Puglia in the Spring
~ 6 to 18 May 2016 ~

A bridge between Italy and the East, Puglia's endless coastline and undulating hills have been swept by millenia of visitors and invaders who have all left their mark: Neanderthals, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Lombards, Normans, French, Turks, Spanish, making it a very fascinating destination!
 
Day 1 - We will meet in the foyer of our hotel (a classic five-star hotel on the edge of the old town of Bari) and have an aperitif and a light dinner at the hotel's rooftop restaurant, enjoying views of the city and its port. Dinner.

Day 2 - Today you will taken on a guided walk to explore the secrets of the medieval Bari Vecchia, the old town of Bari, a buzzing maze of tight alley ways and small piazzas adjacent to the city's port. There are many star attractions but the real pleasure of Bari Vecchia is simply wandering the narrow lanes soaking up the vibrant southern life. After a delicious lunch at outdoor tables overlooking the central piazza, the afternoon and evening are free. Lunch
 
Day 3 - This morning we start our exploration of Puglia with a 45 minute drive north (stopping for a coffee along the way) and an easy walk through forest and farmlands before climbing up to one of the most remarkable buildings in southern Italy: Castel del Monte, the mysterious, isolated octagonal castle constructed by Frederick II in the 13th century.  (40 mins, 3 kms, Grade 1)
After a visit and a light lunch, we drive across the rolling plains of Le Murge to the green hills and forests of the Istria Valley, to our base for the next four nights, staying in a beautiful hotel composed of restored 'trulli' (traditional conical dry-stone cottages) with a pool and surrounded by vineyards and olive groves.   Dinner is at the hotel's fine restaurant. (Lunch/dinner)

Day 4 - This morning we visit nearby Alberobello, a fascinating nearby town, the capital of the trulli district, passing through forest, vineyards and cherry orchards.  There are over 1500 trulli crowded into the historical centre of the town - these strange ancient constructions are only found within a 10 kilometre radius of the town. We then walk back to our base, through vineyards, cherry orchards and forests, enjoying a picnic lunch on the way. 
(13 kms, 4 hrs, Grade 2). In the evening we drive to another nearby town to join its famous passeggiata through narrow Baroque streets and enjoy dinner at a tucked away restaurant, who present a modern interpretation of traditional cuisine.  (Lunch/dinner)
 
Day 5 - Matera is an extraordinary town, not only for its past but also its future:  in 2016 it will be the European Cultural Capital.  Although only a pleasant one hour drive across wide open plains from our base, Matera seems to belong to another world. Below the modern town in a deep ravine, are the famous Sassi, one of Italy's oddest urban settlements, a silent medieval cave city, with prehistoric origins. We will be taken on a guided tour through its twisting lanes.
On the way back we stop for lunch at a family-run 'agriturismo' followed by a beautiful afternoon across open fields, to visit Altamura man, a 70,000 year old crystallised Neanderthal man found in a nearby cave system.  walk (5kms, 1.5 hrs, Grade 1) Dinner is at the hotel.  (Lunch/dinner)

Day 6 - Today we do a beautiful walk along country lanes through olive groves, orchards and oak forests before picking up an ancient stone path that leads us to a charming 7th century Romanesque church. After a visit to the little church (the ancient caretaker permitting) we'll have a picnic lunch and head back to relax at our base.  (8 kms, 2.5 hours, Grade 1)
Later in the afternoon we'll be drive to the nearby coast (40 mins) to visit a wonderful masseria (or fortified farm complex) near Ostunni, which is surrounded by ancient olive trees and is famous for its organic produce and cooking. After a tour of the masseria, we'll have an aperitivo and a delicious dinner. (Lunch/dinner) 

Day 7 - This morning we leave the Istria Valley and head south to the austere beauty of the Salento Peninsula, the eastern most part of Italy and the closest point to Greece. On the way we stop for lunch at Taranto, which has a beautiful port, a stylish city centre and a small but fascinating museum of ancient Greek works. Our base for the next four nights is a perfectly preserved medieval port tucked behind 15th century Spanish walls above an idyllic habour. Our accommodation is in a 5-star boutique hotel set in a 14th century palazzo inside  the town's bastions. After settling into the hotel, you'll be taken on a guided tour of the town.  The evening is free.  (Lunch)

Day 8 - This morning we walk south of the town following trails along the coast passing a number of medieval lookout towers and the lighthouse that marks the eastern most point of Italy. We then loop around and take an inland path back to town.  (13 kms, 3.5 hrs, Grade 2).We have abundant country lunch at a small vineyard on the edge of town. After walking back to our base, the rest of the afternoon and evening are free.   (Lunch)

Day 9 - Today is a lazy day, taking two sailing boats to head down the Adriatic Coast to a small bay where we'll anchor and have lunch served on boats. There will be plenty of chances to swim in the blue water.  We'll return to our bases later in the afternoon, where the rest of the afternoon is free. We'll regroup in the evening for a lovely fish dinner in the town's best restaurant (the female chef was voted 'best young chef' in Puglia last year).  (Lunch/dinner)

Day 10 - This morning we drive cross the Salento Peninsula (1 hour) to a national park that stretches along the Ionian coast. This beautiful walk goes the length of the park, starting in a pine forest, before descending to the sea and following the rocky coast line north (7 kms. 2 hours).
After a picnic lunch and a swim, we return to our base, stopping at a small Greek-speaking town for a gelato and a visit to one of the artistic treasures of Puglia, a series of 14th century frescos that have been compared to Giotto's in Assisi.  Afterwards, we return to our base the evening is free.  (Lunch)
 
Day 11 - Today we explore the secrets of Pugliese cooking with a team that the New York Times called "'Puglia's pioneering food and wine program" and the Corriere della Sera (Italy's premier national daily) defined as "a national treasure".
We spend the day in a 16th century castle, which has an orchard, a herb garden, an underground olive mill, ovens, giant stone grills, a large stone kitchen and large swimming pool.  There will be a morning and an afternoon session with a long siesta break in the middle, to relax in the castle grounds, hang around the large swimming pool or go for a stroll in the surrounding countryside.  In the evening we drive to beautiful Lecce for the last two nights of the tour.
 
Day 12 - Today we will spend the morning exploring the centre of this elegant city, taking a guided tour with visits to the atelier of one of city's master craftsmen: a cartapesta workshop and an extra ordinary private museum. The afternoon is free. In the evening we will have dinner in a small traditional restaurant in the heart of the old town, specialising in 'Leccese' cuisine. (Dinner)

Day 13 - After breakfast, we'll be transferred back to Bari, which is well connected by air, rail and road to the rest of Italy and Europe.

The walks
Puglia is characterised by undulating plains and hills - no mountains or steps! The Puglia walks are probably the 'gentlest' of our guided tours. The walks are straight forward, following good lanes and paths that take you through some of the most beautiful country in Italy.  They range from 3 to 14 kms and take from 1 to 4 hours. In some cases it is possible to shorten the walk or to opt out and join the walkers for lunch.

The accommodation is in good, five-star boutique hotels: a classic hotel in the historical centre of Bari; an authentic 'trulli' hotel surrounded by olive groves and vineyards and with a large swimming pool; a luxurious private palazzo in the centre of our seaside base in the Salento; and a recently renovated patrician palazzo in the centre of Lecce.

The food
Puglian cuisine is simple, rustic and cheerful, based on the abundance of its fertile plains and coast line.  As Italy's wheat belt, pasta and a variety of excellent breads are pillars of the local diet, as is olive oil (Puglia has over 50 million olive trees, some over 2000 years old). There is also a vast choice of fresh vegetables, particularly in spring.  Abundant fresh fish and seafood (especially the famous Taranto oysters and mussels) are drawn from both the Adriatic and Ionian seas, while the butchers of the Istria Valley are famous throughout Italy.  We'll have plenty of opportunity to experience this fine food!

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