Italy: Puglia

You would be forgiven if, upon exploring the remote “heel” of Puglia, you forgot you were in Italy. Whitewashed stone villages suggest equal parts Greece and North Africa. Its cuisine is so rich that – with a conviction more common to eastern cultures – one old-world dish is said (in a Greek dialect in some homes) to symbolize wealth. Despite the dry climate, it boasts one of Italy’s most prolific plains, thanks to a broad network of underground springs feeding a cinnamon-hued soil. All surprising qualities, to be sure. But for many visitors, the real thrill of discovering Puglia is this: Not many travelers have discovered Puglia … yet.

So a visit here feels like an experience reserved for the privileged few, especially when you rest your head at 16th-century masserias, self-sustaining, fortified farms that once contained entire communities. Tomatoes for meals at these historic ranches are plucked fresh from the garden. Coast into the Itria Valley and find row upon row of trulli – conical roundhouses of Greek origin, each built without a grain of mortar. And there’s plenty of clean Adriatic air to breathe in along quiet coastal roads whose incredible views tease you to explore more.

And you’ll want to explore as much as you can. Much of Puglia remains gloriously untouched. It’s said to be the Italy of at least a generation ago, as a stroll to the piers on market day will prove. There, crusty fishermen haul in their catch and deliver it to market. Paired with citrus, olives, or any number of herbs you’ve passed along the way, it would make a perfect meal, one that just might show up on your plate one evening. And lest you risk missing out on that old-world dish that delivers wealth to your door, ask any signora how to make orecchiette pasta.

Discover Puglia for yourself during VBT’s Puglia: Italy’s Undiscovered Coast Bicycling Vacation.