When you try to decide where to go on honeymoon or holiday you rely on guidebooks and websites. All of them describe Puglia as the undiscovered secret tail of Italy or the new Amalfi coast. Having been, quite frankly, I might go back to the north of Puglia but there is a reason the southern tip of it is undiscovered and I wish it hadn’t taken a honeymoon to find out. And f*@k the Rough Guide.
Now we never really wanted the Maldives kind of honeymoon. Or, more accurately, we couldn’t afford the Maldives kind of honeymoon so we thought we would be more adventurous. So the day after our wedding we left Tuscany with its perfect weather, cheap food and wine and charming yet lived in history and drove the furthest you could drive.
Initially the drive looked promising. Then the promise faded. Then it became industrial. Then it became towns where they don’t even bother switching on the traffic lights as no-one is there. Then it became like the bad ghettos in Cuba. Then it was just empty as no-one ever visits apart from the height of Summer to suburn/ suntan on Italian beaches in regimented lines. And low rise industry.
The guide books also talked about the food. Now I agree if they were referring to the produce. The produce was astounding. Wine which cost little more than water and which is not ever sold outside the region but which you can drown in in Puglia. Sloppy textured fattening burratta adding pure weight to your hips but taste to your lips. What wonder. The cuisine… well it was ok but we never had one meal which really excited us or gave us one of those “hell yes” smiles. In the end we just made our own picnics.
And this is where we spent the first part of our honeymoon thanks to the Rough Guide and all its talk of ‘undiscovered’ Italy. Still I got a couple of things right which I can at least recommend there in case you drive that bit too far.
Masseria Don Cirillo
The redeeming joy of southern tip – properly known as the Brindisi and the Salento – was where we stayed. I suppose it is probably something which we couldn’t afford if we had been in northern Italy.
Masseria Don Cirillo is a restored oasis of a place to stay just outside the town of Ugento. Ugento itself looks like a place where you can practice resisting carjacking but Don Cirillo is very different. The old stone farmhouse has been restored and if you get the tower room you have a terrace with a vista over antique olive groves and a massive and trendy room.
If you drive into Lecce you might be tempted to give up half way as on the way in it looks like a fairly standard quasi-industrial shitbox of a town. However, hidden at the centre and slowly rotting away is what is known as the “Florence of the South“.
To put it mildly that is optimistic. The extravagant baroque architecture is there but it nestles in a town slowly rotting as everyone who could moved away and what is left are some floating tourists, the smell of piss from people sleeping on the streets (a bit like San Francisco) and graffiti. Plain neglect.
Riserva Marina Porto Cesareo
If one puts food to one side what is most remarkable about Italy is its natural beauty. The Amalfi coast amazes because of the sheer cliffs and the silky water and then is just made better by pitch perfect art deco towns and Roman architecture dotted along it.
Southern Puglia isn’t this and seems to be a repository for low level industry. However, where this is absent the remarkable natural beauty of Italy hides waiting to be discovered which is what makes the marine reserves and the natural parks so amazing.
This is where the fact that southern Italy is relatively undiscovered and basically empty gets its just reward. Empty vistas and primal nature. So would I recommend southern Puglia? Perhaps but only if you stay at Don Cirillo and like picnics and hiking