Puglia Itinerary: October 9 to 19, 2017
Monday, October 9
The tour begins in Rome with a visit to the Castel Sant’Angelo atop which the Archangel Michael appeared in 590, exactly 100 years AFTER he’d been to Puglia. His appearance in Rome is said to have ended an outbreak of the plague. Group dinner. Hotel Santa Chiara or Grand Hotel de la Minerve, Rome.
Tuesday, October 10
Depart Rome for Puglia. En route, we stop in Benevento where the Appian Way passes beneath a splendid triumphal arch built by the ever-industrious Emperor Trajan. After a bounteous country lunch, we continue to the battlefield of Cannae, where, in 216 BC, Hannibal’s army dealt the Romans one of their most wrenching defeats. We finish the day in Trani, a town that wraps itself around a harbor lined with colorful fishing boats.
Group lunch. Hotel San Paolo Convento, Trani.
Wednesday, October 11
If you get up early, you can walk along the quay and watch the fishermen returning with their catch. At a more reasonable hour, we will set out for one of the most remarkable castles in Europe, the Castel del Monte, if this philosophically conceived structure even qualifies as one. More than anything, it is a reflection of the nimble genius of its creator, Frederick II, Stupor Mundi, King of Sicily, Jerusalem and Italy, and Holy Roman Emperor. We’ll learn more about Frederick as we journey further.
Then on to Barletta, where we stop for lunch. The city is known for its excellent cozze (mussels) as well as its colossal 5th century bronze statue of the not particularly well known Emperor Marcian.
Group lunch. Hotel San Paolo al Convento, Trani.
Thursday, October 12
Today we visit a handful of Apulian Romanesque churches in the small medieval towns and cities that dot the landscape: Bisceglie, Molfetta, Bitonto, Bari. As many as we have time for and with lunch along the way. Note: there is much talk about the Apulian Romanesque, but few will understand it as we do.
In the afternoon we continue on to our hotel in what was once a masseria, or fortified farm. With luck, there’ll be time for a swim or a stroll through the olive groves.
Lunch and Dinner. Il Melograno, Monopoli.
Friday, October 13
Today we visit two of the iconic villages for which Puglia is duly famous: Alberobello where residents still live in round stone huts called trulli, and Locorotondo where the streets run in circles and the buildings are dazzlingly white. The afternoon we can enjoy our hotel: go for a swim, have a massage, take a walk, or curl up with a good book.
Lunch and dinner. Il Melograno, Monopoli.
Saturday, October 14
Morning visit to the elegant town of Martina Franca, with a central piazza that reminds me of a ballroom. Lunch at a favorite restaurant: Al Fornello da Ricci in Ceglie Messapica. This was one of the first restaurants to “reclaim” the traditional cuisine of Puglia. Return to our hotel via the charming hill town of Ostuni or, if there is interest, via the ceramics center of Grotaglie.
Lunch. Il Melograno, Monopoli.
Sunday, October 15
Continue south to Lecce, a city famous for its fanciful Baroque architecture that makes me think of a Disney cartoon. Just wait. You’ll see what I mean. Afternoon tour of the city that includes Roman ruins as well as Baroque splendor.
Lunch, Hotel Patria Palace, Lecce.
Monday, October 16
The Salentine Peninsula is one of a handful of other sites in Europe with megalithic remains: dolmen, menhirs, and odd stones stuck in curious places. It’s remarkable to realize that the same prehistoric men who placed stones throughout Cornwall in the west of England were also at work here in Puglia. We’ll track down some of these stones in farmers’ fields and at crossroads.
After a country lunch we continue to Otranto, a very ancient city with vast walls that still could not hold back the Turks when they invaded in 1481. The real treat is the Norman-era mosaic floor in the cathedral: a Tree of Life with everything from the Eastern yin and yang symbol to a portrait of King Arthur.
Lunch. Patria Palace Hotel, Lecce
Tuesday, October 17
Head inland, through Basilicata, to Matera, a city known for its network of cave dwellings, sassi, that were inhabited until the 1950s when they were condemned by the State and citizens were moved to sterile but perhaps more salubrious apartment blocks. Interestingly, the locals are gradually moving back to the caves. Lunch amidst the caves before we continue on to Paestum on the western shore of Italy.
Lunch, Dinner. Granaio di Casa Bella, Paestum.
Wednesday, October 18
Throughout the trip we will have enjoyed a fair share of buffalo mozzarella, but today we hit the mother lode at the Tenuta Vanullo, an entirely organic farm where the lady buffalos live a very cushy life. We will visit the cows, see how mozzarella is made, and enjoy a fantasy lunch of what is arguably Italy’s very best incarnation of this deliciously fresh cheese. In the afternoon we visit the archeological park of Paestum, which includes three of the best ancient Greek temples in existence. We finish the day at the Rome airport.
Lunch. Rome Airport Hilton.
Thursday, October 19
The trip ends with breakfast.
Room and Board
As with all our trips, when choosing hotels, our first consideration is location. After that we find the best accommodations available. On this trip they range from a 5-star luxury resort to a family-run inn overlooking the Doric Temples of Paestum. Our hotel in Trani, formerly an elegant convent, faces the Adriatic, while in Lecce many rooms look out at the famous cathedral. In Rome, people can choose to stay at the very comfortable but not luxurious Albergo Santa Chiara or, for an additional fee, at the 5-star Grand Hotel de la Minerve.
Food is reason enough to visit Puglia: abundant fish, pungent olive oil, buratta like you’ve never tasted, peasant dishes honed over the centuries, and arguably the best bread in Italy. Oricchiete con cima di rape, purea di fava con cicoria, pane di Altamura: the very names make my mouth water. Expect to eat very well.
Note on flights: flights should be booked into Rome no later than the morning of October 9 and out of Rome no earlier than the morning of October 19. If there is sufficient interest, we will offer an optional walking tour in Rome the afternoon of October 8.
Cost per person, double occupancy: $4750
Cost per person, single occupancy: $5350
This includes 10 nights in hotels, all breakfasts, meals as outlined, admission fees, guide fees, tips, and private bus transportation throughout the trip. Not included are air and airport transportation, hotel extras, and discretionary purchases. Reservations require a deposit of $500. The group will be limited to 18 participants.
Optional Rome Walks: Oct. 6, 7, and 8
For those wishing to see more of Rome, we are offering the option of three pre-trip tours in Rome:
October 6: afternoon tour of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Appropriate for people arriving the morning of October 6 or earlier.
October 7: morning tour of medieval Rome: the ghetto, Tiber Island, and Trastevere.
October 8: morning tour of the Galleria Borghese after which we will track down a handful of works by Caravaggio in Roman churches.
The cost of each tour is euro 25 per person plus entrance fees and meals.
For a book and video list, click below.