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm.

Trattoria Ugo Bari Via Duca D’Aosta 27 tel_icon099 460 8736. Don’t leave Taranto without eating at this trattoria, known universally as “Da Ugo al Orologio”, which has served fish at rock-bottom prices for more than seventy years. Wine costs €2 a litre, antipasti and primi cost €3, and secondi such as pasta with calamari and olives cost €5. You’ll sit at long shared tables beside families, fishermen and bank clerks, and the fish is straight from the sea and freshly cooked. Mon–Fri noon–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm, Sat noon–2.30pm.

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Around Taranto: Massafra

At first glance, MASSAFRA, some 15km from Taranto, appears to be the kind of unprepossessing, shabby dust-blown town you drive through as quickly as possible. However, it’s split in two by a ravine, the Gravina di San Marco, that is lined with grottoes dating mainly from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries. Many contain cave-churches, hewn out of the rock by Greek monks and decorated with lavish frescoes. The Santuario della Madonna della Scala is built onto an earlier cave-church; a Baroque staircase runs down to the eighteenth-century church, which features a beautiful fresco of a Madonna and Child, dating from the twelfth to the thirteenth centuries; more steps lead down to an eighth-century crypt.

  The nearby Cripta della Buona Nuova houses a thirteenth-century fresco of the Madonna and a striking painting of Christ Pantocrator. About 200m away, at the bottom of the ravine, is a mass of interconnected caves known as the Farmacia del Mago Greguro, now in a pretty pitiful state but once used by the medieval monks as a herbalist’s workshop.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: MASSAFRA

There are regular trains (Mon–Sat 12 daily, Sun 6 daily; 15min) and FSE buses (Mon–Sat 12–19 daily; 15min) from Taranto’s Porto Mercantile to Massafra, though the town’s sites are only visitable by guided tours arranged with Massafra’s tourist office at Piazza Garibaldi (Mon–Fri 10am–12.30 & 3.30–5.30pm; tel_icon099 880 4695).

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BRINDISI

Across the peninsula, 60km east of Taranto on the opposite coast, lies BRINDISI, once a bridging point for crusading knights and still a town that makes its living from people passing through. The natural harbour here, the safest on the Adriatic coast, made Brindisi an ideal choice for early settlers. In Roman times, the port became the main crossing point between the eastern and western empires, and later, under the Normans, there came a steady stream of pilgrims heading east towards the Holy Land. The route is still open, and now Brindisi – primarily – is where you come if you’re heading for Greece from Italy. On arrival, you may well think that the entire town is full of shipping agents: this, when all is said and done, is its main business. But even if you’re leaving the same night you’ll almost certainly end up with time on your hands. You could just while away time in a bar or restaurant in the old town – it is pretty compact and, although it isn’t brimming with ancient monuments, has a pleasant, almost oriental flavour about it, and a few hidden gems tucked down its narrow streets.

RG

Scalinata Virgiliana

The top of Scalinata Virgiliana (Virgil’s Steps) marks the end of the ancient Via Appia, which ran all the way from the Porta Capena in Rome. Two columns stood here for years – useful navigation points for ships coming into harbour. The single column that remains has been restored, as has the area around it; the other column was carried off to Lecce.

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The Duomo and Museo Archeologico Provinciale

Via Colonne, with its seventeenth- and eighteenth-century palazzi, runs up to the Duomo (daily 8am–9pm; free) – a remarkable building, if only for the fact that it’s survived seven earthquakes since its construction in the eleventh century. Just outside is the Museo Archeologico Provinciale (Tues–Sat 9am–1.30pm, Tues also 3.30–6.30pm; free), which displays ornaments and statues from the necropolises that lined the Via Appia in Roman times. There are also several rooms with bronzes recovered in nearby underwater explorations, as well as finds from the excavations at Egnazia.

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San Giovanni al Sepolcro

Piazza San Giovanni al Sepolcro • Fri–Wed 8am–9pm • Free

Follow Via Tarentini from the Duomo and bear left for the tiny, round church of San Giovanni al Sepolcro, an eleventh-century baptistry. It’s a little dark and decrepit inside, but you can just make out some of the original thirteenth-century frescoes. And there are more frescoes, this time a century older, in the Chiesa di Santa Lucia, just off Piazza del Popolo.

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Chiesa di Santa Maria del Casale

Via Ruggero de Simone • Mon 3–8pm, Tues–Fri 8am–8pm, Sun 8am–1pm • Free • Take airport bus or #4 or #5 from the train station, and ask the driver when to get off

Brindisi’s most important medieval monument, the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Casale is a 3km bus ride from town. Built by Philip of Anjou at the end of the thirteenth century, it’s an odd mixture of styles: the facade is adorned with an Arabic mass of geometric patterns, worked in two shades of sandstone, and the portal has an almost Art Deco touch to it. The stark interior is rescued from gloom by some fourteenth-century frescoes depicting frightening allegorical scenes relating to the Last Judgement, a vision of hell designed to scare the living daylights out of the less devout.

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ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: BRINDISI

By plane Brindisi’s airport (tel_icon080 580 0200, web_iconaeroportidipuglia.it), served by Ryanair from Stansted, is 7km from the city centre. A shuttle bus runs to the Stazione Centrale every 30min (8.15am–8.45pm; €1), taking 10min to town and continuing to Costa Morena (20min). There are also buses from the airport direct to Lecce (€7.50), Bari (€10) and Taranto (€6.50); the service is run by COTRAP (web_iconpugliairbus.aeroportidipuglia.it). If you want to rent a car, all major operators have booths at the airport.

By train The train station is on Piazza Crispi, at the foot of Corso Umberto, a 10- to 15min walk from the port.

Destinations Lecce (36 daily; 30min); Ostuni (25 daily; 25min); Taranto (13 daily; 1hr).

By bus Services to Rome, Florence and Pisa (Marozzi buses) and Naples (Miccolis buses) arrive at, and depart from, Viale P. Togliatti, a continuation of Viale A. Moro in the new part of town.

Destinations Florence (1 daily; 13hr); Naples (3 daily; 5hr 30min); Pisa (1 daily; 14hr); Rome (4 daily; 7hr).

By ferry Arriving by ferry from Greece leaves you at Costa Morena, a couple of kilometres southeast of town; a shuttle bus run by the port authority links this with the town centre, dropping off and picking up at the intersection of Corso Garibaldi and Lungomare Regina Margherita, in front of the maritime station, before continuing to the airport.

Destinations Cephallonia (weekly in July & Aug; 16hr); Corfu (6 weekly; from 7hr); Igoumenitsa (6 weekly; 8hr); Patras (at least 1 daily in summer; 13hr).

FERRIES TO ALBANIA AND GREECE

A staggering array of agents sell ferry tickets to Albania and Greece, and you should take care to avoid getting ripped off. Ignore the touts clustered around the train station in high season, who specialize in selling imaginary places on nonexistent boats, and always buy your ticket direct from the company’s office or an approved agent. Discovery, Via Provinciale per Lecce 27 (tel_icon0831 573 800, web_icondiscoveryto.it), is a reliable general agent which also sells onward ferry tickets to the Cyclades and Crete. You can also buy tickets at Costa Morena.

ROUTES

A variety of routes operate most of the year, although less frequently outside peak season – roughly defined as between mid-July and mid-August. Services – including some high-speed catamarans – sail to Vlore in Albania and Corfu, Igoumenitsa, Patras, Cephallonia and Zante in Greece. Visit web_iconaferry.it for timetables and prices. As a rule, nearly all the reliable companies sail in the evening.

PRICES AND BOARDING

Prices vary considerably according to season but there’s not much difference between the companies: for a one-way, high-season fare to Corfu/Igoumenitsa, expect to pay around €50/person on deck or €71 for a reclining seat (cabins are available for a higher charge), from €54 extra for a car; in low season prices almost halve. High-speed links are more expensive. When you buy your ticket, check whether it includes embarkation tax – €10/person or car.

  Leaving Italy, you should arrive at least one hour – preferably two in high season – before your ship’s departure. Free shuttle buses link the Stazione Marittima with Costa Morena (about 20min), but only when cruise ships arrive, so check the bus schedule beforehand. Make sure that any stopover you are making on the way to Patras is clearly marked on your ticket. Stock up on food and drink in Brindisi’s supermarkets to avoid the inevitable mark-ups on board.

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INFORMATION AND GETTING AROUND

By bus Central Brindisi is small enough to walk around, but for transport around town, lots of buses run down Corso Umberto and Corso Garibaldi.

By taxi If you need a taxi call tel_icon0831 597 901 or tel_icon0831 597 503.

Tourist office There’s a very helpful office at Lungomare Regina Margherita 44 (Mon 10am–6pm, Tues–Sun 8am–8pm; tel_icon0831 523 072, web_iconviaggiareinpuglia.it), and one in the airport arrivals hall (daily 8am–8pm; tel_icon0831 412 975).

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ACCOMMODATION

B&B Malvasia Vico Scalese, behind Piazza della Vittoria tel_icon349 380 0689, web_iconmalvasiabrindisi.com. Two comfy rooms above a cultural association with a bar, where you can listen to blues and browse the bookshelves. It’s good for families or a group of friends (you can even bring a pet). €80

Hotel Orientale Corso Garibaldi 40 tel_icon0831 568 451, web_iconhotelorientale.it. Right in the thick of things on Brindisi’s main drag, this newly renovated high-rise hotel has clean, comfortable rooms, a small fitness centre, reliable wi-fi and parking. €110

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EATING AND DRINKING

Betty Viale Regina Margherita 6 tel_icon0831 563 465. Great café close to the port with tasty pastries and ice cream. A good choice for an evening aperitivo, as it has a tempting spread of nibbles. Open till the early hours too, so it’s the perfect place to sit and wait till your ferry leaves. Daily 6.30am–3am.

Caffè Libreria Camera a Sud Largo Otranto 1 tel_icon0831 529 733. This bookshop café makes a nice place to while away a few hours. It’s a good place for a lazy breakfast or civilized aperitivo – and look out for the regular gastronomic evenings. Daily 7.30am until late; closed 5pm Sat & all Sun in summer.

Trattoria Pantagruele Via Salita di Ripalta 1 tel_icon0831 560 605. Well-regarded restaurant serving excellent Pugliese dishes and local seafood: they do a great version of puréed fava beans with tender wild chicory (€7) and the spaghetti with pistachio, anchovies and breadcrumbs or the orecchiette with a ragù made of octopus (€10) is delicious. Look out for local specialities such as the purple prawns from Gallipoli. Mon–Fri 12.30–2.45pm & 7.30–10.45pm, Sat 7.30–10.45pm.

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Around Brindisi: Torre Guaceto

Just 15km northwest of Brindisi is a beautiful nature reserve and protected marine area known as Torre Guaceto (visitor centre tel_icon0831 989 885, web_iconriservaditorreguaceto.it). You’ll need a car to get here outside summer, when there are buses from town, but it’s a lovely spot for biking through maquis and olive groves, scuba diving over small reefs of coral and sea grass or chilling out on the sandy beach.

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OSTUNI

OSTUNI, 40km northwest of Brindisi (35min by train), is known as the “white city” and is one of southern Italy’s most stunning small towns. Situated on three hills at the southernmost edge of Le Murge, it was an important Greco-Roman city in the first century AD. The old centre spreads across the highest of the hills, a gleaming white splash of sun-bleached streets and cobbled alleyways dominating the plains below. Seven kilometres away, the popular sandy coastline has Blue Flag beaches.

  The maze of well-preserved winding streets provides a fascinating amble, and there are some exceptional views – particularly from Largo Castello over the woods to the north. Bits of cavorting Baroque twist out of unexpected places, including an ornamented eighteenth-century obelisk, 21m high, dedicated to St Oronzo, which stands in Piazza della Libertà (or Piazza Sant’Oronzo) on the southern edge of the old town. This is the focal point on summer Saturday nights for hordes of people who drive in from the countryside, meet their friends and pack out the bars and cafés. From here, follow Via Cattedrale uphill, past a series of monumental palaces and churches that trim the ascent. One of these, the Chiesa di San Vito, houses an ethnography museum, newly reopened after a long restoration (Tues–Fri 10am–1pm, Sat & Sun 10am–1pm & 5–8pm; €5) – its highlight is “Delia”, the skeleton of a young pregnant woman found in a crouched position, her bones decorated before burial. At the top of the hill, the fifteenth-century Duomo nestles into a charming piazza dominated by the Palazzo Vescovile and the Palazzo del Seminario.

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: OSTUNI

By train Trains from Brindisi and Bari arrive at the station a couple kilometres out of town, though there’s a connecting bus service (departing roughly every 30min) to Piazza della Libertà at the foot of the old town.

By bus Buses stop outside the centre, on Viale dello Sport: from here, you can take a local bus into town or it’s a 20min walk.

Tourist office Corso Mazzini 8, just off Piazza della Libertà (Mon–Sat: July & Aug 8am–10pm; Sept–June 8am–2pm & 3.30–8pm; tel_icon0831 339 627).

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ACCOMMODATION

Bienbi Via G. Pinto 11 tel_icon393 930 4223, web_iconbienbi.it. A boutique B&B with four serene rooms, fittingly furnished in white, and a roof terrace with views over the old town to the coast. Home-cooked meals featuring local produce can be arranged on request, served in a lovely sitting room. €140

I 7 Archi Via Bixio Continelli 102 tel_icon347 616 0297, web_iconi7archi.com. Beautifully designed and well-equipped little rooms in a whitewashed stone building along Via Bixio, also known as the road of seven arches. Some of the rooms have great terraces with views over the rooftops (€200), and breakfast (€5 extra) is brought to your room on a tray. €120

Il Frantoio SS16 km 874 tel_icon0831 330 276, web_iconmasseriailfrantoio.it. A traditional white farmhouse in 72 hectares of olive grove, a 5min drive from Ostuni, with sixteen rooms furnished with family furniture and heirlooms. The estate produces organic olive oil, fruits and vegetables, and they make delicious meals. Rates include access to selected lidos on nearby beaches. €230

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EATING AND DRINKING

Osteria del Tempo Perso Via G. Tanzarella Vitale 47 tel_icon0831 304 819, web_iconosteriadeltempoperso.com. Set in a charming cave in the heart of the old city, with antipasti including tuna tartare (€15) and primi such as orecchiette with clams, mussels, chickpeas and fennel (€12). Tues–Sun: June–Aug 7–11.30pm; Sept–May 12.30–3pm & 7.30–10.30pm.

author_pickOsteria Piazzetta Cattedrale Largo Arcidiacono tel_icon0831 335 026, web_iconpiazzettacattedrale.it. Elegant restaurant opposite the cathedral, which uses locally sourced ingredients to great creative effect – try the stunning cestino di crepe con crema di cavolfiori, pancetta crocante e vincotto di Primitivo, a crêpe basket filled with cauliflour purée and crisp bacon and drizzled with sweet wine must – on a constantly evolving seasonal menu. Degustazione menus cost €30/head excluding wine, or you can lunch on a selection of six antipasti for €15/head. March–Dec daily 12.30–2pm & 7.30–11pm; closed Tues in June.

Porta Nova Via G. Petrarolo 38 tel_icon0831 338 983, web_iconristoranteportanova.com. Set in a fifteenth-century stone city gate overlooking olive groves and the sea, this is a fine place for fish and shellfish, with a following for its raw fish (the raw fish tasting menu costs €35), as well as marvellous dishes such as black trofie served with turnip tops, baby squid, anchovy and toasted breadcrumbs (€15). Daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm.

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SALENTO

Some 40km south from Brindisi, Baroque Lecce makes a good starting-point for excursions around Salento, the name given to the very tip of Italy’s heel extending from just south of Ostuni to Santa Maria di Leuca. Here the landscape begins to take on a distinctive Greek flavour, a mildly undulating region planted with carob, prickly pear and tobacco. The Adriatic coast is pitted with cliffs topped with ruined watchtowers, and rugged coves and caves trail right the way down to the southern cape. The hinterland, by comparison, is more barren, although again there’s a Greek feel to it, with tiny, sun-blasted villages growing out of the dry, stony, red earth and flat-roofed houses painted in bright pastel colours.

Lecce

Dubbed the “Florence of the South”, LECCE is a place to linger, with a wealth of fine architecture scattered about an appealing old town, as well as a few diverting Roman remains. The exuberant building styles here are the legacy of religious orders (Jesuits, the Teatini and Franciscans) who came to the region at the end of the sixteenth century, bringing an influx of wealth which paid for the opulent churches and palazzi that still pervade today’s city. The flowery style of “Leccese Baroque” owed as much to the materials to hand as to the skills of the architects: the soft local sandstone could be intricately carved and then became hard with age.

RG

Piazza Sant’Oronzo

Start at Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the hub of the old town, named after the first-century bishop of Lecce who went to the lions under Nero. His bronze statue lurches unsteadily from the top of the Colonna di Sant’Oronzo that once stood at the end of the Via Appia in Brindisi. It reappeared here in 1666 to honour Oronzo, who was credited with having spared the town from plague ten years earlier. The south side of the piazza is taken up by the Anfiteatro Romano, which probably dates from the time of Hadrian. In its heyday it seated twenty thousand spectators; today it’s used for the Christmas nativity scene. Sadly, most of its decorative bas-reliefs of fighting gladiators and wild beasts have been removed for safekeeping, and nowadays it looks rather depleted. Just behind the piazza is another relic of Roman Lecce, the well-preserved Teatro Romano, the only one of its kind to be found in Puglia, with rows of seats and orchestra floor still remarkably intact.

Basilica di Santa Croce

Piazzetta Gabriele Riccardi • Daily 9am–noon & 5–8pm • Free

The finest and most ornate of Lecce’s Baroque churches is the Basilica di Santa Croce, just to the north, whose florid facade was the work of the local architects Zimbalo and Penna and took around 150 years to complete; its upper half is a riot of decorative garlands and flowers around a central rose window.

Piazza del Duomo

Head west from Piazza Sant’Oronzo along the bustling Via Vittorio Emanuele to Piazza del Duomo. Facing onto the square, the Seminario holds an impressively ornate well, with carved stone resembling delicately wrought iron. The balconied Palazzo Vescovile adjoins the Duomo itself (daily 9am–noon & 4–6.30pm; free), twelfth century in origin but rebuilt entirely in the mid-seventeenth by Zimbalo. He tacked on two complex facades and an enormous five-storey campanile that towers 70m above the square.

San Giovanni Battista

Via Giuseppe Libertini • Mon–Sat 8am–7pm, Sun 7.15am–7pm • Free

There is further work by Zimbalo in the Church of San Giovanni Battista (or del Rosario), by the Porta Rudiae in the southwest corner of town. The ornate facade and twisting columns front some extremely odd altars, while dumpy cherubim dive for cover amid scenes resembling an exploding fruit bowl.

Museo Provinciale

Viale Gallipoli • Mon–Sat 8.30am–1.30pm & 2.30–7.30pm, Sun 9.30am–1.30pm • Free • tel_icon0832 307 415

The imaginative displays in Salento’s recently revamped Museo Provinciale bring the city’s history – and prehistory – to life. There are also frequent exhibitions, and an annual programme of evening openings with concerts, guided tours and other cultural events – see the Provincia di Lecce website (web_iconprovincia.le.it) for details.

SS Nicolò e Cataldo

Viale San Nicola • Sat afternoon & Mon morning • Free

If the Baroque trappings of the town are beginning to pall, you might want to check out the fine Romanesque church of SS Nicolò e Cataldo, a ten-minute walk north along Viale San Nicola from Porta Napoli. Built by the Normans in 1190, its cool interior reveals a generous hint of Saracen in the arches and the octagonal rounded dome. Little remains of the frescoes that once covered its walls, though an image of St Nicolò can be found on the south side, together with a delicately carved portal.

Along the coast: Roca Vecchia

From Lecce follow the Littoranea Otranto coast road through pinewoods where several paths lead to long stretches of dunes and little rocky coves. Continue south to Roca Vecchia, where a 1960s-style resort has grown up behind the Grotte Basiliane, a fascinating honeycomb of man-made caves carved into the soft sandstone dating back to the seventh century. There’s a gorgeous natural sea pool here known as the Grotta della Poesia, a favourite spot for locals to launch themselves off the cliffs.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: LECCE

By bus Regional buses arrive at the City Terminal (north of Porta Napoli), and the train station. Between June 25 and Sept 5, Salento in Treno e Bus (tel_icon0833 541 025, web_iconsalentointrenoebus.it) services depart from Viale Gallipoli, near the FS station, to Otranto, Santa Maria di Leuca (via Gallipoli) and the seaside resort of Porto Cesareo and Roca. There are transfers from Brindisi airport.

Destinations Gallipoli (10 daily; 1–2hr); Otranto (11 daily; 1hr); Porto Cesareo (8 daily; 1hr); Roca (9 daily; 50min); San Cataldo (8 daily; 30min); Santa Maria di Leuca (10 daily; 1hr 45min).

By train FSE (web_iconfseonline.it) and FS trains use the same station, 1km south of the centre at the end of Via Oronzo Quarta. FSE services (Mon–Sat) link Gallipoli, Alberobello, Otranto, Ostuni, Galatina and Martina Franca, while regular daily FS trains link Bari, Brindisi and Rome.

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INFORMATION

Tourist offices There are three helpful tourist offices (web_iconilecce.it) around the city centre, the main one being at Corso Vittorio Emanuele 24 (daily: June–Sept 9.30am–1.30pm & 3.30–7.30pm; Oct–May 10am–1pm & 4–6pm; tel_icon0832 682 985). The other two (both daily: June–Sept 9.30am–1.30pm & 3.30–7.30pm; Oct–May 9.30am–1.30pm & 3.30pm–7.30pm) are at Piazza Sant’Oronzo (tel_icon0832 242 099) and in the castle, at Viale 25 July (tel_icon0832 246 517).

InfoLecce Piazza del Duomo 2 (Mon–Fri 9.30am–1.30pm & 3.30–7.30pm, Sat & Sun 10am–7pm; tel_icon0832 521 877). A well-run private information office offering several guided tours of the city and Salento, bikes to rent (€3/hr or €12/day) and a well-researched website (web_iconinfolecce.it).

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ACCOMMODATION

Arco Vecchio Via Quinto Fabio Balbo 5 tel_icon0832 243 620 or tel_icon333 941 4114, web_iconarcovecchio.com. Spruce, restored palazzo just off the very pleasant Via Paladini, with nine neat, contemporary, minimalist rooms, with flatscreen TVs, satellite and wi-fi. There’s also a suite with a fully equipped kitchen and its own terrace, ideal for families. €100

Casa dei Mercanti Piazza Sant’Oronzo 44 tel_icon0832 277 299, web_iconcasadeimercanti.it. Nine elegantly renovated apartments, smart and international in style, with glossy parquet floors and modern furniture, overlooking Piazza Sant’Oronzo. All apartments have flatscreen TVs and full kitchens, and there’s a daily cleaning service. €100

Centro Storico and Azzurretta Via Vignes 2/B tel_icon0832 242 727, web_iconcentrostoricolecce.it (Centro Storico); tel_icon0832 242 211, web_iconbblecce.it (Azzurretta). These two appealing B&Bs share the same sixteenth-century building with vaulted ceilings, balconies, a reading room and a pair of big sun terraces looking out over the city’s monuments. Rooms in Centro Storico are a bit more upmarket, with tea-making facilities and a jacuzzi, while the owner of Azzurretta organizes occasional concerts in summer and tastings of wine and local produce. Both places offer a simple breakfast at the Cin Cin bar on Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Azzurretta €90, Centro Storico €110

Hotel Patria Palace Piazza Riccardi tel_icon0832 245 111, web_iconpatriapalacelecce.com. A smart, conventional hotel in an eighteenth-century palace near Santa Croce, aimed at business travellers and tourists wanting five-star service and facilities such as minibars, Sky and a fitness room. Rooms are all blue and gold, and give little sense of the historic building, the main concession to design being a Liberty-style lily motif. The five best rooms have private terraces; seventeen rooms look onto Santa Croce, and guests have access to the roof terrace. Substantial discounts on website. €130

author_pickMalìa Via Paladini 33 tel_icon329 571 663, web_iconmaliabb.com. Fabulous TV-free boutique B&B designed by owner-architect Laura Aguglia – the huge, elegant sitting room has a star-vaulted ceiling, parquet floor, a vast calico sofa and an ample choice of art and design books and magazines to leaf through. There are only three rooms, but each is gorgeous, different, and imaginatively lit, especially the romantic double with a four-poster bed designed by Laura. Breakfast is served at the nearby trendy “00” Doppiozero Café. €110

Torre del Parco Viale Torre del Parco 1 tel_icon0832 347 694, web_icontorredelparco.com. Set in a medieval fortress about 10min walk from the old centre, with nine rooms converted from a seventh-century convent. There’s a generous breakfast served on a big and beautiful terrace, well-kept gardens and an attached tower that was once the prince’s palace, still surrounded by a deep moat. Sometimes reserved for events, so book ahead. €150

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EATING AND DRINKING

CAFÉS

All’Ombra del Barocco Corte dei Cicala 9 tel_icon0832 245 524, web_iconliberrima.it. Cool – if expensive – wine bar, café and restaurant linked to the Liberrima bookshop next door. Salads, antipasti and an abundant and elegantly presented aperitivo with nibbles including fresh ricotta, tiny pizze and crostini with artichokes and roast almonds. Eat inside to an accompaniment of jazz (during the winter), or outside on the piazzetta. Daily 10am–midnight.

Alvino Piazza Sant’Oronzo 30 tel_icon0832 246 748, web_iconcaffealvino.it. Alvino serves some of the city’s most astonishingly jewel-like sweet confections and savoury snacks. Sample their vast array of paste di mandorla (almond-paste cookies). Wed–Mon 7am–midnight.

Caffè Letterario Via G. Paladini 46 tel_icon832 242 351, web_iconcaffeletterario.org. An arty little bookshop-café perfect for an aperitivo (from €5) or after-dinner drinks, with cosy outdoor seating along Via Paladini, a DJ on Thurs and Sun, and occasional live music or theatre; check the website for a full programme of events. Tues–Sat 8pm till late, Sun 5pm till late; May–Oct also Mon from 7pm.

Syrbar Via Giuseppe Libertini 67/A, Piazza del Duomo. A laidback café-restaurant, with tables on the main pedestrian drag and windows looking onto Piazza del Duomo. A fine place for breakfast, lunch or a light dinner, with a daily vegetable soup and a large choice of panini (€5) and crostini (€8–10) served with inspired combinations of local cheeses, hams, salamis and fish. In winter, you can warm up with a hot grog of Cognac infused with cinnamon and orange peel. Daily 8.30am–midnight; Nov–March closed Wed.

RESTAURANTS

Alle Due Corti Corte dei Giugni 1 tel_icon0832 242 223, web_iconalleduecorti.com. Simple, traditional Salentino dishes and mouthwatering antipasti draw locals and tourists alike. Try the taieddha (oven-baked potatoes, rice, tomatoes, onions and mussels; €10) in summer, or cocule de marangiana allu sucu year round (€8). Mon–Sat 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm.

author_pickCorte dei Pandolfi Piazzetta Orsini tel_icon0832 332 309, web_iconcortedeipandolfi.com. Intimate place in a charming piazza off Via Paladini, gaining a reputation for creative twists on traditional cuisine, using fresh ingredients, shown off to perfection in several raw fish dishes. Other meals worth trying are the mixed seasonal vegetables (€11) and handmade spaghetti with fresh anchovies, capers and tomato (€12). Daily 8–10.30pm, Wed–Sun also 12.30–2.30pm; closed Tues in winter.

Cucina Casareccia Via Col. A. Costadura 19 tel_icon0832 245 178. Be sure to call ahead for one of the dozen tables at this Leccese favourite, known for its home-style cooking and atmosphere – locals also call it Le Zie (the aunts). The pasta is made on site and the accompanying sauces change according to the season – try the excellent stuffed squid (€11), the rib-warming winter dish ciceri e tria (pasta with chickpeas; €8) or pezzetti di cavallo (horse stew; €10), a Leccese speciality. Tues–Sat 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm, Sun 12.30–2.30pm.

L’angolo di Via Matteotti Via Matteotti 25 tel_icon346 836 1999. Cheap and friendly little place around the corner from Santa Croce, usually busy with locals who come for the good selection of puccia (puccia con pezzetti di cavallo €6). Daily 11am–2.30pm & 6pm–midnight; Oct–Feb closed Mon.

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Otranto

OTRANTO, a kasbah-like town nestling around a harbour, is only an hour by train from Lecce, set in an arid, rocky and windblown landscape, with translucent seas to swim in. The port overflows with tourists in August, when Otranto’s nightlife is at its peak and the town is most entertaining, but the picturesque location and slow pace will reward visitors year-round, even if the number of gaudy souvenir shops detracts a little from the charm of its winding whitewashed lanes. A variety of musical and theatrical events are held in Otranto throughout the summer, usually centred around the castle, among them a lively jazz festival in late July (web_iconotrantojazzfestival.it) and the annual commemoration of the “800 Martyrs” on August 13–15.

Brief history

Otranto’s history is decidedly grim. One of the last Byzantine towns to fall to the Normans in 1070, it remained a thriving port for Crusaders, pilgrims and traders. But in 1480 a Turkish fleet laid siege to the town, which held out for fifteen days before capitulating. It’s said that as a punishment the archbishop, on capture, suffered the indignity of being sawn in half, a popular Turkish spectacle at that time. Nearly twelve thousand people lost their lives and the eight hundred survivors, refusing to convert, were taken up a nearby hill and beheaded. Otranto never really recovered, though the town does feature one glorious survivor of the Turkish attack inside its cathedral: an extraordinary mosaic floor.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata

Piazza Basilica • Daily 7.30am–noon & 3–7pm • Free

The town’s Romanesque Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata is worth a visit, its marble-columned nave adorned by an incredible multicoloured mosaic. The theme is the “Tree of Life”. Historical and animal figures are shown as a mix of myth and reality – Alexander the Great, King Arthur, the Queen of Sheba, crabs, serpents and mermaids. The work of a twelfth-century monk, its rough simplicity is empowered by a delightful child-like innocence. The rose window was added in the fifteenth century.

The Castello

Via Nicola d’Otranto • Mon–Sat: June 10am–10pm; July & Aug 8am–midnight; Sept–May 10am–1pm & 4–8pm • €5

Not far from the cathedral, the town’s Aragonese Castello juts out into the bay, defending the harbour. Large parts of it have recently undergone renovation, and its hulking walls incorporate fragments of Roman and medieval inscriptions, while Charles V’s coat of arms looms from its portal. Just beyond is a small museum with various historical displays and – in summer – art exhibits.

Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola

Out on the southern edge of town is the cypress-tree-covered hill where the survivors of the Turkish siege were beheaded. At the top of the hill, the sixteenth-century Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola holds the names of the victims, together with a vivid description of the terrible events of July 1480.

Basilica di San Pietro e Paolo

Via San Pietro • Daily 9am–noon & 3–7pm • Free

On the Bastione dei Pelasgi, the newly restored Basilica di San Pietro e Paolo is one of the most important Byzantine monuments in the Salento. This tiny chapel has frescoes, some with Greek inscriptions dating from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, including a Last Supper.

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: OTRANTO

By train Otranto marks the end of the rail line from Maglie, with connections to Lecce (10 daily via Maglie and Zollino; 1hr 10min) and Gallipoli (7 daily via Maglie and Zollino). The station is a 15min walk north of Otranto centre, so you may want to arrange a pick-up with your hotel.

By bus The Salento in Treno e Bus service (June 25–Sept 5) links Otranto to Lecce (9 daily via Maglie; 1hr 40min; 9 daily via the coast road; 1hr 40min) and Gallipoli (3 daily via Maglie; 1hr 30min), while year-round FSE buses run to Lecce (3 daily; 1hr 30min).

Tourist office Piazza Castello (Mon–Sat 9am–1pm & 4–6pm; tel_icon0836 801 436, web_iconviaggiareinpuglia.it).

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ACCOMMODATION

B&B Palazzo de Mori Bastione dei Pelasgi tel_icon0836 801 088, web_iconpalazzodemori.it. Set in the heart of the historical centre overlooking the harbour, with ten pleasant whitewashed rooms, white beds, white linen and white mosquito nets. There is also a lovely roof terrace for breakfast or drinks, and free parking nearby. €100

Bellavista Via Vittorio Emanuele 18 tel_icon0836 801 058, web_iconhotelbellavistaotranto.it. Conventional rooms in a light, modern hotel right in the centre of things just steps from the beach and 100m from entrance to the old town. The nicest rooms have balconies with sea views (from €110). €100

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EATING AND DRINKING

Boomerang Via Vittorio Emanuele II 13/14 tel_icon0836 802 619. Self-service restaurant with a/c and outdoor seating by the park next to the beach; serves delicious, low-priced, simple meals, as well as fresh antipasti and pasta. Daily noon–3pm & 7.30–10.30pm; closed in winter.

Da Sergio Corso Garibaldi 9 tel_icon0836 801 408. Unlike many Otranto restaurants, Da Sergio focuses on honest, reasonably priced local cuisine (primi from €7; secondi from €10), with the average four-course meal costing around €30. March to mid-Nov & mid-Dec to mid-Jan daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm; closed Wed in low season.

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The southern cape

From Otranto, all the way down to the cape at Santa Maria di Leuca, the coastline is steep and rugged. The unmissable journey along the winding road takes you past one spectacular view of sheer cliffs and blue sea after another.

Capo d’Otranto

CAPO D’OTRANTO, 5km south of Otranto, is the easternmost point on the Italian peninsula, topped by a lighthouse and the rather desolate ruins of a seventh-century abbey. This is the first place in Italy to see the sun rise, and is a popular spot to welcome in the New Year. On clear mornings there’s a commanding view across the straits – the mountains of Albania are visible about 80km away – and on seriously clear days they say you can even see Corfu, 100km away. If you want to stop and swim, there are a couple of inlets at Porto Badiso and La Fraula, though the first place of any size is Santa Cesarea Terme, a spa town boasting some extraordinarily opulent Moorish-style villas and the reek of sulphur. Old-fashioned Castro, perched high above the sea, is a cluster of white- and pastel-washed houses around an Aragonese castle. Marittima, despite its name, lies a little inland, and is dominated by a splendid Baroque palace, while the coast road leads down to Puglia’s southernmost point, Santa Maria di Leuca.

ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE: THE SOUTHERN CAPE

By train From Lecce, trains run to the end of the FSE rail line at Gagliano del Capo (Mon–Sat 27 daily; 1hr 40min, just 5km from the cape.

By bus The Salento in Treno e Bus service runs from Otranto to Santa Cesarea Terme (3 daily; 30min) and Santa Maria di Leuca (3 daily; 1hr 50min), and from Lecce to the cape via Gallipoli, or inland via Maglie.

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ACCOMMODATION

Camping Porto Miggiano 16km from Otranto, just south of Santa Cesarea Terme tel_icon0836 944 303, web_iconcampingportomiggiano.it. A simple but beautiful campsite set among olive trees with steps leading down to a gorgeous beach surrounded by cliffs. Small bungalows are also available, and there’s a restaurant on site. March–Oct. Pitches €26, bungalows €90

Hotel degli Ulivi Via Litoranea per S. Cesarea Terme, Castro Marina tel_icon0836 943 037, web_iconhoteldegliulivi.net. Located in Castro’s seaside satellite, this has pleasant rooms with big balconies, a pool and a restaurant with a view over the sea. Half board (obligatory in mid-Aug) €80/person. €100

Il Giardino Via Sant’Antonio 207, Castro tel_icon340 603 5400, web_iconilgiardinonelsalento.it. A lovely B&B with spotless rooms, a family-friendly atmosphere, cooking facilities for guests and a large garden where a breakfast of home-made pastries, buns and fresh fruit is served. €80

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Galatina

GALATINA, 30km south of Lecce, is an intriguing Salentine town on the edge of an area known as Grecia Salentina, a key Greek colony in medieval times that has retained Greek customs and language up until the present. It’s an important centre of the Italian tobacco industry today, with much of the weed grown in the fields around. It’s also famed for being the centre of the tarantella and for its excellent local wine. In the old part of town, the church of Santa Caterina di Alessandria (daily 8.30am–12.30pm & 4.30–6.45pm; free) is well worth a look for the stunning fourteenth-century frescoes that cover its interior.

THE DANCE OF THE SPIDER

The small town of Galatina has long been a pilgrimage centre for tarantate – women (mostly) who have been “possessed” by the mythical spider of Puglia. Tarantism dates back centuries in this region, with the earliest known accounts of it appearing in manuscripts from the fifteenth century. Victims believed that they had been bitten by the Italian tarantula, or the European black widow spider. After descending into a funk of symptoms that included vomiting and sweating, fear and delirium, depression and paranoia, the only cure was the rite of the tarantula, which involved trance-dancing to the local tarantella, or pizzica, for days on end. The pizzica musicians – typically a violinist, guitarist, accordion and tambourine player – would perform fast and feverishly, engaging the victim in a call-and-response ritual until eventually they were released from their misery.

  The cult has continued to fascinate Salentines and others into this century, with the myth and music being both preserved and reinvented. St Paul, patron saint of the tarantate, is revered and celebrated to this day in Galatina and surrounding villages. On the night of June 28 around 10.30pm there is a procession from Piazza San Pietro to the chapel of St Paul, followed by performances by drummers and musicians from across the region, lasting until dawn of June 29 – the feast day of saints Peter and Paul. Around 4.30 or 5am, the musicians, dancers, tarantate and tourists gather at St Paul’s chapel to pay their respects before the crowds arrive for the official early morning Mass. Today, pizzica music is enjoying a boom in the Salento and elsewhere. It’s worth timing your visit to coincide with the all-night music festival The Night of the Tarantula (La Notte della Taranta; web_iconlanottedellataranta.it), held in late August at Melpignano, between Galatina and Otranto.

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: GALATINA

By train Galatina is about 30min down the FSE rail line from Lecce. Trains run approximately hourly.

Tourist office At Via V. Emanuele II 35, the tourist office (Mon–Fri 9.30am–12.30pm & 3.30–7pm; tel_icon0836 569 984, web_iconcomune.galatina.le.it) has the lowdown on events surrounding the town’s festa and loans out free bikes (you’ll need to leave a €20 deposit).

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ACCOMMODATION AND EATING

Anima & Cuore Corso Garibaldi 7 tel_icon0836 564 301, web_iconanimaecuore. Just steps from the church of San Paolo on Piazza San Pietro, this rambling restaurant takes up the first floor of a beautiful old building with vaulted ceilings, a mosaic floor and a spacious outdoor patio. The traditional Salentino menu includes orecchiette with aubergine, ricotta and olives (€9) and seafood brought daily from Gallipoli (pasta with sea urchins €16). Daily 12.30–2.30pm & 7.30pm–midnight; Nov–April closed Thurs.

Il Covo della Taranta Corso Garibaldi 13 tel_icon0836 210 265. This lively pub/pizzeria/trattoria in an eighteenth-century building serves pizzas from €4 and puccia from €5, with world music jam sessions at weekends. Daily 12.30–2.30pm & 8–10.30pm; Sept–May closed Mon.

Palazzo Baldi Corte Baldi tel_icon0836 568 345, web_iconhotelpalazzobaldi.it. Plush, elegant hotel with its own little courtyard for a quiet aperitivo. Rooms are romantic, with exposed stone walls and antique furniture giving them a medieval feel, and some – rather more practically – have cooking facilities. Good deals on the website. €150

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Gallipoli

First impressions of GALLIPOLI (not the World War I battlefield in Turkey) are fairly uninspiring. The new town sprouted on the mainland once the population outgrew its original island site in the eighteenth century, and all that remains of the once-beautiful Greek city (the Kale’ polis) is the rather weather-beaten Fontana Ellenica, a fountain from the third century BC (restored in the sixteenth century), which sits in the new town near the bridge. Immediately over the bridge is the imposing Aragonese castle, beyond which things become more interesting: the old town itself is a maze of meandering and twisting whitewashed streets, with tiny tomatoes hanging on the walls to dry providing a sudden blaze of colour alongside the fishing nets. The work of Zimbalo, the Baroque-style Cattedrale di Sant’Agata and its adjoining piazza mark the centre of the island. It’s also worth visiting the early morning fish market, between the castle and the bridge, or stepping into one of the old town’s 35 olive presses (frantoi; daily: April–June 10am–1pm & 3.30–6.30pm; July–March 10am–10pm; €1.50 each). The consistently warm, damp atmosphere (and plenty of slave-like labour in horrid working conditions) made the presses ideal for producing the oro verde (green gold), one of the city’s largest industries until the advent of electricity.

ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: GALLIPOLI

By train and bus From Lecce, regular FSE trains (Mon–Sat 12 daily; 1hr) and buses (Mon–Sat 7 daily, Sun 2 daily; 1hr) run to Gallipoli.

Tourist office Across from the Duomo at Via Antonietta de Pace 86 (Tues–Sun 9am–2pm & 3–8pm; tel_icon0833 262 529), though good for little more than city maps and brochures.

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ACCOMMODATION AND EATING

Il Bastione Riviera N. Sauro 28 tel_icon0833 263 836, web_iconilbastionegallipoli.it. Great place to sample the catch of the day – raw, grilled, fried, baked or cooked in salt – on a panoramic seafront terrace. Prices start at €12 for primi and around €40 for a full meal excluding wine. Tues–Sun 11am–2.30pm & 7pm–midnight.

Palazzo del Corso Corso Roma 145 tel_icon0833 264 040, web_iconhotelpalazzodelcorso.it. Just before the bridge to old Gallipoli, with beautifully decorated rooms, a wellness centre, rooftop pool and a restaurant where the generous breakfast is served. Ask for one of the quieter rooms at the back. It also has several sister hotels, the best of which is Palazzo Mosco Inn (€190) in old Gallipoli, with its own rooftop terrace. €300

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