A Trulli enchanting experience in Alberobello (Puglia) Italy
The 'Grand European Tour' includes the highlights of Italy, Venice, Rome, Florence and Tuscany. But there is one region that is often overlooked and worth exploring -- Puglia. This south eastern region may be 'down on the heel' but it is worthy of a trip just to see the unique trulli houses, a style of building only found in Puglia. The roofs have an inner layer of limestone boulders, capped by a keystone, and an outer layer of limestone slabs ensuring that the structure is watertight. Tolkien's diminutive creatures, the Hobbits would have loved them.
The Hobbits were unadventurous and craved a quiet country life. They farmed, grew food and ate simply. Well, it seems much of this applies to the people of Puglia. The capital is the ancient port town of Bari which is served by the two close-by airports of Bari and Brindisi. Intercity trains link it with the rest of Italy. It is only 4 hours from Rome and a sail away from the Adriatic countries.
BariFamed for the Saint Nicholas Basilica, Bari is worth a short stay to trace the steps of the many pilgrims who revere the saint that spawned the true story of Father Christmas. Twice a year in May and December are feast days if you would like to join the celebrations. The Basilica is a magnificent triumph to honour the patron saint of children. I suggest a visit to the museum first to get an insight into the life and times of the red- robed saint before entering the basilica. A fleet of fishing boats service the fish-hungry locals. On my walk along the long seafront I found fishermen lining the sea wall selling freshly caught shell fish. An elderly gentleman was buying oysters and had a sparkle in his eyes. Passing through a tunnel under the ancient city wall I emerged into the warren of cobbled alleys that make up the ancient city. Churches, bars and shops all vied for my attention. I ventured into a specialist shop to sample the local salamis and cheeses. Air dried home made pasta called orecchiette, ear shaped, is a staple. I came across a lady drying hers in a sunny spot on the street. Each nook and cranny had something of interest. The Swabian castle dating back to 1131 has been successively extended and now has an impressive moat, bastions and towers. It is only two Euros for entry and has a large internal courtyard. Modern Bari is of little interest except for those that like to shop, where top names such as Gucci are represented and great value too. The F.S.E an inexpensive local train company covers much of the region from Bari's central Station at Piazza Aldo Moro. Travelling for two hours by train I headed into the Valle D’Itria, a stony tract of flat land where the local farmers tend their olive groves and vines, segmented with white limestone dry stone walls and where I spotted my first trullo (trulli is the plural).
Trulli AlberobelloIt is these ancient homes that draw the tourists. The white washed stone walls are topped with stone tiles, chiancherelle forming a conical roof terminating in a fancy topping out stone. Originally they were held together by nothing more that the laws of physics that deemed it only possible to build them to such diminutive dimensions. The tale is embellished with the tax evasion story, the locals trying to outwit the Barons. Alberobello is the beating heart of Trulli country and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with over 400 of the cute houses. Don't be put off by the tourist trap tag, but avoid July, August and September. Be prepared to be impressed. The trullo church of San Antonio oversees the Rione Monti side of town where many of the trulli bear the magical symbols of pagan times on the roof. This is a town full of legends, such as the brothers who fell out and divided the family trullo into two to create the Trullo Siamese. The La Basilica Santi Medici was designed and built in neoclassical style by Antonio Curri and dates back to 1885 and lies in the modern area.
Beyond AlberobelloTake a train or perhaps better still a car and venture from Alberobello into the countryside to see the working trulli farms. Groups of pointed roofs peek out of extensions where a valiant job has been made to create a homestead big enough for the modern family. Locorotondo with its old historic centre is set upon a hill is still unspoilt. From the belvedere of the war memorial gardens there was a sweeping panoramic view over the verdant valley to Martina Franca and beyond. The town is also the wine making centre that produces the Primitivo and other red wine that makes up 20% of Italy's wine output. Either side of the Puglia region lies the sparkling Mediterranean Sea with towns such as Monopoli, Lecce and Taranto. Ostuni is a stunning white town because all the buildings are brilliantly resplendent in their white wash paint. Andria is famed for the white stone octagonal Castel Del Monte which sits proudly atop a hill surrounded by an olive grove, built by Frederick the Great who used it as a base for his family. In fact if you look a one Euro coin from Italy it is this castle that you see. The old city is a trip into the past with bread ovens, Norman churches and arches. Sant'Andrea's Gate is where Frederick triumphantly rode through on his return from the fourth great Crusade. So once in your lifetime, live like a Hobbit in Trulli country and like the Gadabout Girl have a fairytale experience. Taste the rustic lifestyle of Puglia and experience a warm welcome where English is widely spoken. I am sure, like me, you will be bewitched and charmed into coming back for more.
More Articles by Caroline Crutchley
Caroline (Caz) Crutchley is a freelance, British born travel writer residing on Malta in the centre of the Mediterranean for some years. This is an ideal base for her independent travel trips to many of the usual travel destinations. However, her love of venturing off the beaten track has helped her discover places and people who with their stories have enriched the travel experience. Through her travel writing she hopes to encourage other less adventurous travellers to broaden their travel horizons too. Read about the GadAboutGirl.com