Living the Dream

9th July 2015

We didn't want to wake up early this morning but I didn't really have a choice. I had to renew the parking ticket on the car by 9am.

So at 8:45am I fell out of bed and staggered half asleep across the road to pay another €2 for today.

When I returned to the room Julie had also woke up so we decided to go and find breakfast.

Until now we hadn't seen another guest and felt like we had the place to ourselves. Even as we wandered around the courtyard searching for the breakfast room, we were on our own.

We found it tucked away around the corner inside a fabulous vaulted room. I almost expected a fanfare to herald our arrival.

We were a little concerned what choices we would have for breakfast. Surely they wouldn't lay out a full buffet for only us?

We needn't have worried, breakfast was plentiful.

It may not have reached the culinary excellence of the breakfast in Matera but there were plenty of choice. The usual suspects of fresh juices, pastries, cereals, cold meats, cheeses, fresh fruit were present and they even had an omelette station.

We sat outside in the shade of a large pergola. I began my breakfast banquet with a glass of melon juice. It was fresh tasting and very different. It had a thick consistency like a smoothie. It was a little odd.

I then followed that with a coffee and a pasticciotto which wasn't as nice as the pie I had yesterday, which itself wasn't especially nice!

Julie tucked into the ham and cheese whilst I asked for an omelette to be cooked for me; one filled with tomato and onion. It may have been a strange combination to ask for but it was surprinsgly delicious.

The sweetness of the tomatoes was incredible.

We took our time over breakfast even asking for a refill of the really nice coffee.

Whilst we ate a few more guests arrived, so we weren't on our own afterall. Although it only amounted to another couple and a single woman.

We returned to our room, showered in the amazing double shower, made some room for our breakfast to digest and packed our little suitcase. By 10am we were ready to leave.

Check-out was 12pm so we still had the room for a few more hours but we decided to leave.

With our Sat Nav set for Porto Cesareo we set off for the Mediteranean coast. I had read that it had one of the best sandy beaches in Puglia so it made it onto the itinerary especially as we were this far down South.

The landscape was flat and filled mostly with vineyards and olive groves. We got quite excited when we recognised the winery of Sud Est a wine we had to drink last night.

Along the way we also passed something that could only exist in Italy. It was a drive-thru ice cream parlour called Royal Gelato! I wished we had stopped but once we had driven past there wasn't an opportunity to turn around.

It took us about 40 minutes to reach Porto Cesareo. When we arrived we parked at the first space we came across down the first street heading towards the beach.

We were here to visit Torre Lapillo Bay an area known as the Maldives of Italy. A bay of fine white sands and turquoise waters.

It was another glorious day of sunshine.

Walking towards the beach we came across a statue of the Virgin Mary balanced on top of a very narrow column. It was a good 20m tall and looked really odd.

At this point we reached the beach but unfortunately so had thousands more before us!

We could hardly see any of the famed white sands for people and parasols.

You could easily imagine that if we visited in March how beautiful it could be but today the beach was ruined by its popularity.

We walked down to the water, took off our shoes and walked along the bay with our feet dipped in the warm Mediteranean.

Even at the water's edge it was thick with people and wasn't the romantic stroll we were hoping for.

In the distance we could see the 16th century tower of St.Thomas.

We originally thought about walking all the way across the bay to have a closer look but with temperatures soaring to 38C we were working up a sweat just standing still so we decided to walk back to the car.

The beach wasn't a pleasant experience.

On the way back dripping with sweat we stopped at a little cafe called Mataro for a cold drink. The staff were really friendly and seemed almost amused by our presence or more likely by our sweaty state.

Refreshed we reached the car which was like an oven. You could have fried an egg on my forehead it was that hot!

With the air conditionning blasting out cooling air we set off on our journey back to Alberobello.

We set the SatNav for Ostuni the third and final hilltop town of the Valle D'Istria.

Our journey took us most of the way back towards Lecce before heading North.

The landscape was flat and looked very dry. In fact there was part where the grass was on fire. The flames whilst only small were right up to the road. We could even hear the crackling as we passed.

We reached the town of Cellino San Marco. Its streets were totally empty, not a soul in sight. The shutters were down and there was hardly another car on the road. "They're all on the beach" said Julie and she was probably right.

We stopped to have a closer look at a dramatic statue in the middle of a small square. It seemed to be of a soldier looking up to the heavens holding the dead limp body of a woman. You could almost hear the cries of desperation.

Whilst it was a War Memorial to me it was also a statement about the futility of conflict.

After Cellino San Marco we joined the motorway and scooted up beyond Brindisi passing along the way a very pretty spot on the coast known as Torre Guaceto Nature Reserve. The beaches looked desserted but that's only because they were all in the water windsurfing.

It wasn't long before we turned off the motorway and drove towards Ostuni. La Citta Bianca, the white city, appeared in the distance rising from the ground like a man made moutain culminating with the belltower of a cathedral. It was by far the most attrative of Valle D'Istria's hilltop towns.

There was more to Ostuni than just the historical centre. The parts outside the narrow whitewashed streets were also quite impressive.

We parked just on the edge of town and walked up the hill towards the centre.

When we reached the steps of Via Vito Tamborrino and saw a restaurant open on the square we were suddenly struck with starvation and had to sit down at one of their tables outside.

Fortunately Ristorante Chiazza Cuverta had large parasols to shade us from the fierce sun. It was blistering hot again today with the temperatre reaching around 38C.

It was still very warm even in the shade.

I ordered Orrechiette con cime de rape, small pasta shapes with turnip tops, a very traditional Puglian dish.

Unfortunately they were out of turnip tops but offered it made with brocolli instead, which they ensured was also a very traditional way to eat orrchiette pasta.

Happy that there was no anchovies used in the sauce I tucked in and found it delcious. For such a simple dish it packed a lot of flavour. It had an intense green taste but in a good way.

Julie enjoyed her tuna salad with picked onion slices and a sprinkling of capers all added to the flavour.

When it came to pay I was a surprised how expensive it was when the waitress asked for "55 Euro".

I gave them €60 including a tip.

Just as we were about to leave the waitress came rushing out all flustered and said "You have given too much"  It turned out that the total should only have been €35.  I was glad they were honest. It stopped me spending the afternoon moaning how expensive lunch was.

We continued on our way up the steps to reach Piazza della Liberta where Sant'Oronzo stood watch on top of a very ornate column.

At its centre was a small exposed area revealing beneath the surface the archaelogical remains of what's believed to be a settlement from the stone ages.

The square's main feature was the large Palazzo San Francesco which dwarfed the church of San Francesco by its side. At first I thought it was a train station, it had that municipal look to it.

From the square we turned right into the whitewashed historical centre of Ostuni.

We could have lost ourselves in the maze of streets but decided to take the direct route up to the top and followed Via Cattedral as snaked its way up the steep hill. We tried to find shade but there was hardly any and all the whiteness seemed to intensify the sun's effect.

The story goes that here in 17th century Ostuni during the plague that wiped out millions across Europe the houses of the infected were painted white with a limestone wash.

Over time people noticed that those living near to a white-washed house weren't dying from the disease. The word spread and before long everyone were painting their houses white.

Halfway up we came to a shop selling fans, not electrical motorised ones but the folding paper type the ones that are more likely seen in the hand of a Spanish flamenco dancer.

Julie bought one for €10 which felt very expensive expecially as it didn't help to cool her down. In fact it had the opposite effect, wafting hot air around worked like a fan-assisted oven, accelerating the cooking time.

We slowly made our way to the top where we reached an archway. Beyond which was the Cathedral of Santa Maria dell'Assunzione, the cherry on top of Ostuni's whitewashed cake.

Most of this old town was built during the renaissance period of 15th and 16th century whilst under the governance of Isabella Sforza, the Duchess of Bari, amongst many titles she possesed.

She was also known as Isabella of Aragon, Isabella of Naples, the Duchess of Milan and the Princess of Rossano and certainly a prominent member of the Italian nobility. Her daughter Bona Sforza continued her ambitions both home and abroad and ended up marrying the King of Poland no less.

As with most cathedrals built in the centre of a medieval citadel you don't get much opportunity to appreciate it from a distance. The first you see of it is when you stumble across it in the labyrinth of narrow streets.

We entered a small square where we could at least have the space to step back and admire the catherdral. After the spectacular churches of Lecce this was quite a plain facade but the rose window in its centre was impressive.

Our attention was soon taken away from the cathedral by the exquisite loggia that spanned the Piazzetta Cattedrale. It was very pretty indeed, looking just like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

It was a covered walkway from the Bishop's Palace to the Catherdral's cloisters allowing the men of the cloth to commute to their place of work without getting their cassocks dirty in what would have been a very muddy medieval street.

Or perhaps it was so the Bishop could avoid having to mingle with the unlcean population, especially during the plague. It's known as the Scoppa arch, named after the bishop who completed the work and so I guess the first to use it.

We continued our ascent until the street became a path which then turned into a staircase into some one's property.  Before we got into trouble for trespassing we returned back down the steps towards the cathedral.

We came to a narrow streets that opened out over the countryside. The view wasn't particularly impressive. It was incredibly flat all the way down to the coast and the adriatic 8km away.

Between here and there was a carpet of olive trees as far as the eyes could see; although at my age it's not as far as it used to be.

The landscape was slightly spoilt by an Industrial Zone nearby but as ugly as it was I'm sure it's a neccessity. You have to provide jobs for people.

Back in Piazzetta Cathedral or Piazza del Balio as its also know we sat down outside a gelateria called Cremaria Borgo Antico. We had sat in the shade because it was very warm but for some reason the staff from the ice cream parlour insisted we moved into the sun. They even carried all the tables from the dark side into the light.

Reading the menu Julie wanted a long refreshing drink and ordered a Blanc Menta, a mint flavoured non-alcoholic cocktail.

When it arrived she took one sip of this bright green liquid and immediately had the urge to spit it out. "Uuugh ... this tastes more like a mouthwash " she recoiled pulling away from the glass with the most disgusted of faces.

I wasn't disappointed with my strawberry ice cream, although I wasn't allowed to have it in a cone because we were sat at a table. It could only be served in a bowl.  

The staff were all friendly enough despite these little peculiarities.

We sat here for quite a while admiring the detail in the cathedral's rose window. With 24 spokes it looked more like a wheel than a rose, along the edge were images of the twelve apostles and at its centre was Cristo Sole the Sun Christ, but it looked more like an Indian deity to my aging eyes. However it really was exquisite.

I wanted to have a look inside but unfortunately there was a €1 entrance fee. I only had a 50c coin or a €50 note.

I tried to blag my way in for half price but the lady at the booth wasn't having any of it. I then tried to pay with the €50 note but she shook her head and just rolled her eyes.

My charms weren't working on her. She didn't even crack a smile once.

I was left to admire the carving of the Virgin Mary above the door before leaving the small square.

We left the cathedrale and started walked back down the hill. The smooth cobblestones put the fear of slipping into Julie's head. We hadn't noticed it so much on the way up but coming down we were aware of it. It wasn't at all hazardous but we shuffled slowly nevertheless.

On the way we saw another church that we hadn't noticed on the way up.  San Vito Martire was no longer a church but a museum, Museo delle Civitta Preclassiche. We decided not go in.

We were getting a little tired now and were happy to slowly make our back to the car. It was a shame because there were plenty of hidden secrets to discover. Certainly a reason to return one day.

I set the SatNav for Alberobello but chose to ignore it as it was suggesting we should return to the motorway. With hindsight it probably was the quickest route back. Instead I decided to take the scenic route via Cisternino and Locorotondo. The GPS soon recalibrated but I should have ignored it. We were sent a right merrydance around the back streets of Cisternino. We were driving up and own narrow lanes that made no sense whatsoever.

Eventually after about an hour we reached Alberobello.

Before going straight home to our little trullo we popped into the supermarket for some supplies.

I bought some limited edition Birra Moretti. They were only "special" because of the label on the bottle. The beer inside was just the same. They all had different Italian chefs and an exclusive recipe from them.

Despite being chariacatures I recognised two of them from the Italian version of Masterchef that I watched briefly last night.

It felt good to finally return to our beautiful home after a long day travelling back. Eventhough we had really enjoyed our sojourn to Lecce we had truly missed our little converted agricultural stone shed with a sofa bed.

There was something special about the place. We felt at home.

This has been a long held dream of ours, to permanently move out to Italy and experience this lifestyle. It will happen one day.

Once we had time to unwind and relax I set about preparing supper.

I had all the ingredients for a panzanella, a Tuscan bread salad. It turned out really well considering I was just throwing it together from memory.

I also made a tomato sauce to have with some ricotta, orechiette pasta and wild rocket, a big favourite of mine.

We felt so at home here. It was so perfect. Well ... almost perfect.

The flies were still bothering Julie. We counted how many bites Julie had and we reached 42 before losing count.

The bugs were certainly out tonight. By our door was the largest Rhino beetle I had seen. Just as I was about to pick it up it flew off sounding like a helicopter taking off.

Then when we got inside this enormous wasp followed us. It was gigantic, like the one Sinbad had to stab with his dagger on one of his seven voyages.

Sadly, as it wouldn't follow me back out again the poor critter go thwacked with a fly swot. It was a spectacular specimem. Perhaps it was the queen I had just killed which made me feel bad.

With the door firmly shut and our bedroom a bug free zone we fell soundly asleep.

Next Day >>>

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