Posts Tagged With: puglia

The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 3: Discovering Polignano a Mare, Gargano and the Tremiti Islands

Buongiorno a tutti,

For our third and final camping destination we headed to Pugnochiuso, a little area in the Gargano National Park. Heading from Monopoli, there are some lovely sites on the way… (For Part 1 and Part 2, click on these links)

Day 4: Go to Polignano a Mare. Polignano a Mare is only about 20 minutes from the campsite and it’s definitely a great place to visit. The old town is on a little promontory of rock. The sea around is just sooooo clear.  People were swimming around the town! The town itself is pretty with lots of poems and wise words written on the walls or staircases. We came across a couple of guys fishing from the town itself – the drop to the sea was probably 40 meters at least!

Then onto….. Bari. Bari is the capital of Puglia. I am somewhat biased against big cities; after living here in the mountains, I feel a bit claustrophobic when I’m hemmed in between cars and apartment blocks every which way. In fact, when we got there we couldn’t find a parking spot and I suggested we just give up on it and move on. I’m glad we didn’t in the end. We only had an hour there but it was nice enough. We found a castle to have a look at and did a bit of shopping and then decided to head further up the coast for a swim.

Next….Take a swim break somewhere along the coast where there are large swathes of empty sandy beach.

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See that land mass in the distance? Our destination was on the tip of that.

Drive along the coast in Gargano, stopping to take photos! Gargano is a National Park on the spur of Italy’s boot. It’s mountainous and seems mainly covered in trees.

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Reach the campsite, Baia a Cala Campi. This was the most professional looking campsite of the lot and there were lots of people there. However, it didn’t seem overcrowded and all in all it was a great campsite in a stunning location. It had a shop, bar and restaurant and a large stretch of private beach. It even had a couple of islands just off shore which we swam to. I still have many tiny little souvenirs from that island in the form of coral embedded in my toes!

Tip: Buy those sort of rubbery shoe things and/ or don’t stand on sharp coral. 

Head to Vieste for dinner. I really like Vieste, it’s busy and lively but not overbearing. There are lots of tourist shops selling typical stuff but also some other really interesting shops selling things that are a little bit more unusual. You’ll find some great restaurants high up in the old town overlooking the sea. Follow the signs for the panorama.

Before leaving Vieste, book a boat trip to the Tremiti Islands for the following day. They leave at about 8.30 in the morning. There aren’t many places that sell tickets. We walked towards the port and bought tickets there.

Tip. They’re a right cunning bunch! Ask exactly what you’re getting for your money. We paid for a tour of the Tremiti Islands (there are 3) which the following day turned out to be just a ferry to one island and didn’t include a tour, unless we wanted to pay an extra 16 euros each (on top of the 22 euros we’d already paid each). Anyway, despite my annoyance it worked out very well in the end as the boat trip there is about 2 hours and we felt a bit “boated” out when we arrived and there was plenty to see and do on the main island anyway.

Day 5: Head to Vieste to catch the boat (and argue with the ticket man).  Relax and chill in the boat for what seems like forever. 

When you arrive, head to the bar at the port in San Domino (where the boat lands, or at least ours did!) Try and capture kids jumping into the water with your camera.

Then explore the island! There’s the Grotta del Sale which is a couple of kilometers walk through a lovely pine forest and a couple of little residential spots. It’s lovely walking through the pine forest with the sounds of the cicadas – the quintessential sounds and smells of summer for me!

Tip: I thought that screeching insect noise were crickets… but they’re cicadas that look nothing like crickets. Did you know some of them live 17 years underground on their own before emerging and dying in a few weeks? And that they are one of the noisiest animals in the world? And that they can permanently damage your hearing if they start making a noise too close by? Fascinating! Read up about them here

Catch the boat back at around 16.30. Somehow the journey back home seems twice as long as the journey there! I like boat trips but this one seems quite long because there’s such a lot of time in the middle of the sea with nothing to see!

Finally, capture the sunset on the drive back to the campsite. There’s a tower on the way, park there and you’ll see this holey rock face!

So there we have it – that was my trip to Puglia! Next step…head home!

It really was an amazing holiday and I’d thoroughly recommend visiting those places to all of you- perhaps for a bit longer than I managed!

If you have any questions or want anymore tips about holidaying in the area, drop me a line! 🙂

A presto,

x

 

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The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 2: Around Monopoli

Buongiorno a tutti!

Following on from Part 1 of the road trip….the next couple of nights of the trip were spent in Monopoli but we had a couple of ‘cool’ stops getting there and a great time the next day checking out a couple of well-known towns. So…

Day 2: Head to Lecce. Lecce is a large historic and important city in the region. It’s got an ‘old town’ with a lot of limestone baroque architecture and an old roman amphitheater. To get to the old town though there’s a regular city like any other – a bit chaotic. We found a good sized park with fountains which made for a good lunch spot. We also popped into a Papiermâché sculpture shop – in Lecce they have a tradition in making very delicate, ‘origami-like’ painted figurines. The woman in the shop told me how her family had been making the sculptures for generations and it seems to have originated out of a need to keep the statues used in processions light weight. Anyway, not my style but very impressive and you can see the craftsmanship involved. I didn’t take any photos unfortunately, but have a look at this great little website to see how they make them.

Tip: Parking in Italy is becoming quite a hassle if you don’t know your number plate. They really don’t like the idea that you could do a good deed and hand your ticket to someone else if you haven’t used up all your allotted time. No no, you must enter your number plate. Or some kind of variant of it. Even many Italians can’t work out how on earth to use these parking ticket machines. Anyway, make sure you make a note of your number plate otherwise you won’t stand a chance and you’ll waste an inordinate amount of time traipsing miles between your car and the ticket machine (ITALY: HAVE MORE WORKING PARKING MACHINES!!!!)

Next…..Look at naked men at the Riserva Naturale Torre Guaceto. After a while in the car leaving Lecce, we thought we’d have a quick walk and maybe a swim at this nature reserve. However it turned out to be an exhausting 3 hour walk in what must have been 40 degree heat! Head to the beach though and you can walk along it to the tower (amidst the occasional naked man!) and the most amazing hideaways made of driftwood. For fellow seaglass fanatics, there’s a lot here 🙂 On the way back, I just don’t know what to suggest. If I were you I’d walk back along the beach. The alternative is to do what we did which was to walk along parallel to the superstrada (Super Road – isn’t that a lovely thing to call your road?) which I’m sure was a lot longer and less interesting than if we had returned along the beach!

Finally, drive to the Santo Stefano campsite in Monopoli. Camping Santo Stefano is a lovely campsite with its own private little secluded beach and I think a lido but we didn’t have time to explore that unfortunately. I understand there are some ruins near to the campsite too. I think you could spend a week in each of our campsites and not run out of things to do. It’s a shame we didn’t have more time! These are some photos taken at the campsite… We had a lovely morning swim there before heading off the next day.

Tip: At the campsite they will ask you how many hot showers you would like! It seems a bit surreal – you get a card with the number of your allotted showers! I think it was 50 cents for a shower. There are free “cold” showers which are actually reasonably warm because it was just so hot but they’re out in the open air so unless you’re a confident sort, I’d pay for the showers.

Day 3: Head to Alberobello. It takes about 30 minutes in the car. If you’ve seen documentaries about Alberobello, then forget them entirely as the drive in will be depressing. Alberobello looks like a completely bog-standard town.  Once you park up and start walking around you might see a ‘trulli’ or two but it’s still a bit of  a disappointment. Alberobello is known for it’s ‘trulli’, little white houses with conical roofs made of stone. After a few minutes of wandering around I was beginning to think I’d been a bit misled by the images I’ve seen! However, then we turned a corner and there were just hundreds of them – a little trulli community! Amazing…   A lot of the trulli have been turned into shops selling local produce, textiles and oddly, millions of whistles which turned out to be a symbol of good luck.

 

When you leave Alberobello, head to Matera, an hour or so away. This was another massive disappointment initially. The documentaries don’t ever give you the impression that you have to search around for a while first before you find these things! Anyway, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover: park up and head towards the old town.  Matera is an old city in Basilicata (not Puglia). It’s known as the ‘subterranean city’ and is famous for it’s ancient town called Sassi, which are houses carved out of the rock.  It’s very interesting and very beautiful!

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Tip: Do not wear flipflops. You’ll need shoes with grip. In fact, almost all the towns in Puglia are a bit treacherous with their shiny marble-like floors but in Matera I actually had to walk bare foot on the scorching pavement to avoid constantly falling over.

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Death trap!!!

Head back to the campsite armed with BBQ equipment and find a gap on the beach to chill out for the evening and look at the stars.

Next up, exploring Polignano a Mare and the Isole Tremiti…

x

 

 

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The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 1: Investigating the coast around Pescoluse

 

Buonasera!

I am thrilled to report I had an amazing holiday in Puglia – it has to be one of my favourite holidays. On the Monday I picked up my friend from the airport in Ancona and we headed seven and a half hours south towards Leuca, the very bottom of the boot of Italy’s heel in the beautiful region of Puglia. Puglia has been on my Bucket List for ages and we only had six nights to fit in everything I wanted to do. Truth be told, it was more of a frog march than a vacation but I did schedule in some relaxation time so that’s ok I think? Anyway, I liked our little trip so much I’m going to write it as an itinerary for anyone wishing to do a similar thing. We camped, which is not as popular in Italy as in the UK, but we stayed in some lovely campsites

Puglia has a completely different feel to it than the Italy I’ve come to know. The landscape is full of ancient olive trees, cacti and bright flowers growing out of red earth. It’s completely unlike my very hilly, mountainous green part just a few hours further north.

I won’t count the day spent driving down so the guide starts thusly…

Day 1: Explore the coast around Pescoluse

Stay in a campsite called Grotta Pescoluse. It’s a nice little campsite set a kilometer or so from the beach. You can camp among the trees and there’s a large swimming pool and bar/restaurant area which we didn’t get time to make use of. You can walk down to the beach in half an hour or so (the walk back is a bit more tiring because it’s uphill).

Tip: Beware of the ants. There are many of them. Some campers sprinkled talcum powder around their pitches because ants don’t cross lines of talc!  And always have toilet paper and soap. For some reason in Italy, they don’t feel like they can stretch to providing toilet paper or soap in any of the facilities. Though in this campsite, they did provide a suspicious looking hose attached to the toilet (some sort of personal irrigation system?)

Drive up the coast to Porto Trecase. Trecase is beautiful and has an interesting history.  Puglia has quite a rocky coastline. The water is so crystal clear that you can see down to the seabed. Trecase has a little beach. Follow the coast around to see some kind of old fortification and then you’ll see puddles of salt where the sea water has dried. The sea seems to be very salty in Puglia – it seems quite difficult to sink (which is great until you want to dive down with your snorkel!) Anyway, I recommend a dip here before heading to the next ‘cool’ swimming location.

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This was the view walking down to the little beach from where we parked the car.

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The beach.

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Looking back at the beach.

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They had this odd little fort type structure – this one looked like it might have had guys inside with guns (bows and arrows?!)  back in the day.

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And lots of salty puddles.

Snorkel at Grotto Verde.  I think this has to be one of my all time favourite places in the world. I was actually searching for another coastline grotto (cave) but we couldn’t find it, and because we were melting  in the heat, and had seen a bunch of people in swimming costumes hanging around a little rocky outcrop we decided to have a swimming break. Grotto Verde just looks like a bit of a sheltered little rocky bay. However, when you get into the water you’ll see that you can swim into the cave – it’s dark but you can just make out a gap on the right hand side where there’s a narrow passage that takes you into another cave. This next cave is AMAZING! At first we thought it had been artificially lit from underneath, in fact on further inspection with a snorkel, the light is coming from a couple of feet under the surface – an underwater link to the outside. Have a look at the link above and check out the photos on Trip Advisor!

Tip: Get a snorkel to enable you to see the submerged rocks and avoid nasty scrapes, and besides it’s so pretty under water, it’s like another world. I also suspect you can swim from the “lit” cave to the outside. However, much to my annoyance I chickened out – it was a bit difficult to tell how long the underwater tunnel was (2 metres?) and besides, I kept floating making any underwater swimming a challenge!

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Drive along the coast to Otranto… stop often to take photos. These are some of the photos I took on the way.

Have lunch and explore Otranto. Otranto is a lovely little village on the coast, complete with castle. Puglia seems relatively well fortified with a number of “torre” (towers) overlooking the coastline. To be honest, I would probably have invaded Puglia too, it’s just so pretty! In Otranto they do Ape tours (pronounced Ah-pay, it’s the Italian word for bee). Apes are cute little three wheeled motorised buzzy things. In my opinion the tours were expensive so we didn’t do it but you probably get to see lots.

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This dog seemed to be having a great time

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One of the large piazzas by the sea.

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Overlooking the port.

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The Car & Castle. I think that would be a good pub name.

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And the castle again. They are showing the Steve McCurry “Icons” exhibition there at the moment which I highly recommend (but I’d already seen it in Forli earlier in the year).

Tip: Go inside the church in Otranto and marvel at the really weird and epic mosaic on the floor. I particularly like the deer with a human face sprouting some sort of vegetable from his mouth.

Head further up the coast to Roca Vecchia and the Grotto della Poesia. There are no signs to it so best of luck trying to find it. Basically go up the coast until you see lots of people walking along the side of the road and stop there and follow them! Roca Vecchia is an archaeological site with old stone buildings from the bronze age. You can just about make out the ruins without going into the confines of the site (which was closed of course!).

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Grotto della Poesia is a couple of hundred meters south of Roca Vecchia. It’s another cave which you enter by jumping into about 3 meters or so of water (or walking down to it from the side – but that’s boring, eh?!). The only problem here was the audience! It certainly means you can’t faff around at the top debating your jump because there’s a queue behind you and dozens of people watching! It was quite exhilarating though and it gave me a buzz for the rest of the day 🙂

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This was the jump and accompanying audience!!!

Tip: Don’t park your car at the side of the road where everyone else is parking their car. It’s a trap – you’ll get a fine!

Go back to the campsite in an exhausted heap and then walk to the beach with everything you need for a BBQ and a night swim!

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Here the beach is sandy and the water is warm. It’s like just walking into a warm bath! It’s just lovely!!!!

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So that was all in Day 1. If you have more time, you might want to space it out a little and spend a bit more time in each location!

Tune in for the next post covering off Day 2 and 3 in Monopoli, Lecce, Torre Guaceto, Alberobello and Matera.

x

 

 

 

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Whirlwind solo tour of the Gargano National Park…

Buongiorno!

I’ve been on holiday!!! It’s been ages since I went on holiday. If I’m not in Sarnano, then I’m in the UK and nice as that is, it doesn’t feel being on vacation. Anyway, this blog is dedicated to my trip. I apologise in advance for any rambling and the hundreds of photos but I was on my own and I feel the need to share!

I have two main ‘go-to ‘inspirational people that motivate me in different ways: Margaret Thatcher, who was said to have only had 4 hours of sleep a night and managed to run the country. And my most recent one is Pane Caldo who, after work, drove almost 3 hours on his own to watch his football team lose, and then 3 hours back mid week. For me, if a drive is more than an hour, I rule it out. It never occurred to me to just not care! So, with that in mind, I waited for a gap in the rain and I drove 5 hours down to the National Park of Gargano (Puglia), the spur of Italy’s boot and somewhere I had wanted to go for ages.

Puglia is like another country! All the fields are golden and dotted with lots of olive trees. There are goats wandering up winding country roads. The hills are terraced with old dry stone walls that must have taken years to do. There are pretty ‘Mediterranean-looking’ flowers. It has a completely different feel to it than where I am in Le Marche.

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Pretty pale pink and dark pink flowers…

I stayed in the Forte Hotel in Vieste. It’s nice and good value (though be aware that the “do not disturb” sign does not work it turns out). The surrounding area however, is an odd mix of other nice hotels, building sites, rubbish and a donkey. (I was considering mounting a donkey releasing campaign but I didn’t think I could hide him in my hotel room and he doesn’t fit in the car, so I settled with singing “Little Donkey” to him when I went past). So the immediate surrounding area around the hotel doesn’t look that impressive. There is a golden sandy beach but, seeing as though it was quite windy, a lot of the sand had spilled onto the pavements leaving not so enticing heavier rubbish behind on the actual beach.  I think it’ll perk up considerably in the summer though (the Italian Summer is strictly between 1st July and 31st August).

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View from my hotel room terrace

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The room

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The beach

The main town area of Vieste is nice. Everything is white with marble pavements (be prepared to slide across large sections if you have no grip on your shoes/flipflops. When it rains I imagine one could aquaplane their way down from one end of Vieste to the other without ever lifting a foot). My favourite part was the old town up on the hill. It’s full of winding cute little paths and places to eat. There’s a castle at the top which seems to be a military zone so you can’t go in but it has some spectacular viewpoints around it. There’s also a pretty church on the hill and a cathedral at the bottom of it.

Weird fishing thing

This is a weird fish collecting contraption – there’s quite a few around the coast – I assume they’re not used anymore.

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The south side of Vieste

Vieste Lighthouse

Taken from a nice little seafront piazza

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The Cathedral

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Cathedral and coastline

Vieste Viewpoint

Huh! I’ve just realised where this was taken. The weird thing about Vieste in the old town, is that you go for a walk in a straight line and end up where you started! Anyway, this is the view from the opposite side of one of the previous photo.

Vieste Cathedral

No matter where I go in the world, the main monuments have scaffolding! But I kept this one in because I thought it looked pretty with the blue and the sunlit bricks

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Across the harbour at sunset

From Vieste you can go on boat trips to the Isole Tremite (3 islands nearby known for their lovely blue waters. Mussolini put his political prisoners there. Not a bad place to be held prisoner really) and the Grotte Marine (there are a number of caves in the cliffs around Vieste).  If you wander around Vieste there are lots of tour companies offering these boat trips. I decided to ask one guy in a little rundown shack advertising the trips, my theory being that his company wasn’t having to subsidise a fancy shop so he might offer a better deal. My theory didn’t hold. The costs seemed to be largely similar. Anyway I turned up at 8am the following morning at the shack as agreed but nobody was there so I resolved to go to one of the other companies dotted around the port. I walked along the port and didn’t see any tourists; just a bunch of weathered looking men leering at me as I went past. As freeing and liberating as it should be to go on holiday by yourself, the idea of going on an all day boat trip with either one leery man or several didn’t appeal. I’ll just have to go again with reinforcements another time.

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This is the port where you would take the boat to the Tremite if you were going!

My Plan B was a drive to the Foresta Umbra (the Shadowy Forest). On reflection if I was after a safer alternative to the potential all-creepy-man boat trip, this wasn’t really it. It took a while to find, mainly because if you look online, there is no “address” for the forest; it just sprawls across several comune’s which isn’t really helpful when you’re trying to find it using GPS. The forest in fact, is reasonably well sign posted although as usual, there were several T-junctions signs missing  and inevitably I would always take the wrong turn. However, if you take a direct route it takes 30 minutes from Vieste and the open olive fields suddenly turn into leafy old forest.

It’s a beautiful road that takes you through the forest – albeit epileptic fit inducing with the sunlight flickering through the trees.   The forest itself is stunning and appeared to be very well maintained. I’ve never seen such lovely open paths. When I go for a walk in my local woods, I have to use my imagination to work out what is a path or not and at the end of it, I usually end up having to crawl through undergrowth to get out. It’s not like that here. Every few meters there was a picnic spot with several tables, chairs, parking spots and often a walking trail. Absolutely lovely.

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Look at the nice wide path with a lovely big sign!!!

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This is the laghetto – little lake.

However, after my friend and I had a scary encounter with a nutcase in a very similar forest years ago, my forest risk radar is heightened so I didn’t venture in too much. I did however find what seemed to be a well-trodden little walk around the “laghetto”– a cute little lake full to the brim with tadpoles (presumably frogs if anyone goes later in the year). Conscious of not wanting to be entirely on my own, I latched onto a nice looking couple that were going for their own walk around the lake keeping a healthy distance between us so as not to appear suspicious. Alas, I don’t believe I succeeded in being suspicion free. They kept stopping, presumably wanting me to pass but I would feign interest in my phone and stop too for the same amount of time. I wonder if in years to come they’ll write blogs about the Stalker Woman of the Foresta Umbra.

Then, deciding towns and cities were probably the way forward, I went to Monte Sant’Angelo. I’m not fussed about that place. I felt like the locals were trying to do ‘the hard sell’ – parking was expensive and didn’t really seem that official, and people came up asking me to go to their restaurants. I was actually hungry so found a little trattoria run by a man with a dark brown toupee with his white hair in what I thought was a very courageous non-blend style.  I had orecchiette (little ear shaped pasta) and tomato sauce. Meh – it was alright. There wasn’t much else to the place – there was a nice castle (which was closed) and lots of tourist shops but otherwise, it just felt a bit derelict and unloved. I do feel sorry for it though – there are no local businesses and tourism is all they have so no wonder they try and make as much out of the tourists as they can.

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The castle at Monte Sant’Angelo

But they had nice bread! It’s like I said earlier, Puglia is like another country! When I was making my first sourdough loaves a while back, they came out like hard flat disks but they actually sell that here as a sort of regional speciality. I’ve been missing a trick!

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My first bread attempts looked like this! It’s very difficult to get sourdough to stay in a recognisable shape so it squidges out and this is what you get. I hadn’t realised that was a valid bread form!

From Monte Sant’Angelo, I took the coastal road back to Vieste. It took ages to get back to the hotel because I kept stopping to take photos! It has a very pretty coastline with unbelievably blue sea and with the ginestre (“gorse” in English – I think we should adopt the nicer sounding Italian word) out and some other pretty purple flowers, it really did look spectacular.

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Beautiful coastline

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I know there’ll be a scientific explanation for this but it’s very odd to have such a perfect hole in a massive rock!

So all in all, it was lovely to visit a completely new region and a couple of nights was probably about right for me. It’s a shame I missed the boat ride but ultimately I got to see much more of the local region so I’m pleased with that. Definitely worth a visit if you ever have time to go 🙂

I think that’s about it on the holiday front. I hope you’re all having good weekends.

Ciao!

x

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