Monday, August 1, 2016

Alberobello and Lecce – Two Key Cultural Sites of Puglia

(May 2016) Because Puglia is one of the oldest regions of Italy – colonized by the ancient Greeks in the 8th century BC – it is considered to have many important archaeological and cultural aspects.  We visited two of these, namely the village of Alberobello and the walled city of Lecce.

Trulli Houses in Alberobello

Amazing Alberobello  - Fairytale Town with Conical Stone Houses

When I read about the village of Alberobello on my previous trip to Puglia and didn’t have time to visit, I made a promise to myself that I would return and stay there some day.  Therefore, when I was put in charge of our trip itinerary, I naturally insisted we stay overnight in this charming town.

Trulli Houses with Flower Filled Alley

Declared a Unesco World Heritage site for its amazing trulli architecture - small stone houses with conical shaped rooftops - the town is an absolute delight to visit. It reminded me of an enchanted fairytale village with its cobblestone streets, flowers and white washed houses. (See video).  Supposedly the houses were built this way to escape taxes, because they were not considered permanent since no mortar was used to keep the stones together. Though not ancient – most trulli were built in the 1800’s – they are quite unusual, so the town is protected by Unesco.

The name “Alberobello” means “beautiful tree,” and was apparently used because the surrounding hills have small “beautiful” trees.

Stonework on Trulli Roof with No Mortar

Friendly Hotel and Great Restaurants in Alberobello

We left Benevento in Campania at 9am and arrived in Alberobello by noon, stopping once along the way for about a 20 minute break. We checked into the Hotel Astoria, which was one of the friendliest hotels we stayed in during our 10 day tour of Southern Italy. Only a 10 minute walk from the historic downtown with all of the trulli buildings, this hotel was clean and convenient. My room was decorated in blue tones and was a decent size.  The front desk staff would make coffee anytime you asked. There was a slightly bossy person overseeing breakfast each morning, and he would only let you sit down during your allotted time. This hotel, however, did serve scrambled eggs and bacon, which was very nice for Americans.

After unpacking, Janeen and I took a walking tour of trulli village, and then stopped for lunch at La Locanda de Gallo at the top of the main road. It was a casual trattoria with both inside and outdoor seating, with a great view over the conical rooftops. I ordered the burrata and salami plate, and Janeen had pasta. We shared a delicious ½ liter of local rose for only 5.50 euro! 

Lunch at La Locanda de Gallo

That evening we went to dinner at Casa Nova, a beautiful old restaurant in an underground cave.  You had to walk down a flight of winding stairs to the charming dining room below. The food and service were excellent, and we were very impressed with the wine list. This was one of our fancy group dinners, so we had several courses including multiple appetizers, two types of pasta, a main course of pork tenderloin, and the most amazing dessert of coffee poured over vanilla ice cream served with a large bread board with chopping knife for dark chocolate.

Block of Chocolate Served with Dessert at Casa Nova il Restorante

Lunch and a Walking Tour of Lecce

The next day after our first winery visit, we went to Lecce for lunch.  Listed on the Unesco Tentative List, Lecce is exquisite with its pale stone entrance gate, winding cobblestone streets, and many baroque style buildings and churches.  According to legend Lecce was in existence during the time of the Trojan War, but wasn’t called Lecce until the 3rd century BC.

Entrance Gate to Ancient Walled City of Lecce

We had lunch at a cute café called All-Ombra del Baracco, and sat outside on the patio. I ordered a local dish called “frisa”, which seemed a bit strange in that it consisted of tomatoes on hard corn bread with a little cheese on top. It reminded me of a bruschetta.

After lunch we wandered the narrow streets and did some shopping. We found a fun chocolate shop along one of the side streets, where I purchased some chocolate for the evening. Unfortunately the churches were closed during lunch and didn’t open until 4pm, so we were not able to visit them.

Baroque Church in Lecce

Last Evening and Morning in Alberobello

After a full day of winetasting, we arrived back in Alberobello just before 8pm, and walked around in search of a restaurant located in a trulli. We found Favola in Tavola, which was a perfect choice, with many small tables in multiple trulli rooms made of white and gold colored stones with arched ceilings. The service was professional, and we were impressed with the care the manager took in opening our wine.

Since we had spent all day focusing on Primativo and Negroamaro, we thought we would try another Nero de Troia since they are so hard to find in the US. Therefore, we ordered a Castel Del Monte DOC wine make primarily of Nero de Troia, but with a small amount of Aglianico. It was a 2014 and we were concerned, because we had been told this was a poor vintage, but the wine ended up tasting like a fruity Dolcetto with bright blue and red fruit, soft tannins, but ending in a very astringent bite.  Since we were having this with food, it was fine. 

Burrata Cheese from Puglia with Castel Del Monte Wine

Janeen ordered pasta, and I decided I was very tired of carbs, so I started with the fresh burrata cheese, and then ordered the mixed grill of lamb, chicken, pork, and sausage, which was perfect. 

We headed back to the hotel and met with some members of our group to have wine and chocolates in the lobby. We shared a bottle of Amativo and Opera Mia with them over the local chocolate I had purchased in Lecce.  A great way to end the day.

Enjoying Wine and Chocolates in Lobby of Hotel Astoria

The next morning I got up early so I could walk amongst the trulli houses one more time before we left.  The sun hadn’t risen yet, and the sky was still pink, as I wandered around the deserted and peaceful streets.  It was a special time, and I enjoyed listening to the birds calling to one another and the bright red flowers open up to another day in the fairytale village of Alberobello.

Last Morning in Alberobello

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