Off Sicily’s north coast we found an island of raw scenic beauty with dramatic volcanic cliffs plunging into the sea, sleepy villages amidst verdant mountains, colourful fishing boats on pebbly beaches, hills covered in wild capers and vines heavy with grapes for sweet malvasia wine. Salina is one of the Aeolian islands, a cluster of seven volcanic islands in the far south of Italy. The biggest island Lipari is the most popular but we chose Salina, a quieter, greener base, its mountains vibrant as the only island with a natural water source. In mid September the summer crowds had left and it felt like we had the island to ourselves.
In Matera you’ll spend a lot of time in caves. You’ll sleep in a cave, eat in a cave, drink an aperitivo in a cave, and even view modern sculpture in a cave. The ancient neighbourhoods, known as sassi, are a series of grottoes carved out of limestone, teetering on the edge of a ravine. It’s one of the most unique and spectacular places we’ve visited in Italy or anywhere in the world.
After a week in Puglia eating the local orecchiette pasta every day it was time to learn to make the “little ears” for ourselves. We met up with Gianna from Cooking Experience in Lecce for an evening spent learning about Puglian cuisine from tastings in local delis to attempting to make fresh pasta for the first time.
Our best memories from our trip to Puglia in southern Italy are of staying in the region’s masserie, fortified farmhouses that offer guest accommodation. We were welcomed like family members, sampled olive oil, wine, and cheese made on the farms, learnt about Puglian culture and cuisine, and met the owners who often join guests for home-cooked dinners using products from the farms.
Puglia, the region in the heel of Italy’s boot, is dotted with beautiful small towns in shades of white and gold, with unique architecture like the conical trulli of Alberobello and the extravagant baroque of Lecce. Rich in churches and palaces, hidden piazzas and winding alleyways, markets and slow food trattorias, Puglia’s towns are a highlight of a visit to the region and reason to entice you away from the endless coastline. In some towns you can even combine visits to cathedrals and castles with dips in the sea just steps from the historic centre.