First row: View looking out of a cave in Matera; (skeletons) At the purgatory church in Monopoli; The Lecce Cathedral; Second row: Caffe Leccese, a classic summertime drink in Lecce; 12th-century mosaic tile floor in Otranto Cathedral; Third row: Domenico Modugno statue in Polignano a Mare; Frisa with tomato and rocket, a local food we had many times; Trulli houses in Alberobello
I went on an adventure.
“How well do you know these women?”, my sister asked. Since I’d never mentioned these three friends to her, she thought I was a bit crazy to jump onboard an eight-day trip with them to Puglia, Italy.
In reality, I’d met these ladies sometime back when our kids went to preschool together. And now, our kids were all high school seniors! Although I hadn’t spent much time with them recently, I knew that each had similar outlooks on adventure, food, and fun. The only personal space comfort I needed was to make sure I had my own bed.
The experience, in a word, was divine. It was a special and unforgettable opportunity to reconnect with these friends, too. Here are a few highlights from my adventure, in case you ever want to check Puglia out yourself!
I’d never heard of Puglia before this trip, but to give you the same quick geography lesson I needed, picture the “heel of the boot” on Italy’s map. That area is known as Apulia (in Italian) or Puglia to us and is home to around four million people and several remarkable coastal communities.
This is where we were headed—the eastern-most part of Italy, closest to Greece. The area is known for olive oil, burrata cheese, and orecchiette pasta. I also found lots of wild fig trees loaded with ripe figs (yum)!
What I loved most was seeing the ocean. Puglia has almost 500 miles of coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian seas and is also known for its great beaches, which is what this Hawaii girl loves.
Our trip actually started in Matera (not directly in Puglia, but close). This city has been featured in 50+ films, including The Passion of the Christ. The town has many caves carved out of limestone, known as Sassi. People lived in the Sassi for thousands of years (which still blows my mind) along with their livestock (which blows my mind even more). As you can imagine, those conditions were quite unsanitary, and the Italian government forced people out of the caves in the 1950s.
Today, these caves are used as shops, restaurants and boutique hotels. The day after we arrived, the town was closed down for filming the James Bond movie, No Time To Die. Sadly, we never did see Daniel Craig.
36 Bottles of Vino
We’d planned to leave the town of Matera and hike the nearby caves on the way to visit a vineyard. Polvanera Winery made us a splendid meal, the setting was beautiful, the was wine fabulous and the personal attention from Carmela rolled up into an experience that put us all under a spell. We ended up buying 36 bottles of wine between the four of us and then spent the next few days figuring out how to get it back to the U.S.
Next, we saw several Masseria, which is a farmhouse on a large piece of land. We stayed at Masseria Montenapoleone, a working farm that had been turned into a boutique hotel. It was beautiful, peaceful, and made a good home base to explore the area. We took a pasta-making class there and spent a day biking from one Masseria to another, first to learn about olive oil, and then to have a picnic. On the day we left, a wedding was coming in where they rented the entire Masseria. We agreed it would be a wonderful wedding site for one of our kids!
Polignano a Mare
Birthplace of Domenico Modugno (the singer who’s most famous for the song “Volare”), Polignano a Mare is a beautiful city on a cliff with absolutely spectacular seafood. Redbull hosts an annual cliff diving event that thankfully wasn’t going on during our visit.
Our own scheduled sea cave boat tour was canceled due to rough conditions, and instead, we visited Monopoli followed by a fabulous seafood lunch at Osteria di Chichibio. Not a bad trade, I’d say, as I tend to get seasick (although sea caves would have been pretty cool). In Polignano, we stayed in an apartment with the kitchen on the top floor, overlooking the sea.
Salento is known for its good beaches. We spent the day in Porto Badisco sea kayaking, swimming and hiking. The water was warm and clear, and I was in my happy place! We capped off the day in Otranto, a charming seaside town that is still partially enclosed within medieval walls with a castle at one end. It also has an 11th-century Cathedral with a stunning mosaic floor from the 12th century. Talk about old!
Our last stop was in Lecce, also called the “Florence of the South”. Lecce has beautiful ornate architecture and lots of Baroque monuments. The historic center is great for walking as traffic is limited. They also have traditional paper mache’ crafts that are quite amazing in their detail.
Elements of a Great Trip
Natural beauty of rocky coastline, getting into the ocean, wonderful foods made with fresh ingredients, learning some history and seeing it firsthand about a place so rich in antiquity—all with some downtime to explore on your own and an itinerary that took us to less touristy places—there were no two ways about it: this was the perfect set-up for a trip. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Making Friends When You’re Old
This trip to Italy convinced me how worthwhile it is to strengthen the friendships I have and to actively make new friends. When my kids were young, it was easy to reach out to other moms. Our kids were together in school and sports, so our circles intersected regularly. Fast forward 20 years, and it takes WAY more effort to intentionally meet with the friends I no longer run into on a regular basis.
Have you ever longed for adventure but don’t feel you have anyone to go with? It doesn’t have to be as big a trip like going to Italy! How about exploring your town on bike or foot and checking out a new restaurant? This is a big and beautiful world. Exploring it with others is much more fun and fulfilling than going solo.