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Insider’s guide to the world: Puglia, Italy

Puglia resident Lady Athena McAlpine (who lives in the 500-year-old Il Convento di Santa Maria Constantinopoli) leads walking tours around the region. Here’s what she recommends to do when you land in Italy’s boot.

The one thing people should know before travelling to Puglia?

Be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. As well as great beauty in Puglia there is also industry. Alongside great architecture there can stand some shockingly brutal and often unfinished buildings. Sometimes in order to arrive at the breathtaking historic centres you have to pass through some ugly outskirts of towns and villages. It can be quite challenging at times.

 

Your favourite place to eat and drink in Puglia?

I enjoy a cocktail at Farmacia Balboa in the Piazza Giuseppe Pisanelli in Tricase, especially during a festa when the square is brightly lit and the brass band is playing, followed by a meal at the Taverna del Porto down by the sea where they serve the most delicious thinly sliced, fried potatoes sprinkled with rock salt and rosemary.

 

What are the three things you have to see/experience to really own the claim that you have seen Puglia?

The soaring buttresses of Trani Cathedral; the austere Norman Castel del Monte; the conical shaped trulli dwellings in Alberobello; the ancient Greek artefacts in the archaeological museum of Taranto; the extravagant Baroque of Lecce and the 12th-century mosaic floor in the Cathedral of Otranto… I know that it is more than three but it is a big region!

 

Is there a quintessential walk that shows it off?

Olive trees, dry stone walls, crumbling red bauxite-coloured earth, wild flowers, perhaps a ruined Aragonese watchtower and a long stretch of coastline are elements that create a quintessential walk. My favourite walks are always by the sea.

 

Where are some of The best places to shop in Puglia?

I am particularly enthusiastic about Tessitura Calabrese, a family-run business that makes bedlinen, towels, tablecloths and napkins all to order. Our guests get carried away choosing colour combinations, trims and embroidered designs which are sewn right there on the premises. Most importantly they can arrange shipment all over the world!

 

What is your favourite local experience?

A really good pizzica [a traditional Italian folk dance] concert!

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This article appeared in issue 29

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