Many northern Italians have been heard to joke that Italy stops at Rome, and perhaps their Italy does, for undoubtedly our Italy here in Puglia is very, very different.
Back in 1935 the writer and philosopher Carlo Levi was actually exiled here for his politic activities, banished from his native Turin, not to another country but to the wild south!
Puglia today still has its untamed side which is one of the reasons it is so fantastic.
Italians love the sea and the sun-baked beaches. Most importantly, here they are still unspoiled whether wind-eroded cliffs or sandy bays; the coastline is so diverse you can always find just what suits you. A drive down the east coast will be rewarded by a long stretch of Ionian soft sand, reputed to be the most acclaimed in the whole country.
Towns and cities in the area are easily reached on the relatively quiet country roads here; though when driving through tiny town centres it is clear why Fiat designed the Cinquecento!
The unique Itria Valley is beautiful. The rolling landscape is covered in vineyards, orchards, kilometres of low dry-stone walls and the extraordinary trulli houses built predominantly in 16th century.
These homes were originally constructed by peasants who worked in the local fields and look not a lot unlike the old oast houses of Kent and Hampshire in their conical shape. The whole area from Ostuni to Locorontondo is dotted with them. Some have been restored but many are still in their abandoned state and a sight not to be missed.
Old Alberobello is an entire town of trulli and, unsurprisingly, is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
In our ever increasing world of speedy change it is a true blast into the past, highly worthy of its ever growing reputation.
Matera is evidence of one of the oldest human settlements in the world, predating the trulli by many centuries and is, perhaps, the most breathtaking sight into Italy's past. It is hard to credit that until the 1950s the poor people of the area still lived in these primitive cave dwellings; many only intended for animals, until Carlo Levi (again!) published his writings and brought the miserable state of Matera's inhabitants to the attention of the authorities and they were re-housed.
Only in 1993 was it declared a world heritage site by UNESCO and later the site Mel Gibson chose for his filming of The Passion of the Christ.
Most local towns and cities have something that they are famous for producing: Lecce for its cartapesta (papier mache), Manduria for its wine, Grottaglie for its ceramics, and Locorontondo for its lacework.
Local markets are an essential part of Puglian life and an eye-opener into local life-style. Each town has its own with an individual flavour (antiques, food, fashion, fabric). Fortunately most are on different days of the week so if you are a real enthusiast you can visit a different one almost every morning!
Night life is to be found humming in the cities of Ostuni and Lecce all the year round whilst during feste the whole of Italy is just one big street party! Everywhere seems to be lit up with bands playing on outside stages and you are never far from some exciting spectacle and fireworks galore!
© Vivificante 2016