The Pugliesi don’t just want you to eat their food, they want you to savour their territorio; and they produce a lot to savour. The long, southern region known as l’orto d’Italia (the vegetable garden of Italy) is predominantly level; and blessed with fertile soil and a benign climate of mild winters and long, hot summers. Vast acreage is used for the cultivation of grains and the brilliant sun gives an intense flavour and fragrance to the profusion of fruit and vegetables. Readily available flat land facilitates grazing and animal husbandry, with excellent cheese-making. The long coastline provides abundant fish and shellfish, and Puglia proudly produces more olive oil than any other Italian region, using it generously. Many consider the food here to be a prime example of the Mediterranean diet.
Most of the region faces east across the Adriatic, a gateway to eastern Europe, Greece, Croatia, Albania and Turkey. It is where Greek influence is felt most strongly in Italy, from the indigenous grape – Nero di Troia – to the fish soups that recall Hellenistic recipes. The influence of Frederick II, the extraordinary emperor of the Hohenstaufen dynasty that ruled the region from 1194, persists in and beyond the kitchen: his Castel del Monte is a striking physical reference point and in its environs we visit an organic farmer at a Napoleonic castle and a chef with an extraordinary kitchen garden. We see the celebrated loaves of Altamura being made (some of the best bakers in Italy are of Puglian descent), visit a traditional salumi producer and explore the culinary culture with the help of copious and renowned antipasti.
Wines range from pale (Locorotondo white), through the best rosato in Italy, to the deepest, darkest fullest reds of the more internationally celebrated Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes. Also sample lesser-known indigenous varieties, such as the sweet Moscato di Trani.
We have selected authentic establishments where the warmth of welcome and genuine readiness to please is as much a part of the experience as the appetising food and wine. The Milanesi have been quietly relishing Puglia for a long time, and although the famous burrata cheese is now shipped around the world daily, there is nothing like eating it fresh from the maker. In fact, there is nothing like eating in Puglia, undoubtedly one of the most colourful, generous and exuberant of all regional Italian kitchens.
Trani. Fly at c. 9.00am from London City to Bari, via Milan. Drive to the small city of Trani, stopping on the way to visit a producer of Moscato di Trani, a sweet wine whose history dates back to the 13th century, when the merchants of the Republic of Venice made it famous throughout much of Europe. First of three nights in Trani.
Trani, near Andria. A walk along the harbour includes the 12th-century church of Ognissanti and the magically beautiful Romanesque cathedral perched on the waterfront. Drive to the countryside near Andria to visit a family-run organic and biodynamic farm and winery. Visit the vineyards, the farm and the cantina, as well as the wine cellars in the castle where the family still lives. There is a wine tasting and a simple but plentiful lunch of fresh produce from the farm.
Andria, Montegrosso. Nearby Andria is the home of burrata, the now world-famous mozzarella stuffed with stracciatella – an oozing mixture of cream and mozzarella scraps. Visit an artisan producer, where there is the opportunity to try your hand at making it. Also in Andria is the Museo del Confetto (sugared almonds). Continue to the small town of Montegrosso for lunch at an exceptional restaurant with a vast kitchen garden. The self-styled ‘chef-contadino’ (farmer chef) gives a guided tour of his extensive orto – a fitting introduction to one of the best lunches in Puglia.
Castel del Monte, Altamura, near Monopoli. Castel del Monte: Frederick II’s extraordinary octagonal hunting lodge of c. 1240 is one of the most intriguing secular buildings of the Middle Ages. Continue to Altamura, where the cathedral, one of four palatine churches in Puglia, is another Frederick II legacy. Visit a bakery that produces Altamura’s unique bread. Continue to a converted masseria near Monopoli, where the following four nights are spent.
Martina Franca, near Locorotondo, Carovigno. The gastronomic speciality of Martina Franca is capocollo, a cold cut marinated in spiced red wine and smoked with oak and almond husk. Visit a family-run producer and taste the meat with wine. Continue through the Itria Valley to Martina Franca, a beautiful hill town of winding streets, sudden vistas and Baroque and Rococo houses and churches. In the afternoon, visit a producer of Locorotondo white wine. Dinner is at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Carovigno.
Lecce, Salice Salentino. Lecce is distinguished by an elaborate style of Baroque and Rococo decoration wrought in the soft, honey-coloured tufa of the region. The outstanding examples are the cathedral and the church of Santa Croce. See also the well preserved Roman theatre. The wines of the Salento are the best-known in Puglia; visit a highly rated dynamic winery just outside Lecce.
Monopoli, near Alberobello, Ceglie Messapica. Some free time in Monopoli. Continue to an award-winning oleificio near Alberobello to learn the little-known art of tasting olive oil. Ceglie Messapica is a delightful town containing a Norman castle and several churches. It has made a name for itself in recent years as a centre of gastronomy, relying on the produce of the local area where agriculture is the largest employer. Lunch is at an outstanding restaurant. Discover biscotti cegliesi, local biscuits made from almonds and cherry jam.
Conversano. Drive to the congenial town of Conversano, where the final lunch is at a family-run Michelin-starred restaurant. A pasta-making demonstration precedes lunch. Continue to Bari and fly to London City, via Milan, arriving c. 9.30pm.
Food and travel writer specializing in Italy, and is the author of a series of books, including An Appetite for Puglia: the people, the places, the food. A French graduate and Committee Member of the Guild of Food Writers, Christine was appointed the international curator of a food festival in Puglia for three years. She was awarded the Crest of Puglia by the President of the region in March 2008 in recognition of her knowledge and communication of its gastronomic culture. Twitter: @SmallwoodC | Instagram: @smallwoodcg | Website: appetiteforitaly.com
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,240 or £3,030 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,640 or £3,430 without flights.
Flights (economy class) on scheduled Alitalia flights (Airbus 319, Embraer 90); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 4 lunches and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel San Paolo al Convento, Trani: a charming 4-star hotel converted from a 15th-century convent, although service and maintenance are not always quite up to standard. Il Melograno, near Monopoli: very comfortable 5-star hotel in a converted masseria. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
There is a lot of walking, some of it over rough ground and cobbled or uneven paving. Fitness and sure-footedness are essential. The tour should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. There is a lot of driving on this tour; Puglia is a very long region and we have decided to keep hotel changes to a minimum. The coach often cannot reach town centres. Average distance by coach per day: 77 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.