Best places to elope in Italy Part 1:
Puglia and the charming South
You have heard of Venice, Lake Como, Tuscany and Amalfi coast - but have you heard of Basilicata and Puglia?
1. THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD ARCHITECTURE: MATERA
Often named as “the most spectacular city in Italy”, Matera is probably unlike any other town you’ve ever seen before. A spectacular labyrinth of tufa limestone caves, grottos and stone-cut churches constitute the ancient neighborhoods, also known as “sassi” (cave dwellings), woven together and piling upon each other. The ancient town of Matera, which is located in the comune of Basilicata and bordering on Puglia, makes only a small part of the more modern and bigger town of Matera. Its tiny and winding alleys are best explored by walking around or waking up in one of the cave hotels with a spectacular view for breakfast on the town.
Hotels, restaurants, churches and bars - pretty much anything is located in a cave here. Matera is the world’s third longest continuously inhabited town. It has risen from poverty in the 1950’s to popularity and recognition of its cultural heritage. Today it’s an enchanting place to visit and be taken back in time.
2. OFF THE BEATEN PATH: CHARMING PISTICCI
The remote hill-top town of Pisticci is how I’ve always imagined a typical Italian village. Tiny and peaceful alleys, parked cars defying the laws of space and physics, friendly Italians hanging out in the streets, endless olive groves and mediterranean vibes as good as it gets.
But fair warning, this town is not for everyone! You won’t find clubs, loud bars or souvenir shops here (That is - I’ve seen only one: Not a typical tourist trap but a charming little shop owned by a local artist). You’ll probably get lost looking for a supermarket and drive or walk by a million times not seeing it. It’s never really certain if restaurants are open or closed and navigating through the tiny one way streets is an adventure in itself. Get used to no one speaking English here, but bring a dictionary or talk with hands and feet instead. Drive slowly as to not run into cats, dogs or…boars. Yea, I said boars!
The authentic experience
Pisticci is one of those not-fancy but authentic little towns where time stands still, you either love it at first sight or hate it for its character.
If you are looking for an authentic experience as a local and rather avoid running into tourists during your stay, if you seek a quiet experience, then visit Pisticci in off-season (starting at the end of September). It’s that time when restaurants and beach clubs that are a 30 minute drive away are closed, most “Lidos” are practically empty. For the eerie experience of having kilometers of beach to yourself - visit the beach at Lido Luna Rossa right at the end of summer season and walk in both directions…forever.
3. MARBLE WHITE TOWNS: MARTINA FRANCA, ALBEROBELLO AND OSTUNI
Beautiful architecture and whitewashed historical old towns. Meet Martina Franca, Alberobello and Ostuni!
The old town of Martina Franca is as picturesque as it gets: with white and sandstone colored alleys and piazzas. From Piazza XX Settembre enter the gate of Porta di San Stefano and walk onwards to Basilica di San Martino. This is when you start reaching the historical center and the winding alleys if you walk further. I know it’s tempting to take out a map, but you will soon realize it’s a maze that isn’t as confusing as it appeared on first sight. Make sure to get distracted by espresso and gelato in one of the surrounding cafés!
Not far from Martina Franca you can find the towns of Alberobello and Locorotondo. Especially Alberobello is famous for its “Trulli” houses, dry stone houses with cone shaped roofs that look like right out of fairytale. Today you can find countless beautifully restored Trullos that serve as apartments and BnBs and you haven’t visited Puglia if you haven’t stayed in one overnight.
Ostuni (also referred to as “the White City” ) sits on top of a hill and fascinates with a labyrinth of white houses, alleys, colorful doors and beautiful gardens. It’s best to explore the town in not just one day, but plan in a few nights and wander around the city to indulge in architectural beauty and dolce vita.
4. MASSERIA: FARM ESTATES AND ELEGANT WINE HOTELS
Typical for the region of Puglia are the so called “masseria” lodgings and boutique hotels. A masseria is a typical but beautifully refurbished farm house on an estate, often centuries old surrounded by olive groves or vineyards. Masserie can be found especially in the Puglia region around Brindisi and Bari - hence also called the “Masseria Coast”.
These are often still working farms producing olive oil or wine. Their elegant, yet timeless architecture can be found in the countryside away from noisy cities and busy tourist spots. Masserie are one the best places to indulge in local and fresh specialties and wine tastings. Accomodations ranges from Bed and Breakfasts to luxury spa and wine hotels like the Masseria Amastuola.
5. ABRUZZO GRAN SASSO NATIONAL PARK
Only 150 kilometers from Rome, The Abruzzo Gran Sasso national park is a true gem in Italy and has yet avoided to succumb to mass-tourism. Driving through these hills on empty roads is like traveling back in time. Watching the occasional shepherd traversing the endless pastures with their herds and light light dancing on the grassy hills is magical. It's one of those (rare) regions in Italy that doesn't have light pollution - which makes it an excellent spot for stargazing. So much, that in the heart of the park there even is an observatory.
The mighty Corno Grande (2912m) is the highest mountain of the park. Beautiful hiking trails, medieval villages like Santo Stefano di Sessanio, olive groves and castles are the highlights of the area.
6. POLIGNANO A MARE - THE NOT SO WELL KEPT SECRET ANYMORE
If you google Polignano a mare, the most beautiful image of a deserted beach amidst hundreds of years old stone houses pop up. Beautiful - or is it? Yep - from only one perspective and at sunrise. Once you arrive at a not-so-ungodly hour, you’ll soon notice: the beach is not only crowded and full of people, but also parts of it are fenced off as it’s not safe to step near the cliffs. It’s one of the places that look great in images, but once you arrive - you’ll probably be disappointed.
Pro Tip: Every hyped tourist spot is just that: a spot! As soon as you pull away a little further, as soon as you ditch the travel guides and “recommended” places - you are once again an explorer and will be able to find your own littles enclaves, less travelled locations and quiet spots.
PUGLIA: WHERE TO STAY AND HOW TO GET THERE
Wether it’s a typical “Trullo” (a traditional dry stone hut with a cone shaped roof) in Alberobello, a Masseria or a beautifully refurbished “casa” amidst an olive grove with no neighbors near or far - the options are endless. Just make sure you’re not too far from any pizza or gelato supplies, and you’re good!
How to get to Puglia: The nearest airports to fly in are Bari or Brindisi. From Bari airport it’s a 50 minute drive to Matera, a 1 hour 10min drive to Martina Franca. From Brindisi Salento airport it’s a 30 minute drive to Ostuni or a 40 minute drive to Lecce.
My top tip: For 100% privacy and a beautiful experience, find yourself an AirBnB!