Lesina (Puglia), Italy October 2020 (Tour 3)

It was raining heavily in Contursi when we went to bed last night and it was still raining when we awoke this morning. In fact heavy rain is forecast for the next few days in the Salerno area and along almost the whole of the west coast of Italy. There was only one thing to do – move to the east coast where the forecast is much brighter – and so we set off at about 9.30 for a place called Chieti which is on the Adriatic Coast in the Abruzzo Region.

Chieti is about 195 miles from Contursi and I estimated the journey would take between 2.5 and 3.0 hours using the motorways. In the end, we didn’t make it. In fact we are still 87 miles south of Chieti and that is after 5 hours driving! I went totally the wrong way. In fact, we are now in the small fishing town of Lesina on the Puglian coast of the Adriatic. No matter. We’re not in a hurry.

I don’t think there is much to see or do in Lesina but it is a pretty enough place. It is a genuine fishing village on Lake Lesina just to the north of the Gargano National Park (see the Vieste blog earlier this trip). I say ‘genuine’ because you get the impression here that fishing is what it is all about whereas, in a lot of so called ‘fishing villages’ the fishing has long since given way to tourism. We’ll find out for sure later tonight when we check out the restaurants and tomorrow morning when I check out the local fish market.

What’s to look at? Well, there’s an elegant looking (former) cathedral here, the Cattedrale della Santissima Annunziate. Not sure how it is or why a cathedral can revert to being a church?

There is some history here too in that USACE opened an airfield here in 1944 for 325 Fighter Group (317, 318 & 319 Squadrons) with their P51 Mustangs. It closed in 1945.

When arriving in Lesina we chose to stay at the local Aree di Sosta. By any standards the Sosta is a good one, even having a (very) small bar frequented by local fishermen. The proprietor was friendly and enquired as to whether or not we wanted any local fish, offering also to cook it for us in the small kitchen at the back of the bar. It wasn’t a particularly cheap meal by local standards but it was good and he served it with a very nice white wine from the Istria Valley in Puglia and then, to cap it all, presented us with complimentary liqueurs.

Yes, this is very much a genuine fishing village.

Gallipoli (Puglia), Italy October 2020 (Tour 3)

Beautiful little fishing port down in the heel of Italy. I stopped off here two years ago on my way back to the UK from Greece. For that reason I will not talk much about the place – if you are interested you can read my earlier blog. For those who have read it already it will suffice to say that Arkwright’s is no longer there. Shame.

Stayed at a different, far better camp site this time – La Masseria – large site with all amenities and reasonably priced. We stayed two nights and if the weather had been better we would have stayed longer. The swimming pools looked great and it would have been nice to have taken advantage of it.

Vanya hadn’t seen Gallipoli before and we therefore used the free camp site shuttle into town. It was very windy and so after a quick circuit of the peninsula which houses the old town (i.e. the more interesting and historical parts) we made our way into the lanes (for protection from the wind as much as anything), did some window shopping, sat and had an ice cream and then made our way back. Doesn’t sound particularly exciting but Gallipoli is so picturesque (even in what sometimes felt like hurricane force winds) that you don’t need much more. We both enjoyed the visit.

Fasano (Puglia), Italy October 2020 (Tour 3)

We headed for Gallipoli today by way of Fasano (for its theme park) and Ostuni (because it is pretty).

Fasano Theme Park or, to give it its correct name, Zoosafari Fasanolandia has various fairground attractions and multiple rides (roller coasters, dodgems, ghost train, log flume, etc) but it is the 150 acre drive through safari park that captured Vanya’s attention and which brought us to Fasano. Just as well since Covid had seen to it that the fairground attractions were all closed down. The safari park is not that large but what sets it apart from others we have been to is that the dogs were allowed to accompany us as we drove through and it was almost as much fun watching our dog’s reaction to the animals in the zoo as the animals themselves.

Never seen bears before…

We had the park almost to ourselves and with no queues passed through it quite quickly. It was fun though and while there was not a great variety of animals, there were significant numbers of certain species (in particular lions, tigers and brown bears). The pride of lions was one of the largest I have seen and included a surprising number of fully grown males but the streak or ambush of tigers was huge. I thought they were quite solitary creatures but, no, there must have been 20+ sharing the tiger enclosure.

I was going to write a little about our second stop of the day at Ostuni. Known as “The White City” because of its plenitude of whitewashed houses, Ostuni is not a particularly large town (circe 30,000 people live there) but, spread across three small hills and towering over the surrounding area, it is is quite literally dazzling and ranked amongst the most picturesque towns in Puglia. This is another of those towns I earmarked for a visit some two years ago (when I returned from my Balkans Tour via Italy) but I never quite made it.

Well, I made it this time and, yes, parts of it looked wonderful. Unfortunately however my SatNav chose to play up just as we entered the town and I wasn’t therefore best placed to enjoy it. The bloody thing had me going round in circles for ages but worst of all it took me into the labyrinth that is the oldest part of the city. It was inevitable I would end up lost in the lanes and as the lanes became narrower and narrower it was almost equally certain that I would get stuck – and, yes, that is precisely what happened. It got to the stage that I could proceed no further. I don’t want to write anymore. I don’t even want to think about what happened. Let’s just say that we (eventually) got out out of it with Vanya stopping traffic and guiding me backwards and you can imagine how sympathetic the Italian drivers, who were behind me, were.

On to Gallipoli…

Alberobello (Puglia), Italy October 2020 (Tour 3)

Alberobello is a World Heritage Site that I had intended calling in on during my return from the Balkans early in 2018. It didn’t happen then but it has now.

The town is known for its “trulli” which are unique to Puglia and in particular the Itria Valley. They are cylindrical stone walled huts with cone shaped roofs which are invariably topped with a spire and often adorned with crudely painted religious or superstitious markings. They are a drywall construction (no mortar is used) of roughly worked limestone blocks with the conical roof being made of ever smaller blocks and then topped with a final layer of flat angled stones so that rain water flows away from the building. The walls of each “trullo” are very thick so as to keep the inside warm in winter and cool in the summer and, nowadays, the walls are usually whitewashed with the conical roofs being left grey. This makes for a very picturesque building and Alberobello has almost 2,000 of them.

Quite often a number of trulli will be clustered together thus creating several rooms (Trullo Sovrano, the Sovreign Trullo, is the largest in Alberobello with several rooms spread over two very distinct floors) and there is even a trullo church, the Sant Antonio Church. Alberobello is a picture postcard town and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

The trulli originated some time in the 1500’s when the Acquaviva family, feudal lords over the Itria Valley, sought to avoid paying property taxes to the king. They ordered local peasants to build dwellings without mortar so that, in the event of a royal inspection, they could be dismantled very quickly and with the peasants in hiding the inspector could not then call in taxes against an inhabited settlement. Hard luck on the king and most especially the peasants who had to set about rebuilding their homes until the next inspection. This went on some 200 years until discontented citizens appealed directly to the king and he gave Alberobello royal town status and so freed the inhabitants from the rules of feudal lords.

We wanted to see Alberobello at night and that first evening were given a lift into town by a local who dropped all four of us (Vanya, Nala, Beanie and myself) behind the Chiesa dei Santi Medici Cosma e Damiano (the Basilica Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian) with a promise that he would collect us in 2 hours time. He also advised us to make our way down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele to the Piazza del Popolo where we could access the two main trulli areas of Rione Monte and Rione Aia Piccolo. That gave us just enough time to both wander the Rione Monte area and catch a couple of drinks at a bar on the Piazza del Popolo. We would return the next day to properly explore both areas.

The Rione Monte is a large, brightly lit pedestrianised area built on a slope overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. It is covered with trulli; over 1,000 of them. Not all of these particular trulli are homes; many have been converted to cafe bars, restaurants, small shops selling local produce (linens, jewellery, local sweets, and model trulli etc) and tourist accommodation. In fact, almost all of Rione Monte seems to have been given over to tourism notwithstanding that the Sant Antonio Church (also built in the trulli style) towers above this particular area. No matter, it is still truly beautiful (forgive the pun).

Two buildings in the Rione Monte deserving special mention are (a) the Casa d’Amore, built in 1797 and not a love nest as the name might suggest but the home of one Francesco Amore who was a ringleader in the uprising against the feudal lords which led to Alberobello becoming a royal town and (b) Il Pozzo Illuminato, an unusual shop selling the most bizarre ceramics and old movie photographs (in addition to the ever present model trulli).

Il Pozzo Illuminato

We returned to the town the next day to see Rione Aia Piccola and revisit Rione Monte. Aia Piccola is a largely non commercial, wholly residential area of 400+ trulli which sits opposite Rione Monte. It looks and feels lived in and with few if any tourist shops it appears far more authentic than it’s counterpart on the opposite side of the Piazza del Popolo.

We thoroughly enjoyed wandering in and around the area’s narrow winding streets and were delighted to be called into one trullo by the gentleman who still lived there. His was a clean but cluttered little property of three connected trulli. He shared a glass of Primitivo wine and some Amoretti biscuits (which we were encouraged to dunk in our wine!) and invited us to view his grandmothers old trullo which was, let us say, more sparsely and traditionally furnished but still quite homely. His grandmother’s property also comprised three connected trulli but, having a number of significantly sized arched alcoves, hers offered considerably more storage and living space.

After Aia Piccola we had time to both eat an al fresco lunch on the Piazza del Popolo and revisit Rione Monte. In the cold light of the day (except it wasn’t cold) and after visiting Aia Piccola, Rione Monte appeared far more commercial and therefore not quite so appealing as the previous evening but that is perhaps to be expected after seeing Aia Piccila and that comment should not detract from it’s overall beauty.

I’ve long said that as a place to visit and for things to see and do, Puglia can compare with any of the other better known regions of Italy (Rome, Venice, Tuscany, etc) and it can only be a matter of time before Puglia will begin to receive the same media attention as it’s more illustrious neighbours. That is perhaps when tourism will start to detract from places like Alberobello but for the present, so glad it is there and to have seen it!

POST SCRIPT: Alberobello completely overwhelmed me. I forgot to mention that we made our way from Bisceglie to Bari to catch our ferry to Albania (en route to Greece); we checked in, got our tickets and were about to board the ferry when, after learning of Covid restrictions between Albania & Greece and then Greece & Italy, we decided to cancel it all and stay in Italy. That means more time in Puglia!!

Bisceglie (Puglia), Italy September 2020 (Tour 3)

We came to Bisceglie because it has one of very few camp sites currently open in the Bari area and at the end of the month (in two days time) we are scheduled to leave Bari on a ferry to Durres in Albania. We are finally making proper progress on our journey to Greece.

Bisceglia is a fair sized town of 50,000+ some 20 miles north of Bari. It was around in Roman times (known then as Vigiliae) but didn’t really come to prominence until the 11th century after being conquered by the Normans. Agriculture (olives) and to a lesser extent fishing are the main activities in the area but lately tourism has also become important.

Our camp site was some 2 kms north of the town centre and it was a lovely sunny walk along the promenade to the harbour and then into the old town which adjoins the harbour and is wholly residential except for the cathedral and a handful of small cafe bars. The cafe bars were full of locals and there was no sign of tourism or any other form of commercial development. The lanes are wonderful and were a breath of fresh air after some of the places that we passed through during our drive down from Vieste.

We enjoyed a wander around both the harbour and the old town and stayed long enough to enjoy a late breakfast in an old town cafe and an early lunch sitting outside a harbour cafe.

Breakfast amounted to a chicken taco and a local beer (okay it was early for booze but we are on a kind of holiday) while lunch comprised the local bread and four very large prawns coated in chopped almonds. One thing I missed out on was a Bisceglie Sospiro. This is a light sponge cake, the flour of which is flavoured with lemon zest, filled with a vanilla infused cream and coated with a thin sugar glaze. According to local legend, when Lucrezia Borgia, the countess of Bisceglie, wed Alfonso of Aragon, the nuns of the San Luigi convent prepared these little cakes for the wedding celebrations. Other stories say that the Sospiro was invented by a romantic confectioner who was inspired by the shape of his lover’s breasts. The cakes are breast shaped.

We stayed for two very enjoyable and relaxing days.

One other thing, there were some rather bizarre sculptures on the harbour of which I can find no detail. They included 3 pairs of shoes right by the waters edge, a pair of hands (cut off at the wrist) and a most curious fisherman. If anyone knows anything about these, please drop me a line…

Trani (Puglia), Italy September 2020 (Tour 3)

Whilst we were in Vieste a local chap, Francesco, had recommended we visit Trani; a fair sized town of 50,000 people further south on the Adriatic. Trani was en route to our next planned stop of Bisceglie and, while my admittedly limited research on the place suggested there was not much to see (It’s real interest is in it’s history – it was a major jumping off point for many of the Crusades) we decided to give it a try.

We elected to follow the coast road. We figured it would be slower but more picturesque and; it was for the first few miles across the Gargano Peninsula to Manfredonia and; it should have been impressive beyond that but, so far as Vanya and I are concerned… Well, read the travel blurb and it will tell you of the numerous luxury holiday resorts all with blue flag beaches that adorn this particular stretch of the Adriatic coastline. It will tell you too of the beauty of the Riserva Naturale di Stato Saline di Margherita di Savoia. Sorry, not when we were there. We drove the coast road all the way from Manfredonia, through Zapponeta, Margherita di Savoia and Barletta to Trani and, honestly, it looked like an extensive plot from Dawn Of The Dead. The first half of that journey we passed countless holiday resorts and camp sites; every one of them closed if not derelict; shredded flags blowing in the wind and rubbish, tons of rubbish and dumped furniture, strewn along both sides of the road and; no people. The second half of the journey it was salt marshes; miles of flat, featureless salt marshes occasionally punctuated with metal skeletons that I assume were some form of industrial processing plant and small mountains of salt and; rubbish, tons of rubbish and dumped furniture strewn along both sides of the road and; no people. And it was grey and it was raining and all very apocalyptic.

We arrived at a bad time, about noon, when every self respecting Italian is off for a two or three hour lunch) and the ensuing lack of activity around the town combined with worsening weather (heavy rain clouds were forming) ruled out one of my favourite pastimes – people watching over a glass of wine or two.

We decided that, because Trani is a historic fishing port, anything worth seeing would be down by the seafront and so we made for the harbour. I knew too that the Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino, one building that I am keen to see, is also by the harbour.

It was easy to find the harbour and we parked up on a delightful square almost on the marina, the Piazza Plebiscito. There followed a brief wander around the marina (taking the usual tourist snaps as we went), and then a stroll along the harbour walls and promenade and through the adjacent 19th century gardens (the Villa Comunale).

We decided against a trip across to the cathedral because the sky was darkening at an alarming rate and we were denied any decent photographic opportunities as a result of it being totally enveloped in scaffolding for renovation purposes. Just my luck! By the way, I am talking about the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim, not the other better known Saint Nicholas of Santa Claus fame.

And then it started pouring and we did a runner.

Vieste (Puglia), Italy September 2020 (Tour 3)

The weather is set to deteriorate. It is time to move on. We therefore booked a ferry for the evening of 30 September from Bari to Durres in Albania. And in the meantime? We decided upon a leisurely drive down to Bari which would include at least a 2 day stopover at Tenuta Padre Pio, a hotel complex near Vieste, with a view to spoiling ourselves a little. Sod the weather!

We headed south on the A14 motorway when, within 120 kms of Bari, the Satnav turned us around and sent us almost 30 kms back north on the coast road towards Vieste. It was a most confusing route but very scenic. We traversed the Gargano Peninsula (through the Parco Nazionale del Gargano) and while it wasn’t the best of roads (steep, narrow and winding – Vanya crept to the back of the Van and went to bed) it made for some wonderful views to the south (and we passed a “sounder” of wild boar on the way).

I would love to spend more time exploring the Gargano Peninsula. Jutting out into the Adriatic it is often referred to as the spur on the heel of Italy’s boot and that description does not do the place justice. In fact, this area is as scenic and close to unspoiled as you get in Italy. With towering forests of pine, oak and beech covering the hillsides it’s greener than just about anywhere else I have seen in Puglia and these forests contrast wonderfully with the stark white limestone cliffs and the deep blue sea. This is perhaps what is most endearing about this place – the diversity.

We were more than satisfied with the accommodation at Tenuta Padre Pio and that first evening we splashed out on a rather nice if somewhat expensive meal and a couple of the local wines. These were very local wines coming from the hotel’s own vineyards – no wonder the hotel has its own Enoteca and offers free wine tasting – but, while Vanya really liked her sparkling wine I was not wholly convinced with the red (but they served it chilled?!?).

We were up early the next day and at the Vieste Marina by 09.00. Being a Sunday morning the town was very quiet and finding a parking place for the Van was easy. Getting Vanya out of her bed is never so easy but, the offer of a boat trip around the grottos dotting the coastline of the Gargano Peninsula had her eating out of my hand. She’ll do almost anything for a ride on a boat and a grotto excursion would test the dogs in advance of our sailing in Greece. The only downside was that I would be expected to accompany them on the boat but as it turned out I was glad I did.

Leaving aside some great views of Vieste and it’s beaches from our little boat and; our learning a little about local fishing methods from one of the boat crew, Francesco, and; not forgetting the local legend Francesco related concerning the Crystal Rock; we saw some quite spectacular formations that were cut out and sculptured from the (white) limestone and grey (flint) rock by the power of the sea – precipitous crags & cliffs, yawning caves & grottos, natural bridges, arches & towers.

It was amazing too how the skipper could so easily manoeuvre his boat into, around and out of some of these features (with the waves more often than not tossing his small craft all over the place) – Large colourful caves filled with any number of grottos, some with narrow ledges or beaches lit by shafts of light streaming only through a hole in the roof; others smaller, dark and empty; one with stalactites and; one particular cave with two very distinct caverns, one full of light and colour and the other dark and forbidding. My photos could never do them justice.

In terms of revisiting the Gargano Peninsula, one of these boat trips would be a great way to check out the local coastline for places to visit. We were introduced to all kinds of beaches; the long sandy public beaches either side of Vieste and, in total contrast to these, a series of hidden coves with small empty pebbled beaches backed by towering white cliffs. At the top of some of the cliffs are ancient watch towers (lookout posts against invading armies or pirates) and on others modern smart looking hotels (some with lift shafts running down to small secluded beaches); still others were just a mixed mass of rock and trees hanging precariously above the water but, all provided for stunning views both across the Adriatic and up and down the Puglian coast.

All too soon our tour was concluded and we were returned to Vieste but this is one boat trip I would recommend notwithstanding the 25 Euros per person cost. And the dogs? No charge for either of them and both coped well except that Nala didn’t look too happy once the waves became a little choppier.

Back on land, we thanked the skipper and his crew, especially Francesco, and hurried off for a fish lunch and some refreshments; followed by a brief walk around the delightful old town with it’s numerous staircases and tiny piazzas and then; back to the Tenuto Padre Pio for one last lazy night in a real bed (until the next time).

Thank you Vieste.

Gallipoli (Puglia), Italy – Jan 2018

This Gallipoli is nothing to do with the site of the First World War battle (which was in Turkey). This one is a fishing port and beach destination on the west coast of the Salentine Peninsula in the heel of Italy and it’s name is derived from the Greek Kallipoli, meaning “Beautiful City”. It is known by some as the “Pearl of the Ionian Coast”.

The town is divided into two parts; the new town on the mainland and the old town on a limestone island now linked to the mainland by a 16th/17th/18th century bridge (no one can give me a definitive date). It is the old town that is of most interest and it was to the old town that I headed yesterday morning. It is so worth a visit.

Gallipoli Old Town (not my photo). The large building alongside the bridge is the island fortress of Castle Angioino. The old fishing port is to the immediate left of the castle as you look at the photo. The much larger commercial port is to the right.

The first thing you encounter as you cross the bridge into the old town is the 13th century fortress, Castello Angioino Gallipoli (largely rebuilt in the 15th century). Off season it costs 5 euros to view the castle and you are allowed on the ramparts – hurrah!! It’s not a bad little castle and it was made all the more interesting because a local authority had organised an exhibition of some of Jacob Philipp Hackert’s works. I learned that he was a German Neoclassical landscape artist who became court painter to Ferdinand IV of Naples but I can’t say I like his work. It’s all a bit cold. No matter, it made for a pleasant change and we are long overdue some culture in this blog.

… There’s a couple of pictures (mine, not Hackerts) from the castle ramparts towards the mainland. The church is the Santuario di Santa Maria del Canneto  

The receptionist in the castle was a charming chap who went out of his way to advise me as to what to see on the island and how best to navigate the narrow tortuous streets. He recommended that I venture first into the lanes to visit the cathedral of Saint Agata and then walk the perimeter of the island, perhaps stopping off for lunch at one of the many fish restaurants and finishing off at the fishing port and beach. Who was I to argue?

The first thing you notice as you enter the lanes is that the old town is lived in. It is mostly residential with just a few offices and shops although, I was told that an increasing number of cafes and restaurants are opening as the town responds to a burgeoning tourist trade. The second thing you notice is that it is almost like stepping back in time to the 1960’s. The place is full of Vespa and Lambretta motor scooters and many of the limited number of cars on the streets are original Fiat 500’s.

The best find in the lanes, however, was a general store which reminded me in some respects of the tv sitcom “Open All Hours”.  Every nook and cranny of the shop was crammed with such a variety of merchandise and the proprietor was an Italian “Arkwright” who followed me round the store, picking up and showing me various produce and talking non stop in sing song Italian about God only knows what. He didn’t seem to notice that I couldn’t understand a word and when I started smiling and then giggling at his antics (you know how it gets to you when you want to laugh but must not?) he just joined in. The pair of us were giggling and laughing like schoolkids for a fair while. Thankfully, no one else was in the shop and in the end I bought some bread and fruit just to get out of the place.

…One of the principal lanes on the island (which led to the cathedral) and “Arkwright’s Store”. Just looking at that photo makes me smile.

… The Basilica di Sant’ Agata. I was hemmed in by the lanes and couldn’t get more into the picture

The walk around the perimeter of the island would probably take only 30 to 40 minutes but it took me almost 3 hours. I kept stopping to take in the sites (and read restaurant menus). There were two particularly long stops. The first was to enjoy a couple of glasses of a dry white Salento wine and a small plate of Gambieri Crudi (raw prawns served whole after being doused in lime juice and covered in various herbs) and the second was to watch and listen to (although I couldn’t understand a word they said) a small group of men sitting in the old fishing port in the sunshine mending their nets and talking.  A couple of them were selling sea urchins to passers by from a temporary stand. It seems sea urchins are a speciality of the town.

… A few of the smaller churches or chapels on the island. I know the first one is the church and former convent of St Francis of Assis but I don’t know the names of the others.

The final act of the day was to head down from the town to the old fishing port and it’s mole (remember the Trieste blog – that was a mole) and then round to the long golden beach of Spiagga della Purita (Beach of Purity).

… a photo from the mole of the fishing port and castle. The Beach of Purity was empty except for a great deal of litter (which one hopes will be cleaned up before summer)

Well, not a bad day. The receptionist at the castle did me proud with his suggestions.

Lecce (Puglia), Italy – Jan 2018

Leaving Bari late in the day and determined to overnight in Gallipoli (some 40 km beyond Lecce on the coast), I didn’t allow myself anywhere near enough time to properly explore Lecce and the surrounding area. I overlooked some of the eastern side of the city and, more particularly, I failed to visit both the Cesine Nature Reserve (some 20 minutes drive to the east) and the seaside town of Otranto (further to the south). I’ll be back.

Commonly referred to as the Florence of the south, Lecce is a small city on the Salentine Peninsula (a sub-peninsula on the heel of Italy). The majority of the buildings in the city are made of the creamy white limestone that I mentioned in the Bari blog (and which I have since learned is known as Lecce Stone) and the place is quite beautiful. I imagine it looks stunning when lit up at night.

Parked up in the municipal car park close to Porta Napoli, I was soon on my way towards the Piazza del Duomo (the cathedral square) in the heart of the old city.

The first photo is of Porto Napoli, one of three remaining 16th century gates made in Lecce stone that lead into the old city. The second photo is of Via Palmieri, a principal route within the old city which leads from Porto Napoli to Piazza del Duomo. 

It was early afternoon and, while I hadn’t seen that many people during my walk along the Via Palmieri, there was absolutely nobody about as I entered Piazza del Duomo. This is not unusual and it can be explained in part by the fact that the square only has one entrance (which made the area easier to fortify in the event the city was attacked) and consequently there is no through traffic, motorised or pedestrian. Hey, no complaints on my part.

Above, the building on your left as you enter the square is the cathedral, the Cattedrale dell Assunzione della Virgine, and the one on the right (set further back) is the Archbishop’s Seminary Palace.  

…The entrance to the cathedral and the five story bell tower to it’s left are wonderfully ornate 

Unfortunately, the cathedral was closed. I therefore set off down increasingly narrower lanes towards another apparently more popular square (it has a McDonalds), the Piazza Sant’ Oronzo.

The centrepiece of the Piazza Sant’ Oronzo is his column but the square is great for people watching and surrounded by various interesting features (and I’m not talking about the McDonalds although I did sit and eat a Big Mac outside on the square):

… the 30 metre column on which stands a statue of Lecce’s patron saint

… in the foreground is the left half of a 2nd century Roman Arena (the other half is yet to be unearthed) and behind it the cuboid 16th century Palazzo del Sedile 

Then it all started to go awry, probably because I was in too much of a rush. I headed east towards the castle but, shades of Bari, visitors are not allowed up on the battlements. Somewhat disappointed I decided to give the castle a miss and, as in Bari, turned once again to the church.

This is when things started to go awry and confusion set in. The plan was to visit an exceptionally decorative church I had read about called the Chiesa di San Matteo. Unfortunately, the Chiesa di San Matteo I had read about is in the town of Otranto, 27 miles south east of Lecce. The exceptionally decorative church in Lecce that I had read about and wanted to visit is the Basilica di Santa Croce.

The upshot of this is that instead of heading north from the castle towards the Basilica di Santa Croce, I headed south towards the Porta San Biagio and then spent a good half hour trawling increasingly narrow lanes in search of the wrong Chiesa di San Matteo. The Chiesa di San Matteo that I eventually found was somewhat disappointing (decorative as it was, it wasn’t that great) and too far from the Basilica di Santa Croce for me to turn around. Oh well.

… Porto San Biagio and some increasingly narrower lanes…

… and… a Roman amphitheatre (which doesn’t show on my map) and… what on earth is the cathedral steeple doing there? It should be to the other side of me.

… and there it is, the wrong Chiesa di San Matteo. Whoops, I should have been looking for the Basilica di Santa Croce

Above, someone else’s photo of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce. Next time!

Still, it wasn’t a bad day. I made it to Gallipoli in good time and am now sitting drinking a reasonably well priced local wine (Villa Carrisi, Salice Salentino) with Prosciutto Crudo and Scamorza Cheese. As Shakespeare once said… “All’s well that ends well”.

Bari (Puglia), Italy – Jan 2018

Sorry. I’ve not posted for a while. Some personal matters forced me to park the Van up in Bari and fly back to the UK. Thanks to the Hobby Park Car Wash (and in particular Cosimo) for letting me leave the Van with them for the last 10 days.

I’m back in Italy now and heading towards Lecce but I did manage to see a little of Bari. With a population of more than 300,000, Bari is the capital of the Puglia or Apulia Region (in the south east of Italy) and has been a major port on the Adriatic since Roman times. Before today, anything else I might have said about Bari would have been derogatory (large industrial sea port with a reputation for being decidedly unsafe for tourists even during daylight hours – that’s what I was told) but, while it is not a place where I would want to stay (and, yes, as in any large city with crowds you should guard against pickpockets) the old town, Vecchia Bari, is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

I walked the 2-3 km from where the Van was parked to the first of the three major tourist attractions that are to be found in the Vecchia Bari – Castle Svevo. The other two on my list of places to visit were the Cattedrale di San Sabino and the Basilica di San Nicola.

The route took me down Via Sparano with all it’s designer shops (Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Sephora, Pandora, etc – you can tell I’ve been shopping with my daughter before, can’t you?) and then into a cluster of narrow lanes towards the harbour that form the Vecchia Bari.

… the mostly empty lanes are fascinating and, without the summer crowds, of no use to pickpockets 

Standing to one side of the lanes, Castle Svevo serves as the headquarters of Puglia’s Cultural & Landscape Heritage and is described as an “imposing gateway to the old city”.

Yes, the castle has a grand exterior with it’s thick sturdy walls and lofty Norman towers but that is about it. I paid the 8 euros entrance fee but was back outside within 30 minutes. It is for the most part an empty hollow shell with visitors denied access to any of the castle’s more interesting parts (such as the battlements which, surely, will have provided terrific photo opportunities both across the city and out to sea). Even the castle windows are all blocked off to visitors – no window photos!!

It’s sad. The castle appears in very good condition and so much could be done to make it a more interesting and attractive place to visit; not least because of it’s fascinating and chequered history. Castle Svevo is not just another fortress shared over a period of time by various warring factions. It is said that St Francis stayed in the castle on his return from Palestine in 1220 and there are some enthralling legends concerning his stay (one about a comely maiden who was sent to his bed chamber to test him).  Add to this that in the 16th century Isabella of Aragon and her daughter, Bona Sforza, transformed the castle into a private residence and playground for musicians, artists and scholars and that in the 19th century part of the castle was turned into a prison and you have sex, drugs and rock & roll (and more besides) all in the same castle. Okay, that last bit is me putting my own interpretation on historical events but it would still make for a pretty good castle- museum. For it to be given over as offices to the equivalent of our tourist board is a travesty.

Never mind. There are still the churches to visit.

…Impressive outer walls and generally in good repair but otherwise empty and sterile. 

… but there, within easy walking distance, is the white bell tower of the Cathedral of San Sabino

Of a relatively simplistic Romanesque design and built almost entirely in the local creamy white coloured stone (limestone?), the 13th century Cathedral of San Sabino is striking…

The Cattedrale di San Sabino. A simple but elegant design and a relatively spartan inside …

However, the highlights of this visit are to be found underneath the cathedral where there is a magnificent Baroque style crypt (housing the relics of Saint Sabinus) and a very interesting and unusual museum (i.e. excavations of earlier ecclesiastical buildings including a particularly well preserved mosaic floor). It is well worth a visit.

… a particularly impressive crypt (above)

The third and final visit in Bari Old Town was to the  Basilica di San Nicola, in which can be found the relics of St Nicholas (Santa Claus). The relics were originally enshrined in Myra, Turkey but were stolen in 1087 and carried to Bari where a new church was built to house them. The external appearance of this church is amongst the least impressive of any of the many churches to be found in Vecchia Bari but inside is quite different.

… Basilica di San Nicola – not a particularly imposing front but inside…

… the ceiling is stunning

This church holds a wide religious significance throughout the Christian world but particularly to the Orthodox Church and in the crypt, most unusual, there is an Orthodox Chapel and two altars (one dedicated to the Catholic rite and the other to the Orthodox rite). An Orthodox service was underway in front the tomb of St Nicholas as I entered and, while I couldn’t understand a word of what was said, the atmosphere was serene (spiritual is perhaps a better word) and the singing of the small congregation was wonderful.

a small service was underway in the Orthodox Chapel

There was just time to walk along the promenade (the Lungomare Nazario Sauro) before I left for Lecce:

Nice walk along the promenade. Not so sure about the wheel