Hanging out with the Brits in Pugliashire – VLOG

Brit invasion of Puglia

Chaos had the inspired idea of a holiday in Puglia, where we’d take a house and invite an assorted pack of Brit-pals and relatives to spend some time with us. The area is no stranger to strangers, the region having played host to Greeks, early Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, some guy called Norman and his family, the Spanish, some nefarious monarchy called the Two Sicilies before being woven into the fabric of a united Italy, thereafter suffering another invasion, this time by so many British tourists, the area could be one of the shires.

Ostuni Cathedral

As Chaos and myself are devout Italophiles, we are are unlikely to ever be disappointed in anything Italian, but even so, the region of Puglia is an incredibly special part of the country. Countryside, beaches, towns and cities, culture, friendly locals, food and wine, the place has everything.

Tenuta Maria Vittoria

The house we took, Tenuta Maria Vittoria, was seven kilometers outside of the town of Ostuni. An old, in fact a very old town that has an extraordinarily rich history. Perched high up on hill, Ostuni, with its narrow-cobbled streets that lead you like Dorothy, though without scarecrows, tin men, and cowardly lions, up through whitewashed buildings to the cathedral and yonder.

All Ostuni

The main piazza is so Italian, so cool, particularly in the evening when the town hall is beautifully lit and makes a wonderful backdrop to the dozen or so restaurants occupying the Piazza Della Libertà, aptly named as in my holiday shorts and airy linen chemise, I certainly felt liberated from the constraints of skinny jeans and slim fit shirts and happily helped myself to the more carby-sounding dishes on the menu.

Chaos and I enjoyed the first two days of the vacation alone before the arrival of the first batch of pals. First shift belonged to her brother Philip and her dear friend Julia. They had flown down together from Blighty and we collected them from Brindisi airport and hurried them back to headquarters at Maria Vittoria. Every single morning was a riotous blue-sky affair, that made a perfect canvas for the off-white stone house and lush green garden. Neighbours, if there were any, were invisible behind the stone walls and hedges and the silence of the countryside was violated only by the sound of cicadas.

A short trip into town for breakfast provisions, fresh fruit, yoghurts, breads, eggs, juices, awesome Italian coffee, all set out on the terrace beside the pool, gustatory props to help us in the all-important discussion as to where the days excursion would be to. Literally so many nearby places that we wanted to discover. I can’t remember the order, and a couple of places we repeated as there were different people coming down for the stay. First day I think was retracing our steps back to the old town of Ostuni and a leisurely walk through the streets, the main square and up towards the cathedral. After a mornings exploring, we stopped for lunch at a place Chaos and I had used on the first day. It had great Aperol Spritzers, views of the square and well-cut charcuterie. The last detail being the deciding factor, as when you’re eating cured meats the thing that’s going to make the plate a success or not, is whether it’s finely sliced and whether it’s cold. Warm slices of ham that are cut so thick they resemble gammon steaks are just plain nasty.

Abbey of San Vito Martire

All dinners were to be taken at the house as the environment couldn’t be bettered. I had a kitchen on the terrace and also a stove in the kitchen proper. Chaos usually made the salads and hours d’oeuvre, whilst I cooked the main courses. House guests were in charge of mixing cocktails and making sure wines were opened quickly enough. We drank a lot of excellent wines from the region. The Primitivo that is grown throughout the region is actually the Zinfandel enjoyed in the US. Really one of my favourite varieties so I was definitely in wine heaven. There was also a cheeky Puglian Rosé that we attacked with gusto.

So, second day with guests we head off towards Polignano a Mare a super cute coastal spot where there’s a beautiful cove just on the edge of the town where it seems the entire population swim in those typically, warm, lazy Italian afternoons. A few miles further north is the stunning Abbey of San Vito Martire that sits on the waterfront.

On the way back we stop in Monopoli, another coastal town/village for lunch on the Adriatic. It’s always salads and seafood at lunch as we need to keep an appetite for the evening meal. We’re never disappointed by the food in Italy, as the ingredients are always excellent and the dishes themselves always appropriate to the setting.

Back in Ostuni and we’ve found two supermarkets that provide us with heavenly fresh ingredients that we take back to the house for me to play around with. After a few days, we have them clocked. One does the best charcuterie, finely sliced, great selection of speck, prosciuttos and fresh pasta, particularly the strozzapreti. The supermarket on the opposite side of the road had the best fresh vegetables, wines, seafood and meat. The shopping just needed a little coordination. The second place also had some great roast potatoes in saffron that were sold out every day by nine in the morning and we only managed to get once, and that was due to me body-slamming and wrestling to the ground a few pensioners that were in front of me. Anyway, back home, we cooked some really super dinners. Red Mullet fillets with ratatouille, monkfish tails wrapped in prosciutto, jumbo shrimps in lashings of garlic. All served on our glorious terrace with chilled whites, cicadas, laughter and opera (not the insincere, virtual signaling one)

Alberobello

The next day we went to the see the trulli of Alberobello, which is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is really pretty and you can spend a wonderful day taking a leisurely stroll through the town, maybe stopping at the summit for refreshments.

Lecce

The next day with Philip and Julia, we took the train to Lecce, an hour away from Ostuni. Known as the Florence of the South. Utterly stunning and an easy city to get around. I’m a huge fan of Baroque so couldn’t have been happier simply walking the streets and discovering one extraordinary building after another. This is what makes traveling so enjoyable. Take your time and just soak up everything. Obviously Basilica di Santa Croce is the most well known but there are dozens of other beautiful buildings to enjoy and Instagram yourself in front of.

We found a nice restaurant on a side street and the standout dish is Strozzapreti with Fresh Pesto Sauce, artery-clogging quantities of Parmesan and Lightly grilled Prosciutto. Outstanding plate.

Basilica di Santa Croce

All Lecce

A confession, I do have a negative memory of the city, where I was guilty of the most profoundly stupid, reptilian act I’ve ever committed. Despite the house in Ostuni being super safe, no suggestion of any bad hombre’s in the area, I was taking the habit of carrying around wherever we went, my satchel with my iPad, passports and the US dollars we had for the shopping trip to Bali. Anyway, I’m carrying it all in Lecce and we stop at this super artisanal gelateria. We’re all chatting, laughing, enjoying the delicious ice cream and I put the satchel on the back of my chair. We get up an hour later and I don’t take the satchel. We walk fifteen minutes back to the train station before I realize I don’t have it. Absolute panic. I’m totally frantic and run as fast as I can back to the ice cream parlor, conscious of the fact that on the tourism site for the town it actually warns you about pickpockets and petty crime. If I’ve lost the passports the work trip to Bali is over and Chaos can quite justifiably flay me and sell my organs to pay for a replacement iPad. I’m running so fast I’m almost having a cardiac, and eventually arrive back at the place. There are a Dutch couple with their children sitting in the spot we had occupied and the guy smiles and hands me the satchel. I want to cry. Obviously after all the churches I’ve visited that day, I racked-up a few credit points with The Big Man upstairs. I walk back to join the others and Chaos magnanimously hugs me instead of punching me. Happy days.

Back home and more fish, some half-decent Trebbiano’s and yet more ice creams as Chaos has found an artisanal ice cream store in Ostuni where we can buy it and race back the seven kilometers home before it melts. I heard that the place was able to buy the next-door premises, paid for by the quantity of frozen products Chaos bought from them over our three week stay. Back at the house, the September Mediterranean evenings were absolutely perfect, so warm, with an almost imperceptible breeze that darted furtively around the garden. Goldilocks herself would have found it just right.

San Vito Dei Normanni

New arrivals as Andrew, Catherine, and Kiran arrive. A & C are some of our dearest friends from Costa Rica, and Kiran an old school pal of Chaos and one of the architects of Chaos and my relationship. We find more super spots in the area to visit, revisit a few of the earlier ones. Just great to be in such super company.

hanging out

A few miles down the road from us is the town of San Vito Dei Normanni, really divine and definitely worth a visit if you get down here. Again, all these Italian towns and villages are a pleasure to walk around, especially in these glorious autumnal months, just off scorching, but still with the most charitable warmth that is happily quenched by an Aperol Spritzer, or three, in one of the many piazzas. The afternoon light is extraordinary, as it lovingly embraces the ancient buildings that proudly wear the soft yellow local limestone, apparently known as ‘the marble of the poor’.

Chaos in Mesagne

On to Mesagne another exquisite southern Italian town full of warmth, history and beauty. The church on piazza 4 Novembre is particularly stunning. Back home and we dutifully plow through the case of wines that Andrew and Catherine brought down.

Somewhen we managed to get down to the sea at Spiaggia di Torre Pozzelle, where the waters are crystal clear and warm, yet without a nuclear power station in site.

Time for the last arrivals, my sister Rosie and brother-in-law Mike. So happy to have them stay as we’ve outrageously invited ourselves to their house in Cumbria for fourteen consecutive years, so its definitely time to have them stay with us. More wine, more food, more fabulous company. We retrace our steps a couple of times, though more than happy to do so. Italy always makes the best holidays. Puglia will be remembered for always.

 
 
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