I’m so grateful to have met so many fellow Italofiles through the Blogosphere. One of the most fascinating is Melissa Muldoon. Many know her as La Studentessa Matta=The Crazy Student, who writes a wonderful blog, in Italian, featuring her funny and passionate reportings about Italian current events and culture, including such goodies as a colorful recent post about La Festa della Bruna in Matera.
It was great to finally meet Melissa in person last month when we joined in with Le Donne d’Italia in San Francisco for a Passport to Italy event at the Museo Italo Americano. She’s as charming in person as she appears in her blog and on her Facebook page.
Melissa studied painting in Firenze, received her Masters in Art History, and now works as a graphic designer in the San Francisco Bay area. Her love for Italy brings her back there often. Years ago, regretting that she didn’t learn Italian well as a college student, she began to self-teach herself the language. The La Studentessa Matta blog is one of the ways she flexes her language skills and connects up with other Italian language students.
She also co-leads Language and Cultural Immersion trips to Italy. This September, she’s offering two trips–one based in Matera (Basilicata), and another in Puglia. Spots are still available, so click here for more info.
It’s a treat to have Melissa share her advice for a Golden Day in Locorotondo, one of her favorite places in Puglia…
Locorotondo is especially “golden” to me and I would like to tell you why. In 2010 we welcomed an AFS high school exchange student from Italy into our home in San Francisco. After the school year ended and our Italian daughter returned home, we found ourselves following on her heels, heading literally to the “heel of the boot” in Italy, to visit her hometown of Locorotondo.
I fell in love with Locorotondo the first moment I beheld the blinding white confection of houses & buildings, set high on a hill overlooking the Val d’Itria in the heart of Puglia. As the name suggests, Loco-ROTONDO is built around a circular plan, with the Chiesa di S. Giorgio set at the very heart of the city.
You enter the old town through the main portal off Piazza Marconi.
It is impossible to get lost, due to Locorotondo’s circular nature. When you make your way to the far side of the city, you find yourself standing on a large “balcony” that over looks the countryside below.
Wander the smooth white stone streets, flanked by whitewashed houses with pointed roofs made of limestone slabs called “cummersa”. Elegant wrought-iron balconies, adorned with geraniums, make the town even more delightful and have earned it a place in the list of I Borghi piu Belli d’Italia= the most beautiful villages in Italy”.
As if all this charm wasn’t enough, Locorotondo is also famous for its wine, White Locorotondo DOC and for its “gnumeredde suffuchète” or tripe rolls of lamb, tied with guts and boiled in earthenware pots. Yum!
Puglia is well known for its trulli, white conical dwellings, which are found in abundance in the nearby village of Alberobello. They inspire fantasies of what it would be like to live in one, which we did for a week. We’d recommend renting i Trulli di Malzo, on the outskirts of Locorotondo, a walkable distance to the historic center. It comes with a patio and laundry facilities, and can accommodate up to 5 people.
If you are looking for a hotel, you can find lovely accommodations at Sotto le Cummerse, an Albergo Diffuso, that offers guest rooms and apartments in various locations in the historic center.
I’ve visited Locorotondo twice during Ferragosto (August 14-16) when the town celebrates its patron saint S. Rocco. Thousands of visitors come to enjoy the open air markets and streets decked out with breathtaking arrays of sparkling lights. The festival culminates with an elaborate evening procession starring the statue of S. Rocco, who is carried through the streets.
Afterwards, luminaries are set over the city walls and townspeople gather to watch an incredible 3-hour fireworks display, set off by three (count ‘em three!) competing fireworks companies! At the end of the festival a jury of local dignitaries proclaims the winner. In addition to the religious procession, another ritual dear to the people of Locorotondo is “la Diana”–a random gathering of townspeople who roam the streets in the early morning hours, raising a ruckus to announce the beginning of the festival.
It is quite calda=hot in Puglia in August, so if you’d rather not go for Ferragosto, try November for the Festa del Vino Novella or July for the Locus Festival, an Art & Jazz Music Festival.
And now what you all are really curious about…CIBO! FOOD!
Stop in for delicious pizza, made with fresh locally grown ingredients at Pizz Birr (Via Ugo Foscolo 1), . They also serve a variety of local dishes, including tripe, freshly made by the Signora della casa.
Another local hot spot not to missed (especially by the younger crowd) is DOCKS 101. (Via Nardelli, 101). I loved this little pub, with it’s hip decor and music posters. Great music is performed here by local bands–on the outdoor patio during the summer and inside in winter.
It’s on the back side of Locorotondo where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the Val d’Itria. Stop for a craft beer or local grown wine or an aperitivo (did someone just say Spritz!) and don’t forget the appetizers of local cheeses and traditional Pugliese dishes – like a bowl of Taralli (the crunchy little crackers shaped like mini doughnuts made only in Puglia).
If you are after the best “cornetti”, go to “Dolce Passione” (11/13 Traversa Maestro Cataldo Curri). Try the cornetto alla crema…mi raccomando – you won’t regret your choice!
If caffè and gelato are your passion, look no further than il bar Campanella (corso 20 settembre, 9). It’s the most famous bar in Locorotondo, and anything you get there is sure to please.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, stop in at il bar Guida (via Alberobello, 31) where the “paste secche” or cookies are to die for and should be on everyone’s bucket list of things to try!
Finally, you can not leave Locorotondo with out trying a local favorite called “panzerotto”.
I have had these flavorful pockets of dough, filled with meats and cheeses and cooked in outdoor ovens on the deck of a trullo. You can also find a delicious assortment of locally made panzerotti at Caffe’ della Villa (Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, 22) where you can sample for yourselves the sweet taste of Locorotondo, all wrapped up in a piping hot savory pastry.
Grazie Mille Melissa! You’ve made me Hungry for Puglia!
I’ve also fallen in love with Locorotondo, and will add the Taverna del Duca (Via Papatodero 3) to the recommendations–a small, traditional gem, with a menu that changes daily (written on a chalkboard)–serving up delicious simple classics. I had a most memorable lunch there a few years ago, that I still dream about: a simple orecchiette pasta with tomato sauce…made and served with soul.