I am at that place right now in my travel journeys. Do you know the place I’m talking about? It’s when you book a place to visit and actually have to look at a map to see where it is located. So true, I know, I should probably look at the map first, then book the ticket. Some people would say that’s what safe people do. Jon gave me two “small trips” for Christmas this year. One to Budapest, Hungary and the other to southern Italy. I found flight tickets to “Bella Brindisi, Italy for about €60 per person round trip on Eurowings in February not knowing what to expect from this region.
I began doing some research and up popped this article from New York Post about Puglia being the top 52 places in the world to visit in 2019. I was so excited about touring and exploring this southern part of Italy, I have not been to yet. I looked online and read in my Lonely Planet to find out what to expect.
I knew I would probably love it, there hasn’t been a part of Italy, that hasn’t been incredible.
The peninsula of Salento is the “boot heel” of Italy and covers mid-heel to the bottom and loops around. We were lucky enough to see a good deal of it, in our four day visit. As soon as we arrived in the Puglia (pronounced Poolia) airport, there is a welcome sign – #weareinpuglia. This airport was easy, clean and under 5km from the heart of the city and harbor.
Brindisi at Night!
Jon and I go back and forth between Airbnb’s, guest houses/B&Bs/Agriturismos and booking a hotel room. So this time we decided on an Airbnb in the heart of old town, Brindisi. We have learned also in Italy, when it’s just the two of us, getting up and making our own coffee and making breakfast at our own time.
As you can see, our Airbnb was adorable and although we had a little confusion on check in, it all worked out great. Perfect location, parking was right around the corner but by machine.
All that HISTORY & so clean
I must admit after visiting many, many older European cities I have come to expect a certain amount of destruction and debris. It is only natural when people have occupied cities for thousands of years and been occupied/not occupied by enemies, had war/peace, built industry, loss and growth to have some level of environmental and infrastructure issues.
I was absolutely impressed with this region for its cleanliness and sparkling streets in Brindisi and Lecce. I have visited many towns of Italy and was super psyched to snap these evening photos that look like I might have tweaked them in Photoshop, but I did not. There was a certain level of comfort in walking the streets at all times of the day and night.
As we walked these yellow limestone streets, it was hard not to picture myself in some romantic Italian film. The history of Salento is incredible dating back to before the Norman kings and before it belonged to the province of Albania. Then it became a Greek settlement and then finally conquered by the Romans in the 12th century and remained Italian, there after. I will admit the accent threw me for a loop, but changing hands that many times, must have been confusing. Still the Italian rolled off their tongues for like a serenading romantic song, “O… solo mio.”
Around the City
St. Peter’s & Theatre Archeological Site
Just around the corner from our apartment was an archeological site that was unbelieveable. Schiavoni, as the Adriatic Slavs called it with the settlement in Brindisi and the church and theatre were at the center. This place was super neat and free to walk around. Donations were accepted.
This partially restored church from the Crusades and the Norman princes is magnificent to tour. Also free, but happily donations received, pictures are allowed without flash. Descriptions of the architectural design are similar to the Holy Sepulchre from Jerusalem. The garden wasn’t open this time of year, but is suppose to be incredible. Frescoes of Christian saints from the 13th and 15th centuries are painted on the wall and are still visible.
Car Rental & Parking Tips
Rent the smallest car you can and I use to make sure it was an automatic transmission but after driving the beast (my 9 passenger van) I prefer standard now. Automatic transmission cars in Italy are also harder to come by and typically more expensive.
- I booked my car through USAA Travel Services and saved a little bit of money and got points transferred to my frequent flyer program. More on that in an upcoming blog.
- Don’t get the extra, extra insurance if you can help it. USAA covers your rental in Italy although there is a deductible. We just got the one level up insurance for theft, minor damage, etc. It was €12/day extra and a €400 deductible. That may sound a bit high, but I like having the freedom of having our own car and was not sure about the trains yet. The total rental for the car was under €100 for four days.
- It was a small car and I usually take a picture of it upon check in to show no-damage and we both agree. (Car rental company and me)
- Upon return, be sure to get a signed receipt and a confirmation “no damage” occurred, they are use to this now and give you a computer generated receipt, right on the spot
Wine & Dine
Primitivo and Nero are the wines of the region. Both wines were interesting and different, and I preferred the Primitivo a bit better than the Nero. The Nero was more light and had blackberry overtones and was sweeter. My tastes have totally changed in wine in the past five years. Since we’ve moved to Europe, I have made friends with vintners, harvested grapes and visiting vineyards throughout every grape growing season. It has been an education. When wine costs the same as water, you switch to wine or beer over here. When we lived in the States, I was a cheap wine girl. Wine is pretty cheap over here too, it’s just REALLY REALLY good.
Since downloading the Vivino App I have had a lot of fun researching, comparing and developing my palate. If you’re interested my handle is Travel with Wendy and I’m 30% Italian Barbera! It classifies you according to the wine you rate. I’m ranked 8,200 so it looks like I have a few people who outrank me.
The cuisine in Salento reminds me a little like Croatia and the Adriatic coast. It is plentiful of beef, pork and fish. So if you are vegetarian you might be out of luck. However, since I am trying to be better I ate quite a bit of Melanzana (eggplant) and zucchini grilled which is delicious and simple so here are a few restaurants we really enjoyed.
La Locanda del Porto
This restaurant was recommended by our Airbnb hosts and also some locals. They said it was popular with tourists. That isn’t my favorite recommendation phrase, that would be, this is popular with locals, but I wanted to be respectful and try it out. Here is my review of La Locanda. The location and service are perfect. The restaurant was empty at 7:00 p.m. and filled at 8:00 p.m. so I think it is popular with the locals too.
Our pizzas were good but not fantastic like I’ve come to expect in Italy. But it was very inexpensive for a “tourist” spot. We both ate plentiful portions for under €30 for drinks, pizzas and appetizer so yea, it’s a keeper.
If you travel with a meat lover like I do, sometimes we have to visit a restaurant just because of the smells coming from it. HA! So with that Jon and I had to just try Escosazio’s. As we were walking home one night the smells wafting from the old limestone beckoned us to return.
Escosazio’s is a typical restaurant in the region, they have a butcher at the front entrance. You choose your meat or cuts of meat (I had a shish kebab type thing) and then head to your table where you order your sides and wine. There were several restaurants like this in Brindisi. I think it would be an ordering nightmare for back-of-the-house but that’s the restaurateur in me.
This was my favorite meal in Brindisi. The kebabs were pork (I think shoulder pieces) wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with gorgonzola cheese. Unbelievably YUM!
Notes on Italy
- Italians really don’t eat “breakfast” like we are use to eating. It is mostly sweets and pastries. Delicious and yummy, but not quite what we are use too. There are so many treats available it is hard to choose, dolce dolce.
- Tipping is not expected but appreciated. Please don’t tip 20% like in the states it is quite surprising to the waitstaff when the tip is this outrageous. Most times it is 10% or rounding up – your tip/service charge is included in the price of your meal
- Practice your Italian. I am learning Italian too and I found even here the dialect to be quite different from Rome and from my friends in Perugia and Piedmont. You may “capita” but “parle” is tougher. Some areas, like Lecce speak English everywhere but in Brindisi, Alberobello and Putignano it is exclusively Italian.
Puglia is beautiful and everywhere we went people wanted to know where we were from and how we came to be in Salento in this season. All I can say is, “I’m glad I am in this place in my travel journey, it’s the perfect place to be.”