Isolated for centuries by poor communications, this 200-mile-long peninsula edged by the waters of the Adriatic Sea (the heel of Italy’s “boot”) is now a deservedly popular destination. As well as unspoiled countryside, Puglia offers outstanding food and wine, plus exquisite Baroque architecture in cities such as Lecce and Martina Franca. July and August are perfect for a beach vacation. For those more interested in touring, May-June and September-October are ideal. Rizzoli’s book “Masseria: The Italian Farmhouses of Puglia” never fails to whet my appetite for a return visit.
A Perfect Afternoon
The late afternoon, when the heat of the day has subsided, is a fine time to study the amazing architecture of Lecce. Santa Croce was built mostly during the 16th century, and its façade is an elaborate confection of carved flowers, plants, animals and saints surrounding a remarkable rose window. Afterward, you’ll want to linger over a coffee in one of the cafés lining the Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the heart of the city and site of its Roman amphitheater.
On my last visit to Lecce, I dined at Osteria degli Spiriti (Via Cesare Battisti 4. Tel. (39) 083-224-6274), where you might start with the spaghetti di farro (made from spelt) with eggplant, tomatoes and shavings of aged ricotta. Afterward, opt for a steak, maybe with a side of turnip tops, or fava bean purée. For more-contemporary, edgy fare, try Bros’ (Via Acaja 2. Tel. (39) 083-209-2601), run by two young brothers determined to shock the Lecce culinary scene into the 21st century. Dishes on the seasonal, hyperlocal menu include foraged ingredients.
On arrival in the sleepy town of Grottaglie, you’ll notice signs directing visitors to the Zona Ceramiche. My favorite workshop belongs to Nicola Fasano (Via Francesco Crispi 6), whose specialty is faience (glazed earthenware) and who speaks perfect English.