Here I am again! Now is time to experience more Italian Excellences: the food, wine, oil and the perfumes of the Apulia region! From Bari to Lecce an itinerary prepared with love for our gourmet foodies. Our tour leader is an expert and .. a foodies himself. So let start our journey !
DAY 1 From Bari to Matera. Bread, wine and Imperial charm
Our wine and food expert will call at your hotel and sketch out for us Puglia and its cultural and gastronomic excellence, to appreciate in full what we are going to see and to do throughout our experience. We depart then for Modugno, where we stop at an olive oil mill to visit the press and learn everything about olives, terroir and methods of production. We will be made aware of the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil and, through several tastes, we will be taught how to choose, store and use this precious gift of nature, along with those little, sometimes beyond imagination, secrets that only locals know.
In the succession of food and culture that is the trademark of this tour we will then head for Unesco Site Castel del Monte, a fortress built in the XIII century by Frederick II of Swabia, Holy Roman Emperor. He was so profoundly fond of this region that he built here some of his most imposing palaces, among which Castel del Monte, with its octangular shape, is a unique masterpiece.
In Gravina di Puglia, garden of delights according to Frederick II, we are served lunch in a restaurant overlooking the “gravine”, ravines dug by the stream cutting erosion, from which the city derives its name and its definition of city of water and stones. Here, we will not miss the opportunity to taste the Pallone di Gravina–(Gravina’s football) a spherical-shaped, mature, stretched-curd cheese, produced with raw cow milk collected in the farms dotting the area. After lunch, we will enjoy a walking tour of the town and of its pre-historical dwellings, and then continue to Matera and its “Sassi”, so unchanged through centuries that it was no effort for Mel Gibson to choose them as perfect set for his “Passion of Christ”.
In the evening, dinner in a “trattoria”, where the Matera Bread will be the guest of honor, with its golden hue due to a blend of different ancient grains . Traditionally, three deep cuts are engraved on the dough , to give thanks to the Holy Trinity for the privilege of having such blessed food on one’s table.
DAY 2 | Matera and Castellaneta. Ancient dwellings, film stars and home-made pasta
Breakfast and walking tour of Matera. Departure for Castellaneta, a lovely town known for having been a briganti–XIX century highwaymen –hideout and the birth place of Rodolfo Valentino, unforgettable symbol of charm and passion. At lunch the orecchiette–handmade pasta resembling little ears –will be the main course, preceded by a number of little tastings of local delicatessen. History will mix up with style and comfort at our next destination: the Masseria Le Fabriche in Maruggio, a fortified finca built to protect the fields at its back from sea marauders, in recent years turned into a warm and welcoming resort. Its owner will be delighted to show us around his vineyards and to introduce us to the primitivo, the worldwide known native grape variety. After an entertaining and informative chat about terroir and methods of production, wine and food will be professionally paired during our dinner on the premises.
DAY 3 | Lecce and Cutrofiano. Stunning Baroque and human talents
Breakfast and then departure for Lecce, renowned for the breath-taking Baroque churches and palazzi that enrich its centre and outline its rivalry with Florence as the Italian highest expression of this style. Leccese Baroque stands as unique due to the peculiar local stone used, the color of which varies from white to straw yellow and gives a sort of structural balance to the centre as a whole.
The lively streets are studded with workshops and atelier where skilled artisans and gifted artists convey in their works ancient knowledge and personal cleverness. A visit to a papier-mâché atelier will deepen our fondness of this place and our admiration for its craftsmen. The papier-maché making got a foothold in XVII century, when it was realized that, despite its low-cost, it could resemble to more precious materials like marble and wood. In Lecce, local craftsmen became so skilled that the false ceiling in Santa Chiara’s church was made in papier-mâché instead than wood. In Lecce a midmorning cooking class followed by lunch will reveal everyday flavors and real people taste. The dishes to be prepared will be chosen by our host among the most representative of the region, like focaccia with cherry tomatoes and olive oil, or Cicerie tria–home made pasta with chickpeas, the peculiarity of which lies in the pasta being partly fried and partly boiled, so to give it a delicious crunchy texture. Food will be accompanied by a lively Pizzica dance. The Pizzica is something not-to-be-missed while in Puglia. The bite of a locally common type of wolf spider, named “tarantula”was popularly believed to be highly poisonous and to lead to a hysterical condition. Only a very special dance could eradicate the venom from the dancer’s blood. The Pizzica, together with Neapolitan Tarantella, were thought to be the most effective remedies.
The afternoon will be spent in Cutrofiano, visiting an underground olive mill. Underground mills were mainly established in IX century, when the olive trees took part of the space since then dedicated to grain growth and underground granaries were turned into olive mills. The main advantage of underground mills was of keeping the ideal temperature for olive oil storage, that is a little above 6°C/43°F, its freezing point.Seeing the press, we will realize how little some things have changed through time, and how, basically, the olive oil we taste nowadays is produced in the same way it used to be centuries ago. Drive back to Le Fabriche and dinner on the premises
DAY 4 | Grottaglie, Manduria and Martinafranca. Handicraftand Primitivo wine
Breakfast and departure for Grottaglie, delightful little town the origins of which go back to the age when Greeks settled in Southern Italy, between VIII and V century BC. Our walking tour will take us to one of the ateliers to admire the skills and the creativity of its owner, before departing for Manduria and its Primitivo Museum. Here, our attention will be drawn to the history of this ancient cultivar, made of care, hard work and technology. A collection of tools will help us to understand how wine-making has changed and how making wine means preserving traditions and looking at the future altogether. Leaving Manduria without tasting its wine and eating its food would be unforgivable, and we will never succumb to such a shame! After lunch, our destination will be the Masseria Montenapoleone, but before getting there we will take a pleasant walk in the center of Martinafranca. Hopefully, we will be able to pop in one of the local delis and have a quick taste of Martinafranca capicola, a cold cut made from pork neck, smoked with Maquis shrubs as bayleaves, myrtle, thyme and fragno, a local oak. Once at the Masseria Montenapoleone we will attend a pizza class and discover the Pugliese version of the renowned Neapolitan dish, before having dinner on the premises.
DAY 5 | Ostuni and Cisternino. Heritage and glorious food
Departure for the surroundings of Fasano and stop at a cheese factory for a mozzarella and burrata demonstration and tasting. While mozzarella is nowadays so well known abroad as in its homeland, burrata has not had the glory it deserves yet. It is a soft, pull-curded cheese with an even softer core made of cream and cheese scraps that, once the burrata is sliced open, flows out. Depending on the personal taste, it can be seasoned with local mixed herbs or paired with fresh vegetables and focaccia. Our journey continues to Ostuni, also called the white city, in reason of its white washed houses. The next stop is the medieval hamlet of Cisternino with its street butchers, barbecuing juicy, mouth-watering bombette, pork meat rolls filled with canestrato, a local hard cheese made with a mixture of goat and sheep milk, listed among the endangered heritage foods by the Ark of Taste. Each butcher enriches the original recipe with herbs, spices or cold cuts, so that each bombetta is unmistakably related to its producer.Choose your bombette and, while the butcher grills them for you, sit outside, sip a glass of wine and blend idly with locals. Thereafter departure for Masseria Montenapoleone for a wine tasting among the luxuriant vineyards. In the evening, visit of the property with a special eye on their olive oil production. A tasting will let us understand the reasons why it is listed among the best of the region. A farm style dinner will be the most suitable conclusion of a day entirely dedicated to the pleasures of the table.
DAY 6 | Locorotondo, Alberobelloand Noci. Ancient tastes and new prospectives
Our last day in Puglia will see us strolling and sipping a glass of wine along the streets of Locorotondo, a leading member of The Italian Board of Historical Towns, before heading for Alberobello and its trulli, ancient conical dwellings made with local stones set on top of another without the use of mortar. At lunchtime, accordingly to season and availability, we will experience the simple but savory ingredients of the local cuisine: lampascioni-tassel grape hyacinth bulbs -, broad beans and wild chicory or seafood. Our last stop is in Noci, a little town paved with chianche, white local limestone slabs,to pay a visit to A Mano vineyard and winery, founded nearly twenty years ago by a Californian winemaker who was spellbound by Puglia, its landscapes, its warmth and, later, by the overlapping DNA profiles of Primitivo and Zinfandel. After having tasted the results of his devotion and commitment we will depart for Bari. It is time to leave !
I know that if you read all my itinerary ..you are ready to join us in this adventure.
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