The Puglia Diaries

The thrills and spills of a British Council Language Assistant in Molfetta, Italy

Lecce, Brindisi and nearly Greece

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And it was back on the Apulian road for the Cooke family, early(ish) on Thursday morning. Of course I was up first to take care of Lily and Cassie, who from 6am onwards demand breakfast, exercise and attention. I also made sure that Izzy had enough croissant and Nutella inside her to last until lunchtime. Although judging by this photo, you wouldn’t think so.

We drove southwards again, this time hugging the coast and following the signs to Bari first, then Brinidisi and finally arriving at our destination, Lecce. I’d been told by travel blogs and people around me that Lecce was like the ‘Florence of the South’ with its beautiful baroque architecture. The Salento is certainly a part of Puglia that I would like to see more of when the weather gets warmer. On the day we spent there in early March, the sun shone through the streets of the Centro Storico and I even had to borrow Mum’s sunglasses which went great with my thick duffel coat.

As usual, our first thought when arriving was ‘where can we get some good Italian food?’ After almost two hours drive, we parked near one of the arches entering the old town and wandered through the stone streets, coming across a different church and ornate balconies on every corner. We happened across Piazza del Duomo where we stood in the sunshine for a while and bought a map of the main sights of Lecce. Dad and Izzy generously agreed that we could see everything I wanted to look at, provided that they didn’t have to go in any museums. Some things never change.

As luck would have it, Antonio had recommended a restaurant that we should try in the Centro Storico of Lecce. It was simply called ‘La Vecchia Osteria’ and we found it quite easily, using my shiny new map. Three pairs of puppy dog eyes (Lily’s, Cassie’s and mine) succeeded in getting the owner’s permission to bring them inside. So far, so good.

In fact, the meal was excellent. We all had some antipasti to start: mine was Anitpasti della Casa, a perfect mixture of all the Apulian things I love the most. If I could put together a personalised antipasti platter, that would be it. There were roasted peppers, capers, cime di rape, courgettes, ricotta, olives and more. Next we decided to have a pasta course: Mum went for some ravioli, while Dad, Izzy and I all followed Antonio’s special advice and ate ‘Ciceri e Tria’, one of Lecce’s specialities. This was essentially tagliatelle pasta with chickpeas in a sort of thin spicy sauce, with pieces of fried tagliatelle on top. We all enjoyed it very much: I’d definitely have this Salento special again. It was extremely filling though, so we were happy to walk off our meal afterwards. It had also become warm and crowded in the Osteria because a family party had turned up to squeeze onto one long table. An Italian family party is usually composed of lots and lots of people: this group was sat elbow to elbow, feeding children bread and tucking into the food being brought out every five minutes by hot-footed waiters. It looked like this banquet would last all afternoon.


Ciceri e Tria

We wandered around the old town in a slow loop, passing through Piazza Sant’Oronzo to look at the coat of arms of Lecce on the paving stones and the column with Sant’Oronzo, the city’s patron saint, perched on top of it. Dad went in a bookshop and bought a map (we would NOT be having a repeat of the day before) and we made our way back to the archway through small quiet streets glowing bronze in the sunlight. It was interesting for me to see the differences between the many old buildings of Lecce and the ones I have seen scattered across the province of Bari. I’ve grown accustomed to bright white stone cathedrals and Romanesque towers against blue sky but not so much that their beauty is lost on me. We also went to the Castle of Lecce but instead of looking round it, we chased pigeons by the fountain with Lily and Cassie, terrorising the neighbourhoods of Italy as usual.

This was plenty of exercise for us and also for the dogs, whose tiny legs are about ten times shorter than ours. I said arrivederci to Lecce’s baroque façades and we clambered back into the car to drive back up North. We would be taking a detour however, to find the vineyard producing the red wine that we had tasted on our first meal together in Molfetta. Of course. It wouldn’t be a family holiday without hunting for a vineyard in the middle of nowhere. Many hours of my life have been spent in a car, trawling across green nothingness and miniscule villages in France or Italy, searching for ‘Domaine so-and-so’ which doesn’t even seem to exist. And then a sign appears out of nowhere, with curly handwriting and a nonchalant little arrow, beckoning us to a country house and cool cellars, usually complete with a dog to stroke. This scenario repeated itself many times during my formative years but now that I’m older, I can at least have some wine when we finally arrive.

By some miracle, we came across the Tormaresca vineyard fairly easily. Once there, however, it proved very difficult to get inside. It seems that this site takes care of production and logistics more than sales to the public because there were two different entrances. We first went down a bumpy dirt track with puddles on it, spraying a poor scruffy dog that was wandering by the side of the road. This was definitely not the way in: warned off by signs of private property, we tried the next one. This didn’t look right either, but approaching the metal, factory-like structure ahead of us, we found an intercom and eventually gained access to the building. We headed down a long corridor with a thin window into the cellars: barrels stood lined up in rows, at least three deep, presumably with wine maturing inside them. We were received into an odd meeting room, told that we could buy some wine but not taste any. I suppose they didn’t want to open a bottle, but my parents are used to the generous French wine sellers of Languedoc Roussillon, who let you try so much that you can barely drive home afterwards.

It was around half past four by this time and still a pleasant afternoon. We followed signs towards Brindisi, planning to look at the port before heading back to Molfetta. It was not the nicest route I’ve ever seen, although by heading through the industrial area of the city we came across the long searched for Audi garage, only to find that they didn’t have any cables for iPhone 5s. Doh. The next misadventure was a wrong turn at a roundabout, which took us on a slow downwards incline towards a ferry. That’s right, we almost ended up on a boat to Greece, maybe even Albania. This provoked a swift reverse back up the hill and another bout of laughter. Eventually we made it to the seafront of Brindisi, which is actually fairly modern and well-kept, in time to have a walk in the fading pink light by the harbour.


Man, were we tired by that point…on the way back we stopped off at a big supermarket in Bari to buy some things to make a meal at home that evening. We shared a big salad and some of the wine that Mum and Dad had purchased, taking a break from incessant visits to restaurants and letting Lily and Cassie get some rest. There would be more walking to be done the next day.


Author: Elly Cooke

Recent graduate of English Literature and Italian from the University of Leeds. Book lover and part-time Italian speaker.

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