For Hidden Treasures on ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast we made the big decision to travel further than we have ever done before. If ever there was a short four word sentence dominating water cooler conversations more than any other, it has to be, ‘Our borders are opening.’
While the anxieties are obvious, so too are the growing opportunities. While it may take a bit more planning, this could be the first time in a while that you are thinking about travel. So, dust off the cover of your passport, check that it hasn’t expired and groan at that passport photo because to mark the borders coming down, Hidden Treasures is going international.
This is a love story. This is a story about Puglia, a land with towns that a much loved young reviewer of my work described as, ‘Being full of towns with funny names’. Puglia does have lots of towns with names you just want to keep on saying, not just for the memories, but for the mood it puts you in. Feel the linguistic seduction as you pronounce Locorotondo, Alberobello, Ostuni and Polignano A Mare. I am besotted.
You probably think Italy is well discovered and all of its roads well-travelled by tourists and only leading to Rome. Let me take you to an ancient city that you can visit and not see groups of tourists pouring out of buses. Let me take you to an ancient city where evening walks after dinner are quiet and the light has the flickering softness of a medieval village.
Italy is often described as looking like a boot. I’m going to take you to Puglia which is just above the ankle of the boot. Where a cowboy might have his spurs. Puglia is largely an agricultural region and you’ll find rows of olive trees that are hundreds of years old, towns perched on cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea and peculiar cone shaped stone huts that can only be found in this region of Italy.
Matera is one of the oldest, continually habited cities in the world and features in the latest James Bond movie, No Time To Die. Just like James Bond, I have an appetite for adventure but, unlike James Bond, my appetite for gelato is stronger than his. He can keep his Walther PPK, I’m armed with a pistachio gelato!
This is a destination that demands you experience it in daylight and in the evening. Matera is like having a lunchtime picnic with your girlfriend and going to a gala ball with her in the evening. Both are enjoyable experiences and she is beautiful no matter what the occasion but Matera by night has a glow and a softness that is seeing her at her absolute best.
Polignano A Mare
A little town perched on cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Famous for the little inlet; Cala Porto, little wine shops, restaurants in cliffside caves and the home of Domenico Modugno.
As a former cabaret singer of absolutely no repute this is my Holy Grail. Overlooking the sea is a statue of Domenico Modugno. This wonderful singer performed Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu in the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest. While I’m there, I am doing some work for an Italian TV travel show and we encourage the crowd to sing the song with me.
In a cave on a cliff, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, the atmosphere is just magical. After a few hours of wine, grilled octopus, olive oils and breads, it’s time for me to find my way out of town. I stop in a little shop called La Nicchia selling olive oil and wine, and then swagger, sway and sing my back to the train station where I head to Alberobello.
A small town that is famous for its trulli huts that have held UNESCO heritage status since 1996. Each circular trulli is built without mortar with overlapping stone and a conical roof.
The best way to discover Puglia is on a walking tour, with an occasional little train ride. This way you travel slowly and see more. You have time to sit in the shade of an olive grove, picking grapes to snack on and even stop for a swim at the beach. If you see a horse stick its head over an ancient old stone wall in an olive grove, you can stop and create your own experience, rubbing its nose and giving him a real vine ripened tomato.
Why is Puglia a hidden treasure?
Italy can be a bit like the Chevy Chase European Vacation style bucket list; get a photo to prove you were there and move on to the next attraction. Puglia puts its arms around you and sits you down to slow you down, even though your heart is bursting.
I know why I feel this way. It’s love. Just like taking your girlfriend home to meet mum and dad for the first time, sharing Puglia with you is something I am so proud of. Puglia is a hidden treasure because it is an undiscovered land in a well discovered country and the quicker you get there, the quicker you will fall in love too.
And, with thanks to the lyrics of that special song, ‘No wonder my happy heart sings, your love has given me wings’.