Tijana Tamburic shares her holiday recipe for responsible exploration at the heel of Italy
The month of March felt like the world was hurtling toward catastrophe, but the month of July felt like the virus was loosening its chokehold and the world was slowly being allowed to exhale. Much like breath, or the change of the seasons or the waxing and waning of the moon, this virus may become cyclical and rear its head again in the winter months. With that possible return in mind, does it mean we should never travel again? I would be inclined to disagree and to instead choose destinations wisely and tread with caution.
Puglia checked all the boxes – it was pulling me back and asking to be further explored calling me again and I was ready to answer.
As soon as travel was possible from the UK, I knew Puglia was the destination for me. I had been there once before and my appetite for the place had been left unsatisfied and when I considered all the precautions I wanted to take, Puglia checked all the boxes – it was pulling me back and asking to be further explored calling me again and I was ready to answer.
The ancient olive groves of Puglia are visible from the sky as you land into Bari or Brindisi, and as the airports are so small, even during this time, it is a joy to travel. Renting a car is the only way to truly explore the region and the lack of public transport actually works to your benefit during this time. Cars are meticulously cleaned and then they become the sole mode of transport during your stay. Driving in Puglia is a special experience – we often drove directly into the sunsets, through olive groves or pine forests with the windows down and the smells breezing through.
Central Puglia is famous for its Trulli– traditional limestone homes with conical roofs – so we made an obligatory stop in Alberobello, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996, but the real magic was being able to stay in one and this was made possible at our first stop, Nina Trulli Resort. The trulli-styled masseria is surrounded by olive groves (as all good Apulian masserias should be) and has a herb and vegetable garden that is free for guests to hand-pick from. We were met by Daniela, our beautiful host who had a welcoming smile and long luscious hair, who gave the best restaurant recommendations and assisted us with anything we needed – we felt more like family than guests.
During the day, relax by the pool and watch as the swallows swoop down to cool themselves in the water and in the evening, for a very special treat, opt for the private dinner. It happens in the middle of the garden during sunset on a private table and the chef creates an absolute feast using all local ingredients, with all the herbs and vegetables sourced from the garden around you. Followed by the best night’s sleep in the cosy coolness of your very own stone Trullo.
We visited Polignano A Mare whose beach is so photogenic. The town is that perfect blend of beach, old town and fun, young bohemian quarter – try the octopus or shrimp sandwich at Pescaria. On another day we stopped off at the ancient port city of Monopoli and found ourselves intuitively inquiring about the ‘for sale’ homes as the charm of the town instantly won us over. We spent the day dreaming of a future here: the sea lapping on our doorstep, the breeze moving through our home, an old Italian playing the guitar outside while we sit, full of food admiring the sunset. It was then time to head South to Salento – in the direction of the tip of the heel of Italy. Our destination: Nardo, – one of Puglia’s most happening towns with Baroque architecture, chic bars, boutiques and accommodations.
We used Nardo as our leaping pad to get to beaches on both the Ionian and Adriatic seas, drinks in Gallipoli and the highly-recommended purple prawns at beach clubs like Tayga where we watched the sunset and the new moon rise. There is nowhere better to be when the crowds lessen than Italy.
Nardo is a town nestled in the South-West of the province of Lecce. A central city of the Byzantine Empire, Nardo’s old glory days are still visible. The ancient theatre is still operational and the palazzos are spectacular. So spectacular that we decided to stay in not one, but two. Owned by famous French chef Guy Martin, Palazzo Maritati e Muci are spaces with a point of view. Designed to be his private residences with furniture cherry-picked from across the globe by his wife Katherine Marx, the suites are brimming with art and character. There is also a distinct smell that I associate with the most luxurious hotels in Paris – Guy’s French sensibilities are evident even on an inhale. More on this petit grand jewel in the sequel interview…
Our final home, which we felt we never wanted to leave, was the unbelievably serene La Corte courtyard house and suite in Nardo. The private residence of Vincent De Cat, a Belgian communications expert turned passionate architect and property developer, La Corte feels like a dream home. Centred around a beautiful courtyard and huge kitchen, it’s the ideal space if you prefer a self-catered, private experience on your own terms and at your own speed. After all the travelling we had done we felt like we could stay here for another two weeks to truly unwind, the realities of COVID-19 feeling like a distant memory. Again we got tempted by the ‘for sale’ signs and discovered that many years ago, Vincent had been too, when he decided to buy here in Nardo. The old town is, in fact, full of expats and even in the winter months Americans and Germans intermingle on the piazza steps.
…it’s the ideal space if you prefer a self-catered, private experience on your own terms and at your own speed.
Despite the changing world and frightening pandemics, there are still places that can be responsibly explored; private hideaways and rocky beaches on the other side of deep pine forests, private dinners and sunsets out of car windows over olive groves, laughing over home-cooked bowls of pasta in your candlelit courtyard. Puglia, I decided, is a safe place to rest.
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