I originally decided to head to the region of Puglia, in Italy because I was captivated by photos I had seen of the cylindrical stone homes with cone-shaped roofs, known as trulli (trullo, singular), and because it was relatively still under-the-radar area when compared to other places in Italy. If you picture that Italy is shaped like a boot, the region of Puglia would be the heel of that boot. Trulli are specific to the Valle d’Itria (Itria Valley), a fertile plain located between the Ionian and Adriatic seas in the centre of Puglia.
When I arrived, I found trulli all over this part of the Puglian countryside — from those that looked like they were a few years away from crumbling back to the earth, to many that had been lovingly restored and are now used as residences or guest accommodations. What I also found was some of the most innovative and tasty cuisine in Italy, and so many extremely generous & kind people!
The Valle d’Itria is a limestone plateau upon which today you find wooded slopes, endless almond and olive groves, deep red soil and plenty of vineyards, but the land wasn’t always this developed. Many, many years ago, the Valle d’Itria land was covered with lots of limestone rocks.
The locals, wanting to agriculturally work the fields, needed something to do with all this limestone they had collected and - voila - the design and construction of the trullo was born.
As the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention”!
It is believed that trulli were originally built from these stones as temporary field shelters and storehouses for agricultural laborers to rest during harvest season, or even as permanent dwellings. Many are still in use today.
The town of Alberobello boasts the highest concentration of trulli and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don't be put off by the commercialism of Alberobello - it is definitely worth visiting. I suggest that, before heading to the area where all the shops are located, you visit the residential area directly adjacent. There you can get lost in winding streets of trulli homes, and get a real feel for how the local residents live.
The landscape in this part of Puglia is very unique and quite beautiful. The Valle d'Itria is not really a valley at all, but instead a Karst geology of depressions and hills, where on the highest points you find magical towns such as Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Cisternino and Ceglie Messapica. Each of these towns is worth a visit, as all of them have historical centers and winding streets that look unchanged from centuries ago. Another wonderful place to visit is the lovely seaside “white city” of Ostuni.
I had heard that Puglia is the most visited area of Italy by Italians on holiday, and I can see why: sun, sand, good food. What's not to love? That said, it seems to me that Puglia remains largely undiscovered by mass tourism, although that seems to be changing based on my discussions with locals. Given that I was visiting Puglia in the off season (end of October), there were very few Italians on holiday, and even fewer foreigners. In fact, many times I was one of only a few people walking in the streets. Perfect for me!
One word of advice: people in Puglia take the afternoon break (known as “la pausa”) VERY seriously. Similar to siesta in Spain, the pause happens every afternoon - nearly all of the businesses, shops and even tourists sites shut down for a 3’ish hour lunch break. Plan your activities and meals accordingly!!
And speaking of meals - all you gourmands out there will not leave Puglia hungry! Known as “cucina povera” (peasant cookery), the traditional foods of the region have farm-to-table roots, well before the food trend ever existed. The cuisine is also the basic blueprint for the classic Mediterranean diet, based on local and simple staples such as vegetables, fish, pasta and olive oil.
The rich lands around Puglia produce many fantastic ingredients, including chickpeas, wild chicory, wild fennel, eggplant, tons of herbs and spices, multiple varieties of tomatoes and apparently giant garlic! I was surprised to learn that the pasta here is made from a combination of barley flour and durum wheat flour - with no eggs! Puglia is one of Italy's most fertile regions and produces 40-50%of the country's olive oil, as well as much of its grain and vast quantities of wine. I learned a lot about olive oil during my trip to Puglia (which I will discuss in a future post), but suffice to say I have a whole new appreciation for the wonder that is freshly pressed olive oil!
WHERE TO EAT
I took a few cooking lessons while in Puglia (more on that in a later post as well), and ate several memorable meals while there. In many of the small towns I found some of the most creative dishes, lovingly prepared by very talented chefs. A few standouts for me include:
- Osteria del Tempo Perso (Ostuni): A Michelin star restaurant in a cave with outstanding food and service. This place is a must visit when in Ostuni.
- Al Solito Posto (Ostuni): Very good food in a stylish setting.
- U’Curdunn (Locorotondo): Great recommendation from a member of the staff at my accommodations.
WHERE TO STAY
With so much to do, eat and drink, one needs fabulous accommodation to tie it all together, and I was lucky enough to have found that as well. I cannot say enough positive things about my time at Leonardo Trulli Resort. I highly recommend staying here if you are visiting the Valle d’Itria. I stayed for 5 nights and could not have been happier.
From the minute i arrived, I was treated like family. Rosalba runs the resort and is a truly special person. Over breakfast one morning I learned the history of the resort from her, as it’s her family who owns the property. The story goes that Rosalba’s father had a cousin, Leonardo, who from a very young age lived on this land by himself, among the fields that he worked and alongside the animals that he kept in the trullo (that are still standing and have been renovated as guest rooms!). He loved the land and despite, at a later age, moving in with Rosalba’s family a short distance away, he still came to the property every day and stayed long hours, returning only to Rosalba’s family home to sleep.
When Leonardo passed away, he left all of the land to Rosalba’s father, and an idea was born to renovate some of the trullo for guest accommodations. Fast forward to today: the property has been expanded and Rosalba runs the resort with a real passion for the area and the property's history. As she said to me “I feel like Leonardo’s spirit is still here on the land”.
Every person on staff at Leonardo Trulli Resort was extremely friendly and helpful: in addition to Rosalba, Silvana was always around to lend advice or help; Pasquina greeted me every morning with a big smile and a caffe made just the way I like it; and the chef prepared for me a special and delicious dinner one evening (even though I was the only person at the resort) and came out afterward to ask how I enjoyed the meal.
The resort is small, with a very boutique feel - but it still has everything one would need for a lovely stay in the countryside. It is well situated, as all of the towns in the Valle d’Itria are within easy driving distance. I stayed in a beautifully restored trullo, which was very comfortable. The trullo had a lovely bathroom, heated floors (the nights were a tad chilly) and two outdoor spaces for relaxing (including an outdoor shower). The grounds themselves are very well maintained. There is a beautiful swimming pool and outside eating area that I am sure are wonderful in the warmer weather. Breakfast in the morning was a delicious feast (even when I was the only one there), and I was also able to get eggs made to order, which was a nice bonus.