Puglia Connection Archive
The Palm Trees of Puglia
By Dick Oliver
Dick Oliver was managing editor of the New York Daily News and hosted a
radio show on WABC and WOR for many years with local reporters. He
also was also the political TV correspondent for Fox-TV's "Good Day New
York" for more than 12 years. Sadly, Mr. Oliver passed away on Nov. 11,
2016. Our condolences to his family.
Years ago, on my first trip to Ireland, while playing golf in the Ring of Kerry
on the southwest coast, I was astonished to find palm trees along the edge of
fairways bordering the sea. Palm trees in Ireland? A young golf caddy
explained that they had arrived over the centuries from the islands of the Gulf
of Mexico via the gulf stream, a warm water channel that has carried palm
seeds from the new world to the old.
Now you may ask why a travel piece about the Puglia area of Italy opens with
Irish palm trees. Let me explain: You drop into the northern Puglian city of
Bari on an hour-long flight from Rome. Here, at the Bari Airport you find palm
trees, not only on the coast, but throughout Puglia, which comprises the entire
heel of the "boot" of Italy on the map. Where did these palm trees come from?
Da dove provengono?
The first clue is location and weather. This part of Italy is renowned for its
solleone (sun of the lion), scorching mid-summer heat. Puglia is cooled by the
Mediterranean climate throughout the year. Average temperatures in Bari range
from 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) in winter, 68 degrees in spring and fall, to 76
degrees in summer. The best weather is along the coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Thus the best times to visit are spring (April-June) and fall (September-
October). Most Italians vacation in July and August so Puglia tends to be
overcrowded and pricey then. But it is magnificent year-round along the
Adriatic sea and its bounty, its beautiful beaches, secluded caves and coves;
and inland, fields of olive and citrus trees, and vineyards for fine wine-making.
The Pugliese cuisine stems from these sources, resulting in a traditional,
ancient flavor and cooking style. Olives, citrus fruits, wines and goat cheese are
essential to the region's cooking. Seafood arrives in many delicate but simple
ways. One of my favorite dinners in Puglia featured homemade orecchiette, a
shell-like pasta covered in an olive-based sauce. Accompanied by a popular
Puglian-produced Primitivo wine; it was delicioso!
Let's get to geography, history and culture. There are four major areas of
• Alberobello – Home to more than 1,000 trulli houses, the conical-shaped
buildings seen throughout Puglia (more on these later).
• Cisternino – A walled town, 1,300 feet about sea level, in the province of
Brindisi, with its stone-paved lanes inviting visitors to ancient palaces, towers
and shops, and charming restaurants and bars.;
• Lecce – Baroque architecture has dubbed it the "Florence of the South of
Italy," featuring a Roman amphitheater, 100 churches and palaces, and winding
streets of designer boutique shops. (From the coast, 25 miles away, on a clear
day, you can see Albania.);
• Martina Franca – Located between Bari and Brindisi, a walled town of
piazzas, winding narrow streets, an antique market on Sundays and an annual
summer festival of classical music and jazz.
The culture of Puglia today is defined by its history. It's a centuries-old saga of
invaders, liberators, migrants and travelers dating to the Greeks of 750 B.C.,
followed by the Romans, Carthaginians, Saracens, French, Spanish, the Holy
Roman Empire, France again led by Napoleon who called himself King of
Italy. More wars ensued until 1861 when a newly united Italy was proclaimed.
Italy entered World War I on the side of the Allies (good for Italy) and on the
side of the Nazis in World War II (bad for Italy), to be liberated by the
Americans and the British.
That's an awful lot of history crammed into one paragraph, but this history of
invasions leads us to the masseria, a unique feature of the Puglian countryside.
The wars pointed to a need for defensive measures to protect farm workers.
Masserias, built from clay tuff from Lecce, abound throughout the region. A
masseria is organized like an autonomous citadel, providing towers and
defensive structures often above an underground cave, functioning as medieval
"bomb shelters." The central core focuses on agricultural work, which is why
the masseria is known as the "Fortress-Plantation of the Appian Way."
On my recent visit, I stayed at Tenuta Monacelle, a 60-acre masseria complex
with a trulli quarter surrounded by wheat fields and olive, cherry, and oak
trees. Nicely located for one- or two day trips. This four-star hotel offers
guests superior accommodations, a lovely restaurant, large outdoor swimming
pool, and elegant, independent bedrooms, living rooms and baths.
About those trulli a Puglian housing tradition. And quite a tradition it is. At the
start of the 15th century, the settlement of peasants was encouraged by the
landowning gentry for farming. The earliest shelters were made of wood.
Brickwork was authorized in 1550, using only approved material, such as
limestone, plentiful in Puglia. (In fact, the Romans used these stones to build
the Appian Way, enabling travelers to journey from Rome to Brindisi in 14
In trulli building, limestone was used without mortar so that the structures
could be easily demolished and rebuilt. Why? This was for punishing those
who failed to pay taxes or disobeyed feudal orders. Trullos had the advantage
of being breezily cooler in summer and warmer in winter, with the stones
holding in the heat.
Outdoor activities offered throughout Puglia include: hiking and cycling, water
sports, horseback riding, beach soccer and volleyball. And then there is golf.
One of the top-notch golf courses in Italy is found in Puglia. It is San
Domenico Golf, an 18-hole championship course bordering the cobalt sky and
the Adriatic Sea and spread over 6,986 yards par 72 of lush land featuring
Bermuda grass with sea views from every vantage point. Its spacious and
elegant clubhouse is situated a few meters from the sea and the ancient Roman
city of Egnazia.
Borgo Egnazia, a short walk away from the clubhouse and the first tee, is a
five-star hotel-villa-spa resort that offers a golf package of four nights B&
B and three rounds of golf from 690 Euros. (approx. $1,100). A listing of other
golf courses and driving ranges in Puglia can be found at www.1golf.eu/en/golf-
The list of cultural historic and scenic spots is too long to be recited here. But
there is one that is not to be missed: Polignano a Mare, down the coast from
Bari, a unique old town with alleys and small squares, restaurants, bars and
tiny shops. You find yourself three-terraces high, gazing at the sea, caves and
If you are a certain age, a familiar melody comes into your head: "Volare." For
this is the hometown of Domenico Modugno, the singer and composer of
"Volare." His voice and the song swept the world in the late 1950s. "Fly into
the blue." "Volare nel blu." From the celebrated statue of Modugno, his arms
spread like wings, you are not far (maybe a couple hundred steps) from
Havana Bodeguita de Cuba. Have a lovely dinner, perhaps pasta or a pizza, a
rum drink and a Cuban cigar.A final thought on the origin of those palm trees:
Non demandare! (Don't ask!) Rilassati, divertiti! (Relax, enjoy!)
"A Visit to the New and the Old Puglia"
Our friend and tourism marketing professional Kate McGrath just returned
from her latest trip to Puglia. We're happy to present her report:
Puglia, the little-known treasure located in the heel of the boot of Italy, is
becoming a favorite with travelers of all ages. It is a special place to see and
experience a rare cultural and sensual phenomenon that makes you want to
return again and again.National Geographic Traveler magazine has just listed
Puglia as a 2014 "Best of the World" destination. Whether you're a food and
wine lover, a sports adventurer who enjoys biking and sailing or an explorer of
history and culture, you can have a reasonably priced trip and enjoyable
experience with all the wonderful trimmings in Puglia.
On my most recent trip to Puglia, I combined a visit to the charming Masseria
Marzalossa, a 17th Century restored farmland estate near Fasano, with a few
days' stay at the Sheraton Nicolaus Hotel and Conference Center in the heart
of Bari, the capital of Puglia. Both lodgings offer the ambiance of both old and
new world accommodations and amenities .When you arrive at the Masseria
Marzalossa, the exuberantly friendly Guarini family greets you at the door of
this historical landmark. They immediately make you feel at home and ready to
relax. A traditional breakfast includes a large glass of orange juice, freshly
squeezed from the orange grove. The omelets are absolutely delicious. I took a
peek in the kitchen as breakfast was being prepared. If you've never seen a
Puglian farm egg, the yolk is rich orange in color, not pale yellow like you're
used to. A simple omelet, cappuccino and some tasty warm bread and
homemade fig jam was pure heaven!
The Masseria Marzalossa specializes in catering to American and European
travelers who enjoy a quiet and relaxing retreat. When the sun goes down in
the late fall, you only have to step into the Renaissance-style living room, sit
near the fireplace and sip a toasty glass of the local primitivo or negroamaro
red grape wine before or after dinner.The masseria is located near Fasano so it
was an easy drive into town to pick up a few things and enjoy the local flavor
in the town square. A late morning espresso and an exquisite almond-filled
pastry never tasted so good! Make it a point to experience the town life as well
as farm living. Each one gives you a sense of the local food and wine favorites
and you get a chance to meet nice people, including some who own businesses
in the area. They love to share their little known snippets of local history and
The night before I left, I had an urge for pizza. The Guarini recommended Il
Rifugio dei Ghiottoni in the center of Fasano. It was inexpensive and delicious.
This is where you taste original brick-oven pizza, a light crust with fresh local
cheese and tomatoes melting on your palate at just the right temperature.
On the second half of my trip, the plan was to tour the historical area of Bari
and its large shoreline. I enjoyed a comfortable stay at the Sheraton Nicolaus
Hotel and Conference Center. It's an easy drive from the modern Bari-Karol
Wojtyla Airport, which is currently adding a new international extension as
tourism continues to grow. What's nice about this hotel is that you enjoy all the
modern conveniences, services and amenities. It's a Starwood-owned hotel
with a very accommodating staff that goes out of its way to make you
The hotel offers a breakfast buffet with a nice variety of choices. I especially
enjoyed the ham and eggs and pastries one day and the fruit yogurt and
omelets the next. For a late breakfast one morning, a fruit and cheese plate and
a morning espresso hit the spot. Another enjoyable feature at the hotel was an
afternoon aperitif and a tasty snack before dinner and enjoying a small pastry
filled with cheese and tomato, perfect for a late afternoon pick me up. The
hotel's international restaurant and wine bar offers a large selection of local
wines and cuisines on the menu. While I was there a popular international
concert group was in town and I learned that Bari is a popular tour stop for a
number of bands and concert singers.
I'd like to share with you a very special seafood and pasta restaurant in Bari.
It's called Le Rune and it's what I'd call a five-star dining experience without
the five-star bill. I met up with a group of friends and ordered family style,
leaving our choices to the owner and the chef. Did you ever taste a light
pistachio cream sauce over triangular shaped cheese ravioli? If you haven't
you've missed one of the best pasta dishes of your life. The fresh salmon was
superb, as well as oysters on the half shell. (They were so good, I forgot to add
lemon.) The drive back to the hotel was picturesque as Bari is beautiful at night
when it's lit up, the opera house and other cultural institutions ablaze under the
starry late autumn sky.
The coming year is an excellent time to visit Puglia's sights, sounds, scents and
to savor its unique cuisine and wines. The prices are reasonable and the people
are extremely hospitable, something you can count on when you visit the small
towns and villages.I selected EuropebyChoice for my travel arrangements. I
like them because they create a variety of seasonal tour packages for small
groups who have specific areas of interests. These travel experts were born in
the region of Puglia, so they know firsthand where to get the best value for
lodgings, dining, car rentals and day tours. So after my fourth trip to Puglia, I
can only say, you must go and after you do, you'll never be sorry. Only eager
for yet another visit. If you would like to learn more about Puglia, the United
Pugliesi Federation of Greater New York and Puglia Connection offer timely
news, travel tips and event happenings around the tri-state area during the year.
Eat Pugliese and Live Longer?
One of the joys of visiting Puglia is eating the simple regional cuisine, based on fish, pasta, olive oil, and
fresh fruits and vegetables – cornerstones of the Mediterranean diet. Stay away from tourist traps and fast-
food outlets and it’s easy to find small restaurants, many of them family owned and operated, serving
simple and inexpensive meals in the traditional Pugliese style. One of our favorites is Alle Due Corti,
tucked away on a side street in the Old City of Lecce (www.alleduecorti.com). Rosalba De Carlo and her
family prepare traditional dishes of the Salento Peninsula. Here are just a few examples from this week’s
Primi (first plate) – Ricchitelle cule rape (orecchiette pasta with turnip tops) and fave nette cu le
cicureddhe (mashed beans typical of Salento with chicory and olive oil).
Secondi (second plate) – Agnellu te li signuri (lamb cooked in a pan with flour, onions and white wine),
purpu a pignatu (octopus cooked in our special clay pot) and calamari ripieni (fresh squid stuffed with
bread, capers, garlic and pecorino cheese).
Dessert – Lo spumone leccese (special stuffed ice cream of Salento), crostate Alle Due Corti® (sweet
tart stuffed with special Alle Due Corti jams and marmalades) and torta pasticciotto (typical cake of
Salento stuffed with cream).
As Rosalba and her family notes on their website, “Upon entering Alle Due Corti you will feel at once the
domestic atmosphere of the restaurant. The history, culture and traditions of Salento all meet together at
the table. Along with the traditional dishes always present in our menu, you will find original and very
delicious courses. Salentine cuisine, poor or rich, always has pleasant surprises.”
And now, researchers are finding even more evidence that the Mediterranean diet can keep you healthy
and maybe even prolong your life. Here’s the full report from the Italian news service ANSA:
Med diet “lengthens life”: Not just heart and cancer, but other aging ills “prevented”
(ANSA) Sticking closely to the Mediterranean diet can lengthen life spans by warding off the full array of
illnesses linked to ageing and western lifestyle habits, Italian researchers say.
The fish, fruit, pasta, vegetable and olive oil-rich diet cuts mortality from heart disease by 9%, cancer
deaths by 6% and the incidence of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases by 13%, a University of
Florence team said. The Florence study is the first time such claims have been made for all age-related
diseases and not just heart problems and cancer. The team, led by Francesco Sofi, drew their
conclusions after examining 12 recent studies on diet and health involving 1.5 million people.
Sofi’s team, whose study has been published in the British Medical Journal, gave each individual points
according to how closely they stuck to the diet. Overall, they found that deaths from all causes fell by 9% in
people who did not stray from the traditional Italian diet.
Driving in Puglia
Although Puglia has a decent public transportation system of trains and buses, the network appears to
be designed principally to meet the needs of working people, commuters and students. While major
cities and even some smaller towns are easily accessible by public transportation, most of the places
that would be of interest to travelers are more easily accessible by car.
Renting a car in Puglia is easy if you arrive at the new international airport at Bari-Palese. About a half-
dozen car rental counters are located on the main concourse near the arrivals area of the terminal. We
have booked rental cars both by reserving in advance and on the day we arrived and have used two
companies: Maggiore (which affiliated with National) and Europcar. Both companies provided us with
excellent service, clean new cars and decent prices, with full insurance coverage and no hidden mark-
ups. Company representatives speak English and other languages. Parking is right outside the terminal,
so it’s very convenient to pick up and drop off cars. (The morning flight from Bari to Rome for connecting
flights to the U.S. departs at 7 A.M., before the car rental counters open for business, so keys and
paperwork are simply placed in mail slots in roll-down doors. We were a bit hesitant about this, but within
three days we received confirmation by mail that everything was in order.)
A note about fuel prices: Gasoline and diesel both cost about 1.55 euros per liter, which roughly converts
to about $10 per gallon at the current painful exchange rate. We found service stations open at all hours
of the day and night throughout Puglia, especially on routes traveled by visitors.
If you plan to drive in Puglia, be sure to familiarize yourself with European road signs ahead of time. The
symbols used are different from those in the U.S. and there are no translations for signs using words (for
example, “Senso Unico” means “One Way” and the direction is indicated by an arrow; “Passo Carrabile,”
usually posted on garage doors and on the gates to driveways, translates to “Keep Clear”). No parking,
restricted parking, no entry, no passing and other rules are indicated by bars, crosses in circles, arrows
and other symbols. And ignorance of the signage is no excuse if you break any traffic laws.
Navigating Puglia by car can be challenging. In some places, the signage is excellent and traveling from
place to place is easy. But elsewhere signs can be confusing, misleading or even missing. For example,
we had trouble figuring out how to get from the Salice Salentino wine region to Brindisi, although it looks
easy on a road map. Even with signs, we drove in circles, wound up on dead-end streets, and went back
and forth for more than hour before we found, only by accident, a sign pointing us to the autostrada. And
that was in the daylight.
Our Trip to Puglia, 2008
We have arrived in Puglia for a week-long visit with family and friends and to conduct more research to
enhance our website. This is a perfect time to send us questions about any aspect of travel to Puglia
because we expect to be with tourism industry people for the entire week and they can help us answer
your questions. (One note before we can go any further: we’re finding that Internet access here can be
spotty, so we’re guessing that there are going to be gaps between when our blog postings are written
and when we can post them.)
At this moment, we are in the coastal town of Santo Spirito, situated on the Adriatic Sea just outside Bari.
It’s just after sunset on Sunday evening. We’re on the rooftop terrace of our cousin’s house facing the
sea, overlooking the main street that runs along the water. The traffic is building as the weekend and
Sunday visitors to the beach pack up and head home. Today was sunny, hot and humid, but it’s getting
cooler now with a light breeze. Through the haze to the north we can see, just barely, the outline of the
mountains on the Gargano Promontory. (Santo Spirito’s beach is not sandy, but rather it is made up of
large, slippery rocks. Sunbathers place large mats on the rocks and stretch out on them to get a tan.
Going into the water barefoot can be dangerous, so most of the bathers wear rubber shoes.)
As night falls in Santo Spirito, we listen as our neighbors to the right celebrate a child’s birthday, singing
“Tante auguri a te” to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” Red brake lights illuminate the couples, families and
groups of friends taking one last stroll, or passegiatta, before returning home; others sit atop the concrete
wall that separates the street and sidewalk from the rocky waterfront. Babies cry, kids and adults laugh
and shout to one another, mopeds weave their way through the long line of cars slowly heading out of
town, but we can still hear the sound of the surf splashing against the rocks. It’s a typical early summer
Sunday evening in a seaside town in Puglia. What we’re seeing and hearing is probably being seen and
heard tonight in every other seaside town in the region. It’s fun to lean on the railing up here and absorb it
all before we go downstairs and join them.
By 10:30, the traffic is gone and the sound of the small waves is interrupted only by a few passing
mopeds and an occasional couple in conversation. The brightly lit pizzeria and coffee bar down the street
are still open and attracting customers.
During the past weekend in Rome, we caught up with Puglia tour guide Maurizio Cafagno, a member of
the Associazione Guide Turistiche della Regione Puglia (see the link the Associazione elsewhere on our
site). Maurizio is an expert tour guide for the old city of Bari, particularly the Basilica di San Nicola, and
leads visitors on tours to areas around Bari, such as Castel del Monte. We first met Maurizio in 2002,
when he guided us through the old city of Bari while we were researching the city’s history. He reports
that Puglia is now drawing more international visitors in the “shoulder seasons” of spring and fall, and
that his busiest time as a guide is from March to June, a big change from just a few years ago.
It looks like the sun-worshiper tourists are starting to arrive in Puglia. Just as our flight from Rome was
landing this afternoon, packed airliners were arriving from Spain and the Netherlands. (The ground crews
did an amazing job of handling all the baggage from the simultaneous flights.) This is the beginning of
the high season for beach and resort tourism in Puglia. We’re glad to be back.
Castel del Monte
We are at Castel del Monte, Emperor Frederick II’s mysterious 12th century castle on the mountain in
Andria. We arrived from Santo Spirito in about 45 minutes using a network of roads weaving through the
towns of Terlizzi and Ruvo di Puglia, following a series of signs that directed us to the site.
Castel del Monte is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so certain controls are in place to preserve and
protect the structure and its surroundings. During our first visit in 1985, we recall being able to drive up to
the castle, park our car and go inside to explore the castle on our own. Now, we park our car in a secure
parking area (fee: 4 euros per car) and are transported by bus uphill to the castle (admission: 3 euros per
Much has been written here and elsewhere about what makes the eight-sided Castel del Monte so
interesting to visit, centered mainly on the question of its intended purpose (just do an Internet search for
“Castel del Monte” and you’ll find plenty of information). What makes our latest visit even more interesting
is an exhibit of scenic photos taken throughout Puglia. It makes us realize how rich and diverse this
region is, and how much exploring we’ve yet to do.
Our next stop is the historic section of Alberobello, home of the unusual trulli houses. As with Castel de
Monte, there’s no shortage of information available via a quick search of the Internet. We’ve been here
before, but today we’re hoping to meet new people. We had success on our first try. Looking for a shaded
place to get out of the hot sun, we enter Enoteca Tholos ad Alberobello, a small shop with shelves filled
with Pugliese wines, pastas and other local specialties (http://www.trullodelgusto.it/). Here, we meet
Luigi Minerva, the owner and a sommelier who provides tastings for tour groups, many from America. We
taste a Pugliese rose that’s new to us, so enjoyable that we buy a bottle to take back to our hotel.
Interestingly, although it’s high season for tourism here in Puglia, both Castel del Monte and Alberobello
appear to be largely devoid of tourists. For the most part, we had the castle to ourselves, and when we
stopped in the shops and snack bars of Alberobello we were the only people there, the only exception
being a family of Germans who were in one snack bar with us. Asking around, very subjectively, people
here tell us the dearth of visitors could be due to the extreme heat (it’s been 100 degrees or above all
week, with oppressive humidity) and high costs, especially for Americans (for example, a fast-food meal
that costs $4 back home costs over $11 here). More reports to come.
Traveling from Bari to San Giovanni Rotondo
We’ve been asked for information regarding the best way to travel from Bari to San Giovanni Rotondo, the
location of sacred sites related to Saint Padre Pio.
Traveling from Bari is easiest and fastest by train. Regular railroad service is provided from the central
train station in Bari to the central station in Foggia. Bus service is then provided from Foggia to San
Giovanni Rotondo as well as to Monte Sant’Angelo, Manfredonia, Vieste and other points of interest on
the Gargano Promontory.
When you arrive in Foggia by train, simply purchase a bus ticket at the newsstand inside the rail terminal
and then walk across the piazza to the bus pickup area. Your ticket will be checked by a conductor aboard
the bus. If there’s a bit of a wait before your bus departs, you may wish to take a short walk along Viale
XXVI Maggio, where there are shops and cafes.
There also is scheduled and charter bus service (some of the latter sponsored by church groups) from
Bari to Foggia and San Giovanni Rotondo. Check the official Puglia tourism website, http://www.
viaggiareinpuglia.it, for the latest information about schedules and ticket prices. The website also has
information and hotels and restaurants in the area (also see our April 25 blog posting from some ideas).
If you have other suggestions for people traveling to San Giovanni Rotondo, please share them on this
blog. Grazie e buon viaggio!
Puglia’s Tourism Future
For anyone thinking about the future of the tourism industry, the current issue of The Economist (www.
economist.com) is a must read. In an editorial titled “Asia, beware Benidorm” and in an in-depth feature
article headlined “Briefing – Travel and tourism: A new itinerary,” the publication cautions emerging
international visitor destinations about heeding the lessons – the successes and, even more important
in our view, the mistakes –of the past as nations, regions and communities succumbed to the
attractiveness (on the surface, at least) of mass tourism as the answer to economic problems. “Booming
tourism in emerging economies promises huge benefits,” the editorial states. “But not if it copies the
mistakes of mature markets.”
Which brings us to Puglia. Consider this: Many “hot-weather” destinations draw vacationers by the
millions for their “sun, sand and sea,” as the tourist brochures promise. And many destinations are
home to religious sites that attract millions of pilgrims and other religion-oriented visitors. Puglia now
finds itself in the unusual position of being a magnet to travelers drawn to both types of destinations. The
region’s Adriatic and Ionian Sea beaches and resorts have been hosting hordes of sun-seeking
summertime vacationers from cooler climates for decades; that’s not news and Puglia’s tourism industry
has developed (and is still developing) the infrastructure to accommodate them.
At the same time, the attention being focused lately on Saint Pio is attracting visitors by the hundreds and
thousands to the town of San Giovanni Rotondo on Puglia’s Gargano Promontory (see our earlier blogs)
and authorities are even predicting that that town may eclipse Lourdes in France as a pilgrimage
destination. An April 25, 2008, article in The New York Times (www.nytimes.com), headlined “San
Giovanni Rotondo Journal: Italian Saint Stirs Up a Mix of Faith and Commerce,” quotes a Puglia tourism
official as saying, “This is an opportunity we have to turn religious tourism into mass tourism.” While the
revenues generated by these visitors is, of course, welcome in an area that has long suffered from
economic deprivation, we believe it is essential that Puglia’s tourism officials take a step back and really
think about the potential impact of “mass tourism” on the region.
Traditionally, Puglia’s beaches and seaside resorts have meant that tourists pour into those areas by the
hundreds of thousands in July and August, but leave them empty for much of the rest of the year. Now, in
addition to the “sun worshipers,” the region is attracting vast number of worshipers of a different kind. And
as the summer “high season” approaches, our tourist guide contacts in Puglia report that they are
already busy hosting groups of visitors interested in seeing Puglia’s religious, historical and artistic sites.
This is all good news for the region, but its public- and private-sector tourism interests now face the
challenge of accommodating all these visitors. Puglia’s tourism infrastructure has improved greatly over
the past few years, especially its magnificently expanded airport at Bari-Palese, but that doesn’t
necessarily mean that it can withstand a surge in tourist arrivals without even more investment in the
development of visitor facilities.
The condition of the region’s physical infrastructure is even more questionable; for example, tourists
consume large quantities of water and Puglia has been suffering chronic water shortages. Where will
new water supplies come from? And what about wear and tear on Puglia’s cultural sites? The unique
qualities of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites (http://whc.unesco.org) of Alberobello’s trulli homes and
the Castel del Monte in Andria have long been attracting large numbers of visitors, but these precious
antiquities need protecting before irreversible damage is done.
The tourism industry uses the term “carrying capacity” to assess the ability of a destination to host visitors
and to determine at what point the drawbacks of growing numbers of tourist arrivals may begin to
outweigh the benefits. Has anyone yet determined what is Puglia’s “carrying capacity”? Puglia has a rich
and diverse culture. Its foods, wines, history, art and architecture are enjoyed by thousands of visitors
every year. It has even gained a reputation as “the next Tuscany” as foreign investors purchase properties
and generate new development.
If you are as concerned about Puglia’s tourism future as we are, we urge you read the editorial and the
feature article in the latest issue of The Economist, and consider how the Puglia of today is already being
affected by current trends in international tourism and what the Puglia of tomorrow may look like. Mass
tourism is not necessarily a bad thing, and Puglia’s economy desperately needs new sources of
revenue. Mass tourism generates huge revenues in taxes and visitor spending on hotels, meals, tours,
souvenirs and other goods. Mass tourism provides jobs (albeit frequently low paying) for many people.
But consider what has happened elsewhere. As the editorial states, “The question planners in these new
markets should ask themselves is where they want tourism to be in 20 years….Mass tourism needs
mass development.” Puglia is a wonderful place to visit, and we hope its wonders will be there for many
generations of visitors.
If You're Planning to Visit Gargano...
Yesterday, we reported that we are gathering information that would be of interest to those planning to
travel to the sacred sites of San Giovanni Rotondo and Monte Sant'Angelo in the Gargano area of Puglia,
in the Province of Foggia. Here is very useful information from our colleague, Emanuela D'Andria, a
professional tour guide and member of the Associazione Guide Turistiche della Regione Puglia:
Beautiful and typical places where to stay and where to eat:
1. Villa Scapone, along the wonderful Gargano coast (Mattinata-Vieste) - tel. 08126.96.36.199 - www.
2. Ristorante "Il Grottino", Corso V. Emanuele, 179 - Monte Sant'Angelo - tel. 08188.8.131.52
3. Ristorante "Osteria degli Archi", Via Ripe, 2 - Vieste - tel. 08184.108.40.206
Yeah, They're Touristy, But...
We just read an interesting book, “Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer,” by
Chuck Thompson (2007, www.henryholt.com, $15). It’s billed as “a hilarious behind-the-brochures tour of
picture-perfect locales, dangerous destinations, and overrated hellholes from a guy who knows the truth
about travel.” The author is critical, for good reason, of writers of travel articles and tourist brochures who,
for whatever reason, fail to tell potential visitors the whole truth about destinations. Along with most
people who have done any traveling, we’ve fallen victim to exaggerations in travel brochures, guidebooks
and tourist office press releases. That’s one reason why we’re here. Our goal is to first, get you interested
in traveling to Puglia and, second, to make your visit as enjoyable and hassle-free as we can. We’ve been
there numerous times, have seen most of it, and have no reason not to tell the truth. If we make mistakes
(for example, maybe a restaurant we really liked isn’t open anymore, or has changed owners and now
the food is horrible), we’ll do our best to correct them. Just let us know.
With that said, we genuinely like Puglia, but not everything there is perfect – in fact, we conducted
research a few years ago at the request of several tourism offices to assess the region as a destination
for Americans, particularly those interested in history and cultural preservation. We were asked to travel
throughout the region and compile a list of what we liked and what we didn’t. What we liked most was the
variety of things to see and do; what we didn’t like was garbage and a tourism infrastructure radically in
need of improvement. Since then, we’ve seen some major improvements, most notably the Bari airport.
Signage is better, but is it still easy to get lost or confused, especially when driving (we took a wrong turn
off the “superstrada” and wound up in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic in an industrial section of Bari,
not one of the highlights of our trip. Only by following the setting sun – no kidding – were we able to find
our way back to the highway.). Do your research before you go and you can avoid unpleasant surprises.
Many Americans, particularly those whose families live in the region, have visited Puglia over and over
again. Many others, however, have not yet had that opportunity, but are planning to visit “someday.” Our
first visit to Puglia took place in 1985, and we knew nothing of the region when we arrived. Our family
members in Bari became our informal tour guides, and they were happy to introduce their American
cousins to Puglia’s heritage and history – and food. Now, every time we travel around Puglia, we revisit
our favorite sites and find new places to go.
Here are three places close to the city of Bari that we think first-time visitors will want to visit. Warning:
They can be crowded and “tourist-y” at peak times, but we think you need to see them at least once. They’
re easy to find on a map and relatively easy to get to, and maybe once you see them, they’ll whet your
appetite to see what else Puglia has to offer. Please let us know what you think, especially if you can
share tips about visiting these places:
Alberobello – This village near Bari is home to the iconic “trulli” houses you’ll see in travel brochures and
picture books of Italy (and at the top of this posting). Perhaps the most “tourist-y” place in Puglia,
especially because it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Alberobello can get very
crowded and you will find schlocky souvenir shops, but you have to see it at least once. Get off the main
street and poke around in some of the family food shops, look for the little restaurants in trulli houses,
buy a coffee or a gelato, and find someone who speaks a little English (better yet, try speaking some
Italian out of a phrase book).
Castel del Monte – The mysterious “Castle on the Mountain” in Andria, built by Frederick II in 13th century,
is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it attracts a lot of attention from visitors to the region. (If you
have a pocket full of euro coins, look closely at the one-cent coin – Castel del Monte is depicted on some
of them.) When we first visited in 1985, we could drive right up to the castle and walk around inside on our
own. Now, visits are controlled to protect the site and raise money for its preservation. The entire structure
is built on an octagonal format – the eight-sided castle features eight towers, each with eight sides. Is it a
fortress? A hunting lodge? A shrine? A temple? What is the significance of its use of the octagon in its
design and construction? No one knows for certain, but your guide will present the various theories
proposed over the centuries and let you to decide for yourself.
Castellana Grotte – This town is famous for the Grotte di Castellana, the extensive complex of caves that
were first explored in detail in 1938. We were very privileged to be given a private after-hours tour and
were surprised by the vastness of the network of caves and the quality and quantity of the stalactites and
stalagmites. There are several large open areas such as the White Grotto and the Black Grotto, all
connected by narrow passageways. The caves also contain some unusual formations – we remember a
Madonna and what looks like an alley of apartments buildings with clothes drying across it. The site is
open all year, and a tour takes about two hours. Notes: The caves are popular with tour groups and for
school field trips, so watch the calendar, and they may not be for the claustrophobic.
If you’ve been to Puglia, we’d enjoy finding out where you went, what you saw, what you liked and what
you didn’t like. If you haven’t visited the region, let us know what interests you and we can post
information to help you. Please contact us by adding a comment below or going through our email,
Climate Change & Puglia's Tourism Future
Tourism is big business in Puglia, and summer is the region’s “hot” tourist season in more ways than
one. It’s when travelers from within and outside Italy pour onto the region’s Adriatic and Ionian Sea
beaches – and it’s when temperatures soar. We’ve visited Puglia in July and August, the first time in
1985, and can say from experience that the afternoon heat there can be unbearable.
New research about climate change is raising serious questions about Puglia’s tourism future. The New
York Times, reporting on a United Nations conference on climate change and tourism in that took place
in Davos, Switzerland, last month, quoted Geoffrey Lipman, assistant secretary general of the United
Nations World Tourism Organization, as warning: “The entire tourism product will be affected (because)
…Every destination has a climate-related component.” The conference’s final report stated: “The tourism
industry must adapt rapidly.”
Puglia could be particularly impacted by climate changes that involve higher temperatures, wildland fire
dangers, severe droughts, drains on power supplies and other factors that would prove costly to the
region. An article in the journal Climatic Change suggests that hotter temperatures could lead some
visitors to avoid warm-weather destinations, such as Puglia, in July and August and instead plan their
beach vacations in June and September. (“The Impact of Climate on Holiday Destination Choice” by
Andrea Bigano, Jacqueline M. Hamilton, Richard S.J. Tol. Climatic Change. Dordrecht: June 2006.
Volume 76, Issue 3-4. Pages 389-406.) On Nov. 17, the newspaper La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno reported
on speculation about risks of drought and health emergencies in southern Mediterranean regions
stemming from global warming and the potential harmful impact on summer tourism.
To address this issue, we propose a proactive “dispersal strategy” for Puglia’s tourism authorities,
based on seasonal as well as geographical factors. Seasonal dispersal means finding ways to attract
visitors during the “shoulder seasons” of spring and fall, when Puglia’s weather is temperate and visitors
are fewer. Geographical dispersal would involve promoting tourism to areas away from the beaches.
Certainly, Puglia has much to offer for visitors interested in history, archaeology, architecture food and
wine, and other varied areas of interest. We intend to examine these individually in future postings.
Some contend that the dire warnings about global warming and its potential to devastate tourism
industries are exaggerated. We don’t pretend to be experts. But our research experiences during visits to
Puglia in various seasons lead us to believe that Puglia can only benefit by expanding its tourism market
seasonally and geographically, regardless of climate-related factors. We’ll continue our discussion of
tourism dispersal by presenting alternatives to sea-and-sun vacations, and we’d be very interested in
hearing from tourism officials and private-industry tourism professionals about their thoughts on this
In the Path of St. Michael the Archangel
At Puglia Connection, we are particularly interested in visiting sacred sites and shrines throughout the
Region of Puglia. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina’s shrine in San Giovanni Rotunda, near the city of Foggia, is
world famous and is said to attract millions of pilgrims each year. There are, however, other places of
religious significance throughout Puglia with which you may not be familiar. Periodically, we will introduce
you to them and describe our visits, plus offer travel tips to those interested in touring these holy places.
About a 30-minute drive from San Giovanni Rotunda, on the Gargano Promontory, is the town of Monte
Sant’Angelo, reported to be the site of at least four visits by St. Michael the Archangel, the first in 490 and
the most recent in 1656, when it is said the saint protected villagers from the plague.
In the introduction to his 1997 book “Saint Michael Shrine on the Gargano,” Father Jan Bogacki writes:
“In Apulia, on Monte Gargano, the town of Monte Sant’Angelo contains the most famous shrine of the
Latin West dedicated to the Archangel Saint Michael. Placed on top of the mountain, this singular Basilica
made up of a complex of constructions around the grotto from various eras gives evidence of a good
fifteen centuries of history. From remote times this is a place of pardon and prayer, famous in the entire
Christian world. An anonymous writer, who lived more than a thousand years ago, describes it thus: ‘The
shrine of Saint Michael is known and extolled everywhere not for the splendor of its marble, but for the
prodigious events that took place here; of modest form, it is nevertheless rich in celestial virtue because
the Archangel Michael himself deigned to set up and consecrate it, who being mindful of human frailty,
came down from heaven so that men could participate in things divine in that temple.’ ”
The site has recorded visits by a number of pilgrims who later were canonized; among them, Saint
Francis of Assisi. Seven popes are known to have made the pilgrimage to Monte Sant’Angelo, including
Pope John Paul II in 1987.
We visited Monte Sant’Angelo on a Saturday in early summer, after inspecting visitor facilities in Vieste, a
resort area on the tip of Gargano. We toured the shrine as well as “Il Castello” (The Castle) built by the
Normans in the 11th century. Federico II used it as a royal palace; later the Angevins converted it into a
prison, where most notably Queen Joan I was held in captivity and then executed (one cell inside the
castle has been restored to show the way it looked at the time, complete with a model of the prisoner in
chains). From the top of the mountain one can see miles and miles of countryside.
The easiest way to reach Monte Sant’Angelo is by bus from Foggia, about a 45-minute trip. The bus
terminal is across the piazza from the city’s main railroad station. Buy your bus ticket from the newsstand
inside the station. You can also drive there, but the winding mountain roads can be tricky if you’re not
accustomed to them. Parking is overseen by gentlemen in white caps who accept tips for their service.
A side note: We were privileged yesterday to meet Padre GianMaria Digiorgio, a friar from the Sanctuary of
Saint Pio in San Giovanni Rotundo, who has brought relics of the saint to various churches in the New
York-New Jersey area for veneration during the month of November. The relics include a lock of Saint Pio’
s hair and a blood-stained bandage he used to dry blood from his Stigmata. Many people in the area
have a devotion to Saint Pio, particularly those of Pugliese heritage, so this was a very special occasion.
Welcome to the Puglia Connection Blog
Welcome to the Puglia Connection blog. We're hoping that this blog can be a starting point for creating a
network of travelers interested in learning more about the Italian region of Puglia (also called Apulia) as a
tourism destination, particularly because of its diverse cultural offerings. We also hope to generate
interest in the region among Americans of Pugliese heritage and we look forward to learning and sharing
stories about your families.
We're Jeff and Randa Barrington, and we've been promoting tourism to Puglia - mainly by word of mouth -
since we started this project in 2000. That's when we visited Puglia for the second time and saw
enormous potential for using very carefully managed international tourism as a way to help preserve
Puglia's precious antiquities and diverse heritage (we've been back nearly every year since to explore the
region and compile information for travelers). If you're not familiar with Puglia, it is the region that
comprises the heel of the Italian boot along the coasts of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The region's
principal cities are Bari, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce and Taranto.
While Puglia's excellent beaches have been popular with Italians and other Europeans for many years,
only recently has there been significant awareness of Puglia's history, culture, heritage, food and wine.
We've explored most of Puglia by car and train; and we have many ideas to share about places to see,
stay, eat and shop; and we can offer practical advice and tips about planning your Puglia vacation.
A little about us: Randa's grandparents are all from Puglia, within the province of Bari - her maternal
grandparents from Palo del Colle and her paternal grandparents from Bitonto. Randa and Jeff have both
studied Puglia's culture and history extensively, and Jeff earned a master's degree in tourism
development from New York University, where his research centered on developing Puglia as a
sustainable tourism destination. We formalized this project in 2005 under the name Puglia Connection
and are working to develop the website www.pugliaconnection.com as a resource for travelers. We've
explored Puglia from top to bottom, from Vieste on the edge of the Gargano Peninsula to Marina de Leuca
at the tip of Salento. We've booked trains, rented cars, discovered numerous restaurants, hotels and
sites worth visiting, worked with local guides to gather information about the most interesting places to
see in Puglia, and we're happy to share that information with anybody who is interested in learning more
about this fascinating region.
We hope that this blog will encourage you to learn more about Puglia as a tourism destination. Please
send us your comments, questions and ideas.