Puglia and Basilicata are the caring custodians of numerous surprises
Have you ever wondered what lies beyond the most famous tourist hotspots in the Belpaese? Great historic cities, priceless museums and a dance of architectural wonders aligned with riveting decorations, plus a fair share of La Dolce Vita, enjoying life in all its shapes and forms. Italy is certainly all this, but undoubtedly much, much more. Venture down south, to the heel of the peninsula, and you’ll wonder why you have not visited before.
Puglia and Basilicata are the caring custodians of numerous surprises: art treasures and staggering ancient ruins dot the region, too, but it’s an original, intriguing blend of cultures and traditions that have shaped a part of Italy where superlatives just about define it. Visitors come to Puglia and Basilicata for its lovely coastline, but also to explore unique, renowned architectural and historical gems: sport activities are also pivotal aspects of any experience, the land peppered with cycle and walking paths. And like anywhere else on the peninsula, delicious food and wine are the main guests, seen in the many appetizing dishes that colour any adventure lived down south.
Nowhere do the words “melting pot” apply better than in Puglia: having seen invaders from all fronts across the centuries, here traditions are a peculiar mingle of Greek, Roman, Norman, French and Spanish influences, to name a few. The outcome is a fanciful collection of very special cities, dwellings and monuments. It all starts with a visit to Lecce, the Florence of the south, an impressive location where Baroque architecture is so special that it has its very own definition, Barocco leccese. The local pietra leccese is in fact employed, bestowing a glowing light onto the surroundings, especially at afterglow; and yet a 2nd c. AD Roman amphitheatre still stands, right in the centro storico, to counterbalance this fusion of styles and epochs.
Romanesque churches are also fabulous showpieces all across the region: from spellbinding Trani to Bitonto, Bari and Otranto, a symphony of delicate architectures brings momentum to a cultural visit. A soul-enriching region, art treasures do crop up everywhere: pretty Ostuni is called the white city and features a delightful 15th c. cathedral that sports an ornate rose window and a highly decorative façade. Cisternino, too, strikes for its rows of white houses, donning a unique, soul-enriching light that will conquer your hearts. Do not miss Locorotondo, its circular centre a joy to get lost in, or Galatina and its Gothic Basilica di Santa Croce. We’ve only just started: Puglia is the place to be and the excitement will have you fired up!
How to make the most of such a delightfully intriguing region? Cultural and food and wine tours are excellent ways of deepening your love affair with Puglia, but sporty types can count on a superb feather in the cap: the detailed, carefully maintained web of walking and cycling paths that feature everywhere in the region. The land seems perfect for biking, long stretches of meadows and plateaus that are just too inviting to resist. North to south, it’s a world of breath-taking opportunities. Ride or walk in the Salento area – a region within a region where the sun, sea and wind set the pace. Explore Otranto, the fish market in Gallipoli or indulge in local Primitivo and Salice Salentino wines as part of your tours. Visit Alberobello on your hikes and – why not – take up a special lab that will teach you a new technique, such as sculpture with the local stone. Sleep in a luxury masseria and experience the joys of a proud, riveting, sensational culture.
The countryside surrounding Murgia is also perfect for cycling: here the Alta Murgia National Park works wonders and offers several Transmurgiana hiking options: imagine cycling or walking in the middle of nature, admiring landmarks such as Castel del Monte, throwing in a culinary experience to savour the delicious local food. Now that would be amazing! Explore the Parco Naturale delle Dune Costiere between Torre Canne and Torre San Leonardo, for lovely hikes, walks or horse-ride adventures in an attractive natural setting between quiet inland lanes and windy sandy dunes. Your tour options are endless here, from classic two-wheels to e-bikes, guided and self-guided tours, GPS trackers supplied by the organisers and baggage transfer for peace of mind. A world of exciting adventures is right there for you!
No Italian experience is complete until you have tasted the regional varieties of its delicious food. Puglia will not disappoint gourmet lovers as putting on a feast is de rigueur here. Try delicious Orecchiette alle Cime di rapa – originally from Bari – cicero e tria (chickpea pasta), bombette pugliesi (cheese-filled meatballs) or cozze arragonate (mussels)… finishing off with a delicious pasticciotto dessert or biscotti di Ceglie, washed with fruity Primitivo wine or Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG, Gravina, Copertino or Leverano DOC wines.
It may be called cucina povera, but food in Puglia is truly enriching! Why not recreate these delights and join a cooking course: you will learn the ropes or up your skills with local chefs, understanding why the local cuisine is so envied and appreciated the world over.
A region that may strangely feel remote to many Italians, Basilicata is, in fact, where you’ll want to go to get up close with nature, historical marvels and seriously delicious food.
Enjoying two coastlines on either side, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Taranto, plus two national parks, three regional parks and sport adventures aplenty, Basilicata is home to national treasures and picturesque villages, seasoned with archaeological wonders and unexpected riches. Subject to invaders from all fronts, in view of its strategic position, the region is yet another melting pot of cultures and traditions, starting with the Greeks and Roman up to the Saracens and Normans, and many more – a blend that makes every visit a truly inspiring one.
UNESCO World Heritage Matera is perhaps the region’s most famous highlight: inhabited since prehistoric times, the sassi – cave dwellings out of tufa limestone – essentially define the two main quarters of the historical centre, Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. Visiting this almost surreal place is a revelation into the cunning engineering feats achieved through the centuries – water tanks to collect water in the underground part of the town are a case in point – but also a window onto an apparently surreal building strategy, where the roof of one cave becomes the ground floor of another, in a human beehive that has fascinated visitors, historians, even scientists over time. If it’s a spot of lovely coast you’re after, Maratea comes up your street: one of Italy’s most charming seaside resorts, this is the town of 44 hilltop churches and it comes with lush vegetation, secluded coves, pastel-coloured houses in a romantic setting, all under the watchful eye of Christ the Redeemer, a 22-meter high concrete and Carrara marble statue that echoes Rio de Janeiro’s version. And then don’t forget Metaponto and its sandy beaches, Grumentum Archeological Park and the several ancient dwellings that make the region a blissful discovery
No matter how close you are to civilisation, in Basilicata nature prevails, the stark variety of scenery an alluring invitation. Go inland to experience the Dolomiti Lucane, with a series of villages perched high amid rocky spires, sporting funny names like Brindisi di montagna or Oliveto Lucano. This is a land of legends and incursions, noble men and women, woods and light, where the villages seem to come straight out of a nativity scene. Vulture Nature Reserve is a surprise, with two picturesque lakes sitting in the now extinct volcano that is Mount Vulture; two specks of water of varying sizes and colours that are a treasure of biodiversity and botanical species. The San Fele waterfalls attract sporty types as activities abound in this pretty corner: walking, hiking and canyoning will suit all tastes, with paths of differing difficulties and lengths. The Pollino National Park – the largest in Italy – contains prehistoric caves, exceptional cave drawings, hot springs and burial sites and it’s a marvel in its own right. As are the Metaponto Archeological Park and the Tavole Palatine, with the evocative Temple of Hera. And then such a collection of quaint villages that you would be spoilt for choice – Venosa, the birthplace of the Roman poet Horatius, or Tursi and its Arab influences, are but instances.
“Basilicata does exist!”, joke the locals, and you’d better hurry and pay a visit to this unexpectedly fascinating region!
PATH is an experiential DMC based in Puglia. Since 2009 they design & operate bespoke experiential holidays for top travel companies desirous to expand their market and enhance the trips of FIT, small groups, or families.
They are the people on the ground delivering the magic with in-house services, with their own luxury vehicles, top-notch bikes and local guides. They offer tailor made itineraries based on their clients’needs, travel style and expectations; a wide selection of personalized experiences from active to cultural & culinary; a local expert partner & representative who takes care of all the clients needs from arrival to departure, ensuring their trip runs smoothly and is stress-free.
Angela Venturi, CEO & founder, grew up between Veneto & Puglia from an Apulian family, sipping prosecco and Primitivo wine from the baby bottle. More wine than blood in her veins, and her huge passion for the food & wine culture inspired her to unveil Italy through its culinary heritage. A fully trained AIS (Italian Sommelier Association) and ONAV (National Organization of Wine Tasters) sommelier, if she is not searching for natural wines, bikepacking across Vietnam, or cooking, you might find Angela taking care of her bees or making her own extra virgin organic olive oil. She joined the travel industry in 2000.
Andrea Arnesano, co-founder, is a certified GAE guide (environmental-hiking/cultural guide), a cyclist, IDM music producer, former lawyer, and he joined the travel industry in 2003, when he quit the London Club scene to return to Puglia by bike, and start a new life unveiling Puglia to the most discerning travelers. Born & bred between Sicily, Naples and the remote villages of Puglia, he hiked the Etna volcano at the age of 3, started to harvest his grandmother's vineyard in Puglia at the age of 5, and raced his first mountain bike on the wildest streets of Napoli as a toddler.
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