Week Three

Per la settimana tre viaggiamo alla regione di Apulia. We leave Amalfi and head east across Italy towards Otranto on the east coast. We leave Amalfi a little after 8:30 in the morning. It was an easy drive, crossing the country and arriving in Lecce, near the east coast, by 1:00 in the afternoon.

Lecce

Our first stop along the way is Lecce, called the "Florence of the Baroque". Artists worked with the soft sandstone to create a local Baroque style (barocco leccese). It is as ornate and intricate as that found in Noto (Sicily). Baroque refers to the facades of buildings - here they are covered in bizarre cherubs, monsters, flowers, fruits, beauties, and beasts.

With our arrival at the start of the afternoon shut-down there were no crowds and we walk the basically vacanted streets of the city. Keep this in mind as your plot your travel plans. Southern Italy has a very solid shutdown period. Once closed, nothing opens up until about 4:30 in the afternoon.

There are plenty of impressive buildings. The Basilica di Santa Croce took over a century to complete with work started in the mid-15th century and not finished until 1680. The upper section of the facade is a classical example of famous artist Antonio Zimbalo. Interesting decorations for a church as they include both pagan and Christian symbol: dragons, cherubs, winged Harpies, and pot-bellied mermaids.

lecce lecce lecce
Ornate facades of buildings in Lecce.
lecce

The city also has the remains of a 25,000-seat amphitheater that dates from the 1st century BC. The remaining level of the roman amphitheater is in pretty good condition, and you just know that significant remains continue under the buildings to the left. Both Chris Grant and myself wondered by there never was the incentive to take down the buildings and see now much more could be uncovered!

Just off to the right is a column which originally stood in Brindisi to mark the end of the Appian Way (The road from Rome).

After spending the good part of the afternoon here, we next head off to Otranto - our destination for the evening.

Otranto

Otranto is located on the coast, about 38 km south of the town of Bari. It has the reputation of being the easternmost city in Italy. We stayed at the Hotel Valle Dell' Idro. With its description of rooms seeing the water and beach chairs we had a preconceived idea of what the hotel would be like. Needless to say, yes you could see the water and perhaps they did have beach chairs, but the hotel is located a good 10 minutes away from the water and the historic section of town. Coming right from the San Michele we were used to a different level of experience. We thought of just leaving, but a walk into the town centre revealed how pleasant Otranto actually way. The hotel was clean, the staff very accommodating, and we enjoyed our two nights there.

Otranto Otranto Otranto
Water at Otranto - deep blue-green water of the Adriatic. Impressive rose window of the Cathedral. Chapel of the Martyrs. The skeletons of the 560 citizens massacred are behind glass.

The Cathedral dates from 1088. After the fall of the Byzantium around 1480 the town was sacked by a joint Turkish and Venetian Fleet. The Turks were a little more violent as they slaughtered the Christians. The bones of the 560 Christians slaughtered were placed behind glass along the walls in the Chapel of the Martyrs. The church also has an impressive mosaic floor that dates back to 1165. What seemed odd is there is this detailed mosaic floor and there are chairs with wooden legs being moved across it. I am sure there must be regular announcements: Please lift your chair!

The historic centre has small winding streets - pedestrian only. With mainly white-washed buildings the town has a feeling of Greece. This is no sleepy little town. The stores are open well past 10 at night. One restaurant, is obviously the place to eart, and after an half-hour wait we do get a table and have just an incredible piazza.

Francavilla Fontana

Using Otranto as a base, we head to Franvavilla Fontana. An old town with parts of the wall and three of the original gates are still intact. Lots of baroque facades in this town also, although not to the degree that we found in Lecce.

Francavilla Fontana Francavilla Fontana Francavilla Fontana
A town of churches. Much of the original wall and gates still stand. Great old doors in this town.

The most noted monument is the 15th century Palazzo Imperiale/Castello. This is one friendly place. When we asked for directions not only were we told where the Palazzo would be found, but the gentleman walked with us to make sure we were heading in the right direction.

Martina Franca

We made a significant effort to go back and see Martina Franca. We missed the town on our drive from Amalfi to the east coast and it was a town that we had marked to see. The drive took forever. If you leave the S16 - Pulia's "autostrada" - a four lane highway that although not a true autostrada it is the only way to get around quickly in the area, the drive on the smaller roads just take forever.

Martina Franca Martina Franca Martina Franca
Barogue architecture abounds in this town. Good looking people there! Il Palazzo Ducale

The Ducale Palace, dates to 1668, was built on the foundations of an ancient castle of Raimondello Orsini from 1338. In front is the Fontana Of the Dolphins. The palace of the Caracciolo Family had over 300 rooms. It now houses historical archives although and you can walk through many of the rooms - some with lavish paintings floor to ceiling. There was, of course there always seem to be, a wedding taking place just as we approached the Cathedral.

Polignano a Mare

We next traveled on to the town of Polignano a Mare. This town was featured in an article in Gourmet Magazine. That caught my attention and the town got on the list of places to see. While it has its pleasant points, and out hotel was fantastic, I am always meaning to write Gourmet and ask them just what were they thinking when they prepared their article!.

Think of blue clear water, rocky beaches, grottos. Polignano a Mare, on the east coast of Italy, just south of the city of Bari. The old town holds a dramatic location on cliffs. The town hands out of the water. Our, Hotel Covo Dei Saracreni was right there on the cliffs - it is one of our Great Places to Stay. The buildings are all whitewashed, there is a stunning cathedral. The wines of Apulia, like its food, is on the strong and full-bodied side and held in high esteem since Roman times.

Polignano a Mare Polignano a Mare Polignano a Mare
Historic section rests on cliffs above the sea. Scenic views of Polignano Charm to the architecture of the old centre.
Polignano a Mare Polignano a Mare Polignano a Mare
Piazza near the Cathedral in Polignano Lively street life! Narrow streets to explore.

We also had a very good meal one night at a little restaurant (see Great Places to Stay) where the table was set with ceramic dishes, we had a great house aniti-pasto, a pasta and wine.

We used Polignano a Mare as our base to tour the area. It is located just a minute or so from highway S16 - one of the Pulia Autostrada's so within minutes you can off on a road moving at a good clip.

Alberobello

One of our outings was to go to Alberobello and see the Valley of the Trulli - the cone-shaped stone buildings that abound in this area. Alberobello has over 1,000! Personally I enjoyed the drive through the country-side and seeing the Trulli houses more spread out than the concentrated effect in Alberobello. Our friends Chris and Carmen Grant enjoyed the houses in Alberobello and even went into some that were open for tours.

The Trulli are round houses with cone tops that are found only in a few villages in his Region. They are built of uncemented stones, built row on row. At the top there is a decoration that has some rebellious or magical meaning. At one time it was thought they were built in the Middle Ages in accordance with the demands of Ferdinand I of Aragon. He declared that peasants were not allowed to build permanent homes. Since the stones had no cement, in theory they could be taken apart and moved. I find it hard t think of those stone houses being dismantled and moved, but I never lived in Medieval times!

Grotte di Castellana

Grotte Castellana Grotte Castellana

We have gone through lots of caves throughout France and Italy. These are not to be missed.

The caves were discovered in 1938 and today you can take one of two tours. The short tour, 1 km in length and the long tour, which goes for 3 km. Take the long tour as it is a two hour walk to enjoy..

The Grotte di Castellana are north on highway S172 outside of the town of Putignano. The tour follows a path through a network of caves that were created by underground rivers. It takes about two hours to walk the 3 km route. A guide is with you and if you don't want to wait for an English tour do that as you will get the impact of the caves regardless of the language.

Ostuni

This is known as the Citta Bianca, a white washed town located high on three hills. There is what you would expect, narrow streets and lots of stairways. The white-washed look is most impressive as you approach the town. Once in, especially the area around the Cathedral, is the typical narrow streets and buildings with great baroque façades.

Walk up to the 15th century Gothic Duomo. The fašade with columns, doorways and rose windows. The interior is baroque in character. The incredible rose window has 24 external arcades, they stand for the 24 hours in a day. There then are the 12 internal arcades standing for the 12 months of the year. Christ is in the middle surrounded by seven angles heads that stand for the seven days of the week.

Ostuni Ostuni Ostuni
Incredible rose window of the Cathedral with its calendar theme. Architecture of form throughout the city. Interesting streets.

The Archeological Museum in the Church of S. Vito or Santa Maria is very interesting. The museum includes ancient skeletons. The church, re-built in 1750 replaced the original S. Vito which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1743. The rococo design is common for many of the buildings in the older parts of Ostuni.

The Retreat

Il GarganoUnfortunately for us a major rain system was moving in and the forecast indicated the entire lower east side of Italy was going to be under heavy rain for at least a week. We held our "conference" and made the decision to bolt from the area. After pouring over the newspapers we concluded that if we headed up to Tuscany or Umbria we would most likely be able to enjoy the last few days of our travels in sun.

It was with sadness that we came to this decision. As we drove up the A14 Autostrada the Promontorio del Gargano was to our right - the high hills and the cliffs to the sea can be seen from the autostrada. This had been a destination I had hoped for many years to visit. At last, just one more reason to return!

Orvieto

With three drivers it is easy to drive over 600 km in half a day. We pulled into Orvieto just after 1:00 pm. Of course timing is everything as we did not have it. The Tourist Office services were closed for the lunch time break. We picked up some maps and looked through the travel books we brought.

We found a great agriturismo - one of our additions to Great Places To Stay. The Agriturismo Borgo San Faustino, located 20 minutes out of Orvieto near the very small town of Morrano, became our based for the next two days. We drove up into the hills and found a great first class agriturismo.

We asked about rooms, Mauritizo spoke on an on about the options. I was able to catch phrases here and there and figured out he had two rooms, they were affordable, and meals were an options. Rooms were available in the main house or in a cabin near the room. We opted for the cabin to find very comfortable rooms. The meals were also great. We ranked the meal on the first night as one of the best dinners of the trip - antipasto, pasta, and pork chops to die for!.

Orvieto Borgo San Faustino Agriturismo Borgo San Faustino
The incredible facade of the Duomo in Orvieto Carmen Grant and Karen Marcus enjoying time around the pool. Pleasant grounds of the Agriturismo Borgo San Faustino.

Orvieto is a town we have returned to on previous trips and there is a very comfortable feel to the place. Great shopping. We know from previous trips we purchased a complete set of dishes. To see them at over $300 CDN per place setting was a shock!

Todi

Another town we wanted to have one more visit was Todi. On our last day Chris and Carmen wanted to spend the day in Orvieto and we drove to Todi. We dropped them off at the finnicular for them to ride up to the top of the hill and the town and we drove on the small road that connects Orvieto to Todi.

Todi Todi Todi
Santa Maria Della Consolazione Inside the Santa Maria Visit the Duomo in the centre of Todi, make sure you look back as you enter.

We stop just a km out of Todi to see the Santa Maria Della Consolazione, a renaissance church that was built between 1508 and 1609 - taking over a 100 years to complete. The inside is large, with a high dome, and along the walls are large statues of the 12 Apostles.

Next we make our way up towards the top of hill to walk about Todi.. Parking lots are located below the town and after enter through one of the gates it is what seems like an endless uphill walk to get to the Piazza del Popolo. The Duomo is impressive. It is early 12th Century with an impressive rose window and artwork that dates back to 1530. When you walk in, let your eyes adjust and then take a look back at the wall. Does not remind you of the scene from the English Patient! We are pretty sure that scene was filmed here. For us it was lunch and then the drive back to Orvieto to meet Chris and Carmen.

Roma

the next morning it is off to Rome. In a little over two hours we are back in Rome for one more day in one of our favorite cities. For some reason the city seem more crowded than when we arrived a few weeks ago. Chris and Carmen bought numerous pairs of shoes. We bought more memory cards for our cameras.

We met that evening at the Piazza Navona to celebrate their 16th wedding anniverary. So it is another bottle of Presesco, some great gelato. Tomorrow it is off to Vancouver. What a trip!