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Puglia, Basilicata, Molise "report" May 2012 (really long with more negative than positive impressions)

b
barberinibee May 15, 2012 02:16 PM

I just returned from about 2 weeks in southern Italy, and even though the main purpose of my visit was not gastronomy, I wanted to share some observations and recommendations for what they are worth. The two biggest surprises for me of the trip were

1) the exceptional deliciousness of the olive oil from Larino in Molise

and

2) how intensely I disliked Puglia

I could say I was also surprised by how very much I liked Basilicata and Molise, but I am used to enjoying new travels in Italy, and until Puglia, I had yet to come across a region of Italy to which I had such intensely negative reactions. To be fair to Puglia lovers, I didn't visit many picturesque towns most first-time visitors do (i.e., Ostuni, Trani, Polignano a Mare, Alberobello, Monopoli). Curiously, the part of Puglia I enjoyed most is the usually-shunned Bari, and would be curious to return there.

To my mind, my week's worth of experiences in Puglia is almost proof-positive that not everybody enjoys the same things about Italy, and this can be a cause for celebration rather than conflict. In the end, isn't it better that not everybody is crowding into the same places and fighting over the same food? I don't doubt for a second that other people who return from a trip Puglia and who report life-changing eating experiences found thrilling things to eat there. Surely there are incredible eating venues in Puglia that I missed. And what is a week's worth of food tell you anyway? But to be totally honest, I can't join those urging other people to go to Puglia ahead of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Emilia-Romagna, Le Marche or even the valle d'Aosta and Basilicata as a destination for food or wine.

I left Puglia largely underwhelmed by Pugliese wine, Pugliese pasta, Pugliese cheese and -- most surprising to me -- Pugliese bread. I regularly purchase tastier Pugliese-style bread outside of Puglia in Italy. Apart from the days I spent near Taranto, and a lunch in Lecce, I got a remarkable amount of blah bread served to me in Puglia, even in Slow Food recommended restaurants. (In Basilicata, I got delicious bread as the norm).

I should also note that Puglia is famous for many specialities that I made no effort to try. I skipped eating sea urchins, didn't stop in Cerignola for the olives, and only ate burrata when it showed up on cheese plates in restaurants other than in Corato. (All the cheese served to me in Basilicata and Molise was better than any served to me in Puglia, with one exception in Lecce). I also didn't eat at any of the highly regarded destination restaurants that require reservations weeks in advance, nor did I eat in a "fornello." People going to Puglia mainly for gastronomy might want to do what I didn't.

While I enjoyed many dishes in Puglia and ate in some wonderful Slow Food-recommended restaurants, the taste treats just didn't compensate for my overall disappointment. I ended up blaming a lot of my reactions to the food on Puglia on its olive oil, which even in Slow Food restaurants seemed to flatten a lot of dishes. Too often the Pugliese dishes I ate reminded me of the tastes I associate with Italian-American cooking, which I don't always dislike, but I prefer other tastes.

I relied on the Slow Food guide for osterie for 99 percent of my food choices and felt the quality of the restaurants was high, even if I didn't like the olive oil they used. Sadly, I found that staying in "masserie" recommended by the Slow Food locanda guide was a continuous disappointment gastronomically in Puglia, and that is something that hasn't been such a problem in other parts of Italy using the same guide. (I also found the business of turning these humongous masserie into super- luxury hotels in the middle of blasted nowheres bizarre, but that's not a discussion Chowhound will allow.)

My final complaint about eating in Puglia is that I wearied of the vast amounts of food being served to me. This proved a problem in Basilicata and Molise as well (but at least there, I found the food brighter and more to my liking). I didn't like a single cup of coffee I drank until I got to Campania (where I ended my trip, and have talked about in separate threads).

All that said, the eating wasn't bad, not even in Puglia and sometimes it was lovely (even in Puglia). My single best restaurant experience of the entire trip was in Puglia, on the Gargano promontory. In Bari, I was treated the best orata that I have ever tasted. I also highly encourage any foodie anywhere near Bari to visit the alleys of its old quarter where women still sit in their doorways making orecchiette, and drying it on special tables made of wood and wire. It is an amazing thing to see, and it has yet to be turned into a tourist cartoon. It remains a genuine tradition. (Do read up on the warnings about theft in Bari and take precautions.)

http://www.makepeopledo.it/wp-content...

On to the eating highlights of my trip:

I DOLCI GRAPPOLO (Larino, Molise) -- This sparkling new agriturismo on the upper slops of Larino is attached to the well-regarded d'Uva winery, which produces the near-extinct Tintilia wine of Molise. Tintilia turns out to be a very enjoyable, inky rich wine, but the real thrill for me in Molise was tasting the "gentile" olive oil of Larino. This is sensationally good olive oil, incredibly light. a perfect accompaniment to the most delicate spring vegetables. I found its taste positively haunting, and I would go back to Larino in Molise in a flash to not only taste this marvelous olive oil again, but to pick up several bottles to take home. Abundant fresh food is served at the agriturismo's restaurant --- handmade pastas, highly local cheeses and the freshest meats.. Guests eat with the winery staff at dinner. Recommended by the Slow Food locanda guide.

LA COSTA -- San Nicandro Garganico (Puglia) -- Because we chose this eatery from the Slow Food guide, we were therefore surprised to find mostly creative dishes on the menu, and even more surprised when an antipasta plate of mixed seafood arrives with a splash of bright blue sauce on top. But it proved to be our best meal in Puglia, start to finish, with outstanding antipasti (including a divine eggplant roll stuffed with minced fish), plus a primi of divine garganelli in a seafood cream sprinkled with poppy seeds and studded with bits of lobster, and another pasta with mixed shellfish, perfectly rendered and blissfully light. For a shared secondo, a platter of fried-to-perfection small fish (including unusual local eels) that was good beyond description. I have no idea why anyone would go to San Nicandro Garganico other than to eat this food (I was on my way through the quasi-south Texas landscape to an allegedly scenic drive around the promontory). The day we zipped in for lunch, the steep ziggurat of the isolated town was hectic with what appeared to be a kind of "diffuse" market day, with pint-sized trucks and hatchback cars parked helter-skelter everywhere up the slopes of the historic center and customers blocking traffic in the narrow streets to hurriedly buy cheese, fruit, fish, etc, out of the backs of the vendor's vehicles. If you are ever tempted to a scenic drive around the Gargano promontory, I say skip the drive and just go eat at La Costa instead.

LE BOTTEGHE (Matera, Basilicata) --- This is a Slow Food pick at the very bottom of the bowl of the Sassi, worth the hike down and back up on the hard stones (you can take a taxi if your knees or back are not good). My pasta with chickpeas mixed with fried bread crumbs was so good, it would be worth a hike from America to eat -- and it is the only "destination" dish I could recommend from my entire trip. , It was simply a dream come true and I intend to master the dish in my own kitchen, and will happily go back to fascinating Matera as often as needed to get it right . An excellent Aglianico wine from Venosa was the server's recommendation. It was heavenly, best wine of the trip. We also ate roast meats, grilled steak and a truffle pasta (nice, but the truffle overpowered our taste buds into the next day). We shared a cheese plate with some of the most interesting cheeses of the trip. Be warned that pasta dishes are huge.

LOCANDA DI NUNNO (Canosa di Puglia) -- I was heartbroken when I ran out of time to drive from Canosa di Puglia to Cerignola before the end of the lunch hour, I so much wanted to eat Cerignola olives in their home town. But Locanda di Nunno in Canosa di Puglia --- right near the road out of town to Cerignola --, is a really very wonderful place and worthy of being a first choice itself. (I found it in the Slow Food osterie guide). Standouts from the meal were stuffed calamari in a very seductive lemon sauce, and a seemingly simple home-made pasta that incorporated red wine in the base, but it was the most successful version of that type of pasta I have every had. (We also sampled squares of a bread made of grano arso and Pugliese foccacia, neither of which I liked.) I had a sophisticated pistachio concoction for dessert, and adding to the pleasure was the outgoing hostess, whose radiant smile and enthusiasm for welcoming visitors to the region exemplified the most enjoyable aspect of being in Puglia. The people are terrific.

BACCO (Bari, Puglia) -- I chose this from my 2011 Gambero Rosso guide, and it is a very civilized place to try many specialties of Bari. (It even has an internal glass cubicle where cigarette addicts enter to smoke between courses). I particularly enjoyed their "tiella", an individual casserole of mussels, potatoes and rice, plus an outstanding salt-baked orata. They loaded us up with tasty amuse bouche and have exceptional crudo for antipasti (go for the shrimp). Wine from Castel del Monte suggested by the server was the best wine we drank in Puglia, and sugared almonds presented at the finish, among other many small pastries, were a memorable treat. My only caution is that this overly generous restaurant will overload you with food if you are not careful. All antipasti can be shared, especially plates of raw seafood. They are huge.

AL GATTO ROSSO (Taranto, Puglia

)

"Pristine" is not a word easily associated with Taranto, but Al Gatto Rosso serves pristine seafood in a pristine setting that is about a 2-minute walk from the treasure-filled National Museum in Taranto. We had terrific octopus and perfect pastas with seafood. Recommended by both Slow Food and my 2011 Gambero Rosso guide.

And honorable mentions to:

ALLE DUE CORTE -- (Lecce, Puglia) -- A shared platter of fried vegetables reminded me of the fried onion rings of my youth, but a pasta of ribbony, frilly noodles, with oil-softened cherry tomatoes, a real kick of pepper and served with a stinky, crumbly cheese on the side was just the kind of made-by-mamma dish I think many people head to Italy dreaming they will find. It made me very happy (although the kick of pepper sent my husband's stomach into a tailspin on Puglia's miserable rural roads). This is a Slow Food recommendation.

CIBUS (Ceglie Messapica, Puglia) -- On a rare beautiful stretch of scenic road in central Puglia, heading south from Locorotondo through an untouristy stretch of trulli country, Ceglie Messapica is a particularly picturesque white hilltown, clean and quiet. CIBUS is in the heart of town and has won lots of applause (Gambero Ross and Slow Food), and we enjoyed the thankfully modest array of unusual and highly flavorful antipasti we ordered, which included the tasty fried hyacinth bulbs of the region. Less impressive was a house-made pasta that incorporated ground olives into the base. CIBUS earns much of its high praise for meat dishes, which we didn't try.

IL FALCO GRILLAILO (Matera, Basilicata) -- this is a very workaday place right opposite the Ridola archeology museum, perched where the upper ridge of the Sassi meets the modern town. We picked it for lunchtime convenience, but we quite enjoyed the rustic food. Cheeses in particular were fresh and fascinating, and the fava bean puree and chicory was fully satisfying, less refined but more satisfying than ones we had eaten in Puglia. The hardworking staff is friendly (as is seemingly everyone in Matera), and there is a cosy back room with small windows overlooking the Sassi. It does a whopping business in pizza (including take-away) during the passeggiata hours, and there are tables out front where you can watch the unending theatrics.

Not worth mentioning are most of the fish and seafood meals we ate along the Gulf of Taranto, which never rose beyond what we find is typical of many respectable coastal restaurants in Italy. In May, the small-town coast between Gallipoli and Metaponto is unnervingly empty, and we really have no idea how good the cooking might be when the summer season has brought the depressed coast to something resembling a life.

As Goethe almost said, you can have Puglia, but leave me the rest of Italy. It had to happen at some point that the Italian boot would kick up a region I didn't love on the whole, and I was utterly surprised it turned out to be Puglia -- since I love olive trees, the sea, vegetables and sunshine -- but it just doesn't speak to me.

  1. minchilli May 16, 2012 12:32 AM

    Wow. For being such a negative review of an entire region, you certainly didn't provide much details about your bad experiences. Except to say you had them.

    Saying you 'intensely disliked' an entire region - when even you admit you avoided some of the most picturesque towns and some of the best gastronomic specialties - seems completely unfair. And not that helpful.

    And not really sure why you say 'usually shunned Bari.' The problems with street crime in Bari date back about a decade. Bari Vecchia is as safe as any place these days.

    www.elizabethminchilliinrome.com

    3 Replies
    1. re: minchilli
      b
      barberinibee May 16, 2012 02:02 AM

      Elizabeth,

      I for one rely on honesty from people posting on the internet, and I qualified my remarks with complete honesty, saying these are personal reactions that others might not have. Many people will find that exremely helpful, I am sure Much of my truly negative reactions to Puglia involve discussions not allowed on Chowhound.

      I chose to visit the Magna Graecia instead of doing a gastronomic tour and didn't disguise that, and said outright others planning a different trip wouldn't necessarily have my reactions. Can't help it that I prefer Ligurian olive oil and Ligurian mussels --- and don't like sea urchins anywhere. I'm not feeling any need to apologize.

      I chose not to single out particular ugly areas or masserie owners or kitchens to harp on, because everyone in Puglia works extremely hard to provide a nice experience for tourists. I said what I said about theft in Bari because you can still find plenty of recent travel reports online about bag theft and car break-ins there. I said I would return to Bari and I had my best time there, and not just in the old quarter, but one has to give responsible advice too.

      Nobody needs to be 'fair" to any region or city of Italy or any travel or eating destination when it comes to sharing their first-hand experience. My report was already quite long, and if you want elaboration, I'm happy to give it as it relates to food. But if you want cheerleading, I left my costume in the New Jersey suburbs, partly because it never really fit anyway.

      1. re: barberinibee
        b
        barberinibee May 16, 2012 04:29 AM

        Other thoughts in response to Elizabeth's post:

        I had to run off to the morning market before it closed, but I had plenty of pensees d'escaliers about this thread (we have a lot of stairs in Liguria) and I want to add them here, as well as elaboration about theft in Bari, because it is really the thing of most serious import to those planning a trip.

        I honestly don't see Elizabeth's post as a personal attack on me and I dearly hope Chowhound moderators don't pull it when they wake up in America. But I do see it as an attack -- or at least a discouragement -- of people posting any kind of honest trip report, and find the criticisms of my posting without any objective basis.

        I spent 15 days traveling in southern Italy, most of them in Puglia, which is actually far more than most people who write trip reports on this board generally spend in any one region of Italy. By the norms of this board, if 15 days isn't enough time to form impressions valuable to other people, I suggest the board regulars begin scolding everybody who returns from a standard trip and posts about their disappointments here as being "unhelpful" based on their too-limited experience.

        Please also note that I spent less time in Basilicata and had fewer meals there than I did in Puglia, and yet my glowing praise of Baslilicata and my enthusiasm for what I ate provoked no criticism. It is hard to resist the conclusion that had I rubber-stamped a "positive" foodie view of Puglia, my report would have earned nothing but praise for its wisdom and perceptiveness. I don't mind people having a bias for Puglia -- why not? -- but those who don't have the bias can also form accurate impressions.

        The suggestion that if only I had gone instead to the "picturesque" towns of Puglia, I would be in a better position to advise other Chowhounders about the cuisine of Puglia leaves me very skeptical. My general experience of eating in Italy (which I do every day!) is that the more "picturesque" the Italian locale, the more likely you'll be disappointed in the food. Nothing I've yet to read about Puglia leads me to believe that Puglia is that singularly blessed tourist destination where the most thrilling food is found at the prettiest beach vistas or trulli towns. In fact, if you take a look at this report about Lecce, with contributions from a native that pretty much echo my own impressions of eating there, you'll see plenty of cautions about the difficulties of planning a gastronomic tour of Puglia while trying to combine it with the picturesque.

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/706699

        Finally, many people will want to go to Puglia and track down the regional specialities of horsemeat, raw sea urchins, deep fried breads filled with cheese, pastas made with burnt grains, etc -- but that doesn't make the reports of people who don't eat or like those things any less valuable to the potential gastronomic visitor to Puglia. I stick by my story that people headed to italy looking to taste great olive oil, great cheese, great pasta, great vegetable antipasta, great wine and even great seafood might want to choose many other regions ahead of Puglia for food alone, and if they do choose Puglia, they should go to the point of origin where the best of these products are found, and if seafood is what appeals, go in season.

        An elaboration about theft in Bari:

        In my first post, I noted that the Trattoria Bacco in Bari, which is a very upscale restaurant, offers its diners an internal glass smoking room where they can slip in to suck a cigarette between courses. That is to avoid the problem of sending well-dressed diners, many wearing jewelry, outside to the street to smoke, even though the restaurant is located on one of Bari's broadest, well-lit boulevards. Bacco keeps its front door locked during dinner.

        If you go online and google for information about theft in Bari, you will find an archive of magazine articles, dating back to the late 90s, all of which announce that theft in Bari is a thing of the past. These articles appear at regular intervals. The end of theft was announced in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2007 -- you get the point. At some point I've no doubt it will be true. (Go Nichi Vendola!) In the meantime, this 2008 video is a good reminder to leave the purse at your hotel when you visit Bari, which I hope you will do.

        http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=b00_12...

        I'm still glad I posted my impressions from my trip for other people, adding this info to the archival mix. I bet it someday serves somebody very well.

        1. re: barberinibee
          e
          ekc May 16, 2012 08:38 AM

          Thank you Barberinibee for your honest report. Often, the "don't do what I did" reports are as helpful as the cheerleading reports. Interesting to know that you finally found an area of Italy you did not enjoy as much, although I hope I never will. :-) Go FVG!

    2. c
      cmm2 May 16, 2012 09:13 AM

      Thank you for your wonderful trip report. As someone who has been considering a trip to Puglia for some time, it is extraordinarily helpful to hear divergent viewpoints. It's unfortunate that Chowhound so severely restricts "non-food" discussion; I would love to hear about the "other" part of your trip, too.

      The Slow Food Guide is wonderful, isn't it? Although we have had a few disappointments over the years, it's led us to dozens of fabulous places we never would have found otherwise. I wish I knew of similarly reliable guides for France, Spain, etc...

      36 Replies
      1. re: cmm2
        b
        barberinibee May 16, 2012 01:21 PM

        Thanks ekc and cmm2, and I should add that I am not at all sorry that I saw Puglia, not only for its historic treasures and wonderful residents, but also because it broadened my understanding of today's Italy (and European crisis) tremendously.

        Because I'm afraid some people might get the wrong impression of the itinerary of my trip -- which in fact falls squarely within the range of why a great many people would go to Puglia and come here asking advice about eating during their trip-- I'l add it here, and indicate what I would have changed gastronomically if I had to do it all over again so that Chowhound moderators can see that I'm still talking about how I handled eating on this trip.

        I drove to Molise, and the next day drove around the Gargano peninsula in Puglia on my way to spending the night in a masseria in the vicinity of Canosa di Puglia and Castel del Monte. From there I went to Bari, which was followed by a drive along the trulli trail to another masseria not far from Otranto. I visited Otranto, Brindisi and Lecce from that masseria, and then moved on to Porto Cesareo as a base to visit Gallipoli and Taranto. From there I went to Matera for a few nights, and drove through Basilicata to Salerno (and ended my trip in Naples, with a visit to Capri).

        What I wish I had done differently gastronomically is that I would have foregone all the masserie stays in favor of staying in towns with Slow Food restaurants. I would have gone to Lecce in the morning and Brindisi for lunch (instead of the other way around) in hopes of getting more interesting food. I would have skipped Porto Cesareo in favor of staying directly in Gallipoli and Taranto for better food. Finally, I would have skipped Puglia's Gargano peninsula entirely, despite my excellent meal at La Costa, and skipped Capri, in order to have more meals in Basilicata. I would have continued to use the Slow Food osterie guide the entire way.

        I forgot to mention in my original post that I purchased very well-made hand-turned wooden peppermills in Matera at the shop of Massimo Casiello, which is easily found on via San Biagio, 51. Continuing a centuries-long tradition of high-quality woodworking in Matera, Casiello also hand turns wooden bowls, plates, serving trays and canisters, as well as "timbri dei pane", the traditional stamps formerly used when baking bread in communal ovens.

        https://www.mybellabasilicata.com/Tim...

        1. re: barberinibee
          erica May 16, 2012 01:41 PM

          I am thrilled to read your thoughtful report, and will return again to soak it up with more leisure.
          I think the cheese you had at Alle Due Corte must have been the ricotta forte, and one has to be forte, indeed, to overcome that smell! I wonder about that cheese; I saw it sold in jars in Lecce, for long keeping, and wonder how such a soft cheese could survive for many weeks. (??)

          Interesting how much we both liked Le Botteghe in Matera. Now that is a restaurant smack dab in the middle of the tourist trail, such as it is in Matera. There are many tourists on the night that we dined there. Yet the food does not seem to have been "dumbed down" in any way. Extraordinary, really, how good the cuisine is in that region despite their rather paltry larder, or at least paltry as compared with the cornucopia from which the cooks of the more northern regions can draw.

          I'd be so grateful to read details of your meals in and around Porto Cesareo and Gallipoli..in keeping with the non-whitewashed theme here, let's hear it all! (Not to mention of course, the fact that I am headed that way in September!)

          A terrific contribution to Chowhound. Thank you.

          1. re: erica
            b
            barberinibee May 16, 2012 02:43 PM

            The cheese at Alle Due Corti vaguely reminded me, in flavor and texture, of some crumbly dry blue cheeses. Cantabrian "blue" cheese is one of my favorites (try it with good anchovies some time!) , so I positively like that sort of taste.

            Porto Cesareo was something of a ghost town the Monday and Tuesday in May that we were there. Our only dinner companions were a group of construction workers who were renovating all the sea-view rooms of the hotel, a traveling salesman and one local business party who came in one evening. I don't know how a restaurant with mainly a fresh seafood menu can possibly plan for such skimpy set of diners off-season. We ate things like mixed seafood antipasta, a perfectly nice tagliatelle with a red mullet ragu, a very good grilled whole spigola. It was the kind of food most competent sea-facing restaurants in Italy serve. I felt I could have been anywhere. Nothing was as interesting as the tiella I had In Bari or as high-quality as the orata I ate there.

            Unfortunately, we didn't make it to Gallipoli, and thus I missed not only its famed shrimp, but my chance to see what were once the vast underground olive oil mills of Gallipoli, where oilive oil was pressed in huge quantities to burn as fuel as over Italy, including lighting the great lighthouse in Genova's harbor. We also had Metaponto on our Magna Graecia itinerary but scratched it along with Gallipoli after my husband couldn't stomach any more bouncing over that area's pot-holed roads. I curse myself for picking a "base for day trips" along that mainly deserted coast. My husband, however, cursed the spumone on top that kick of pepper in the sauce at Alle Due Corti.

            My sole "criticism" of Le Botteghe in Matera was the size of its primi. We ordered one apiece and despite their utter deliciousness, we could not possibly have finished them. All that said, I am glad I did not skip the antipasta of mixed cheeses. I think for a return visit, however, instead of a meat secondo, I would go for one or two contorni.

            1. re: barberinibee
              b
              bob96 May 16, 2012 11:07 PM

              Thanks much for an unusually rewarding report--one that reflects the complicated gambles and rewards of any food travel. Question, though: I'm not all that sure about the source of your disappointments with Pugliese eating. Is it that your expectations we undermined by poor execution of traditional or typical Pugliese dishes, or were you simply not all that happy with Pugliese food in general. You did, of course, have some very good meals, and a bunch of unamed others that were not so good. So I'm guessing you might have been disappointed by execution. Curious. Also, you make passing mention about the effects of Pugliese olive oil, suggesting that it somehow lends an uncharacteristic Italian American heaviness that flattens everything out. Given Puglia's enormous output, there's much oil that is badly made or indifferent, just as there's excellent stuff (I'm really enjoying a midweight, fresh, and fragrant estate DOP oil from Manfredonia in the Gargano, bought in, of all places, the discount store TJ Maxx in NY). The Pugliese oil style---especially as expressed by popular coratina olives--is for big, thick flavors, but it' still about quality--despite having had more than my share of totally forgettable (and overpriced) taggiascas from Liguria, I still love the varietal at its best. Anyway, thanks again, and it's on to Molise!

              1. re: bob96
                b
                barberinibee May 18, 2012 02:46 PM

                I myself kept wondering why I was so often underwhelmed in Puglia,, but I certainly don't want to fault "execution.". Not only did I feel that every restaurant was fully in control of every plate they presented me, I also was surprised by the sophistication of some of rather remote restaurants in not-wealthy towns. My only thumbs-down for execution came in a few masserie, which I had just assumed would give me nice local food but which turned out to be focused on lux-hospitality and hosting weddings. My mistake.

                I only slowly came to suspecting it was the olive oil that was the persistent drag on my tastebuds. Interestingly perhaps, the meal I most enjoyed was closest to Manfreddonia, on the Gargano peninsula. I'm sure it is true that very good olive oil is produced in Puglia, as well as wine. Once I began thinking it was the olive oil, I began focusing on it -- but by that time I was far from Manfreddonia and it did seem to me to just be heavy and without zing the further east I went.

                I also think it is now possible that had I stuck to the areas of Puglia that are the "murge" or "gravine", I might have reached different conclusions. Matera in Basilicata is part of that "murge" terrain and I was excited by what I ate there and drank there. I spent most of my time in Puglia in what I began referring to as The Great Defile. The monoculture of industrialized oilive oil production appears to have had a terrible ecological impact on some parts of Puglia. Literally "defiled" it. I think the ecology of the murge may be more intact and capable of self-renewal.

                If it is any consolation to Puglia lovers, both my husband and I have noticed that the fava beans we are getting up north, as well as many other vegetables, don't taste as good as those we just experienced down south. However, I must add that we both agree that the single most wonderful dish of vegetables we ate was in Campania (at Hosteria Toledo, its mixed antipasta plate).

                I'm still puzzled as to why so many Slow Food restaurants in Puglia made a point of proudly placing on my table bread that I thought was completely undistinguished or even poor. Again, perhaps interesting, all the bread I ate around Taranto jumped out as excellent, even in totally humdrum emergency lunch stops.

                Having seen so very little of Molise, I can't say much by way of advice beyond make sure you taste the olive oil of Larino. When i looked at the sky-high prices of it online, it is cheaper to go to Molise to get it yourself!

                1. re: barberinibee
                  erica May 19, 2012 04:45 AM

                  You're not kidding about the prices; and this one is a blend:

                  http://gustiamo.com/cgi-bin/front_end...

                  1. re: erica
                    b
                    bob96 May 19, 2012 05:58 PM

                    Actually, Fairway last year started bringing in its own bottling of a DOP Molise oil, which by law is made from at least a significant percentage of Larino olives. Not tasted it, but at < $20 liter, just may have to .

                    1. re: bob96
                      b
                      barberinibee May 20, 2012 08:01 AM

                      The pure high-end olive oil from Larino can cost you over $200 per bottle:

                      http://www.bassomoliseimports.com/pro...

                      I don't know what I was served at I Dolci Grappoli in Larino costs -- but it was lovely.

                      1. re: barberinibee
                        b
                        bob96 May 20, 2012 11:38 AM

                        It's actually $230 for 6 750ml bottles, or $38 each, though out of stock now. Still expensive for Molise, if not Tuscany. This bottling may nor may not be Larino in purezza, since monovarietals are usally labelled that way, but assume it might well be.

                        1. re: bob96
                          b
                          barberinibee May 20, 2012 01:23 PM

                          Oh! That is a bit cheaper, isn't it? Brings it into the realm of possibility. (I would like 6 bottles though.)

                  2. re: barberinibee
                    g
                    grevegiano Jun 25, 2012 06:39 AM

                    as a tuscan (most of the year) and partial to tuscan oil (and most definitely not a fan of ligurian oil) i have to say i was pleasantly surprised by the puglian oil we tasted. from pietro zito's down to lecce--at Mamma Elvira's on via Umberto, a small restaurant, wine bar and salad sort of place that sells excellent local organic products--we had superb spicy and fresh oil. and fantastic bread.
                    interesting that there is more pruning of olives--even ancient ones in some cases-- in the tuscan manner.

                    1. re: grevegiano
                      b
                      barberinibee Jun 25, 2012 09:53 AM

                      I'm very glad to see you post this because I am not a fan of Tuscan olive oils, and I live in Liguria all the time, where I practically drink the local stuff straight from the bottle, I like it so much. So I feel I was on the right track in zeroing in on the oil as the likely explanation I didn't enjoy eating in Puglia as much as I had imagined I would.

                      1. re: barberinibee
                        g
                        grevegiano Jun 25, 2012 10:04 AM

                        one of our best friends here is from chiavari near where he farmed and made olive oil. here he makes wine and oil. he disparages ligurian oil saying that because of the terracing they can't really harvest and have to wait for the olives to drop off the trees onto the nets they have to set up on the terraces. as you know, in tuscany olives are harvested earlier, while still a mix of green and black, harvested by hand and taken to mill on same day (if done right). this makes for the spicier oil. (i'm spelling this out for other readers.) i adore the new extremely piccante oil. this past year however oil was blander because of the heat wave and drought. i found the puglia oil had more character than the past harvest of tuscan oil--though this is not characteristic.

                        1. re: grevegiano
                          b
                          barberinibee Jun 25, 2012 10:38 AM

                          I'm not sure I get what you are trying to say to readers. It is to suggest that ligurian olive oil isn't any good, or that I don't know what I am talking about? Or that Tuscan or Puglia olive oil is better or the "best"? Of that you or your best friend know best?

                          So you like Puglian and Tuscan olive oil. Great. My tastebuds much prefer Ligurian olive oil -- which is often rated quite highly by people who know as much or more as you and your friend for people who need to rely on outside authority for these things.

                          I think the thing to spell out for other readers FWIW is that if they know both olive oils -- Tuscan and Ligurian -- and know already which one they prefer, it might give tem a clue as to whether they will enjoy Puglia as a food destination. I'm sorry you didn't post before I took my trip! Had somebody told me that Puglian olive oil tasted like Tuscan olive oil, it might have changed my expectations of liking the food -- although I do think Tuscan olive oil, even though I don't care for it, is generally better than what I found being used in restaurants in Puglia.

                          1. re: barberinibee
                            jen kalb Jun 25, 2012 11:52 AM

                            Taste in olive oil is so much a matter of taste! I started out preferring the tuscan and umbrian oils but now I find the pepperiness often catches unpleasantly in my throat and prefer some of the ligurian and sicilian oils. for daily use.

                            I may be wrong but I dont think grevegiano intended to put down ligurian oils by citing the comment of his friend, which was interesting since it pointed to a reason for the difference in flavor.

                            1. re: jen kalb
                              g
                              grevegiano Jun 25, 2012 03:58 PM

                              no, i was merely stating preference, familiarity, and also differences in oils and reasons why they are different. when the heat wave last year turned most tuscan olives black before the raccolta (whereas they are usually partially green) it made for blander oil. ligurian olives for reasons stated above (difficulty of hand harvesting) are harvested later in the year--even early the following year--and the oil will never have the spicy or peppery taste that some people like, others do not like.
                              if you do not like pepperness, the oil will turn blander as it ages. a really new oil is meant to make you cough, for example. tuscans tend to savor it and use the new oil for fettunta, to pour over risotto, ribollita, etc, and use the previous year's oil for cooking. it is one of my peeves about oils sold in the states that the harvest date is rarely on the label and consumers don't know to require it.

                              1. re: grevegiano
                                jen kalb Jun 25, 2012 07:18 PM

                                I agree that the younger tuscan oil is great on the fettunta, beans and other classic tuscan dishes, just as you would expect...Id love to come back and enjoy it in situ. the dating issue is a serious one; since many folks are not aware I am sure they never realize why they are disappointed with the bland but expensive oils they buy here.

                                1. re: jen kalb
                                  g
                                  grevegiano Jun 26, 2012 02:05 AM

                                  when in nyc i'm shocked at what passes for olive oil in the stores and most restaurants. we have fresh oil from Saggitario outside Impruneta arriving UPS in early December. Eataly, for just one example, has no new oil until february or so (of course they're sending by boat).
                                  but what's in the best stores, sitting there with no harvest dates, is there because people don't know the difference. this in 'the great foodie city' is bit mind-boggling.

                                  1. re: grevegiano
                                    b
                                    bob96 Jun 29, 2012 07:13 PM

                                    Then with all due respect you don't know where or how to shop. Even a cursory browse in NYC of, say, Fairway or Eataly or DiPalo or Titan Foods in Astoria will give you many, many Italian, Greek, and Spanish estate oils, all carefully labelled with harvest and use-by-dates. Even Whole Foods, which sells the Frantoi Cutrera award winning DOP oils from Ragusa, among many others. Not everyone can have their own uliveto, like my Calabrian cousins do.

                                    1. re: bob96
                                      g
                                      grevegiano Jun 30, 2012 05:18 AM

                                      believe me, i know where to shop in nyc.
                                      and i know the bottomless oil deficiencies of even the best nyc stores and have been noting them for years. you are one of few lucky ones who knows what to look for.

                                2. re: grevegiano
                                  b
                                  bob96 Jun 29, 2012 07:24 PM

                                  The choice is never only between a green pepperiness and "blandness". Many of the DOP oils from Trapani, for example, are warm and golden and beautifully balanced between grassiness and softness, and not harvested as old, black fruit. The best Greek koroneiki or Catalan arbequina or DOP Sabina can enthrall with a complex match of bite and warmth. Cultivars, local traditions, and other factors shape a taste template, and who's honestly to say that the Tuscan style at its sharpest is, indeed, the gold standard, when even within the region, there are wide variances (Lucca, say, with its golden oil). Often I find them overpriced, overhyped, and one-dimensional. A really good estate Puglian coratina can often be as spicy and assertive as any Tuscan--but with a fleshier frame that adds some depth and welcome.

                                  1. re: bob96
                                    g
                                    grevegiano Jun 30, 2012 05:54 AM

                                    wouldn't argue. above was merely to make specific point (in an endless discussion should one get into it) and in this 'bland' was shorthand, though i did in the context mean bland to my taste.
                                    last year's tuscan oil in most regions was barely green at all, and if so quickly yellow. agreed, there are many 'yellows' and gold is nicer word. let's hope none of us has to go with 'old black fruit.'
                                    i am not at all saying there is only one standard!
                                    have had excellent oil from many regions--puglia, in this case. oil i had in crete last year was excellent.
                                    tuscany happens to be the area i know well. i know how the best oils are harvested and pressed and in many cases which oils actually are the production of the seller. and i always look for organic oils, harder to come by than you would imagine.
                                    most highend stores in nyc have endless bottles with no harvest dates (only sell by or use-by) at exorbitant prices. (coltibouno one of the worst offenders.
                                    gourmet garage sells a nice oil from chile (i think, it's chile) that i happened to try because representatives were offering tasting. cheap. often on sale as well. chelsea markt's italian store has some good sicilian oils.)
                                    for me, it's often a matter of trying to find a recent-harvest oil in nyc by thanksgiving, or in december, january. very scarce.

                                    1. re: grevegiano
                                      a
                                      allende Jun 30, 2012 06:08 AM

                                      You're wrong:) Coltibuono is not one of the worst offenders, it is THE worst offender and yet the American public fall for everything that estate does, not only with oil.

                                      Then again, in NYC, you have many "foodies" who know next to nothing... except names to drop. Some of them are buying (being sold) oils that are "it is a very mature, very small producer, very developed oil, Madam", and simply have no idea they are buying garbage four or more years old.

                                      1. re: allende
                                        erica Jun 30, 2012 12:04 PM

                                        Reminds me of that thread....

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/845243

                                        1. re: erica
                                          g
                                          grevegiano Jun 30, 2012 10:49 PM

                                          thank you. never saw that thread. strongly agree with posters about oil in nyc.

                                          one thing not mentioned: new oil can be frozen.

                                          friends here, janet shapiro and stefano maggazzini of impruneta make stellar tuscan oil, called sagittario. organic. they also give dinners in their home for customers and guests and janet freezes new oil in tiny bottles just so she can give people who've never tasted new oil a sense of the intensity.

                                          1. re: erica
                                            g
                                            grevegiano Jun 30, 2012 11:09 PM

                                            so i now see a number of threads on olive oil. quick look at one: info and misinfo. can't possibly read through.

                2. re: barberinibee
                  g
                  grevegiano Jun 25, 2012 07:35 AM

                  agreed about staying in cities rather than using masserie as one's base to visit cities. though seeing a lovely masseria like lama di luna is mandatory, imo. (you can visit without staying.) great pleasures on our recent puglia trip was sitting and strolling in vecchia bari on evenings when kids and grandparents were out in piazzas sampling foccacia and gelato.
                  too bad bari hasn't hotels more accessible to the old city. we stayed at the Palace only for this accessibility and it is a very run-down excuse for a highend hotel, but for our purposes location was all. (fortunately, we were upgraded to a suite due to a nasty lapse in their housekeeping. no, not bedbugs.) true, about foccacia in bari!
                  daytime vecchia bari did not at all seem dangerous, nor did the night in frequented places. but we're nyc veterans and take precautions automatically.
                  similarly in lecce: great saturday night crowd-watching and staying in central hotel discovered sunday morning 'open cortile' day with palazzi and studios open to public. particularly fascinating, paper mache workshops where artisans demonstrated and explained.
                  in lecce found very nice food base in Mamma Elvira, small casual sort of eating/wine bar near our hotel, focussed on regional and organic recipes and products. law prevents them from cooking pasta etc on premises so they make do ingeniously. young owners, opened only one year. liked their rusk/tomato/soft cheese thing--like the greek dakos--forgetting the puglian name, something like frise? great salads. eggplant subtly marinated. many more things. and products of all sorts to buy.
                  in several bari/ lecce/ etc conversations found no love of nichi vendola--either from the right or left. sorry to hear. old story of discouragement. politicians.

                  museum in taranto. pottery in grottaglie, nicola fasano esp. who has mounted an exhibition in zurich of old puglia pottery he mostly went up to arezzo to buy! we only saw the catalogue but it looks incredible. arezzo, he says, is no longer a source but we can appreciate all the more what we bought there years ago. driving back towards tuscany had excellent dinner at masseria cardillo in basilicata (bernaldo, commune, not the town).
                  i should mention that we found most pricing of hotels, masserie, flexible. it was not high-high season, but also italy is suffering from lack of tourists bec of euro crisis, gas prices, etc etc.

                  1. re: grevegiano
                    erica Jun 25, 2012 08:06 AM

                    Perhaps you might consider writing a brief, or not so brief, report about your food experiences in the region. For example, I would very much appreciate the details about your dinner at Masseria Cardillo since I am headed to the Bernalda area in a couple of months..

                    1. re: erica
                      g
                      grevegiano Jun 25, 2012 11:56 PM

                      we ate at cardillo because we were staying there. it's just off the autoroute we were taking home and woman we'd just met in grottiglie was having a dinner party there for newly weds so she led us there in her car--always an excellent solution to 'finding the place.' no menu, set meal, so may not qualify for your purposes. maybe four antipasti, handmade pasta,secundo and dolci. but it would be different on any given night.
                      since we'd known nothing of Cardillo before arriving, were interested to find it in guides we were carrying and mentioned this at the desk. desk person said, offhand, that the only 'serious guide' is red michelin (which we were not carrying but cardillo is in). they return often unannounced and anonymously, whereas others never follow up.

                      1. re: grevegiano
                        erica Jun 26, 2012 04:06 AM

                        Interesting. I have two nights in the area of Bernalda--Friday and Saturday-- and will investigate if they will serve dinner. Will be staying at another agriturismo nearby (San Teodoro Nuovo) but had considered Cardillo. For next time: How was the experience of staying there? (I believe, but not sure as I do not have the guide with me, that it is also listed in SlowFood Osterie.)

                        Interesting comment about the Michelin vs the others. Probably fodder for an entire separate thread here! (There was a long and contentious one about SlowFood about a year ago; if you'd like to see it you can try a search, or I will look and post the link)

                        Did you happen to eat anywhere else in the environs of Bernalda, Pisticci?

                        1. re: erica
                          g
                          grevegiano Jun 26, 2012 04:35 AM

                          nicola fasano, owner of ceramics business mentioned, and a 'personage' shall we say in the region, mentioned that he rates bernalda's coppola restaurant 'best meal in the area.' he had had his daughter's wedding at cardillo.
                          we almost never reserve ahead, just work things out--hotels, restaurants-- as the time comes. i mean we do call from the car or some place to make sure there are vacancies and get price idea. as i say, prices given this way tend to be lower than guidebook prices.
                          we barely 'stayed' at cardillo since we arrived about 7 pm, dinner at 8, left immed after early breakfast (nothing special). most stunning feature: huge long vault of the communal space.

                          1. re: grevegiano
                            g
                            grevegiano Jun 26, 2012 06:15 AM

                            i hope you don't take my tourism-by-serendipity remarks as critical in any way. i realize you are coming (i think a long way) and have specific culinary goals (just reading between lines). our goals are never primarily around restaurants or even places to stay though we do try to end up happily ensconced. i included description of our seat-of-the-pants? technique as suggestions to prospective tourists who might find it congenial. we have usually found luck and openness to change brings great rewards, though occasionally get stuck or eat a magnum bar.
                            as a new poster, and probably a very infrequent one since this trip is now behind us, i am bit horrified noticing some ambitious itineraries, or wish lists, of some incoming travelers.

                          2. re: erica
                            m
                            magiesmom Jun 26, 2012 07:46 PM

                            erica, could you post that link, please. I can't find it easily. Thanks.

                            1. re: magiesmom
                              erica Jun 27, 2012 01:27 PM

                              MM: I'm not sure which link you mean, but see if it is one of these:

                              http://www.masseriacardillo.it/

                              http://www.santeodoronuovo.com/

                              Or you might mean the CH thread; this is the renewed discussion, after it had been moved by moderators. It seems the original thread was deleted, as the debate got quite heated.

                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/729495

                              1. re: erica
                                g
                                grevegiano Jun 27, 2012 02:57 PM

                                erica, thanks for linking to the earlier thread on the slow food guides.
                                concur with the piedmontese that you'd do best to take them with a grain of salt.

                                1. re: erica
                                  m
                                  magiesmom Jun 28, 2012 05:37 AM

                                  thanks erica. Sorry for not specifying that I meant the slowfood thread.

                  2. m
                    Maximilien Jun 27, 2012 03:25 PM

                    I like your review and report.

                    It's sincere and well balanced.

                    Thanks

                    21 Replies
                    1. re: Maximilien
                      c
                      cortez Jul 1, 2012 12:38 PM

                      Barber,

                      I enjoy your reports and the passionate responses you generate, pro and con.

                      As to Puglia, I am less clear as to your reaction to the region: you praise 9 restaurants by name, 6 of which are in Puglia. Six terrific restaurants in the area sounds great. Yet, your total experience in the area was quite negative.

                      Can you elaborate a bit on the reasons behind your poor experience in Puglia?

                      Thanks.

                      1. re: cortez
                        b
                        barberinibee Jul 4, 2012 01:14 PM

                        Thanks Maximillien and Cortez. Glad you found something useful in the report.

                        @cortez,

                        I had two terrific restaurant meals in Puglia, and one very good one, three that were nothing to complain about -- and that is slightly less than half of all the meals I ate in Puglia. Given its growing rep as a gastronomic destination in Italy, I think I was expecting more. But it is none the less true that my poor experience in Puglia had less to do with eating than with tedium of 60 million olive trees in a flat landscape, a lot of architecture that had all the charm of gas stations and a sudden despair for the future of the eurozone coming face to face with the embedded economic disadvantages of the region when it comes to competing in a globalized economy. Rules of Chowhound make it not worthwhile to go on at length. It is also true that I have all my life had strong reactions to place and often flee locales that others flock to. I still can't help but say, however, that if you are headed to Italy primarily for food and wine, regions other than Puglia certainly hold their own. I am puzzled by it becoming a new tourist darling.

                        I mentioned earlier in the thread that I might put up a trip report somewhere other than Chowhound, but link to it here. However, it is right now a glorious and beautifully breezy summer on the Riviera, hardly the time to be hanging around a computer, so it might take awhile!

                        1. re: barberinibee
                          b
                          bob96 Jul 4, 2012 01:53 PM

                          @barberinibee: The Puglia minute came and went a few years ago with a series of travel magazine articles about the discovering the next Tuscany (or Umbria, or whatever), and promotional push for its food and wine by the regione with EU funds (think banners in NYC wine shops, junkets, etc.). The food is, at its best, simple and tasty (the Nancy Harmon Jenkins' and Viana La Place's Puglia cookbooks are wonderful). but you're right that a relatively flat, featureless landscape, a huge industrial monoculture of olives and other export fruits and vegetable plus the persistent fact that this is still the Mezzogiorno with its often unlovely built environment---well, I can understand your disappointment.

                          1. re: bob96
                            g
                            grevegiano Jul 4, 2012 02:48 PM

                            bob96, i wonder why then tuscan friends and acquaintances (italians, i mean) with no access to american travel mag promotion of 'next tuscany' or 'banners in nyc wine shops, junkets' not to mention english language cookbooks, might adore puglia. and have done for years.

                            1. re: grevegiano
                              b
                              bob96 Jul 4, 2012 03:55 PM

                              I'm certainly not suggesting there's nothing to adore about Puglia or Calabria or any region. Of course not. And of course travellers have been enjoying Puglia for years, and will continue to do so. I love Calabria, even with its faults. But I think the real mixed charms of any area can get overwhelmed by relentless promotional hype--and can lead to disappointments for some travellers expecting some new paradise. Many will not be fooled by the hype and will make their own judgments about what's worth their time and passion. Some will be honestly let down, others will learn to appreciate, even love, a place for its established sources of appeal, and maybe for some unexpected gifts. But the media machine grinds on regardless (just this month, yet another major travel mag cover feature on "hidden Italy" ends up being about--surprise--Montalcino!). This is why social sources like Chowhound are so valuable.

                              1. re: grevegiano
                                b
                                barberinibee Jul 4, 2012 06:15 PM

                                grevegiano -- Have you been to Puglia? Just curious.

                                Most of us know lots of Italians and don't consider them authorities, or even particularly well traveled in Italy. Which isn't to say I don't find their opinions interesting or valuable, etc., but just because an Italian says something about italy doesn't automatically give it cred. While I was in Basilicata, I happened to mention to some people who identified themselves as Tuscans that I hadn't enjoyed being in Puglia, and they told me they though it was the pits. So I guess there are as probably as many opinions about Puglia in Tuscany as there are Tuscans.

                                1. re: barberinibee
                                  g
                                  grevegiano Jul 5, 2012 02:59 AM

                                  barberinibee, see above my posts of june 25, 26, on recent puglia trip. i'd come to this board and few other puglia threads to to make notes before travelling.

                                  when i said 'friends and acquaintances' i assumed readers would assume i was talking about people whose judgement i respect, not man on street. puzzles me you'd think otherwise. i do have friends i consider authorities. and yes obviously they were basing their opinions--and recommendations-- on personal experience.

                                  1. re: grevegiano
                                    b
                                    barberinibee Jul 6, 2012 01:20 AM

                                    Hi grevegiano,

                                    The board collapses threads to make previous posts invisible, so I'd forgotten the earlier posts. Sorry!

                                    I didn't assume you didn't respect your friends' judgment. (Quite the contrary.) I respect my friends' judgments, too, even when our judgments differ. What came across in several of your posts, perhaps inadvertently, was citing the opinion of an Italian (surely you have American friends who like Puglia or have informed opinions about olive oil?). So that's what I was reacting to, maybe wrongly. But in all instances, I'd rather have your own personal opinion. Hard to establish why one unknown-to-us friend's opinion would be more authoritative than another's.

                                    1. re: barberinibee
                                      g
                                      grevegiano Jul 6, 2012 05:31 AM

                                      do you notice i was replying to bob's position that perhaps "puglia' was the creation of eng language travel mags, etc., by asking him why then those without access to such might love puglia.
                                      two posts where i cite italian friends suddenly become 'several.' i've lived here 15 years and my friends, my contacts are italians.
                                      italy--the subject of these particular threads--happens to have been created by italians and is still. i assumed that local opinions would be of interest to readers.
                                      quite astonishing really your need to torture logic in order to quibble with alternative positions. (personal opinion here.)
                                      will take this opportunity to resign the email option and discontinue chowhound posting. ciao ciao.

                                      1. re: grevegiano
                                        jen kalb Jul 6, 2012 12:40 PM

                                        oh no, Im enjoying your posts - there are a lot of people not responding who Im sure feel the same way...

                                        1. re: jen kalb
                                          b
                                          bob96 Jul 6, 2012 12:51 PM

                                          So am I, even if we disagree on a few things. Dai!

                              2. re: bob96
                                b
                                barberinibee Jul 4, 2012 06:11 PM

                                @bob,

                                I hadn't read any magazine articles, and the best food I had in Puglia was surprisingly sophisticated. "Disappointed" isn't the word I would choose to describe my own personal reaction to rural and small town Puglia. I just intensely disliked being there, the way I have felt in Brazos Texas or Visalia California. Some of the Trulli Trail reminded me Beverly Hills or ex-urban Santa Barbara, only with trulli. I've since read many times that "Puglia is the California of Italy." It is an apt description in some ways. Even the one-story masserie, with their ground floor rooms all facing into a common rectangle filled with cactus and a pool, put me in mind of motels.

                                I don't wish to discourage anyone from going to Puglia and seeing and tasting for themselves. No one could have stopped me from visiting. I want to see all of Italy. Puglia just turned out to be one of the places on the planet that I'm allergic to (however, I like California!)

                                1. re: barberinibee
                                  b
                                  bob96 Jul 4, 2012 06:47 PM

                                  Good points. Calabria is now being called the California of Italy, but whatever. I only wanted to express the frustration that comes from the inevitable gap between the manufactured reality (hey, it's all honey lit baroque squares and quiet piazzas) and the roadside real life of workaday Italy, or anywhere. Those of us not lucky enough to live in Tuscany or Liguria and compelled to be careful in how we spend our travel time and money are perhaps a little more nervous about these things. We all want the reality we end up in to match the expectation, but the expectation really should be based on something worthwhile. You're honest enought o admit that Puglia as it is simply does not appeal, in the same way that, given my chopices and resources, I'd feel no loss in never visiting the Trentino or the Alto Adige, neither of which have the remotest appeal . We've been to the Cilento many times, and it's heaven, even if by now I accept the chaos of the statale from Battipaglia to Agropoli...or the mess that is, say, metro Caserta, on the way from Naples to the green beauty of Roccamonfina. Having some sense of the realities you'll find from folks who've been there and know something about what they're talking of is one of the gifts of social media and CH, and I'm grateful for it all.

                                  1. re: bob96
                                    b
                                    barberinibee Jul 4, 2012 07:01 PM

                                    Was it the Germanic feel and cuisine of the Dolomiti that alienated you or are you left numb by the scenery (which I think is Italy's greatest)? One of the reasons I so enjoyed my too-brief stay in Basilicata was the Dolomiti there. I found the scenery wild and raw and appealing -- something I prefer over more manicured places like "Tuscany." And of course Basilicata has nothing of the truly annoying ski-bunny tourist trap towns that mar the the wonders of the northern Dolomiti.

                                    I find rural Emilia-Romagna more congenial than most people do even though, like Puglia, it has plenty of pancake-flat farm country, factories and dispiriting modern development, and lots of cultural aspects that can be off-putting. My love of the regional pasta has something to do with why I feel so happy just being there, but I think too my long affection for Fellini movies gives it the feel of fulfilling a dream as well. I just wish the wine were better (and in Liguria too!).

                                    1. re: barberinibee
                                      b
                                      bob96 Jul 4, 2012 08:01 PM

                                      One of my points is that, given what I've seen of Trentino, and given that I've only a finite number of travels left, I'll take a pass. It looks beautiful, but there's beautiful nature in lots of places, And there's more than enough raw, untracked wilderness (and better pecorino) in the Pollino or the Aspromonte for my taste, with silent half empty towns, even if such obvious things as roads and infrastructure can be a problem in Calabria. I can even love the Costa Jonica Reggina, ugly concrete and all, with its jasmine and blue water and big skies. And clumps of returned immigrants from Toronto and New York and Melbourne chatting outside caffes about their amazingly full lives.

                                      1. re: bob96
                                        a
                                        allende Jul 4, 2012 11:29 PM

                                        @ barberinibee

                                        I think you are making a touch too broad a generalization when speaking of the "Germanic feel and cuisine of the Dolomiti." That is very true to the west of the autostrada leading to The Brennero. To the east, particularly east and south of Passo Gardena and Pordoi, there are towns like Moena, Predazzo and Canzei, which have very little German influence.

                                        When you get still further east and north in the Alta Badia, around San Cassiano where I am, we are not talking German influence, but Ladino and Italian and the food reflects it. Furthermore, some of the best scenery in all of Italy, is east of the autostrada. The western part of the Alto Adige doesn't compare.

                                        1. re: allende
                                          b
                                          barberinibee Jul 6, 2012 01:38 AM

                                          @allende,

                                          Yes, I agree, although I will point out that when I was in Brunico, east of the autostrade, i asked a woman for directions, and she interrupted at the first sound of my Italian to insist in no uncertain terms that she spoke only German, not one word of Italian. And it was probably just my bad luck that when I pulled into Canazei, I got stuck in traffic jam behind several coaches disgorging passengers -- all of whom were wearing leiderhosen, leather shorts, peaked caps, embroidered braces and shirts, and carrying tubas in many sizes. It was the annual ooompah-band competition or something. So it gave me the wrong impression.

                                          I never got west of the autostrade when I was in the Dolomiti except for a meal in Bressanone. I was coming from the east (Austria) and, after completing a loop through the Alta Badia and the area north of Cortina d'Ampezzo, went east again to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.

                                        2. re: bob96
                                          b
                                          barberinibee Jul 6, 2012 01:48 AM

                                          @bob96,

                                          I hope to go to the Costa Jonica on my next tour south, which will include Calabria. I was recently talking to an American woman whose ex-boyfriend is Calabrese, and she said the best time to visit is August when so many emigres return, and it is a happy time. So perhaps some of my impressions of the sad and seemingly stricken Salento would have been altered if I had visited later in the year.

                                          There's plenty of ugly concrete to be found in every region of Italy, and it is rarely a mood-killer for me. Puglia was maddening in a different way! It can be more of a challenge to go to the Dolomiti and encounter so much soulless tourist infrastructure for the affluent. I too often skip famed scenic destinations in favor of using my limited time for travel to enjoy cultural exploration -- in fact, that's what I did in Puglia, favoring historic towns of the Magna Graecia over the picturesques. I will say however that the Dolomiti are for me on a par with the Grand Canyon as an incomparable one-of-a-kind natural wonder, with no duplicate elsewhere.

                                          1. re: barberinibee
                                            b
                                            bob96 Jul 6, 2012 08:52 AM

                                            The Costa Jonica has some lovelhy spots, like Gerace, Soverato,Siderno Vecchio, Copello (in Catanzaro), Stilo, and that lovely wide, if often inaccessible (thanks to the statale and the ferrovia) beach. Roccella Ionica is a good hub. Farther south, near Bova, the desolate Aspromonte gives up deserted towns and wild forest. August does see many emigrants returned for the month, just when the innumerable sagre and feste are planned. I can recommend an agriturismo, Agriclub Le Giare, just south of Roccella, for a fantastic location (easy private beach access), charming family hosts, good food, and clean, simple, unfussy cottages under an amazingly big sky.

                                            1. re: bob96
                                              b
                                              barberinibee Jul 7, 2012 04:40 AM

                                              Thank you so much for that information! We were really saddened that we ended up missing Metaponto and the museum in Policoro on our Magna Graecia tour (we understand these are limited sites, but we still wanted to go), so we would like to return. I'm not sure I could face the heat of August despite the cultural compensations, especially since I'm sure we would want to see more of the interior of Basilicata in the same trip, and I hear the heat is absolutely brutal away from the water. Maybe just a nick into autumn would suit us. Thanks again.

                                              1. re: barberinibee
                                                b
                                                bcc Mar 16, 2014 03:49 PM

                                                Hi barberinibee,

                                                I don't know if you keep up with ancient threads, but if you do, please note that we'll be planning our trip to Lecce and environs with a lot of your thoughts in mind. I was also surprised to see that you reside in Liguria. With a moniker like "barberinibee" I would have thought that you would be centered in Rome.

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