November 3, 2016
I have come to this lovely country that runs along the back of Italy’s boot and down its heel, a coastal plain of russet earth planted with ancient olives that reaches west into a hilly hinterland of vineyards and fruit trees and on to the Mediterranean. It is a land shaped, in large part, by its geography. For millenia Puglia has been a gateway to Greece and the Orient as well as a gateway for those foreigners to enter her territory. Invaders came to trade and to pillage, launching their incursions from the coastal ports of Bari, Egnazia and Brindisi, and then moving northwards on ancient roads like the Via Appia and Traiana.
Conditioned by this vulnerability, the Pugliese defended themselves, and thus we have a coastline dotted every 15 miles or so with towers, port cities guarded by castle forts, sea and land caves used for hiding of self and goods, and masseria, those iconic walled farmhouses with towers and encircling walls where olive oil, the region’s liquid gold, was pressed and stored in underground caves.
It is all here to be enjoyed: The hilltop towns with narrow lanes, ceramic shops, cathedrals, piazzas, outdoor cafes and wonderful, unsung restaurants like Casa San Giacomo in Ostuni; The coastal plain with mile upon mile of millenarian olive trees, some planted by the ancient Greeks and others, spaced 18 meters apart, by the Romans, all of which astound with their longevity, their history, their inner story; lovely long walks along ancient pilgrimage pathways and bike rides down country lanes lined with dry limestone walls; the Adriatic with its coastline of caves, cliffs, pocket sized beaches and seaside fish restaurants; Cities with history, elegant palaces, Baroque facades and embellishments, pavements of satin smooth marbled stone.