, , ,

The Valle D'Itria

When most people think of Puglia, chances are they'll be thinking of at least one of two things: One, the world-renowned cucina povera. Two, the distinctive cone-shaped trulli endemic to the the Valle d'Itria. And what a coincidence, that's just where we're heading today! This sprawling, beautiful area is understandably a tourist magnet, and there's so much to see and do that for this post I've laid out a mini guide to sort the wheat from the chaff. So fire up the roadtrip playlist for a whopper of a post -  we're going town-hopping in this charming region to see what's worth seeing (and eating!)

So, where should I stay? 
We stayed outside the sleepy town of Fasano at Masseria Don Luigi, a sweet nautical-themed hotel  reached by a dirt track flanked by young tomato plants and wizened olive trees that look like ancient lovers locked in an embrace. The masseria has the best burrata stracciatella at breakfast, a pretty lantern-strewed courtyard for meals and a gorgeous curving pool. And guess what, I wasn't the only blogger in residence...a certain Bloglovin' Blogger of the Year was a very prominent fellow guest, entertaining her 6 million Instagram followers with snaps in front of the hotel and by the pool. Surreal stuff. (Me next summer, obvs). 
A favourite read during this leg of the holiday: Cormac McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses. Can't get enough of Cormac's bleakly beautiful prose. This made me want to jump on a horse and ride through the lush landscape of Mexico. Luckily, I got to do some of that in Cuba - but more on that in another post!

At Don Luigi they serve great (though pricey) cena a few times a week, if you're not in the mood to drive to the next town for dinner - the menu changes depending on what's in season and fresh. We enjoyed two dinners - one of classic Pugliese dishes and the other of fresh crudo (raw) seafood - spoiled rotten, I know. Particularly good: the cavatellini and the ice cream to finish! 

What should I do?
Number one on the roadtrip schedule: See the trulli. Before the holiday, I just assumed that trullo was the name of a rather wonderful restaurant in Islington - a.k.a., home of the best pannacotta I've ever had. In fact, a trullo is a dry stone hut historically used as a storehouse or for shelter. Nowadays you'll glimpse them from the road falling into disrepair in fields, or restored and incorporated into guesthouses. Now I think the sweetest ones you'll see are in the middle of the countryside. But it'll be hard to stay away from UNESCO-protected Alberobello if you're in the region...

Here you'll see neat rows of houses, freshly whitewashed and daubed with good-luck symbols. Most of the trulli are shops, selling everything from postcards to bottles of limoncello and leather sandals. It's a touristy shopping paradise. Trulli scrumptious. Yeah, I went there.

In my opinion, the best shop in Alberobello is Gelateria Arte Fredda (Largo Martellotta 47), located down the hill from the distinctive trulli and home to some of the most delicious gelato I've had in Italy. Emotions ran particularly high over the fiorone (pure green fig) and the fragole di bosco (piquant wild strawberries). 

Our second stop on the roadtrip? Ostuni, a sparklingly white town perched on top of a hill reminiscent, to the more geeky among us, of Gondor (in fact, I played the music from The Return of The King to get us in the mood for the White City). This beautiful citadel is a joy to wander, especially on a sunny day. Particular highlights were the amazingly curvaceous cathedral with a tiled dome in jewel-like colours, and tubs of blackberry and lemon granite which provided a cool respite as the mercury crept ever closer to 40ÂșC.

If you're feeling peckish, Mozzarella & Co (Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II, 1) is a great spot for a bite at lunchtime: bruschetta smothered in ripe tomatoes, sandwiches overflowing with creamy burrata and ham, and generous boards of salumi topped with a sticky balsamic sauce so good we bought a few bottles to take home.

My third recommendation for this roadtrip: find a spot by the sea and chill for the day! Our favourite seaside haunt was Lido Ottagono near Savelletri, populated by friendly tattooed locals and very simple (it's literally a wooden deck with a bar, plus a few deckchairs out on the rocks). There's also the more boutique seaside town Polignano a Mare, where we whiled away an afternoon at Coco Beach Club, where you can rent deckchairs and parasols to the thumping beat of Top 40 tracks.

Where should I eat?
Couldn't get away without weighing in on this one, could I? Here are my three favourite restaurants in the Valle d'Itria!

Locanda di Martume (Via Santa Teresa 36, Fasano): a sweet little restaurant where your table is literally shoved up against the wall in a (very clean) alley. But oh, what food. Green beans with cacioricotta, courgette flowers filled with ricotta and prawns, fresh squid, fried polpettini stuffed with cheese, and the best cannoli I've had outside Sicily.

Masseria il Frantoio, a beautiful agriturismo near Ostuni which hosts a very special dinner. It was a magical evening when we visited - a golden sunset on a very straight road reminiscent of the Appian Way which faded into a milky twilight, then a clear night peppered with stars. We had a tour around the farmhouse, including the old olive pressing works and functioning chapel, then sat down for a marvellous dinner. A gigantic praying mantis came to rest in my father's lap. Delicious wine was poured to accompany each course. It's a wonderful experience and one I highly recommend if you're in the area; it's so special it deserves a little extra detail...

Broccoli clad in a poor man's pasta made of black chickpeas.

'Half-metre' painted green beans and tomatoes with 'marzotica' ricotta. Yep, I thought this was spaghetti when I first laid eyes on this plate. Truly exceptional - the beans were so long, and so fresh! A very exciting veggie experience.

'Quando i cavatelli incontrano il mare', or what happens when cavatelli meets the sea. Enigmatic. This was a plate of beautifully al dente pasta with burnt durum wheat, mussels, almonds and tomatoes. I loved it - such an interesting interplay of textures and flavours.

Thick handmade laganari pasta with yellow and green courgettes and a celery, rosemary and fennel sauce. Comfort food at its finest.

Granatine meatloaf and fried 'tria' pasta with Primitivo wine (one of the best grapes in the region) on a base of new potatoes. I had a particularly carnivorous evening and ate everyone else's portions of these delicious 'veal bombs' as well as my own. They were amazing, so don't judge - almost like meaty arancini, stuffed with cheese and ham.

To finish: my first ever plate of sweet pasta. Orecchiette coated in ricotta with fig, a sweet balsamic syrup, grated orange and powdered sugar.

La Torretta del Pescatore (Via Procaccia 191, Monopoli). As the name suggests, this restaurant on the coast specialises in seafood - you can choose exactly what you want from the ice counter groaning with  fish of all shapes and sizes inside. It's got a great view of the lightning storms out at sea and is clearly where the local Italians come for a blowout meal - we had a Godfather-style wedding party sharing the restaurant on our last evening in Puglia, which made for a fantastically raucous atmosphere.

We've come to the end of the roadtrip! Seriously, well done if you made it this far - what an epic post this has turned out to be. Fitting for such a highly dramatic holiday (centred around the broken leg saga). And apposite for a trip to such a dramatic country. Puglia is so packed with excellent food and wine, beautiful weather and friendly people - I can't decide which leg of the holiday I liked best. If you've missed the other parts of my trip, decide for yourself by reading about Matera and Lecce. Until next time, Puglia! 

Hungry for more? Continue the adventure on Bloglovin' | Twitter | Instagram!