I sat next to a guy on the plane who grew up in Bari and was flying over with his son to visit his family. I wasn’t very fond of him initially – when we boarded the plane we found he’d sat in our allocated seats so Ross and I couldn’t sit together, then he fell asleep on my shoulder and invaded my personal space massively, all while his young son was jumping around and squealing. But just before we landed, we got chatting and he wrote down some recommendations for me (probably to compensate for how annoying he was).
He said that one of his favourite towns in Puglia is Cisternino, which is famous for its butcheries, meat barbecues and ‘bombette’ – pork braciola, wrapped around a piece of cheese, and grilled. It didn’t really sound like the ideal place for a pescetarian to visit, but after looking it up, it seemed like a charming historic town and well worth a stopover on our drive.
At this point, it’s probably fitting to mention an injury Ross sustained a week before our holiday. He fractured a bone in his foot while playing tennis and was hobbling about on crutches in an enormous moon boot. Fortunately, we had already planned that I would be the driver for the trip, so I embraced my role as chauffeur and whisked us away in our trusty Fiat Panda on a very soggy Saturday morning for a day of exploration.
Stopping first into Cisternino, we made our way through the town as the rain came down around us.
We were there before lunchtime and passed a couple of little butchers, whose doors were open but hadn’t yet started serving lunch, and walked into the main square via some sweet little stone-paved streets.
To wait out the rain and give Ross some time off his crutches, we ducked into a lovely little vegan and vegetarian cafe called Micro, where we ordered coffee and a lemonade, and put our next destination into the GPS.
I’d told my space-invading friend on the plane that my mission for the holiday was to try my first ever sea urchin. He got really excited and told me that I had to visit the seaside town of Savelletri, where we could eat buckets of sea urchins.
I ran through the pouring rain to get the car and pick up Ross from a dryer spot, and we drove onto Savelletri for lunch. I’d read about a tiny little shop on the seafront that sells 3 sea urchins for €1, and we pulled into the town (feeling sad at the sight of empty and drenched beach bars) on the lookout.
After doing a couple of laps of the town and checking Google Maps for various possible spellings of the sea urchin shop, we couldn’t find it anywhere, and instead settled into the rather charming La Taverna di Umberto.
We had a really tasty meal of sauteed clams, tuna carpaccio (melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness) and spaghetti with mussels, washed down with a carafe of vino della casa.
Sadly, there were zero ricci di mare (sea urchins) on the menu, and even after I pulled into a huge pesceria on the main road to buy some before we left the town, I came out empty handed and confused. Where are you, sea urchins?
Our final stop of the day was to the much-Googled Alberobello – a small town with UNESCO World Heritage status, because of its incredible trulli districts. The rain had just about stopped as we found a parking spot and made our way past the gift shops and tour groups.
The main trulli district was built along a narrow pedestrianised street. I learnt that trulli were first built as a way to dodge taxes. The original land-owner wanted his workers to live in houses that could be dismantled in a hurry, so that when the taxman came to town, the land wasn’t classified as an inhabited settlement and he didn’t get taxed as such!
The trulli have now been converted into souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes, while many of the roofs of the residential trulli have been painted with religious or superstitious symbols. It’s pretty magical looking across the skyline at the conical roofs, and you will never see another sight quite like it.
It is a stunning town and well-worth a visit, you just may have to dodge a few selfie-sticks.