[Written By: Georgia Britton]
[Photographs: Adriana Iuliano]
It’s a typically cold and rainy day in Glasgow as I write this, and all I want is to be back lying in the sun in Puglia. Over three weeks during the summer, I travelled around the heel of southern Italy, and I saw some of the most beautiful scenery, beaches, and weather that I ever have in my life. Now all I want to do is go back and fall in love all over again.
For the first week, I stayed in the region’s countryside, which was about as different from being in Glasgow as is imaginable; the boiling temperature and expanses of empty olive groves felt a million miles away from a normal day on Sauchiehall Street. One of my favourite aspects of Puglia is the fact that, even though the countryside is peaceful and serene, you’re never far from beautiful, lively little towns that are filled to the brim with amazing food, music, and people. A particularly pretty town I visited was Alberobello, one of the region’s tourist traps known for its unique landscape of winding cobbled streets and traditional whitewashed conical dry stone buildings, decorated with prehistoric symbols on the rooftops.
The culture and history of Puglia was easy to fall in love with; picturesque hilltop villages like Cisternino and Locorotondo are centered around piazzas which hold celebrations commemorating their local saints and markets exhibiting the most gorgeous regional delicacies available. The food sold at these markets represents some of the best in Italy, with specialties of the region including olives, almonds, figs, and fruits like nectarines and watermelons (which, I noted, were unbelievable – both in terms of their massive size and incredible taste). Additionally, with vast amounts of countryside being cultivated for growing grapes, local wine is a staple of all restaurants and markets; massive jugs of it are sold for around five euros, making life in Puglia even more perfect.
Moving away from the idyllic countryside and further down to the southernmost tip of Italy’s heel, I next stayed in the lively town of Santa Maria di Leuca, a stunning relief from the quiet laziness of the region’s north. Filled with busy bars, shops, and restaurants, Leuca sits right on the most beautiful coastline – perfect for swimming, and for saving yourself from melting in the thirty degree heat of the afternoon. Leuca sits in the unique location of where the Adriatic, Aegean, and Ionian Seas meet – meaning that, by braving the climb up the massive 300-step staircase to the town’s highest point of Piazza Giovanni, you can experience Italy from a totally new perspective. On the 15th of August, during the festival of Ferragosto, Leuca’s local and tourist population was enthralled by an extraordinary display: the town’s huge waterfall veiled the entire peninsula in colours commemorating the Italian flag, and you could watch the procession of a statue of the Virgin Mary down the streets in front of a marching band. The statue was finally transported by fishing boats to the religious sanctuary high above the harbour in view of the thousands of people gathered on the promenade. The procession was accompanied by an evening market set up to celebrate the best of Italian culture; the streets were filled with stalls selling local textiles, ceramics, and food, all while a band played traditional music. An incredible fireworks display erupted at midnight, marking the end of a day of national excitement that encapsulated everything I love about Italy and its culture.
Whilst in Puglia I experienced all the most incredible aspects of Italy; the unspoiled countryside, stunning beaches, and picturesque villages all culminating in a region that was gorgeous and so easy to fall in love with. Not only did I find the warmer Italian equivalent of Glasgow in Lecce – a student city centered around its Roman origins and famed for its unique culture – but I was also able to relax when in the peacefulness of the countryside, and it was this ability to experience completely different aspects of a country within one region that makes me so excited to plan my next trip to Puglia.