The big trip

Trip of the week: the languid charm of summers in Puglia

Perched on the very edge of Europe, this southern Italian region has an island-like feel

Owing to its growing popularity with foreign tourists, it’s been described as “the new Tuscany” – but the southern region of Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot, is radically different from its northern counterpart, says Stanley Stewart in Condé Nast Traveller.

Perched on the very edge of Europe and all but surrounded by the sea, it feels like an island – “a place apart” – its white “cubist” houses reminiscent of North Africa, its labyrinthine towns of the backstreets of Istanbul. It is gritty, “raw edged” and “flooded with ocean light”, and its climate is so warm that people from elsewhere in Italy come here to sunbathe in October. They are drawn by its food, too, and by its “simplicity”. Puglia to them is “dolce far niente – the sweet languor of doing nothing”.

Although one of the poorest regions of Italy now, it was once “the centre of the known world”. Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Venetians and Turks all came here “in search of fame and fortune”. And the memory of those days lingers in the “echoing” palaces and “barn-like” churches in its towns, and in its ancient fortified farmhouses, or masserie, many of which have been transformed into luxury properties. In Salento, the region’s southernmost stretch – a “stark, bony place” where wild figs, pomegranates and “contorted” olive trees grow in profusion – ancient watchtowers gaze across the Adriatic towards the mountains of Albania.

On Salento’s west coast, the beautiful city of Gallipoli sits on a promontory “like a ship, halfway to Africa”, and along its east coast lie glorious towns such as Santa Maria di Leuca, where St Peter is said to have landed on his way to Rome. But the “star turn” not only of Salento but of the whole of southern Italy is Lecce, “the Florence of the south”, a city “like a film set”, with great restaurants, contemporary art galleries, and some wonderful and unusual baroque architecture.

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