Way down south in the heel of the boot that is Puglia lies the old baroque-inspired seaside village of Gallipoli. Surrounded by the Ionian Sea on the Salentina Peninsula, Gallipoli sits quietly under the warmth of the sun. Tourists are relatively few among the labyrinthine weave of narrow streets that eventually lead to the spacious waterfront promenade. But those who do know Gallipoli understand its enticing attributes that lure them back time and again.
Sunlight dances off the transparent waters that expand outward from long sandy beaches. Waterfront restaurants offer delicious fresh-caught seafood prepared in a way that heightens the natural tender and sensational tastes.
Gallipoli has a large seafood market that offers everything locally caught. Eels, prawns, lobster, swordfish,urchins, mussels and various fish varieties fill the bins. Local chefs are known to visit the market twice a day to purchase the freshest seafood they can find for their restaurants.
Streets and alleys lead inward from the waterfront and wind about in a maze-like formation. While visiting recently with Lecce based YLTours and Victoria Di Maio, we each went our separate ways for a few hours to see what we could find. But just as “all roads lead to Rome,” so it is true that all roads lead to the waterfront (eventually) in Gallipoli.
Throughout Gallipoli, there are accents of baroque architecture, like the white sculpted decor over the doorway below. Laundry is hung out everywhere and doesn’t take long to dry in this warm climate.
More baroque influences are evident in the balcony as well as around the doorway. And of course, Italy wouldn’t be Italy without its parade of parked motorbikes.
Shops sell everything from local shells to handmade goods by local artisans.
This shop has a local artisan sitting at the front who stays busy embroidering towels, aprons, bibs, and pot holders at the customers request.
I could hear lots of loud ‘man talk’ coming out of this barber shop as I passed by.
All of the buildings are white and cream in color which makes bright green palms stand out dramatically. I discovered how easy and fun it is to get caught up in the flow of shoppers.
Gallipoli means “beautiful city.” The long sandy beaches and warm ocean waters are an islander’s paradise. With so much surrounding beauty, Gallipoli offers the perfect place to rest and rejuvenate.
When I spend time in Italy, one of my favorite things to do is people watch. I love to observe the locals in action. They are similar and yet different from my culture here in the states. Although I remain almost always an observer, there have been times where I got pulled into the action.
On a recent visit to Puglia, the southern region down in the “heel of the boot” which is Italy, I found a piazza with large groups of men sitting and visiting with each other. There was no woman in sight, only the men. As we stood back to watch them, I noticed a couple of “young buckaroos” waving me over with big smiles. Shocked at first, I just smiled back with a brief wave. But as you can see, I gave in to their wishes and joined them for a moment. They sat me down in a chair and posed for photos. I don’t recall the last time I laughed so hard with these charming, fun-loving gentlemen. Each one of them was neatly dressed and groomed. I admire this special emphasis on dress and cleanliness among the Italians.
Enjoy the photos below of this entertaining evening in the piazza…
The green door in the background is the entrance to the Puglia Wine School, where I spent the evening tasting some of Puglia’s delicious wines.
Later that evening, I looked out the window from the upper floor of the wine school. All was quiet on the piazza. The men had folded up their chairs and vanished into the night.
The evening gave me an interesting and unforgettable window into the lives and culture of the people of southern Italy. Not only do they highly value community, they know how to relax and enjoy themselves with each other. In a world of people who often seclude themselves, I found this to be refreshing. The Italian people truly know the importance of camaraderie. Bella cosa far nienta~Idleness is a beautiful thing.
Have you ever been to a winery that is somewhere between heaven and bliss? I’m not sure that spot exists, but I would say this describes the popular Castello Monaci winery in Puglia. The sun-drenched vineyards lie between the Ionian and Adriatic seas in Puglia’s Salento region. Nestled in the “heel of the boot” that is Italy, Castello Monaci is a point of reference winery that cultivates the unique characters of native grapes Negroamaro, Primitivo and Malvasia Nera di Lecce. The intense sunlight on the land is softened by the cooling effects of the ocean breezes, contributing to a special kind of wine, those infused with an ancient minerality.
I had the opportunity to visit the Castello Monaci recently with a small group of friends. Founded by monks in 1492, it has maintained a long winemaking tradition ever since. It is a vision from a fairytale. Embellished by statues sculpted in soft, ivory colored stone, the crenelated walls encase a courtyard garden infused with loveliness. A popular place for weddings and celebrations, the large and stately interior rooms could accommodate any event with finesse. Lina Memmo, whose family has owned the estate since the 19th century, currently owns the property along with her husband Vitantonio Seracca.
As you enter the estate, a long tree-lined road leads up to the castle and cellar. Over 350 acres of grapevines fan out broadly on either side, the fruit still small but ripening in clusters under the warmth of the sun. Each section of vineyard is cultivated, collected and vinified in small tanks. The vintner would say that these particular wines are disegnati dal sole, or ‘crafted by the sun.’
The winery is expansive. Less than 20 years ago Castello Monaci produced 20,000 bottles but today production has increased to nearly 2 million bottles due to the growth of the estate. Gruppo Italiano Vino (GIV), Italy’s largest wine company, manages the estates wine-making activities.
Claudio, our tour guide, took us through the wine production area, a refrigerated crushing system with temperature controlled steel tanks that allow limited quantities of grapes to be vinified separately.
The cellar holds over 1,000 barrels of wine.
The land is thick with tufa, volcanic rock that is present in the soil. Claudio explained that as it travels to the surface, its white color reflects the light and increases the benefits to the grapevines. In the cellar, a wall of tufa acts as an effective source of insulation to keep the temperature cool.
After the wine tour of the cellar came the product tasting.
During the wine tasting, I learned that most of the Castello Monaci wines are named after mythical Greek characters – Medos, Kreos, Aiace, Acante, Artas, and Piluna – as a tribute to Apulia’s early Greek origins. The Primitivo, Negramaro and Malvasia nera di Lecce grapes are cultivated right in the vineyard on the estate.
Kreos, a delicate rosato of 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia nera di Lecce, was one of my favorites. Its name comes from Eos, goddess of the sun whom Homer called goddess with the rosy finger. It is a perfect warm weather wine which is fermented in special steel vats with a short contact between the skins and juice. Bright pink in intensity, it brings to mind sea corals of the Mediterranean.
Another excellent wine is the Piluna Primitivo. Piluna means “tufa pot” in Greek and is produced by a well-known grape around the world, the Zinfandel. Some of the wine matures in French barrels for 6 months while the rest remains in steel. The color is dark crimson with a robust yet velvety feel to the mouth. It carries an essence of ripe red fruits with hints of vanilla and pepper.
Liante “Wind of the Levant” Salice Salentino is named after the “icy wind of winter and the hot wind of summer which blows strongly over Puglia.” This deep, ruby-red wine is obtained from Negroamaro and Malvasia nera di Lecce grapes. They are separately vinified because of their different times of ripening. Hints of wild cherry, chocolate and vanilla combine with a warm and balanced flavor.
Interesting to note is the icon that represents Castello Monaci. It is a large M with a horizontal line down the middle. Let me explain the meaning of the icon with the words of Castello Monaci ~
“A name embracing several facets. A meridian, a line which divides part of the earth. A big M. Castello Monaci. A symbol, a brand, which stands for the union of the work of man and of the sun. Creating a unique whole.”
The following photos are of the Castello Monaci, ending with the lovely palm-lined courtyard.
Do you have a favorite Italian wine or winery? I would love to hear from you so don’t hesitate to share your thoughts.
Italy, I know you well. Pretty well, that is. In all of my visits from across the pond, there was only one region that I had not yet discovered. Puglia, situated on the south-eastern tip of the Italian peninsula, right into the heel of the boot. I knew I would go one day and explore these ancient lands of olive groves and vineyards, a land steeped in history. I had developed a deep appreciation for southern Italy and I wanted to experience more of it. Puglia, in a sense, was the final frontier for me.
My opportunity came this last May when I finally made the decision, after backing out once, to fly to Venice and meet some blogger friends whom I had come to know through Twitter. Among them were Margie Miklas from Florida, and Ishita Sood who came all the way from India. Also accompanying us was Victoria DeMaio who leads 10 day group experiences in Puglia at an extremely reasonable price that is all-inclusive. I checked out her tour, Let’s Kick Up Our Heelz in Puglia! and signed on. From Venice, although Ishita would have to fly home, Margie and I would follow Victoria to Puglia.
With a firm resolve, I packed my bags and embarked on an unforgettable experience in Italy, one that I had least expected.
Puglia is stunning. I never imagined it to be like this. The truth is, I encountered warm and authentic people, delicious yet simple food, exotic weather, and ancient history with every turn. Victoria knew several of the local residents so we were introduced and immediately pulled into a circle of friends.
Although we stayed just outside of Lecce in Masseria Provenzani, we took day trips to beautiful white villages with charming walkways that meandered between tall buildings. A stop in Alberobello to see the trulli houses was a unique experience. We even had the opportunity to take a tour through one.
Masseria Provenzani, (southern term for agriturismo) our lodging for ten days, was lush with climbing Jasmine and blooming Bougainvillea that covered the long pergolas, providing a soothing retreat from the sun. I loved the ease of staying in one place instead of packing my bags and moving to another place like I usually do.
Cooking classes, taught by Mamma Giulia, were held at the masseria. We learned the art of Puglia bread making and dolci (sweet desserts). Of course, the delicious wine from the region flowed freely. We all knew that a chef is at her best accompanied by a glass of vino rosso or bianco.
We all kicked up a lot of flour and dropped bits of dough everywhere, but we laughed hard and enjoyed the tasty outcome of our efforts.
The Puglia Wine School, operated by Michele Pasero, was a lot of fun. Showcasing the wines of the region, we enjoyed tasting the delicious varietals.
We had the pleasure of spending the days with Daniela, our lovely young tour guide who shared Puglia’s history in a fascinating way. She had the ability to conjure up images of the past that kept me entranced the entire time.
Wineries were on the agenda, much to my delight. The ambience and tasting were unforgettable.
We toured a local olive farm and had a picnic in the orchard consisting of delicious traditional dishes of Puglia, prepared by local residents.
There was a delectable spread of dishes that ended with a large platter of dolci, or sweets. The difficulty was choosing one or two when I wanted to taste them all.
I had never met a cartapesta (paper mache) maestro until we made a visit to Carlos shop in Lecce.
Shops, stores, outdoor produce and fish markets, it’s all here in Puglia.
If not for Victoria and the encouragement from my friends, I would not have discovered Puglia’s exciting and unique attributes. I am so glad the I made the decision to go to Puglia with Victoria. There is no possible way I could have become so well acquainted with this region of southern Italy on my own. To think that I almost missed going makes me literally cringe. I truly had a fabulous time, and made many new friends.
Will I return to Puglia? I’m sure I will one day. I love the south of Italy more with each new visit. It is here that I have found the heart and soul of Italy. It is warm, unique, beautiful, tasty, and the kind of place that makes me want to linger.
The winding shady alleyways provided a much appreciated escape from the afternoon heat as I explored the pearly white city of Ostuni in Puglia. Only 8 km from the Adriatic coast, it sits on three hills near the top of the heel of the boot which is Italy. It is surrounded by vibrant olive and grape agribusinesses.
Very few people are about as I passed doors, windows and balconies. Soon I noticed an elderly man standing in his shop doorway. I smiled and observed that he wanted to talk. On the door the translated message read, “The Cucchiara Crafts in Olive Wood.”
He walked back inside and returned with a wooden spoon. Upon closer inspection I recognized the quality of craftmanship used in creating it. He was very proud of his handiwork and invited me in.
Giuseppe spoke no English while he explained his work of creating cooking utensils out of olive wood. His tools were lined up on the wall above a box of wooden spoons he brought out to show me.
His room was simple and clean. An empty birdcage is all that decorated this small window.
I left with a warm appreciation for this man who obviously put all he had into making these sturdy kitchen utensils. He shows such pride and joy in his creations. He has every reason to be.
Giuseppe’s shop is on Via Catterdale and is called “La Cucchiara Artigianali”. Please do stop for a visit if you find yourself in Ostuni.