The Back Roads of Puglia – Day 2

Trulli and Grotte

The breakfast was good though none of us ate too much .We were still full from last night’s feast and we knew what was coming today.

“We are what we eat” is a Puglian motto. And with so much food consumed and much more to follow we were becoming part of the region. 

Trulli HousesI had wanted to see the world famous Trulli houses since I was 13. In geography we did a small topic about homes around the world. Two stood out – the trulli and the home life of the bushmen of the Kalahari desert. At that time we were studying ‘The Hobbit’ in English. And to this spotty faced teenager the whitewashed trulli became a Tolkeinesque fantasy landscape. I always imagined hobbits, pointy eared, standing in the door way of these stubby strangely roofed homes. And today we were going to visit them. Another tick on my bucket list. 

But first , a visit to Locorotondo. It is listed as one of “I Borghi piu belli d’Italia” – Italy’s most beautiful villages. And what a treat. Locorotondo won over our hearts. Enchanting, like stepping back in time. Its name means a “round place” and the circular town plan hugs the hill giving a fantastic view over the plateau below. Farmland sprinkled with trulli, awash with vineyards and olive groves. Whitewashed houses everywhere. Narrow streets, small shiny streets, spotlessly clean streets. Quite slippy. Flowers at every turn – in plant pots, on staircases, under stairwells, on balconies. Gorgeous courtyards of inner calm. And while the trulli have pointy roofs here Locorotondo have the Cummerse – rectangular buildings topped with sloping roofs. Quite different but wonderful. 

Alberobello. Even the name sounds magical. And so it trulli is. Our second UNESCO World Heritage site (1996) in two days. Fairytale like. The town is home to 1400 trulli. Whitewashed houses with small windows topped with grey cone shaped roofs. Mysterious symbols adorn the slates – all different. The sign of the builder maybe? 

It is divided into two districts Monti and Aia Piccola. We strolled uphill through narrow streets. We stood face to face (bric) with them, admiring their construction. Many were originally built without cement.

AlberobelloTrullo Sovrano is a unique 18th century two storey building. And what was at the top of the hill? Yes you’ve guessed it – a church trulli -roofed of course.

A pity about the weather. Grey and overcast. The whitewashed homes against a perfect blue cloudless sky would have given us amazing photos. But it was a dream come true to visit this perfectly formed town. Mr Orme, my teacher would be impressed. 

And next? Lunch of course.  

Enchanted by Alberobello and its trulli Gabriele D’Annunzio wrote “I wake and see the town of my dreams . As if I was still sleeping”. And for lunch we ate in the dream town. Another meal included in the tour price.

In Trattoria La Cantina we had another gastronomic feast. Here is the health warning – Puglia can make you fat! Superb food again. We all sat around a long L-shaped table exchanging tales again. The trattoria had rustic charm and a wonderful view of the lunch being created. A dizzy variety of food was served. Well prepared and well served – the waitress was a sweetheart, always smiling. As she poured the wine she said “life and wine go together like Manchester and United” and smiled.

LocorotondoWe were having a gourmet adventure on a daily basis. Two lots of pasta arrived. My favourite ‘orecchiette’ – ear shaped pasta shells still handmade  today from durum wheat flour. Fresh fish arrived, still in rigor mortis. The lamb was oh so good. The Boar sausage a little too strong for me but it went down well with the red wine. A wonderful tart, with fruits and fig extract, ended what was such a lovely meal. 

It started to rain and I wondered who in our party had put their pants on inside out. 

The journey to our next destination took 15 minutes and kept us dry inside our fun bus. Grotte di Castellana wasn’t grotty at all, in fact it was superb – a real surprise to me because I have never ever got excited by stalagmites and stalactites.

Discovered accidentally by Franco Anelli in 1938 and opened to the public a year later. And the public keep on coming. The queues were long but Suzannah was there to get the tickets for us.

There are 2 itineraries, one which lasts a full 2 hours and a shorter 50 minute guided tour. We took the smaller one. 1 km instead of 3 km.

The cave depth is 60 metres and has a constant temperature of 15 Celsius. It’s a speleologist’s delight (speleology is the study of caves) and is well known throughout Italy. A subterranean underworld, a labyrinth of caves, corridors, chasms and gorges nicely illuminated with subdued lights.

Trulli HousesGrotte Bianca, the white cave, is considered to be the world’s brightest, whitest cave. It’s the last cave in the system so we didn’t see it.

The speleological system has some wonderful names. We descended down steep stairs into The Grave, a great abyss with a hole in its roof clearly visible.

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, The Black Cave, Cave of Monuments, Angel’s Corridor, Little Paradise, Cave of The Altar, Cathedral of Milan, Cave of The Dome, Canopy , Lake Of Crystals and finally The White Cave. All dark and glorious. Fantastic. 

A fitting end to a marvellous day. We had seen and experienced much and the Pugliese way of life was gradually relaxing and nourishing us. 

And further good news. The sun was forecast to be back to its blistering self tomorrow.

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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