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VBT Travel Notes — In Puglia

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In Southeastern Italy, where the Ionian and Adriatic seas converge, lies the historical region of Puglia. With Greek, Roman and Turkish influences, the Pugliese peninsula is one of the richest and most diverse regions in Italy. Recently VBT’s own Marketing Assistant, Leila, had the opportunity to take her first VBT vacation. She called upon a fun, trustworthy travel companion, her mom, and set off for Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast. She has been kind enough to share her discoveries with us.

Though Leila and her mom had both spent a few years living in Italy before returning to the U.S., neither has spent much time in Italy’s south, and they’ve never visited Puglia. Excited to explore a new part of a familiar country, and maybe a bit anxious about her underutilized Italian, Leila wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What she found was a warm, welcoming region with beautiful scenery and tremendous food.

Italy Olive Oil, Olive Trees Italy, Italy Olive GrovesNumber one on Leila list of highlights is, of course, the biking! She recalls numerous local encounters as she, her mom and her group pedaled their way through country lanes and along the gentle Adriatic coast. Riding through centuries old groves, Leila remembers being totally surrounded by trees budding with lemons, oranges, almonds and plenty of olives. To her left, to her right, above her on the branches that hung overhead and even below, speckled along the path, a scene abounding in olives was certainly an appropriate introduction to a region that takes olive oil quite seriously.

For example, on day 5 of her biking vacation, Leila and her group, visited Il Frantoio, a family-run masseria and olive mill. After meeting the proprietors, Armando and his wife Rosalba, the group was treated to a tour of the mill and then a decadent lunch. Each dish that was served was paired with a distinct type of olive oil, selected specifically to complement the subtle notes of the course. By the time the meal was over, four different varieties of olive oil were sampled. And though the group was served their lunch, Leila remembers the meal as being far from the typical restaurant experience, and much more like sharing a meal with a family in their home. However, lunch at Il Frantoio would certainly not be the only time that Leila would join locals in their residences.

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Leila’s group met a Pugliese guide, Memo, on her sixth day of vacation. He showed the group around the historical village of Alberobello, which is primarily known for its unique architecture, cylindrical homes known as trulli. Having been raised in in the village, Memo is a familiar face around town. He invited the VBT group into a local family’s home to see the inside of one of the ancient structures. He was also well-versed in the town’s past, its Turkish roots and, over an almond liqueur, he imparted the importance that almonds have held throughout the region’s history.

Given that in Latin the name Apulia literally means “lacking rain”, Puglia is appropriately a relatively dry region. Over the years, this water scarcity meant that residents became heavily dependent upon almonds, which thrive even in very dry regions.

Alberbello TrulliLeila looks back on a day she spent with her mom riding back to Savelletri from Monopoli. After a large lunch in town, Leila and her mother were the last to climb back on their bikes for their return to the masseria. Fortunately, this meant that the two got a chance to ride with one of their Trip Leaders, Debora. Along the way, Debora pointed out an almond tree and the three picked ripe almonds directly from the branches. An avid almond eater (she almost always has a jar at her desk), Leila has never truly gotten to taste all of the flavors that fresh almonds have. “I really got a sense of all the aromas; it was almost like marzipan.”

Of course, no discussion of Puglia is complete without a mention of the cuisine. Though there were many memorable meals, and an experience Cooking with Nonna, Leila’s favorite dinner was at Taverna della Gelosia, a rustic, family-owned tavern in the old town of Ostuni. With seven appetizers, two main courses and a decadent dessert, the dinner certainly satisfied her appetite for a traditional Pugliese meal. Even after having lived in Italy, and despite the fact that all of the dishes served had been passed down through generations, almost all of the food was new to Leila and her mom – the mark of true, local cuisine.

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Dinner began with fried zucchini flowers, fish in blackened tempura, pumpkin tart with gorgonzola cream and a cauliflower tart with curry besciamella, to name a few starters. The main courses were a pasta dish in a black olive sauce with tuna and anchovies as well as veal made with Mediterranean greens and a wine-saffron puree. Topped off with a panna cotta and fresh fruit, and Leila’s traditional meal was complete.

Though she has been home in Vermont for a couple of weeks now, Leila’s biking vacation through Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast still seems to be at the forefront of her thoughts – proving that the meals that the she enjoyed, the memories that she made, and experiences that she shared with her mom and fellow travelers are guaranteed to stay with her for quite some time.

“My experiences in Puglia truly opened my eyes and made me realize that travel changes your perspective on the world. I saw how it allows you to develop human connections at another level. I really felt as though my trip allowed me to experience the essence of Puglia, through the guidance of our outstanding trip leaders, Giuliano and Debora, while at the same time developing close friendships with other travelers on the tour. It wasn’t only about the experience but it was also about sharing the experience with the people around you.”

Create your own bonds and lasting memories on our Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast vacation.

 

 

Travel Notes — The Amalfi Coast & Capri

Frequent VBT Traveler, Edie A. has been kind enough to lend us her thoughts, responses and experiences on her Amalfi Coast & Capri walking vacation. Her notes are recorded daily and offer tremendous insight into the day-to-day discoveries of a VBT traveler. We’ve included excerpts and highlights of Edie’s walking vacation below. Enjoy!

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Edie’s Journal

I finally got back to Italy. I have never been south of Rome and had heard that the Amalfi Coast was the most beautiful place on earth, so it seemed like a good place to spend a few days.

Friday

The walking group met in the lobby at 9. Ulisse was there along with our other Trip Leader, Vincenzo. They were experienced local Trip Leaders who spoke great English and had great personalities. I was more than happy to turn responsibility for my well-being over to them. The 12 walkers and the Guys hopped into Mr. G’s big van for the drive to Pompeii.

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On August 24 in AD79, Vesuvius erupted and buried the city along with neighboring Herculaneum. It was discovered in the 17th century and the restoration, begun in the 18th century, continues today. We walked a couple of miles with Laurencio, an excellent local tour guide and I was glad to check the site off of my traveler’s must see list.

…Like many gorgeous places with perfect weather, Sorrento was first discovered by artists and writers. I could have written a novel in my room at the Europa Palace. A restored villa overlooking the Bay and surrounded by lush citrus gardens, the hotel was luxury to this little walker. I threw open my double French doors above the terrace and wondered if I’d ever leave. I did, of course, and followed my guide map for a couple of hours on a walking tour of this charming town.

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Saturday

…Back to Sant Agata for lunch at Agriturismo Fattoria Terranova. What a delight this home and family were. They taught us to make mozzarella and braid it – and then served it to us for lunch. I don’t know when I’ve had such fresh food – meats and cheeses and grilled vegetables and fantastic bread and rice balls (a regional specialty).

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…It was a beautiful Saturday night in Sorrento and everyone was out. I ran into Meg and Naomi from Chicago and we found a pizza. And then we found Primavera Cafiero, an absolute must for gelato. Two huge scoops later, we joined the locals and tourists alike for the passagiata – the traditional Italian night stroll under the stars.

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Tuesday

Today we were hiking the Path of the Gods and I was excited…. The 6.5 mile walk is considered the most scenic on the Amalfi Coast and today the weather was perfect and sunny…. This was the best view ever of the three islets of Li Galli (or Sirenuse). Ulisse was our historian and knew well the story of Ulysses and the Siren’s because he’s named after them.

Travel Italy, Traveling Italy, Italy Tours

…Mr. G was waiting to take most of the walkers to Positano. And we were off on the road to our last spectacular destination… Our Amalfi Hotel was an oasis right in the middle of town next door to the small main square and situated in a citrus grove. I loved my balcony over the citrus groves – the view to the left was the majolica tile roof of the church and to the right the vertical houses of Positano going up the hill.

Italy Hotel, Amalfi Hotel, Positano Hotel

I had to see the church of Santa Maria Assunta which is famous for a large 13th century wooden icon of the Black Madonna. Legend says that the icon was looted by the Sarcacens. When they got out to sea, the winds becalmed and they couldn’t move. They heard voices saying “Posa, posa” which means leave it here. They returned the icon to shore and the winds came up again. Hence, the name of the town is Positano. I wouldn’t mind leaving myself there.

Italy vacations, Italian vacation

Thursday

It was our last day with the Guys. We were headed to Rome and places far away. They let us sleep in and enjoy the breakfast buffet for the last time. We met Mr. G for a ride to the Gragnano Pasta Factory…. After a lovely lunch featuring the factory’s signature shell pasta, we said good bye to the Guys. They were excellent guides and I would recommend them to anyone…. I believe that the Amalfi Coast is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Hope you get there. Buon viaggio.

Edie A., The Amalfi Coast & Capri

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