Working on this illustrated map of Puglia (Apulia) has filled me with more joy than I could have ever imagined! This just goes to show that the impression this beautiful region with its centuries-old farmland and long Mediterranean coastline, has left on my hubby and I was truly extraordinary and special! Puglia, down in the heel of Italy, was certainly the highlight of our recent Italy Culinary Tour.
Our intense tour took us to seven of Apulia’s cities, five of which are the highlight of the trip, including the utterly romantic Lecce and the Medieval and breath-taking Bari.
In my last Illustrated Travel Stories post, I spoke about our time in Napoli (Naples), and shared with you the news about the latest yellow-tomato pizza trend that is now taking Neapolitan pizzerias by storm. And although Puglia and Campagna (Campania), the Italian region where Napoli is located, are both in the south, they don’t seem to share much in terms of temperament and mood.
Puglia is a lot similar to the northern cities in this respect, owing to its ancient history and the romance that oozes through its nooks and crannies, while Napoli is a real sun-kissed Mediterranean city that is more Yang and energetic than romantically Yin.
Andria: An Incredible Fine Dining Experience
Our first stop in Puglia was in Hotel Ottagono, a very nice modern accommodation in the agricultural city of Andria, a historic producer of olives, almonds, and grapes. We arrived late at night and went straight to dinner in the hotel’s restaurant downstairs. And what a dinner that was!
For the anti-pasto, we had Mozzarella Burrata. Made of an outer pouch of fresh and solid Mozzerella cheese, this dish comes with a rich-tasting soft filling of fresh pieces of Mozzarella soaked in heavy cream. This delicious starter, served on a bed of lettuce and a few slices of cherry tomatoes, is an unparalleled delicacy that you must try on your next trip to Italy!
The Primo was also very delicious and it featured traditional Made-in-Puglia pasta called Orecchiette. The name of this homemade pasta means “little elephant ears” owing to its cute and district shape. Apparently, Orecchietti con Funghi is a play on another Pugliesi signature dish, which has sausage added to the mix. But since we were part of a group with a number of people who did not eat meat, I suspect the chefs decided to serve us the Orecchiette with mushrooms only, both in Andria and later on in our set menu in Lecce.
Now, with the Secondo, we came to the realisation that we were dining at a top-notch restaurant! The Fettine di Vitello con Salsa ai Funghi is a piece of veal covered with a layer of mushroom sauce. Served with roasted potatoes on the side, this main dish tasted absolutely divine!
The Dolce (or dessert) consisted of a cup-shaped mould of Panna, a rich Italian cream, topped with pineapple and cherries. Also very tasty!
Apricena: A Rustic Lunch under the Arches
Next day we had lunch at Trattoria da Nonna Peppina, a rustic restaurant in Apricena, north of Andria. The restaurant’s menu is created by a lovely lady chef who makes staple Italian and Mediterranean dishes with her own twist. Our booking was for a relatively large group of people, who enjoyed the hot buffet featuring seafood salads, fried foods, pastas, and fresh Italian veggies.
The restaurant is located on a beautiful street featuring stunning old architecture and small shops and buildings with their beautiful wooden doors and stone facades. The Trattoria itself shows off irregular rustic walls and arched entryways that add to the charm of this lovely restaurant.
Bari: An Interesting Piece of Architectural History
We passed through Bari, the capital of Puglia, on our way to Cursi and en route to Lecce. That’s where we saw the Medieval site of the Trulli of Alberobello houses, one of 51 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy.
A Trullo (plural of Trulli) is a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a cone-shaped roof that is built without the use of mortar. As mentioned in the curtain raiser of this illustrated Italy trip, the people of Bari invented this architectural feature out of mere necessity. According to Italia.it, legend has it that this dry-wall construction was made without mortar in response to a tax the Kingdom of Naples had imposed on every new urban construction in the 15th Century. To evade the taxes, the peasants came up with an architectural structure that is so unique and beautiful, and lives to tell a piece of Italy’s history until this very day!
Lecce: A Romantic Evening among the Saints
We arrived late in the evening at Lecce, and checked into one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever been to, the Patria Palace Hotel. The hotel’s website captures the romantic reality of the Lecce experience in these few beautiful words: “Lecce amazes and seduces, in a second, forever.”
Tucked away in the most spectacular pedestrian-only location in Lecce’s city centre, the hotel faces the Santa Croce Church with its beautiful Baroque facade. Both the hotel and the church are a stroll away from the Piazza Sant‘Oronzo, home to the Sant’Oronzo Column, a Roman structure topped with a bronze statue of the city’s patron Saint, next to the sunken Roman amphitheatre.
Before taking a romantic stroll around midnight, we first had a delicious dinner at the hotel, starting with Pasta e Ceci (chickpeas with fettuccini) as an Anti-pasto, followed by a Primo of Orecchietti con Funghi, a Secondo of Fettine di Carne con Patate al Forno (steak with melt-in-the-mouth oven-baked potatoes), and a delightful Dolce serving of cheesecake.
If you check the second illustration following the illustrated map of Puglia, you’ll see sketches and impressions from Lecce in the top right corner, while the food is in the bottom, under “Dinner in Lecce.”
Altamura: The Authentic Apulian Cuisine
We left the hotel early in the morning and by lunchtime, the intensity of the trip was starting to take its toll on our group. Fortunately, though, our bus stopped at Ristorante La Pugliese in Altamura, and that is where we had a taste of the authentic Pane di Altamura, served in a breadbasket with a tub of chilled butter on the side, and later on as part of a Bruschetta.
This is the authentic bread of Altamura, traditionally made from durum flour specifically sourced from this hilly area. My husband told me that in 2003, Pane di Altamura received Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) status within Europe (aka PDO, short for Protected Designation of Origin certification), which ensures that this bread is locally grown and packaged. This also means that no other similar bread made from the flour of another area could ever carry the Altamura name.
As for our meal, we began with an Anti-Pasto of scrumptious Carpaccio di Manzo la Fontana (thinly-sliced beef carpaccio), a Primo featuring a simple Spaghetti con Pomodori (pasta with tomatoes), followed by Fettina di Carne con Pomodori (a piece of veal with tomatoes on the top). And instead of Dolce, we had slices of fresh pineapple topped with berries and an assortment of fruits.
Behind the Scenes: The making of this Illustrated Map of Puglia
Like all of the maps created so far for my Italy Culinary Tour blog series, this illustrated map of Puglia, in addition to the second illustration chronicling culinary and architectural highlights from the trip, are both based on urban sketches created on site during the trip! I had a small sketchbook with me that helped me explore a different way of illustrating new elements for my illustrated map of Puglia. Urban sketching is very interesting. It forces you to make quick decisions concerning what elements and lines you are going to include in your sketch, and therefore yields different results from illustrations created in the comfort of one’s own studio. These are more fluid and immediate than studio-bound sketches, and I think result in a different kind of artwork that transmits the raw energy of the trip.
This illustrated map of Puglia concludes the second leg of our culinary tour in Southern Italy, and the third stop in our total Italy food experience that started out in the north in Milano (Milan). Up next is the last leg of the tour featuring restaurants and places in the southern region of Calabria and back in Campagna (Campania) where we return to Napoli for our flight back home – so stay tuned!