Apulia forms the heel of the Italian boot. It is situated in the southeast corner of Italy and borders the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Apulia was frequently invaded by both the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was ruled by many including the Byzantines, Goths, Lombards, Normans, Spaniards, and Turks. Apulia’s moment of greatest glory was in the Holy Roman Empire during the 13th Century, when majestic Romanesque cathedrals and palaces were built. This article presents the eastern and usually southern part of Apulia. A companion article presents the rest of the region including the administrative center of Bari, the largest city in southern Italy.
Trulli are truly remarkable. They are human habitations in the shape of beehives with a hole in the top to let the smoke escape. To me they resemble giant limestone teepees. They can be found in only one place in the world, and that is eastern Apulia. You’ll see a large concentration of these striking houses in the touristy city of Alberobello. You may prefer the historic town of Martina Franca with its baroque and medieval architecture. Alas the city wall is long gone. The road connecting these two cities is dotted with trulli. And guess what, some of them have been transformed into wineries, hardly surprising given the local vineyards.
The small town of Castellana might go unnoticed by tourists if it weren’t for the nearby caves, Grotte di Castellana. The townspeople have told countless stories of ghosts and monsters. In 1938 the largest network of caves in all Italy was uncovered. You cannot explore on your own, but tours are available. If you are up to it, take the longer tour.
If you’re on your way to Greece, you may take a ferry from the port of Brindisi. But do take some time to see some historic churches, the Duomo (Cathedral), and a Roman column dating back to the Second Century. This column was one of two that indicated the end of the Via Appia (Appian Way), the historic road from Rome.
Everyone has heard of Florence in central Italy. But almost no one has heard of Lecce, sometimes called “the Florence of the south.” It is situated between the Adriatic coast and the countryside dotted with ancient olive trees. The architecture is mainly baroque. Among the buildings to see are the Duomo (Cathedral), and the Chiesa di Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross), and several other historic churches. The remains of the Roman Amphitheatre that once held 25,000 spectators are half buried because in later centuries people kept building monuments over it.
Otranto is the easternmost city in all of Italy. It was already a major port in the days of the ancient Greeks. Some city walls are still standing. Make sure to visit the Spanish Castello (Castle) and the Norman Catedrale (Cathedral). Then you might want to take the coastal road to Leuca with its lighthouse and marina. Its strategic location has led to numerous invasions.
What about food? Italy has a classification process for food, roughly similar to its wine classification. Apulia’s classified foods include two Cheeses, Clementines, Olives, and four Olive Oils. There are so many specialties that one of these days we will have to sit down and write one or several articles on the foods of Apulia. In the meantime let’s suggest a sample menu, one of many. Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal. Start with Zuppa alla Tarantina (Grouper and Seafood Soup). Then try Agnello al Cartoccio (Lamb Chops Baked in Paper). For dessert indulge yourself with Bocconotti (Marsala, Cream, and Jam Baked Pastry).
Let’s finish by taking a quick look at Apulian wine. Apulia ranks 2nd among the 20 Italian regions for both vineyard acreage and total wine production, 7o% red or rosé (with only a little rosé), leaving about 30% for white. The region produces over two dozen DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Not even 4% of Apulia wine carries the DOC designation. Castel del Monte DOC is the best-known wine from Apulia. It is available overseas but is frankly not that great. The Alezio DOC of southern Apulia based on the region’s most widely planted red grape, Negroamaro, is said to be a much better rosé than red wine. Primitivo is a widely planted red grape variety that is closely related to Zinfandel but critics say that you shouldn’t get your hopes up. However, the choice of local wine is so great that before long you should find at least one to your liking. And there’s a good chance that it will be a bargain.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his website www.travelitalytravel.com devoted to Italian travel with an accent on fine Italian wine and food. Visit his central wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with weekly reviews of $10 wine and columns devoted to various aspects of wine including wine and food, humor, trivia, organic and kosher wine and lots more.
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