Feature

This week’s dream: Wandering in Italy’s magical ‘boot heel’

Memorable food and exquisite places always cast a spell on the traveler, said S. Irene Virbila in the Los Angeles Times. Even decades later, we long to re-experience certain transcendent moments ...

Memorable food and exquisite places always cast a spell on the traveler, said S. Irene Virbila in the Los Angeles Times. Even decades later, we long to re-experience certain transcendent moments that memory has not dimmed. In my case, I was able to revisit Puglia, “one of Italy’s most mysterious and compelling regions.” There I discovered that the splendid experiences I remembered had not been a dream. It was all still there—the sun-drenched hilltop towns overlooking the turquoise Adriatic, the cobblestone streets, and some of the most incredible cuisine I’d ever eaten. Ostuni, in the country’s “boot heel,” served as our home base. We meandered through “a fantastic landscape” of gnarled olive trees and whitewashed farmhouses. Alberobello, a minuscule village lined with beehive-shaped stone cottages, has been designated a World Heritage Site. In Altamura, we pulled up in front of Di Gesù bakery, founded in 1838 and housed in a nondescript storefront. A man cut us thick slabs from a huge misshapen loaf that had just been pulled from a wood-burning oven and weighed well over 10 pounds. This was probably “the best bread I’ve tasted in my life.” The long drive home eventually led through Polignano a Mare. By now we were hungry again. Stopping at the restaurant Da Tuccino, our bread was matched with spectacular seafood antipasti, house-made “prosciutto di tonno,” and orecchiette in black squid ink. During the remainder of our journey, we drifted along leisurely, as if time did not exist—“except when it was time to eat.” Puglia has its share of luxury resorts, but nothing captures the authentic Pugliese experience like a stay at a working farm, or agriturismo. The one we visited, Masseria Il Frantoio, outside Ostuni, had more than 4,000 olive trees. Its old-fashioned B&B paired a different local wine with every dish. Equally delightful was Cisternino, a hilltop town that, on weekends, “wakes up and parties.” Musicians perform on outdoor stages, and butcher shops with restaurants attached set up tables in the street. When the time came to leave Puglia, it was wrenching to say goodbye. But I promised myself: “I’ll be back.”Contact: Italiantourism.com

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