Perfumes of Puglia
From Martina Franca to Ostuni: loving memories
If I think of my childhood, the first thing that comes to mind is that particular smell, which invariably accompanied all my Sundays: a potent mix of detergent and dinner.
That very same smell still fills the white-washed lanes and alleyways of Martina Franca. I grew up in this little Puglian town and, after morning mass, together with a noisy gaggle of friends, I used to run to buy a bag of candy before returning home, "by 12.45, or you're in trouble", to help my mother lay the table for Sunday lunch.
Even the least refined of noses will quickly realize that Martina Franca is a town inhabited by women who cook and clean - with a passion!
Walk the streets of this, one of Puglia's prettiest inland towns, at any time of the day, and you'll be greeted by the sight and smell of freshly laundered linen, and an army of housewives busily sweeping, washing and dusting their homes - and the pavements outside!
You don't need a watch. You know it's nearly lunch time when the air begins to fill with the smell of bubbling pasta sauce, made with the area's sun-ripened tomatoes and freshly picked basil...
What you will need is a good map (or a good memory) to find your way in and out of the maze-like Martina Vecchia - the oldest part of the town.
As you wander through the narrow streets and alleys, you'll come across any number of little churches, inside which you might easily hear the hypnotic chant of the local women reciting the rosary.
The summer procession of the Saints Martino and Comasia will give you an idea of just how deeply religious sentiment is felt here.
Time for a tipple? Go for pre-dinner drinks at Caffè Tripoli, the walls of which are plastered with photos of the various celebrities who have stopped at the town's historic watering hole over the last century.
For the delight of carnivores, meat dominates the menus in this town. In almost every trattoria or restaurant in Martina Franca you'll find the locals tucking away a protein-packed feast of bombette (meatballs wrapped in bacon) cervellata (a thin and twisted sausage) and gnummareddi (rolls of meat filled with offal!)
Three insider tips for a tasty trip to Martina Franca
- Caffe Tripoli: coffee, pastries and pre-dinner drinks with focaccia and mozzarella - in the historic center
- Osteria Piazzetta Garibaldi: informal eatery famous for its mashed fava beans and chicory
- Macelleria Braceria da Nicola: butcher shop and "fornello pronto" . Choose your meat, and when you return, you'll find it grilled to perfection and ready to eat!
A day by the sea
What better way to start the day than with a plateful of bocconotti (bitesize pastries filled with cream) and a cappuccino, before jumping into the car and heading off to the sea!
The journey beach-bound takes you through the Itria Valley, dotted with Puglia's characteristic cone-shaped trulli and century old olive trees.
Stop the car for a minute to savor the silence: the buzzing of crickets and the sudden scuttling of the lizards as they disappear between the cracks in the dry stone walls, are the only sounds you'll hear
From Cisternino, the road winds down the Monti hill all the way to the bay of Pilone, and the sandy beach lying beneath Ostuni, Puglia's famous "white city".
Pilone Beach is a paradisiacal place where you can spend a few hours soaking up the Mediterranean sun, join the local dare -devils diving off the rocks into the crystal clear sea, or just paddle and watch the fish swim around your ankles...
Super in summer, Pilone is wonderful in winter too, when the beach is deserted and the crisp winter air mingles with the salty spray from the waves breaking on the rocks. On particularly clear days, look out across the water and you might even catch a glimpse of Albania...
Our Insider is Elettra
Salerno-born Elettra spent her childhood and much of her adolescence in Martina Franca, Puglia. Copywriter and blogger, travel-addicted Elettra Boccia lives in Naples from where she regularly commutes to Capri (poor thing!).
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