Joyce Falcone is one of my favorite Italy travel experts. She was brought up in an Italian American household in New Jersey, took her first trip to Italy over 30 years ago, and in the 1990s began working as a tour guide for such top-notch companies as Country Walkers and Smithsonian Journeys. More recently, she founded, “The Italian Concierge” which specializes in custom vacations for individuals, families, honeymooners and groups. With her passion, extensive background in Italian travel, frequent trips to Italy where she’s always keeping up to date and discovering new places, Joyce creates itineraries that give travelers extraordinary trips–a chance to truly “Live the Experience.” Client testimonials sing her praises, and since 2008 she has consistently been recognized at the top of her field as an Italy Specialist by Conde Nast Traveler and on the Travel + Leisure “A-List” for Italy since 2009.
I love when her newsletter arrives in my email box, and her blog posts, where she opens up her “Little Black Book”, sharing advice such as what are the best salumi and cheeses to bring home or tips for summer travel.
I am honored and thrilled that Joyce has joined in to give us advice for a Golden Day in Salento...In her words:
When traveling in Italy, I like to combine five elements into each day. When all five have been attained, that is what I would call “My Golden Day”.
*Physical activity: in the form of walking , cycling, shopping,
*Gastronomy: having one wonderful meal a day, which includes a regional plate and a glass of local vino with a grape that is indigenous
*Storia: A visit to a historic site
*Cultura: Speaking with a local person to learn about the area or find out what are the current events
*A Great Hotel: A historic property that reflects the architecture of the region, with fewer than 35 rooms.
Here is my advice to attain all five, for a Golden Day in The Salento:
The Salento refers to the Salentina Penninsula located in Puglia, the region referred to as the “heel” of the boot. The Province is Lecce, being one of five that encompass the Puglia region.
The best time of year for the Salento is before or after the summer crowds have come and gone; during the months of Late May, June or September, early October when you can still enjoy a dip in the sea.
Physical Activity: The topography of the Salento is slightly hilly, and predominately flat, and aside from the disrepair of many of the roads presents a wonderful opportunity for cycling. The coastline road S358 that leaves Otranto and heads south towards the tip and Leuca follows the Adriatic, and on a clear day one can see the mountains of Albania. Not much traffic and beautiful views.
Storia: A favorite stop along the way is Otranto.This is a city founded by the Messapicans , that was dominated by the Byzantines and a prominent seat of Christianity in southeastern Italy for centuries. La Cattedrale was constructed in 1068, and was continuously modified through 1500’s.
Noteworthy is the mosaic floor which dates 1163-1166. Due to the religious importance, and sadly, the city was sacked on August 14, 1480 by the Turks (Ottoman Empire) and all 800 inhabitants were beheaded one at a time, for refusing to converted to Islam. Only a few months ago, on May 8, 2013, Pope Francis made all 800 martyrs saints.
North of Lecce, you will find the Abbey of Santa Maria Di Cerrate. I mention this simple Romanesque church due to the position near Masseria Giampaolo in the middle of hundreds of olive trees. Dating from the 12th century, it is considered one of the most significant examples of Romanesque Architecture in the Province of Lecce and is worth a visit. It is now under the control of FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano-The Italian National Trust) and is the first FAI property in the Puglia region.
Gastronomy: It is easy to dine well in Puglia and in the Salento, as the area is known for the cultivation of vegetables and for the production of olive oil. The Salento was part of Magna Grecia, and left as testimony to their rein are miles, miles, and miles of olive trees–some 600 years old.
Least we forget to mention that burrata is also a product of Puglia. Burrata is mozzarella combined with butter or butter and cream. Best to stay on the bike and stay away from the burrata!
An excellent place for Otranto dining is Peccato del Vino (Via Randachi, 7/9, 0836 801488). It’s located within the walls of the old city of Otranto, and everything is fresh and local.
Vino: Puglia is know for their hearty red wines and their production of Rose. Regional grape varietals you’ll find are Negro Amaro, Salice Salentino, and Primitivo, which is said to be a distant cousin to Zinfandel. Many wineries are located west of Lecce, one of the largest being Leone di Castris who have been producing wine since 1665. (Address: Via Senatore de Castris, 26, 73015 Salice Salentino, phone: 0832 731112, guided visits by reservation).
Cultura: Plan your stay to be able to go to Lecce on a Friday or Saturday night when the entire town is out socializing, drinking, dining, and strolling. It is one of the liveliest places I have ever seen. Lecce is a college town, and a beautiful city, some call it the “Florence of the south.” Baroque buildings line the streets, there are chic shops and even a Roman Amphitheatre from the 2nd century, in the center of the piazza.
Masseria Montelauro (SP Otranto-Uggiano, 72038 Otranto, 0826 806 203)
Grazie mille Joyce, for these treasures of advice for my next trip to Salento!
Click here to sign up for The Italian Concierge newsletter, full of great advice for all your Italian travels.
I came to know Martha Bakerjian years ago through her Italy Travel Site on About.com–a Must Click for all travelers to Italy–packed with excellent information–from maps, to guidance for well known destinations and off-the-beaten path spots, and insider’s advice for such things as Going to the Beach in Italy.
It was a thrill to meet her in person last fall, when we rendezvoused for lunch in Pisa. She is a passionate Italofile, who has been traveling extensively in Italy for 30 years, and now has a home in the Lunigiana region of northern Tuscany where she spends about five months a year, using it as a base to explore Italy.
One of Martha’s favorite places to explore is the region of Puglia. Since her first trip there, over 20 years ago, when she worked on an archaeological project on the Salento Peninsula, she has discovered the many pleasures of the entire region–from its beaches to castles, Greek ruins, medieval villages, nature reserves, and caverns.
I’m so grateful Martha’s joined in to give us her advice for a Golden Day for Seafood Lovers on Puglia’s Gargano Promontory, the northern part of Puglia, that appears as the spur of the Italian boot, jutting out into the Adriatic Sea…
Start your day in the main square of the village of Vico del Gargano, with pastries, coffee, and organic juice (made from fruit grown on the family farm) at Bar Pasticceria Pizzicato. Sit outside and enjoy a look at local life.
Drive down the hill to the coast road toward the pretty town of Peschici. Before you reach the town, stop at the lookout point where there’s an ancient tower, for views of Peschici, the sea, and the trabucco where you’ll have lunch. Work up an appetite by wandering along the pedestrian streets of Peschici’s historic center.
Lovers of fresh fish will be in heaven at Il Trabucco di Monte Pucci (Localita Monte Pucci, off the S.S. 89 near Peschici Tel: +39 345 893 3151, reservations recommended on weekends and in summer).
Your lunch will have come straight from the sea, right at the trabucco just a few hours before. From the view spot with tower on SS 89, take the narrow road down to their small parking lot.
The waiter will show you samples of the day’s catch and tell you the menu options. Since the food is based on what was caught that day, there’s no written menu. Pasta and dessert are made in the kitchen. You’ll have a choice of several different appetizers, a few pasta dishes based on seafood, and then grilled or fried fish.
After lunch you can walk to the trabucco’s private beach, tucked away in a cove below the cliffs, to relax or swim in the sea.
In the evening stroll around the historic center of Vico del Gargano, on the list of “the most beautiful small towns in Italy”. Take a look at the narrow alleyways, called “kissing alleys”, where lovers were said to come to steal a kiss as they passed in the tight space. Return to the Pizzicato Bar for an apertivo–try one of their specialty drinks made with their organic juices.
For your evening meal go to Cantina Il Trapetto (Via Casale 168, +39 347 915 3363), a renovated olive oil mill in the center where you’ll dine on tables that were once millstones. They have a variety of small plate dishes so you can try a few of the local specialties. In summer, they sometimes have live music on their terrace.
Live like a local by staying at Pizzicato Eco B&B in a restored apartment in the historic center or in a modern apartment a short walk from the center. Giuseppe, the owner of both the apartments and bar, speaks English.
Vico del Gargano is a lively town where you can really experience the slow life of Puglia rather than just being a tourist.
Grazie mille, Martha! Looking forward to finding out more in your Puglia Travel Guide App AND getting over there to experience your Golden Day!
*Puglia Map and App Cover by James Martin of Europe Travel.
As summer is approaching, we move on to Puglia, the region in Italy’s heel, home to some of Italy’s best beaches.
My first visit to Puglia was many years ago, in the month of May, when cherry season was at its peak…
One Golden Day I’ll always treasure was in Savelletri di Fasano, near the forests of Fasano, south of Bari. I stayed with my gal friend Sheila at Torre Maizza, a masseria (former farm estate) from the 16th century, that’s been luxuriously renovated with beautiful guest accommodations, gorgeous grounds, a golf course, delicious restaurants, and a spa.
Taking in all the beauty on the property in the morning was energizing. We considered taking a swim in the infinity pool, but opted instead to take a bike ride and pedal the 10 minute flat road to the private beach, past amazing olive groves.
The Coccaro Beach Club was heavenly…
There was a restaurant there where we enjoyed salt encrusted fish with white wine from the nearby Locorotondo vineyards. (They also serve excellent sushi.)
Sheila got slathered with a creamy paste of fava beans, then took a steam in the Turkish bath. I got an herbal massage, that of course included olive oil. Then we both went back for non-traditional (for an Italian spa) Kembiki Do facials. This is an ancient Japanese deal where the sweet technicians “reorganize the facial architecture”–as the brochure write-up says. It involved such an intense massage they even put on rubber gloves to stick their fingers in our mouths to rub out marionette lines. It was amazing to see the effect in the mirror afterwards–I should try this at home.
Feeling very pretty, we dined on local specialties that are given a creative spin at the property’s Le Palme restaurant.
A Blissful Golden Day–Pugliese style…
One of my dearest friends is the wonderful Louise Wright, a card carrying Italophile, who received a degree in Italian Culture and Language from the Universita’ per Stranieri in Siena in 2003. For many years, whenever we are not traveling, we have a Friday afternoon tradition of calling each other up and talking and reading to each other in Italian.
Louise has been traveling to Italy for decades–visiting friends, discovering new places, and always seeking beautiful experiences that immerse her into authentic Italian life. One of her favorite spots is Camogli, a small seaside village on the Ligurian coast. I’m thrilled she’s joining in to share her advice for a Golden Day there…
I was first introduced to Camogli about 20 years ago while staying with my lovely Ligurian friend Patrizia and her family, who live a half-hour train ride south. The name, Camogli, comes from “le case delle moglie” (Houses of the Wives), as the town originated as a fishing village. It grew to be a maritime power: The City of a Thousand White Ships. Today the soul of its origins remains–you still see men coming out of the doorways at dusk and heading away from the tiny harbor in a small lighted procession of fishing boats. The town is a delight, with tall painted buildings and much natural beauty surrounding it.
It’s easily accessible by train, and a relaxing base for day trips to Genova, Portofino, Santa Margherita, and Chiavari. It’s bordered by Monte Portofino, a great place to hike.
Or you can take a boat to the medieval Abbazia di San Fruttuoso.
My Golden Day begins with foccacia from Revello Focacceria (Via Giuseppe Garibaldi 197/A), followed by a swim in the bay.
Then I’d take a short bus ride from Via Repubblica up to San Rocco (you may have to change at Ruta or make the pleasant, flat, walk from Ruta to San Rocco) and a half-hour hike down the trail to Punta Chiappa. (Bus schedules are posted at the bus stops).
There your reward is lunch at Trattoria del Mulino Da Drin, (Punta Chiappa-Camogli, 0185 770530, reservations a must, closed Tues in winter).
Da Drin has a glorious view, with a terrace overlooking the Golfo di Paradiso, fabulous seafood (spaghetti with anchovies) and my favorite, Pesto al Mandilli=a light-as-air “handkerchief” of hand-made pasta.
After lunch, a boat ride back to Camogli is fun and it’s very dramatic to return by sea.
Click here for the boat schedules or they are listed at the Camogli port. They even have trips to the Cinque Terre and Portovenere during July and August, although I don’t think I’d pick those busy months to visit Camogli. You can take the boat both ways from Camogli to Punta Chiappa, or if you’re feeling robust, you may hike round trip–there is a trail from Camogli to San Rocco and then on to Punta Chiappa.
Back in Camogli, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta is worth a look.
It was built around 1200, and is quite beautiful inside. If you’re there on a weekend, you are sure to see a wedding–with elegant brides and grooms posing for photos.
Early evening, join the locals for the passeggiata along the seaside promenade, Via Garibaldi, with it’s exquisite sea and mountain views, and great people-watching. You may enjoy a gelato stop at Gelato e Dintorni (Via Garibaldi 104).
Or or an apertivo at the elegant Bar Primula, (Via Garibaldi 140, Tel: 0185 770 351).
Or head to the harbor for a cocktail at Bistingo Sea Bar (Piazza Colombo12, 0185 772 531 Closed Mon).
For a delicious dinner, I’d choose either Caffe del Teatro, (Piazza Matteotti 3, Reserve: 0185 772572, closed Thursdays)–a casual, budget-friendly place with indoor and outdoor tables that serves good pizza and salads…
Or Ristorante Camogliese (Via Garibaldi 78, Must reserve: 0185771086, Closed Wed, except July and August).
It faces the sea, with fabulous views. The best menu offerings are the local fish specialties and Pesto Trenette=pasta, potatoes, green beans and pesto.
Two hotels I’d recommend are, Hotel La Camogliese (Via Garibaldi 55, 0185771402)…
Or for something a bit more pricey, there’s the Hotel Casmona, (Salita Pineto 13, 0185 770015), that’s very nice as well.
*A couple of other tips:
–The Tourist Office (Via XX Settembre 29), is down the road to your right upon exiting the train station. They have trail maps for Monte di Portofino as well as Camogli.
–On arrival at the Camogli train station, the steep steps to Via Garibaldi are a bit daunting, especially with luggage. If you are staying at La Camogliese, follow the road left, (Via Cuneo), winding down towards Via Garibaldi–it’s much easier to roll that luggage downhill on the road, rather than take the steps.
The first image that comes to mind when I hear San Remo, is the annual Music Festival, that’s been going on in this elegant seaside town since 1951.
This grand event has launched the careers of many of my favorite Italian singers, including Andrea Bocelli who won the Newcomer’s Award there in 1994, with Il Mare Calmo della Sera. It’s always a kick to watch the videos that include international stars–such as this one from 2012 of Patti Smith singing “Because the Night”.
Matteo Scandolera was born and grew up in San Remo. He’s now the Director of LiguriaHomes, a top-notch real estate company that offers rentals and sales of beautiful properties all along the Italian Riviera.
I’m thrilled to have Matteo join in to give his insider’s advice for a Golden Day in his homeland:
There are many beautiful places in San Remo, the capital town of the Italian Riviera of the Flowers.
Not to be missed is the old town, called La Pigna, where you’ll wander through steep streets, covered archways, amidst little squares and ancient churches–a glimpse of Medieval times.
In the newer part of town, you’ll see how this fishermen’s village was turned into an elegant seaside resort, during the Belle Epoque period. Towards the latter part of it–1905–the town’s famous Casino was built.
Also, there is this very unusual Russian Church. In 1874 tsarina Maria Alexandrovna spent a winter in San Remo and raved about it so much back home, that the town became crowded with Russian visitors. This Orthodox church was completed in 1913 and is similar to the Church of of San Basilio in Moscow.
Or during summer, you can go whale watching to observe dolphins and whales in their natural environment, and enjoy the fabulous view of the coastline seen from the sea
You can eat and drink very well in San Remo.
The best cafè in town is Cafè Ducale on the glamorous Corso Matteotti (#145), the main via of San Remo.
Try the focaccia and typical West Ligurian pizza, called Sardenaira (with tomatoes, anchovies, onions or garlic and black olives), at Focacceria Maggiorino (Via Roma #183).
And believe me: The best gelato EVER is in a tiny shop, Gelateria Vecchia Matuzia (Corso Matuzia #97).
As far as where to go for lunch and dinner, skip the tourist traps on the Old Port=Porto Vecchio. Try the Mini Bar da Antonio, (across from the beach, Corso Trento 17). It’s more of a kiosk than a restaurant, where the pasta with fish is incredible and the prices are budget friendly.
For the best pizza, go to Spaccanapoli (Via Bixio 31).
For more formal, 5-star dining, head to the nearby town of Ospedaletti and reserve a table at Byblos (Lungomare C. Colombo 6, 0184 689002).
Or Acquerello (Corso Regina Margherita 25, 0184 68 2048, Closed Monday and Tuesday).
The best place to stay is the Hotel Nazionale on Corso Matteotti, with amazing views over the sea and the Casino.
Grazie mille Matteo!
We’re moving on to the lovely seaside town of Rapallo, between Portofino and Chiavari, tucked into the Tigullio Gulf. I remember my first visit there, struck by the elegance of the promenade, imagining the writers, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, and Hemingway–who spent inspirational time here…
The art of lacemaking has been going on in Rapallo since the Middle Ages, when women who mended their husband’s fishing nets began to turn their skills into an art form that produced beautiful things. I still have a sachet I bought at the charming Emilio Gandolfi shop (Piazza Cavour 1), that’s been run by the same family since 1920, and exports their products all over the world.
Danis Konstantilakis, from Greece, who has fallen in love with Liguria and created the Cinque Terre Villages website, has joined in to share her favorite places for a Golden Day in this little piece of Ligurian paradise:
One sight you can’t miss, dominating the harbor, is the Castello sul Mare (Castle-on-the-Sea). It was built in 1551 as a protection against pirate attacks and now is open sporadically for visiting exhibitions.
Rapallo’s seaside promenade, Lungomare Vittorio Veneto, is the centerpiece of town, lined with palm trees, art nouveau style buildings, restaurants, and caffes.
The Chiosco on the Lungomare is an old fashioned band stand, where you can often hear live music. And be sure to stop at Frigidarium (Lungomare Vittorio Veneto 4), for the best gelato in town. It’s a small shop owned by Chicco (Francesco) Barbetta and his wife Anna, where the freshest ingredients are used to make delicious treats.
Another pretty place is the Villa Tugullio, surrounded by a landscaped park, where indoor and outdoor concerts are held. Inside is a Lace Museum and International Library.
Or you may want to walk or take a funivia=cable car from Piazza Solari (8 minute ride, runs about every 1/2 hour) up to the top of Montallegro Sanctuary, where the Blessed Virgin Mary was believed to have appeared to a peasant.
For lunch, dinner, or afternoon snack, enjoy Rapallo’s best seafood at Trattoria da Mario (Piazza Garibaldi 23, 0185 51737, Closed Wed, dinner reservations a must).
A reasonably priced, elegant and comfortable hotel, steps from the promenade, is Hotel Riviera. It was built in 1905, aand it’s where Ernest Hemingway wrote a short story called “The Cat in the Rain.”, about an American couple on vacation in Rapallo.
Or if you want something more luxurious, with modern rooms, a garden, spa, and fitness center, check into the 4-star Europa Hotel, right in the center of town.
Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci was my inspiration to visit the Gulf of the Poets. This Renaissance Beauty, the Marilyn Monroe of Florence, was believed to be the model for Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and many of his other paintings.
Simonetta arrived in Florence at the age of 16, the bride of Marco Vespucci, who was a cousin of Amerigo, the explorer. Her fans called her La Bella Simonetta, and said she was from Portovenere, where the Romans believed Venus arose from the sea.
Actually, Simonetta’s family was from Fezzano, a Ligurian village north of Portovenere, bordering the Gulf of The Poets. I took the bus (20 minutes) from Portovenere to seek out the Cattaneo Villa in Fezzano, which I had read was built in 1400, and was in the process of restoration.
The first distraction, opposite the Fezzano bus stop, is this gorgeous cemetery.
The village was quiet that April day, just a few fishing boats in the cove…
At the caffe, leather-tanned fisherman were drinking campari-prosecco pick-me-ups out of small champagne glasses. When I asked about the Cattaneo villa, I just got blank looks.
Back at the marina, the menu from Ristorante Mistral (Via Gallotti 40, 018 715 09533) caught my eye.
I peeked in to find Chef Giovanna and waitress Stella, a charming, welcoming duo.
They set up a table for me facing the beautiful view, under an umbrella pine. I asked for pesce, and this most beautiful lunch arrived…
Naturally, chatting with Giovanna and Stella, I asked about the Cattaneo place…again the blank looks came at me. Allora, the mystery remains… I’ll be back…Striking out on the first try simply leads to its allure. And in the meantime, Grazie to Simonetta for a delicious Golden Day.