Puglia : Italy

Puglia : Italy

Living now in Istria, the tiny heart shaped peninsula, right up in the north of Croatia – bordering Slovenia, close to Trieste and across the Adriatic from Venice – we are very lucky that we can now travel to Italy very easily. Muggia is our closest Italian town, and we can be there in about half an hour, taking the coastal route along what’s called the Slovenian Riviera. Previously, when we lived back in Manchester, Italy was a flight away, and certainly not somewhere we’d have considered driving to. But, we did drive around Italy, on a road trip in 2013 and this cemented our love of this country. And, nowhere more so than in the south, an area undiscovered by us previously. The furthest south we had been before had been Naples and Pompeii and we’d not ventured over to the other side of the heel of Italy. But, in late summer/early autumn of 2013, our adventure took us over to the Apulia region and we found our love of this amazing country, strengthened even further.

From the beautiful coastline of the Adriatic and the bustling cities of Bari and Brindisi, to the iconic whitewashed hill towns, to the incredible architectural spectacle of Alberobello, we loved everywhere we visited. And, nearly ten years later, we’re planning a return. But for a very different reason, this time…

A tiny bay, just outside the beautiful town of Monopoli

A tiny bay, just outside the beautiful town of Monopoli

Morning stroll, the Monopoli way...

Morning stroll, the Monopoli way…

The photo, above, is a real stand out memory from our time spent in Monopoli. We were there mid-October, but it was still warm enough for people to be on the beach over the weekend, and like these two women, taking their morning stroll in the shallow waters of this Adriatic bay. It’s something we still talk about and this obviously made a real impression on us, as our thoughts do keep returning to this area.

Fishing boats : Monopoli

Fishing boats : Monopoli

Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia, Monopoli

Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia, Monopoli

Airing the bedding...

Airing the bedding…

The trulli of Alberobello

The trulli of Alberobello

Alberobello

Alberobello

Alberobello

Alberobello

Alberobello houses about 1500 trulli in its historic centre. With their circular shape, the trulli had to be built dry, without mortar, in order to allow them to be easily dismantled and reassembled and therefore avoid paying the ‘building tax‘ imposed by the Kingdom of Naples. It also is the only town whose historical centre is made up of trulli. It’s as magical as I always imagined it would be. Conical roofs – pinnacoli – are often adorned with a painted symbol. Their origin is unknown but they usually have a religious or astrological meaning, and may include planetary signs, the malocchi (evil eye), crosses, hearts and stars.

Trulli symbols...

Trulli symbols…

Many of the trulli have now been renovated and provide tourist accommodation. Some are now shops, selling traditional wares from the area, including the most gorgeous hazelnut liquer, which will definitely be on our shopping list when we return. We did stay in a trullo, but ours was about ten minutes from Alberobello, in the countryside, with amazing views down to the Adriatic. With hindsight, we’d probably not stay in a location quite as quiet, and would probably opt for somewhere like Locorotondo, Ostuni or Martina Franca. But, it was a real experience. We had a self-contained trullo, with a large living room and kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom – and those all important pinnacoli. As well as a large terrace, there was also a swimming pool – a real bonus as I’m guessing pools are at a premium in the towns.

Trulli Pietra Preziosa

Trulli Pietra Preziosa

Trulli Pietra Preziosa

Trulli Pietra Preziosa

Traditional repair of a conical roof

Traditional repair of a conical roof

So, plans are afoot to do another road trip down to this region of Italy, but this time, with a very different purpose. Not just a nice holiday jaunt – although we’ll make sure that we do enjoy ourselves – but with a view to looking at properties. We are spending the winter focusing on the renovation of our home in Istria, and when we are happy that we have done everything that we need to do it, we will start to market it again. And, by that time, we feel that we will have done our time in beautiful Istria, and be ready – and very prepared – for our next European adventure…

padre pio : san giovanni rotondo : foggia : italy

padre pio : san giovanni rotondo : foggia : italy

Having driven around much of Italy, I think we can safely say that this guy – Padre Pio – is very definitely a superstar saint. You can hardly escape him – statues, images, grafitti, even a whole TV channel dedicated to him. I had heard of him before & had been mildly fascinated by the tales of his stigmata, and when were staying in Peschici & found out (via said TV channel!) that the town of San Giovanni Rotondo was a mere 30kms away, we had to investigate…

I’m sure that many people find this place deeply moving, but to be honest, I found it a bit nuts. Padre Pio’s image looms large, especially from the hospital, up on the hill. Tour buses spill religious tourists out. Stalls, peddling religious paraphenalia, can’t be missed. Priest and nuns mingle with the visitors in bars and restaurants. Everywhere trades on the Padre Pio story – and it’s quite clear that it’s a vibrant economy.

However, the real wealth is all too clear in the actual shrine of Padre Pio, inside Santa Maria della Grazie, the church which was built to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims – and the 50+ new hotels, which have sprung up in the town. As well as the actual tomb of Padre Pio, where he lies, his body well preserved, but without any signs of the stigmata (hmmm…), the walls and ceilings are elaborately mosaiced. Devout pilgrims, some in wheelchairs, many clearly unwell, file past the open casket, praying, and usually stuffing paper money into the collection boxes. There’s definitely a whiff of a charade going on here. But, in a mad way, that I just cannot understand, it clearly gives comfort to the devotees who file past his tomb. And spend money in the gift shop…

Leaving the town, which remains one of the craziest places I’ve ever visited, we turned on the car radio. And of course, which station was picked up? Only Radio Padre Pio! There’s no escaping this superstar saint dude in Italy…