If the map of Italy resembles a boot, then the heel is the region of Puglia, or Apulia as it is locally known. With its warm climate and fertile soil, the area is famous for its olive oil, cheese, meat and wines. Local durum wheat is used to make the area’s most famous pasta, which is named oricchiette, for its shape like little ears.
The region has two international airports, Bari and Brindisi. From either it’s a short drive to one of the area’s award-winning resorts, Borgo Egnazia. Based on a traditional Apulian village, this resort offers a range of luxurious rooms and villas amid grounds planted with olives, rosemary, pomegranate and prickly pear.
Being the country’s least mountainous region, the surrounding land is easily explored by bicycle, either on your own or as part of an organised tour. Most tours will include a visit to a fortified farm known as a masseria, many of which have been run by the same families for centuries.
At Masseria Maccarone you can learn about olive oil production and the finer points of olive oil tasting. The main house was built in 1745 and the land is home to around 20,000 olive trees. Of those, 6000 are protected and of those, 600 are over 1000 years old. Originally transported to Italy from Greece by monks, the trees still produce some of the region’s best olive oil, which is nowadays sold around the world. Other masseria produce cheese, made from the milk of cows, goats and sheep. The most famous cheese in the area is burratta, which is made from mozzarella and cream.
Further up the coast, the town of Polignano a Mare sits perched atop cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Here you can dine in a restaurant tucked into caves before wandering the streets, enjoying delicious gelato and mingling with the locals.
Perhaps the gem of Puglia however is Alberobello, a small town just 55km south of Bari. Its unique trulli houses have whitewashed walls and conical roofs, many of which are marked with symbolic drawings. The trulli were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 for their drywall construction methods that have lasted from prehistoric times and are still functioning today.
Perhaps part of the charm of Puglia lies also in the fact that some of the best things in life have strong ties to the past, while still playing an important part today. Sometimes overlooked, they provide a stabilising balance when compared to flashier counterparts, providing another reason Puglia is in some ways not unlike the heel of a boot.
Words and photos: Melanie Dower