Wondering where to spend a different kind of Christmas, New Year’s Eve in Italy, or even just a brief yet inspiring escape from the frost?
While Puglia is synonymous with rustic-chic Italian summers, we can’t recommend the region enough off-season; on most days you’ll find the temperature rises to a heartwarming 20c, perfect for lunches by the sea, walking excursions in the Itria Valley or amid olive groves intertwined with ancient stone terraces, visits to private noble residences, and a morning spent on the golf course. Here are 6 reasons to go now.
What a great feeling to wake up early in the morning, enjoy a rich breakfast and head to the green fields that adorn the Apulian landscape. One of the best and most renowned destinations for this sport is the San Domenico Golf Resort, complete with an adults-orientated luxury masseria and spa. The 18-hole golf course features a combination of strategically positioned bunkers and intricate mistral-oriented design with gently winding slopes, zigzagging among millennia-old olive trees and the relics of the Egnazia archaeological site.
Ladies will appreciate the golf club’s first-ever “San Domenico Ladies Only” tournament scheduled for 22-24 November 2019. The first edition program includes a weekend between the ‘swing and spa’, designed for golfers of all levels. In between tournaments, guests can network and retreat at VAIR Spa with its sauna, Turkish bath, indoor pool and exceptional treatments.
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Further south, you can spend the day on rolling green hills with the coast nearby and gentle breezes at the Acaya Golf Resort & Spa, featuring an 18-hole golf course (Par 71). The resort is located close to Lecce, allowing you to combine between sports, wellbeing and city excursions. Special golf packages include a 3-night stay with complimentary access to the golf club, Golf Driving Range, and a pull trolley. Daily buffet breakfast is also included as well as access to the outdoor pools, solarium, and one wellness treatment course at the Clarins Spa.
Puglia’s Culinary Scene
From Vitantonio Lombardo’s Michelin-starred cooking in Matera (his “Pizza in Black” is off the charts) and Angelo Sabatelli in Putignano (we never had such a tantalizing and memorable spaghetti with fresh vegetables), to the young, experimental chefs at Giardini 36 in Cisternino and DISH in Ostuni, and down the hills to the seaside eateries there is much to explore. Exquisite tasting menus showcase dishes of the Apulian winter following local tradition and technique. During the fall and winter month’s you’ll want to try the region’s signature dish: paccheri (ear-shaped pasta, available in vegan and whole wheat varieties) with turnip tops.
Sushi lovers take note of Puro in Polignano a Mare, as well as Mezcla in Bari. On sunny winter days, locals from across the region flock to the area between Savelletri and Torre Cane especially for the sea urchins (‘ricci di mare’). VIA recommends L’Osteria del Porto for the food and charming location, Il Punto for the fish and views, Alba Chiara for the ‘spaghetti alle vongole’ and corner of sun loungers, and L’Oasi del Riccio for its rustic simplicity and kid-friendly setting. The food is always fresh, the restaurants are open, and the ambience takes a romantic course with candlelight and blankets when the nights are cool.
Nature & Wellness
This is the best time of year to lace up those trekking shoes, wear comfortable clothing, pack small picnic and head out to explore the landscape Puglia is so famous for. From north to south, there are a plethora of trails to walk and cycle through. Highlights include Gargano National Park and the Umbra Forest, Gravina in Puglia, the countryside outside Matera, Torre Guaceto, the towns between the Itria Valley (La Selva, Cisternino, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, and more). You can also follow the Cammino Materano, as well as the ancient route to Rome, also known as the Via Francigena (or Via Romea). While the traditional ancient pilgrims’ route is known to link Canterbury to Rome, it is actually much longer than that. Since medieval times, the full route actually took pilgrims all the way to the Holy Land. To do this, they had to pass the ports of Puglia via Roman roads known as Via Appia, Via Casilina and Via Appia Traiana. The trek includes Roman stone-paved roads, ancient sheep trails, pagan temples, sanctuaries, green hill and mountain passes. This route became official in 2016 by the European Institute of Cultural Routes. The variety of landscapes are great for long walks, cycling tours, open-air meditation, Tai Chi and picnics.
Sailing & Water Sports
When the winds kick in, you can take to the shores for some water sports such as early morning surfing and windsurfing classes. On crisp, sunny days you can rent a boat for several hours and cruise the coastline, complete with vino and lunch on board. It’s a distinct Mediterranean winter experience that can only be felt in certain locations in Europe, and Puglia is a unique and beautiful spot.
Rent a villa and stay for the holidays
Come December, there is a very festive air in Puglia. Dinner parties by the fireplace, holiday aperitivo, shopping excursions, lit-up towns and traditional home-cooked recipes sweep through the region. At least five days are recommended to really get to know Puglia. There are some beautiful private villas that can be rented exclusively for a week; whether you’re a group of four or ten, there are wonderful options to choose from with varying degrees of service, from self-catered to fully-staffed with in-house chefs and butlers. May we suggest: venture to the local markets and special delicatessens to source seasonal produce, meat, fish and vegetables, and prepare a holiday dinner at home under the stars and twinkling lights. Alternatively, leading hotels in the region may offer restaurant services with planned holiday dinner banquets, inviting you to mingle with other travelers. If you’re up for something different, this is it and it’s quite a magical experience.
Several hotels are also open; follow VIA’s recommendations:
- La Fiermontina Urban Resort
- Castello di Ugento
- Pettolecchia La Residenza
- Pettolecchia La Piccola
- Masseria Torre Maizza
- Palazzo Sant’Anna
- Masseria Cacatosto
- Masseria Lamacoppa
- Masseria San Domenico
- Borgo Egnazia (with a famous Christmas market and New Year’s party)
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for special rates and VIP amenities.
No crowds at the coffee bar, available guides, flexible hours and entryways all to yourself… the cities of Bari, Lecce, Gallipoli, Otranto become accessible and the architecture is a wide-open canvas with uninterrupted views. What could be better? In addition, all the towns in between are easy to enjoy with weekly markets, locals gathering at the cafes and hidden kitchens that still serve their specials. The best way to go is private and guided; exploring alone is a great way to get lost but you can always do that after you already know the stories and intricacies behind the monuments and architecture.
Marialba Pandolfini from Lecce’s Tourango travel agency adds, “Autumn is time for gentle hiking, biking, horse riding and, yes, the weather is perfect even for the sea. From October to December, attention turns to the olive harvest; you can meet a small local producer and harvest, pressing and bottling with your hands the extra virgin olive oil.”
Pandolfini also recommends a visit to a local artisan’s private paper machè lab in Lecce, particularly in December as Christmas approaches with meticulous nativity scenes for which the city is particularly famous. It is a “magical ancient tradition of turning paper into amazing works of art”, affirms Pandolfini. She then takes clients from tradition to innovation with a visit to an international design lab that creates ‘state-of-the-contemporary-art’ paper machè works. The experience culminates with a heartwarming Apulian aperitif in a secret garden of a local noble family.
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