Puglia is the region in the heel of Italy’s boot, also called by its Latin name Apulia. With its distinctive food, architecture and atmosphere, the area looks and feels completely different than the rest of the country. Not unlike a Greek island, the sun-soaked landscape is blanketed in ancient olive groves that roll from the Itria Valley all the way down to the shimmering Adriatic Sea. The food in Puglia is always home-grown or locally sourced, so strictly seasonal, fresh and tasty. Meat is typically lamb, though of course fish rules on the coast. Puglia has the highest concentration of olive trees in Italy and the largest output of olive oil. The olive groves seem boundless as you drive past thousands of ancient gnarled trunks along the region’s Roman roads. Puglia is one of the least explored regions of Italy. Tourism has recently started growing, but the area still retains the authenticity of its farming roots and rural, slow-paced way of life.
Bari Vecchia is a walled city located on the south eastern coast of Italy facing the Adriatic Sea opposite Dubrovnik in Croatia. With a population of 320,400 it is the second largest economic center of the southern region of Italy after Naples. The old town center of Bari is nestled around the harbor and the wider residential and business areas spread out from this point into the mainland. Wandering down the narrow alleyways you will feel like you are walking through someone’s living room, or well, everyone’s living room. Entire families from grandparents to babies sit outside their homes chatting, playing, napping. Laundry dangles from balconies and scooters whiz past. It’s not just relaxing and socializing that takes place in the streets. In the mornings they become a pasta factory as women sit at tables outside their homes making the typical Puglian pasta orecchiette. These “little ears” are made by rolling the dough into thin logs, cutting off a chunk with a knife and shaping it by hand—all at an impressively rapid pace. We will gave a go at making orecchiette ourselves! We will have a guided tour of Bari in the morning and time to explore on our own in the afternoon. Get lost in the maze-like alleys in old town, visit the several churches or castle, or meander on the promenade by the coast. We will reunite for dinner.
Alberobello is absolutely unique. The unusual town is constructed almost entirely of a peculiar style of construction unique to this area, known as trulli. These rustic whitewashed buildings are topped by conical teepee-like roofs made from stacked stones without mortar. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the main quarters of the town, Rione Monti and Aia Piccola, are entirely made up of trulli lining the uphill lanes.
In the 1500's, the Acquaviva family, the local rulers within the feudal system, wanted to avoid paying property taxes to the King. They ordered local peasants to build their houses and dwellings without mortar so that, in the event of a royal inspection, the structures could quickly and easily be taken down, and the tax bill would remain low. Using local limestone and some ingenious building techniques, the local population created the trulli, many of which remain standing today (a double achievement given their purpose was to be easy to dismantle!). Fast forward to the 1700s and, after several petitions from discontented citizens about the ongoing treatment and rule by the Acquaviva family, the King granted their wish to become a ‘royal’ town, and therefore free from the whims (and tax-dodging preferences) of their feudal lords. After this decree, unsurprisingly, there was less reason for trulli to be built. However, they stand today as a testament to the lengths the powerful will go to keep their wealth, and the perseverance and resourcefulness of the powerless to make the best of their situation.
Today, in the 21st century, the majority of Alberobello’s residents don’t reside in trulli. Instead, the the town's 1,500+ wonderfully preserved and restored trulli have evolved into souvenir shops, restaurants and accommodation for visitors looking for a unique experience.
For a more authentic sense of what it means to live amongst the trulli, we will head across to the Rione Aia Piccola district, which has 500 or so trulli and is less commercialized. Here we will catch a glimpse of locals who still call these gnome-sized buildings home and elderly groups of Italian men out for a stroll in the streets they've called home long before the tourists arrived. It also affords you the best views over the clustered trulli patches of Alberobello.
Locorotondo is one of the most picturesque hilltop villages of Puglia’s Valle D’Itria (Itria Valley), earning it the official designation of “Borghi più belli d’Italia”, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, Locorotondo has been settled since ancient times. Locorotondo is situated in the commune of Bari, Puglia, and has a population of around 14,000. Apart from being famous for being beautiful, it is also well known for its DOC wines and for its circular centro storico (historic centre), from which the name Locorotondo, (round place) derives. Locorotondo is a labyrinth of whitewashed buildings; its quiet streets kept pristine by residents who decorate their balconies and staircases with pink geraniums. Cummerse, tall, narrow white houses with steeply pitched roofs are peculiar to the centro storico of Locorotondo.
There are no major sights, but this means it doesn’t get many visitors, so it’s a delightful place to enjoy a leisurely lunch and stroll the streets. Often referred to as “the balcony on the Valle d’Itria” because of its position 410 meters above sea level, Locorotondo offers views of the countryside dotted with the cone-shaped trulli unique to this area of Puglia. It’s believed that Locorotondo was first settled by the Greeks several centuries B.C. Since the beginning of the 14th century, the buildings have been whitewashed — originally to reflect the sun to combat the black plague of the dark ages. Today, it is a tradition that is kept proudly as a symbol of the town’s culture and history. We will stop for lunch in Locorotondo.
Polignano a Mare
Polignano a mare is a town of Greek origins. It is located on a deep gorge overlooking the Adriatic sea on a steep rocky cliff of karst nature. Because of the karst nature of the cliff there is a number of caves on the sea that were inhabited by the prehistoric men. Of these, marine caves the Palazzese grotto, is the most enchanting one and should be seen. The historic centre of Poligano a mare is well preserved. Its network of alleyways winding among the typical white houses and small courtyards, lead to terraces with amazing views over the Adriatic sea. The pretty historic centre is a lovely place for a wander or an aperitivo on one of the small piazzas. Beneath the old town is Cala Porto, a small white pebble beach surrounded by cliffs with clear emerald water. It’s incredibly photogenic. It’s also known as Lama Monachile for the bridge that you must walk over to reach it. We will arrive in the late afternoon, settle in and have dinner. The following day is entirely free. The ocean may very well be warm enough to take a swim. Spend the day in Polignano, researchh and create your own adventure or join me for an early morning adventure in nearby Monopoli … just a 10-minute train ride away. I think I will leave early in the morning and head to the ocean with the goal of photographing fishermen. Founded by the Greeks, taken over by the Romans and beset by various invaders, Monopoli was a thriving port town under the Byzantines and Normans. In the 1400s it was annexed by the Republic of Venice, and enjoyed a centuries-long affluence that put it in league with other maritime powers like Amalfi, Genoa and Venice. It's position in Puglia between the seas, made it strategic and prosperous. The Porto Vecchio still harbors fishing boats as it has done for hundreds of years. Visit the beaches and inlets where the colorful crafts are docked and where fishermen still mend their nets. The Old Town is dominated by its still-solid castle, built in 1552. Castello Carlo V was erected by the Spanish rulers of the time as a stronghold on the sea. The octagonal fortress was isolated when it was built, then the town crowded in around it. The other distinctly visible monument is the cathedral and its towering belfry that rises high above the town. The Baroque-Romanesque church was built in 1693 and has frescoes depicting the four gospel-writing apostles. We can join together for dinner in Polignano a Mare.
Bloggers, “Along Dusty Roads” capture Estonia beautifully. They write: “Driving through the beautiful Valle d'Itria, you will see Ostuni long before you arrive; the vast 'White City' rising high above the ocean of olive trees that sweep through this verdant area of Puglia. Built atop a hill to protect from invaders, Ostuni is a certifiable labyrinth. A maze of alleyways, staircases and arches, of houses built upon houses, of hundreds of years of history laid out before you in a way no map can truly explain or capture. Dead ends and pretty little gardens, glimpses of the Adriatic sea, green doors and bright blue skies; everything and nothing may lie around the next corner you take. Ostuni is a city for explorers, and a place to be devoured slowly over a couple of days. It's a city for historians and for those that simply like to stroll amongst beauty and spontaneous Italian moments.It is a city that should be on every Puglian itinerary.” We will have a day and a half free to explore Ostuni … both independently as well as with a private walking guide. Spend the free day exploring Ostuni or catch a cab to the Adriatic to spend the day at a local beach … the ocean is just 14 kilometers away.
Known as “The Stone City” and “The City of Caves” Matera is a sight to behold. The city has quite literally been dug out of the rock, and when you first view it from one of the many lookouts, you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back through time. After all, this is the third-oldest continually inhabited settlement in the world after Aleppo and Jericho, which also explains why it’s often used to film movies set in biblical times! The southern Italian city has been home to someone for at least 9000 years. Prehistoric in nature, Matera is suspected to be the earliest inhabited place in Italy, people dug their houses straight into the caves and rocks in the side of the ravine, created a cobbled together city filled with winding staircases, streets that run on top of the houses and caves after caves after caves connected by underground tunnels and passages. In fact, this was such a remote and impoverished corner of Italy, that people lived in the caves with their livestock without electricity or running water until the 1950’s when finally a book was published catapulting Matera into fame and shaming the Italian government into building new, modern houses above the Sassi and forcibly moving everyone out of the caves.
Located on the slope of a rocky ravine, the landscape is dominated by cave dwellings, zigzagging staircases, and early churches that hold some incredible frescoes. Arrive in the newer part of Matera, and you will wonder what all of the hype is. It looks similar to many other Italian cities. But once you venture down the undulating stairway of thousand-year-old stones you enter another world, revealing the ancient cityscape of converted cave dwellings also known as Sassi.
The Matera landscapes and skylines are breathtaking, filled with a craggy mosaic of spires and uneven rooftops. It’s especially gorgeous at dawn and dusk as the sun breaks over the stone filled Sasso center. The opportunities for awesome Matera pictures are endless. The best walks here are the aimless ones – up alleys, down lanes – threading among the homes and Matera's 155 cave churches, which were mostly built in the 11th and 12th centuries and now deconsecrated. At times it seems there are almost as many lookouts as churches in the sassi. As if this ancient city with its caves isn’t enough, Matera is situated over a ravine. This topography makes the city perfect for hiking and exploring. The bend of Matera’s main road through the Sassi empties into the Parco della Murgia Materana, a mini Italian version of the Grand Canyon, where we can hike through many of the cities nearby ravines which wind through a network of caves, picturesque hills and peaceful streams.
We will have three nights in this magical city. Plenty of time to explore on our own, and also with two private guided walks through the Sassi and a hike further afield. Without a direct train line to Matera, the city has a delightfully non-touristy vibe. This situation won’t last forever since Matera has been designated the 2019 European Capital of Culture in Italy. It’s inevitable that the crowds and trains will come in droves.
Luggage .... PACK LIGHT!
They say a photo is worth a thousand words.
The photo below is certainly worth that.
Some of the most common questions my guests ask after they have decided to come on a group trip with me are: "What should I bring?" and "What type of luggage should I pack my belongings in?"
My answer is always ..... "Pack light!"
We will be moving around to several different accommodations .... traveling by train, private driver, and at times plane. There are weight restrictions on many of the smaller planes and there is nothing worse than hopping onto a train jam packed with travelers if you are lugging and trying to maneuver a ridiculously large suitcase. There will be nowhere to store your bag. It will be in the way. And you will probably be frustrated by the effort and embarassed by the dirty looks folks on the train give you as you hold up traffic for those looking to get situated in their seats on a crowded train.
Additionally .... many of the places we stay are incredibly unique. Authentic spots .... entirely worth the effort to get there .... which often means carrying your belongings up several flights of stairs. Elevators are not a given. And before we even reach the flight of stairs you might need to carry your bags from the point of arrival into the "Pedestrian Only" area of town where we will be staying. Again, totally worth the effort.
Please, please pack light.
The bags in the photo below are the actual bags from my last group trip. Mine is the red duffle. I bring that, and a small day backpack. That is IT! I hand wash and re-wear clothes and if I make purchases, I ship them home. Sometimes I will bring another small and very lightweight empty duffle to use if I make purchases .... I can decide if I want to lug it around and bring it home on the plane, bot more often than not, I ship it home. Traveling light is much, much easier!
Cheers to our adventure!
A more affordable option .....
A friend recently asked me to come up with an itinerary for a trip to Italy with me for her and four friends. She had some parameters. She is a teacher, so the trip needed to take place during vacation week. And good lord, it can't be $4000 plus airfare. Please. Her request got me thinking ..... There are many, many, many folks who can't afford either the time, or the big bucks, to get away to Italy for 11-14 days. My trips thus far have all been that long. For those with the means and the flexibility, they are priced well below industry norm. Incredible trips. Hooking up with incredible locals. Being exposed to incredible things. In very, very small groups (4-6 guests per trip). Great trips, but not for everybody.
So, I am officially introducing a more affordable 8 night trip to Italy. Fly to Italy on a Friday night, spend the next 8 nights in Italy, and fly home on a Sunday. You'll miss one week of work. We'll go to three of my favorite places: Southern Tuscany, Cinque Terre and Florence. Each trip will be open to 5 guests ..... YOU gather the 5 friends and I'll do the rest. We'll stay in drop dead gorgeous accommodations (an Agritourismo in Southern Tuscany with 360 degree views of the Val d'Orcia, an Airbnb perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Ligurian Sea in Cinque Terre and a historic hotel located on the top floor of a former palace in Santa Spirito, my favorite square in the Oltrarno section of Florence) and I'll share with you the local traditions of each region. Winemakers and off the beaten path hill towns in Tuscany will be explored with Giancarlo, our private driver. We will hike lesser known paths in Cinque Terre and immerse ourselves in the absolute beauty of the region AND learn about and honor the heritage and history of the region .... its winemakers and their arduous work to produce wine and maintain the dry stone walls that are absolutely essential to the survival of Cinque Terre. And I will share with you my favorite spots in Florence. Wine bar. Gelato shop. Leather producer. Garden with a view. And non touristy trattoria. Let me know when you would like to go, and I'll see if the accommodations are available.
$2,300 per person if a group of 5 people sign up together
$2,500 per person if a group of 4 people sign up together
$2,800 per person for individual sign up. We will coordinate a mutually agreeable date as soon as 4-5 people have signed up.
A presto! Let's go to Italy!
Or, in Italian, "Salute!" or "Cin Cin!"
I'd like to formally dedicate this post .... and really, the entire philosophy that guides me in this venture of creating and leading intimate group trips to Italy to my dear friend, Angela.
Angela loved an adventure.
She embraced each moment with gusto and appreciation.
Good food and drink were essential. As was the act of preparing the meal, especially if prepared with friends, wine and laughter.
She loved to find hidden treasures.
And connected intimately with folks she came into contact with.
Last summer Angela and her son joined my daughters and I for two weeks in Italy. Angela and I have been friends for over 20 years. We have dreamed of going to Italy together for many, many years. The time never seemed right, so it got put off. To someday. Initially last summers's trip to Italy was intended to be a mother-daughter adventure, but after Angela was diagnosed with stage 4 Melanoma, I realized that "someday" was no longer a given and invited them to come along.
Planning that trip became the prototype and the inspiration to create Karin Mallory Presents: Intimate trips to Italy. Research is definitely my bag. Especially when my intention is to find unique and authentic experiences, destinations, restaurants, people and places in Italy. Travel with me and you'll discover people and places you will not find on your own. We will cook in the kitchens of Italians rather in sterile cooking schools. Sharing both a meal and stories around the table. We will dine in trattorias with locals rather than tourists. We will descend down staircases to see the workshops of craftspeople in Florence's Oltrarno neighborhood. We will seek out beautiful places. You will also have time built into the day for personal exploration or rest.
You have three options with Karin Mallory Presents:
1) Join one of my scheduled trips. They are small. The Spring, 2019 trip to Sicily and Naples is limited to 4 guests and the Fall, 2019 trip to Florence, Siena and rural Tuscany is limited to 6 guests. The experience will feel much more like exploring with a group of friends than being one of many in an organized tour. Check out the trip descriptions in my website and sign up SOON (BY JULY 1 for the SPRING, 2019 TRIP and by AUGUST 1 for the FALL, 2019 TRIP) to save $500 per person.
2) Hire me to create a personalized group trip for you and your friends or family. Choose the dates that work for you. And the areas of Italy you would like to visit. Give me some ideas of the type of trip you would like to have, things you want to do, budget, type of accommodations you want and preferences for mode of transportation once in Italy then I'll get to work creating the best of the best, most unique, off the beaten path, authentic itinerary. Just for you. I will join you in Italy and take care of all of the details (reservations, transportation, knowing where we need to be and getting us there) freeing you to just enjoy your vacation.
3) Hire me to research and plan your Italian vacation. Save some money and go on your own!
"Someday" is not a given.
You won't regret it.
The rain came suddenly. A fierce, windy, drenching sort of rain that had us running for cover. Along with the multitudes of others who, like us, had only moments before been happily wandering around the village of Vernazza in Cinque Terre. I was traveling with a very intimate group. 4 of us in total. We decided to duck into a restaurant and find something to eat. Turns out everyone else had the same idea. There were a lot of us. And not a lot of restaurants in this tiny little village. Undaunted, we ventured further away from the water, away from the tourists, and found a small joint a bit off of the main drag. Still, there was a wait. But the wait was in the bar. Standing room only. Surrounded by locals. We spent a very happy hour drinking the local wine and eventually talking to the regulars who shared not only the stories of their village life, but also their food and wine. Cinque Terre is a popular tourist spot. And with good reason. It is drop dead gorgeous. Mountains meet the Ligurian Sea in the most remarkable of convergences. The five villages that comprise Cinque Terre are connected by train, hiking path, ferry and windy road. The numbers of tourists that come each year to see this beauty for themselves has increased exponentially. Increased to such a smothering amount that the villages are suffering under the weight of unrestricted tourism. Cruise ships pose the most significant challenge. Tourists from the boats are brought over by ferry and bus and inundate the 5 villages to such an extent that streets are impassable. The streets (in many case street) are narrow. And can not absorb the masses who in the summer arrive in numbers that are inconceivable. I hope that one day the villages can create some system of regulation, but who knows. It's Italy. And the money that locals are able to make hawking t-shirts and renting rooms is significantly easier that the money they make cultivating wine on mountainous hillsides whose incline make any motorized cultivation assistance nearly impossible. Long ago, winemaking was of paramount importance to the region. But the work required to cultivate on the vertical hillsides is arduous. Veronelli, a famous Italian journalist defines local winegrowers as "crazy angels" whose work protects the beautiful and fragile Cinque Terre. Grapes are grown on mountains terraced with dry stone walls. If you were to add together the miles of dry stone walls that are built, and re-built (as a result of damage from both neglect and landslides) in the vineyards of Cinque Terre, the amount would equal the length of The Great Wall of China. Without the walls, landslides would destroy the region. Helicopters drop loads of stone on the mountainsides. Rocks must be then be transported to the site of each stone wall by wheel barrel. When damage occurs, stones need to be removed individually by hand. Put into piles according to size to be used again when repairing the wall. During the harvest grapes are collected, carried on shoulders in bins from the vineyard to a monorail where they are brought down the hillside on a monorail to the village. From here, they are transported, again on shoulders, to individual cantinas. Although I much prefer red wine, in Cinque Terre, I drink white. Because it is what is locally produced. Two types of wine are produced here: Cinque Terre D.O.C. (white) and Sciacchetra D.O.C the region's revered amber colored dessert wine. Tourism seems to be a mixed blessing in Cinque Terre. The visitors who seem to be most appreciated, and I am sure get the most from their experience, are those who stay in the one of the villages for several nights. Once the day trippers have left, those who remain have opportunities to speak to locals about their home. To learn about its culture. To do more than snap a photo in a beautiful spot, post it on Instagram and check it off their list. These are the conversations that we shared in the bar on that rainy afternoon. Stories of a place that is really struggling to maintain its heritage. And its sanity. And during that hour wait in the bar we were given an opportunity to eat sponge cake dipped into Sciacchetra. Bought for us by our new friend who wanted to share with us a speciality of his region.
I always leave time to have experiences like this on my intimate trips to Italy. They are invaluable, and often favorite moments. Yes, I'll make sure we have a reservation for dinner at a restaurant we would never get into without a reservation. And we will have destinations and even itineraries mapped out. I will be sure to bring you to meet folks (artists, musicians, and on the trip to Sicily a falconer) who will share with us a piece of their lives. I spend hours and hours and hours reading blogs and tips from people who have been to Italy and discovered really unique and special experiences and places and people. These discoveries supplement those I have found on my own travels. I'll share them with you. And promise to leave some time to allow for us to make discoveries of our own! I am so very excited for all of my upcoming trips. Come along! We will have FUN!
Karin Mallory Presents: Intimate Trips to Italy is truly a labor of love. Love of a country. Its history and its people. Its landscapes, villages, cities, buildings and art. Its food. Its culture and tradition. Travel with me in very small groups of adventurous, fun and curious travelers. I look forward to sharing some of my favorite spots. And discovering others together!