The Back Roads of Puglia – Day 4

Otranto, wine-tasting and an uplifting time in Depressa

We both had the best sleep we had had for at least six months. The holiday was working its magic and we were really relaxed. Breakfast was very good too. Charming staff, always smiling and excellent service skills. And they could speak good English too.

OtrantoThere was a wonderful variety of food to choose from. I was even getting into the continental habit of having cake for breakfast. Not good for my diabetic control. But when on a gastronomic safari through Italy and the cake looks so good, it would be so rude not to try it in case I upset the chef.  So I tried a slice. It was good so I had another. I hope my friend and local GP Andy isn’t reading this. If you are Andy, I will keep taking the tablets.

Today’s itinerary looks good. A day at the seaside no less. I must compliment Back Roads for their choice of destinations throughout the tour. Superb. Everyone a winner!

Babs and I were on the front seats of the bus today. Seat rotation had been agreed amongst the group and it was working well. One day I sat with Jules from Australia. She and her husband run a cattle farm and her working life was fascinating. She in turn listened to a pharmacist working in Sheffield who sticks labels on drug packets for a living. Poor Jules. It’s a bit more complex than that – we count the tablets too.

Suzannah and Guiseppe were on good form, entertaining us on the way. Great Italian music.

OTRANTO is Italy’s easternmost town. Founded by the Greeks. Good enough for the Romans too, and if it’s good enough for them well it’s good enough for me too. It was a gateway to the CRUSADES and on a good clear day you can see Albania – if you so wish. The Ottoman Turks ransacked the town and massacred 800 of the inhabitants who refused to convert to Islam. Sounds familiar? Their skulls line the walls of the CHIESE DI SANTA MARIA. They became known as ” The Blessed Martyrs of Otranto”.

OtrantoOtranto seems untouched by time. Enchanting. The town sits perfectly on a hill overlooking the bay, tumbling down the hill almost into the sea.

I love being near the sea, especially water this clean. The air is so uplifting. Otranto is a big open air museum perfect for roaming. There’s always time to sip coffee. The whole holiday has been a wonderful coffeesustained drive. The centre is fully pedestrianised. 

Corso Garibaldi (that guy again) is a shopping paradise. A winding medieval alleyway full of interesting shops spilling out into the street. Small shops, pleasant shopkeepers, goods a plenty – many crafted locally.

The cathedral is a must see. The Tree of Life is a wonderful colour vision of hell and heaven made solely out of mosaic pieces. Noah’s Ark is there and even King Arthur makes an appearance. Take a look up at the ceilings – it’s as though they have been carpeted.

It was a short drive to PORTO BADISCO. A lovely journey down a winding road along the shore line. Trees , flowers (large and small), shrubs , wild fennel line the way. A rugged coastline similar to Cornwall – rocky and nature at its best. The secluded cove is wonderful . According to Virgil (not the one from Thunderbirds), Aeneas landed here after escaping from Troy.

Three of our group tried sea urchin. Very brave, though I think it was the offer of a glass of wine that was the clincher. And for once it doesn’t taste like chicken – just salty and squidgy.

Porto BadiscoA clear crystal sea. Boats bobbing in a hypnotic rhythm. Snorkellers everywhere. White breakers lap the inlet. Shards of sunlight on flickering waves.

Babs and I took a walk down to the small beach. Perfect for a picnic here in this enclosed bay. Smuggling probably flourished in days of old.

We walked past a young Italian girl. She smiled. We smiled back and nodded. Her t-shirt read ” DO IT WITH PASSION OR NOT AT ALL”.  And that sums up the Italian way of life.

The cafe at the bottom of the ramp had a carefree manner. We bought a couple of drinks and something to eat.We sat and people watched. There was lots of wobbly flesh all around. I felt at home. Many were impossibly thin and amply curved – the Italian way. Many too were sun kissed and barbecued – too little use of moisturiser in evidence.

A preening elder stood smearing sun tan onto his arms with gay abandon. He posed and stood lop sided with one knee forward. He thought he looked gorgeous. The coconut smell from his suntan wafted towards us. He remained still and then slowly messed with his Bobby Charlton hair. And then he changed position. Now with his other knee outwards. Trunks so tight that he looked as though he needed oxygen. Lime green budgie smugglers. 

DEPRESSA isn’t as it sounds. Still in the Salento region, about 30 minutes from Porto Badisco. A small town, 1000 or so residents but with two plus points for our group – the castle and the winery.

Porto BadiscoCASTEL DI SALVE was created in 1990. The 100 year old winery was painstakingly restored. The philosophy of the new enterprise was to create exceptional wines. Top quality wines come from top quality grapes. Local Salento varieties are used – negroamaro, primiivo and malvasia nera di Lecce. The winery aims to give their wines the stunning red colour of the local soil, the wild Mediterranean fragrances, the heat and heart of the Salento sun and a hint of the sea too.

We were met by Francesca, commercial manager. She didn’t crack a smile and her porcelain face showed no emotion. Was she the next Bond villain in Daniel Craig’s next outing? The tour around the building was informative. She seemed upset that no one asked any questions. To be honest none of us dared. But when the first question was asked by Tony she came alive. A smile here and there and the cool exterior began to melt.

The wine tasting went well. Four amazing wines to taste and plenty of Italian nibbles. By the end of the session I and the rest of the group had warmed to our teacher. And as the wines flowed there was much laughter and gradual loosening of inhibitions. So thank you Francesca, it was a great afternoon. The wines from Castel Di Salve are available in the UK. The deep reds were awesome.

Castel Di Salve winesThe journey home was a happy affair. Much laughter and talk – the group had really bonded. Music provided by Simon and Garfunkel. Wonderful music bringing back many memories. The Sound Of Silence, hardly, nothing but raucous laughter. Here’s to you Mrs Robinson for a great day. And of course Suzannah and Guiseppe. Grazie. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Our night in Gallipolli was at leisure again. The tour provides all meals except for three evenings. And I think Back Roads have the balance right. It is always nice to go off with loved ones and friends to do your own thing. We ate at La Puritate restaurant overlooking the town beach. We both chose a steak because we were all pasta’d out – is that even a word? Service was fast and efficient and the waiter charming. His grasp of English was much better than our grasp of Italian.

After the meal we strolled back to the hotel. In the evening Gallipoli comes alive with an almost carnival atmosphere. And as the sun departed and the night sky darkened it became more and more beautiful. All of the town were out having fun. No swearing anywhere; just a wonderfully warm night for everyone to enjoy.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that the raspberry cheesecake gelato was wonderful.

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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