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Written September 18-24 and Oct 6
Dear Family and Friends,
On Tuesday, we left Rodi Garganico, heading "three hours" south to our rural farm stay. The first part of the trip was a wonderful drive along the Gargano Promontori, through parkland and forests and along seaside roads. Olive orchards covered the valley floors, where tourism had not crowded the farms out already. Occasionally, there would be vineyards as well. The ground looked like it held almost no dirt, just white rocks, lots of white rocks. I can not imagine anything other than olives and grapes growing here.
We passed through a few beach towns, but didn't stop since we had a long travel day ahead. Each looked like communities returning to the quiet off-season life of any seasonal seaside resort in the world. Traffic was light, although I do not imagine that's the case in the summer months.
At the southern edge of the Gargono peninsula was the city of Manfredonia and this represented a stark transition between quiet beach towns and industrial grime. Gertrude the navigator was putting us on a road to connect with the autostrada, but that connector was about as miserable a road as we've seen: straight, pot-holed, trash-strewn, crazy drivers, and nothing but swamps and rock-strewn fields to look at. We passed two women, sitting on plastic chairs, selling whatever scantilly-clad women sell.
In the 45-minute drive to the masseria, the scenery gradually improved, although the roads did not. I'm afraid our little car has been thoroughly shaken by the Italian small-road system, but we did indeed make it, and that's the story that continues below.
For the stay itself, I'll just describe the "hotel" first, and then break out sections on the
individual places we visit.
A masseria is a fortified farm house in the region of Puglia. Nowadays, many of these have been converted into B&Bs or small hotels. Masseria Selvaggi is the place Marianne chose. From the link you can get all sorts of details so this is just our impressions.
Gregorio, the owner, welcomed us with a fine cup of espresso when we arrived and he was most accommodating in showing us our little apartment suite: kitchen, bedroom and bath. In back, there is a large swimming pool, although it has turned a bit too cool for swimming I'm afraid. All around, the grounds are meticulously maintained and Masseria Selvaggi truly is a gem.
It was nice to have a real apartment, with our own kitchen and patio. This allowed a couple of home-cooked meals, made from ingredients found in a nearby mini-market. The food focussed on pasta and the drink on local red wine. In both here and in France, we had developed a taste for basic, local, red wines, reliable purchases despite their remarkably low price. (We never tried the wine selling for six euros for a gallon plastic jug. We do have some standards.) In every case, our simple home meals were among the trip highlights, especially in the maseria's quiet setting.
Martina Franca (19th)
Our first "white city" day trip was to the 48,000-inhabitant city of Martina Franca. Uncharacteristically, we found a parking place right away, so our initial impression was positive! Our first stop was the Ducal Palace, where we looked at some of the 18th Century interior frescoes. I liked the colors, particularly since bright white seems to be so prevalent elsewhere.
From there, we searched unsuccessfully for the farmer's market, although we did find block after block of clothing and household articles being sold in street stalls, kind of like the village markets back home in Germany. Then we went back into the white-washed medieval streets inside the wall and wandered. Wandering seems to be our process now. That, and finding lunch.
All in all, a good stop.
Ostuni and Cisternino (20th)
We had two white hill-towns as Thursday's goal: Ostuni and Cisternino.
Ostuni is a fair-sized town about twenty minutes from "our farm". Like most of our local drives, some of the roads are pretty rough, hard on our 11-year-old car, and in towns, streets are pretty narrow. In Ostuni, the narrowness was experienced fully, since to reach our goal, the historic part, Marianne needed to negotiate through most of downtown. Cars parked both directions on both sides of the streets, drivers made u-turns everywhere, without warning, no traffic signs were obeyed, and all other cars were already dinged and dented so drivers had little fear. Not an easy driving experience, but we did manage to navigate to a large and spacious parking lot. We appreciate such things.
The historic center is completely surrounded by high white walls and buildings. Medieval security. The streets were small and winding, although intrepid drivers did manage to make it through some of them. From the eastern side of the walls, the Adriatic Sea is visible, just 10 or 15 kilometers away.
Walking through town was little different from walking through Ostuni: white buildings, narrow streets, worn paths. We did start with a nice lunch at Osteria Bell' Italia. The food was good and the service very pleasant. And, since we were the only guests that meal, it was very quiet.
Tomorrow would be another day, another white town, Alberobello.
On Friday, we ventured farther away, to Alberobello, a UN World Heritage site, famous for the cone-roofed "trulli" structures. (More on those in the next section.) The top-down drive was pleasant, with decent roads and only limited difficulty in navigating the intermediary towns of Cisternino and Locorotondo. Roads seem to radiate like wheel spokes between each town, which means that to make it three towns away, one has to negotiate through or around two other towns. This easily takes up half our travel time. Oh well, we're on vacation.
In Alberobello itself, we were treated to a wonderful trulli neighborhood, carefully reconstructed with tourism in mind. We had been warned that the town was "so touristy", but we quite enjoyed it, nonetheless. The crowds were not all that big and everyone was enjoying themselves. What's wrong with that? We enjoyed an outdoor lunch on a deck outside one of the typical buildings and Marianne managed to get in some shopping. The highlight purchases were two towel sets made locally, linen or linen-cotton. Nice gifts for ourselves and easy to pack.
Trulli (singular = trullo)
My original intent here was to explain the cone-roofed stone buildings that punctuate the landscape and that have become a focus of the tourist industry. However, in researching for this diary, I ran across a Wikipedia entry that did a better job than I could and seems to correct some of the folklore we had heard from others. So, for a good explanation: trullo
Our impression of these buildings and their place in the local landscape is not found in Wikipedia. One of the six apartments at the Masseria Selvaggi was a restored building with three cone roofs, one over each of the kitchen, the living room, and the bedroom, a very nice example that we could look at closely. Other trulli in our neighborhood were either abandoned ruins (aka: projects) or reconstructions being used as tourist hotels or as private houses. Like at Masseria Selvaggi, structures were often combinations of square rooms with cone roofs and rectangular rooms with vaulted stone ceilings or with simple flat roofs.
The Itria Valley seemed to be covered in small farm holdings, half of which featured these simple stone structures. The overall effect was to give a coherent theme to what otherwise would be an odd assortment of ruins, plain to elegant homes, and very pleasant country vacation places.
And NO, the Trotters are NOT in the market for another old-house project.
The plan was for a day off, mostly. We did have a morning excursion planned to the city of Massafra and the Madonna della Scala sanctuary. The 40-minute drive over was pleasant and it brought us over the ridge from the Itria Valley into a coastal plateau and later down to the coastal plain. The landscape became significantly more desert-like, but there were even larger olive-tree orchards. And no cone-shaped roofs.
The good news was that the sanctuary was easy to find and the setting of the church in a deep ravine was as spectacular as others had told us. We could see the outside of the church below the convenient parking lot and could look across the ravine to see the rows of caves that had served as homes for the participants of the sect that had settled in this location between the 14th and 19th centuries. The bad news was that a wedding had just started in the church, so shorts-clad, camera-toting tourists were definitely not appropriate visitors. We'll have to see the famous murals some other time.
On Sunday, we had a leisurely breakfast - again - and packed up - again - and hit the road - again. The goal was Lecce, an easy drive of under a couple of hours. But that's part of our next diary.
Conclusion on Masseria Selvaggi and the surrounding hill towns: The facilities here have been very nice, all we could expect, and Gregorio was willing to provide as much or as little help and guidance as we asked for. As for the surrounding towns and trulli, they really are different from other parts of Italy we have seen. I'm not sure one needs to see them all in great detail, but our visit in this region has been very worthwhile.
John and Marianne
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