I recently spent a long weekend exploring Puglia, in the south-east of Italy. I hadn’t visited this region, located in the ‘heel’ of the country before, and it was a delight to discover. If you haven’t been, then imagine endless coastlines, charming towns and glorious weather. But, as much as I loved discovering Puglia, one of the reasons that I enjoyed this weekend away so much was because I got to share it with my daughter.
Anyone who reads globetotting regularly will know that I’m mum to three kids. Alfie is 10, Tess is 8 and Sam is 3 going on 13. They are, in my completely unbiased opinion (!), great kids who largely get on very well with one another (although as I type this I can hear the oldest two shouting at each other upstairs!). But, as any parent with multiple children will know, sometimes I feel like I’m firefighting, rather than parenting. Moreover, getting any one-on-one time with any of the kids is hard, not least for Tess who is sandwiched between a garrulous older brother and a rather demanding younger one. So, when the opportunity arose to take Tess with me to Puglia, I jumped at it.
Tess and I were invited to Italy by Bookings For You, a luxury villa rental company owned and managed by Jo Mackay, a mum who is passionate about Italy. We were part of a group of six that included Nell, from Pigeon Pair and Me, and her daughter Gwen, and Penny, a truly talented photographer, and her daughter Agnes. Together, we waved goodbye to England’s snowy shores and headed on a Mother Daughter Italian Adventure, keeping our fingers crossed for sunshine.
Our home for the weekend was Corte dei Messapi, a luxury villa positioned on the outskirts of the ‘White City’ of Ostuni. This is one of the newer villas in the Bookings For You Puglia collection and is managed by the company’s local partner agent, Raro Villas. Corte dei Messapi proved to be an excellent base from which to explore some of the highlights that Puglia has to offer as well as a lovely place to relax with a glass of wine in hand at the end of a day’s sightseeing. During our three days we only scratched the surface of what the region has to offer but we saw enough to make me want to return soon.
On our first day, we were taken on a tour of the local Messaria (farms or farmhouses) by our hosts, Raro Villas. Like much of Italy, Puglia has its regional specialities and we were instructed in the art of making mozzarella and taught how to differentiate between good olive oil and bad olive oil (otherwise known as ‘lamp oil’).
As much as I enjoyed the tours of these local farms, however, what I really loved seeing was the Puglian countryside. Throughout the day we drove past acres of ancient olive trees, their gnarled, twisted trunks standing impervious to the strong winds that had blown in. We came across large fields of mustard-yellow rapeseed and smaller ones planted with giant, bulbous fennel, the size of which I had never seen before. We bumped along narrow dirt lanes, occasionally passing grand iron gates in varying states of disrepair and imagined what kind of grand villa or messaria might hide down the driveway.
That evening we headed up to the main house at Corte dei Messapi and learned how to make panzerotto (also known as panzarotto), a savoury turnover that is not dissimilar to a Cornish pasty in appearance. What was particularly lovely about the evening, was that Tess, Gwen and Agnes were all tasked with rolling out the dough, a job that they took very seriously! Panzerotto can be stuffed with a variety of fillings and we enjoyed some with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes and others will onion. They were, quite simply, delicious. The kind of meal where you promise yourself you’re only going to have “one more” and you end up eating another four….
On day two, the six of us ventured out on our own and spent a glorious day exploring some of the neighbouring towns. Our first stop, was Cisternino, one of three enchanting towns in the Valle d’Itria (the other two in this trio are Alberobello and Locorotondo). Cisternino boasts a delightful town centre that has remained virtually intact for centuries. The old centre is an enchanting place to wander, where each narrow lane reveals a new surprise; a welcoming café, a balcony festooned with flowers, or another picture-worthy door (I came home with a lot of photos of doors!). Cisternino is also famous for its barbecuing butchers, which we didn’t get to experience but I’m keen to try next time. Apparently, all you have to do is choose your meat and take a seat outside the restaurant; the butcher gets to work on the barbecue and brings your meat out to you when it’s ready.
From Cisternino we headed to Alberobello, probably the most famous town in Puglia. Known for its circular whitewashed houses with conical roofs, it’s a picturesque town that looks like it has emerged straight from the pages of a storybook. The main road can get busy (and I can only imagine how busy it is during peak season) but if you escape down a sidestreet, you’ll have the place almost to yourself. This is a particularly fun town to visit with children and our girls enjoyed spotting the different symbols painted on the rooftops, swinging on the swings of the playground we discovered, and shopping for souvenirs in the local shops.
On our final morning, we headed to the nearby city of Ostuni. Called the La Città Blanca (the White City) because of its whitewashed buildings, the historic town is built on a hill and the streets wind their way to the top where views stretch out over the green fields and to the sea beyond. Originally the town buildings were lime-washed as a means of illuminating the dark mediaeval streets. Later, however, in the 17th century, the practice was used to limit the devastations of the plague. There are a number of restaurants located at the top of the town, many of which were shut when we visited, but I can imagine that at night it’s a beautiful place to wander with fairy lights hanging overhead.
It’s fair to say that I fell in love with Puglia during this visit but what I really loved about this trip was spending time with Tess. Life, as we all know, is busy and the daily routines of school, work, homework, activities and more, leave little time to just sit and talk. During our three days together, Tess and I spoke about everything and nothing. I learned more about what she was doing at school, what she likes to play with her friends and what days they serve the best meals in the school cafeteria. We shared what we both missed about our life in Mexico and the friends we would like to see again soon. And she told me a lot about various YouTube channels that I have never heard of! Some of this might seem trivial, but to an eight-year-old, they’re really important, and to me it was wonderful to learn more about her life. Although it’s not easy to get away with just one child at a time on a regular basis, it’s something I really want to try and do more often. And if it means I get to go back to Puglia again, even better.
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Disclosure: I was a guest of Bookings For You and Raro Villas for the purpose of this trip. All opinions are, as always, entirely my own.