When I was writing about Polignano a Mare, I realized that maybe there was another perfect Apulian town that I overlooked. I suspect that there are many perfect towns in Apulia (Puglia in Italian). Here is one that I really liked and where I’ll be going back, Otranto.
I was so distracted by the perfect restaurant in Otranto (Peccato di Vino), that I forgot about the beach and the rest of the town. It has those things as well.
We took a quick moto taxi/tuk tuk ride to get a good overview and my driver was playing disco and dancing the whole time.
A world away from the disco taxi was the elegant cool wine restaurant which I might put on my list of places to try in Italy…
Our visit was short, so I’ll be back, especially to try the restaurant again. I might have been biased last time because the owner greeted us warmly with cool refreshing prosecco. She also called us beautiful which we appreciated considering how sweaty and bedraggled we looked.
This is such a well known expression. While “all roads lead to Rome” is an idiom, I don’t think it gets used that way as much these days. People seem to take it literally. Everyone wants to visit Rome. As an idiom, it actually means the opposite, that there are many ways to approach the same subject. No one seems to know if the Romans ever said this. The earliest example of its use in English is from Chaucer. If you want to geek out about this, read this article.
On a beautiful sunny day, it is hard to imagine the atrocities carried out along this road 2,000 years ago. The Romans crucifed people, famously Christians, along this road. But, this road was also used as a graveyard and many of the most famous sites today are the remains of mausoleums. This road was built more than 2,300 years ago. In 71 BCE, the famous Sparticus fought along here. Over 6,000 slaves were crucified as a result of that slave revolt. At that time in the Roman Empire, one in three people were slaves.
The Appian Way goes all the way to Brindisi in Apulia. I would like to see it down there too. But, closer to Rome, one Sunday, I decided to go walk on the most well preserved part of Roman road, near Rome. Today, this road is a park and tourist attraction. There seems no trace of the sorrow of the past. And the only armies one sees are joggers, walkers, and bikers.
One can get to the archeological park and join a bike or walking tour, or just choose a spot and go there. I took a 20 minute car ride out to a spot where a modern road intersects with the Appian Way. It seemed so far out. Cars are allowed on the Appian way but there are parts where most drivers choose the highway. The taxi service had no problem finding me when I wanted to return. One can walk from the center of Rome and walk out but the road is busy for the first five or six miles (8-10 kilometers). One can take the bus or metro as well. My taxi ride cost 29 euro each way. It was so far removed from central Rome that I saw bales of hay and chatted with farm hands.
Orrechiette are the famous pasta shape of Puglia/Apulia. There are over 350 official shapes of pasta in Italy and many more if one includes all the variations and local names. Just watch Pasta Grannies and you’ll know. One day I ordered the handmade “little ears” pasta and I found them to be filling. Maybe because when the pasta is made, the dough is squished so it becomes much doughier than a machine-made pasta?
Apulians also eat lots of raw seafood (they have a dish of pasta with sea urchin roe — typical of Apulia) and many forms of fresh cheeses. Somehow these are not as famous as the little ears. I also saw row after row of almond trees and olive trees.
Apulians also eat a puree of fava beans served with sauteed chicory greens. I’m not a bean eater, but I like this dish.
Apulia is also famous for their round dried breads, “friselle” or “cimbale” if they are tiny as rings. These are savory dried breads like crackers but used as the base for a meal (dipped in water to reconstitute) or dipped in wine… They may look like bagels but the dough is much lighter.
But the one I like the best is the greasiest — panzerotto. I also mention it in the “not pizza” article.
Basically, a panzerotto is a deep fried pocket pizza. If you like fried dough, calzone, or melted cheese sandwiches, then you’ll like this.
At the one place in Monopoli, one can get it made with hemp dough. Hemp is a variety of Cannabis. Hemp is good for many things and was Christopher Columbus took tons of it with him to the new world. It’s good for rope making.
Possibly the most poetic moment on our Apulian adventure was when we were driving down from another adorable hill village. As we left the urban area, the road changed to black asphalt. The soapy water from the town was running down the street and my friend said, “It’s like stracciatella” — truly a sign that she was enchanted by la dolce vita.
Stracciatella is a word used for many things including my favorite ice cream flavor (vanilla with streaks of chocolate) but, as you can tell, it also refers to a form of fresh cheese that is in stretchy strips.
One morning we had breakfast at a place in Monopoli, and the omelet had stracciatella. As good as that was, the best use of stracciatella I’ve had so far is Pierluigi’s vegetarian pasta.
Apulia is famous for the white stone used to build its towns. Add to this the constant cleaning and it really does look clean enough to be eat off of.
Or like the whole town is made of fresh white cheese.
Sapphire blue water, cute old white stone streets, a public beach, and easy access to other places (if you ever want to leave), Polignano a Mare has it all. The city is walled and the old part is pedestrianized. The only wheeled vehicles inside are pedicabs transporting customers and their luggage to the many hotels and B&Bs.
The old city has many shops but doesn’t feel excessively touristy (even though it is), and once in a while you can glimpse real people living their lives here.
Since visiting, I have been raving about this town. It just seems too perfect. Even in 95/34 degree heat.
We went just for a the day but I could see staying here for an entire vacation.
Outside the old city, there are also lots of streets and neighborhoods to explore, or stay in, but we only explored the old town. We parked in the piazza just outside the old walls, helped by old gentlemen sitting in the square (they helped explain the parking sign — lunch is free parking), and when we returned at the end of the day, the same gentlemen were doing their “passaggiata” (daily walk to be seen, see, and catch up with neighbors) in the square.
We ate breakfast at a cafe, Caffe Dei Serafini, with a jawdropping view. Utterly amazing. The restaurant is in a cave wall of the city on the cliff and has only one table for two/three out on their tiny balcony… but if you are lucky, you can get that table, or, at least, use it for photo ops.
While I thought Lecce was more intellectual, and Otranto had a smaller vibe, I think that Polignano a Mare has a good combination for an overall Apulian vacation. And it has those blue waters.
I’m told that Sicily and Sardegna have blue waters as well, but for now, these have been the most jewel like yet.
My photos were taken with my iPhone and I did not use a filter. The water really is that color. Better than on postcards.
The focaccia of Puglia is famous and there is so much olive oil in it that it seems like a fried pizza even though it’s not deep fried. Also, it’s a bread, not a pizza.
A panzerotti looks like a calzone but it’s not one. The reason is that a panzerotti is fried, not baked. Panzerotti are specialities of the central and southern parts of Italy, especially Puglia/Apulia.
Panzarotti are also called calzoni fritti, fritte, and frittelle.
They are much like pizza and pizza is popular in Italy. While American pepperoni pizza is rare to find (not impossible, you just have to call it “con salame picante” to get something resembling it), I was delighted to find that spicy salami was one of the flavors on offer. If you ask for a “pepperoni” pizza, they will think you want a bell pepper pizza.
When researching my book about Italian food, I discovered the round melon cucumber of Puglia. It was described as a cross between a melon and a cucumber.
I was eager to try it and I thought I would have to wait till I could travel to Puglia. But, one day at the Campo de Fiori market, I saw it. The cucumber tastes like a mild cucumber (even milder) but has the shape of a melon. The rind is slightly leathery and I actually liked the way it has a pleasant chewiness.
Imagine if these were grown without seeds? They would be perfect for sandwiches. Never mind that, after my terrible encounter with a normal Italian cucumber back in November, I was just happy that this one didn’t bite my tongue off with bitterness. I had a Greek salad the other day, and the cucumber was equally bitter.
I didn’t expect the cucumbers to be bitter in Italy. But, then again, Romans like bitter greens like chicory so why not bitter cucumber (not to be confused with bitter gourd).
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