July 14th 2015

A cold, extra-long winter shaped Eileen Malone-Brown and Dale Brown’s decision to embark on our maiden-walk in Puglia. Here Eileen gives us a Wayfarer’s take on what turned out to be an unforgettable vacation. Dale and Eileen Visions of wild flowers under a benevolent and warming Mediterranean sun infused our planning. It seemed like the perfect spring tonic – and it was! We have never seen so many wild flowers in one location – ever – too many to count – whole fields of flowers under ancient olive trees – like walking in a painting. It was breathtaking and thrilling for all of us, especially when viewed against clear skies and the amazingly varied blues of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The flower and weather gods were with us. We also imagined that we would be connecting with many Old Friends on this Founder’s walk – and we did, with the great pleasure of making new friends too. What we had not really appreciated about this remote Italian region was the timeless connection to so many ancient civilizations; all of whom left their mark on this hard-scrabble land without water (a pulia) - a strategic Mediterranean location for colonizers and conquerors and a consequent cornucopia of architectural treasures. Whitewashed villages like Ostuni looked like they had been transported from Greece, courtesy of the settling Greeks from Sparta in the 8th BC. They were eventually removed by the Romans, who created the unbelievable 2nd century amphitheatre we saw in Lecce, a town best known for its Baroque architecture – the Florence of the South. The Normans arrived in the 11th century and their Romanesque churches were found in each of the villages we visited. What we had never seen before were the ‘trulli’ that dotted the Itria Valley. The oldest of these drystone, pyramidal, domed or conical-roofed buildings made from corbelled limestone slabs, date back to the 14th century in Alberobello. According to UNESCO, this building technique was used so that houses could be quickly dismantled – to avoid paying taxes and to dispossess recalcitrant householders! trulli and trail 500 But nothing prepared us for Matera, with its fraught history and sassi – or cave dwellings, just over the border in Basilicata. Matera has been declared the European Capital of Culture for 2019, and it is easy to understand why. A natural fortress, it has been occupied since the Paleolithic age with every subsequent civilization leaving its architectural mark. We visited several of the Rupestrian Rock Churches of Matera found in the Regional Park across the ravine, including the 900 year old chapel of the Madonna of the Cross with its Byzantium frescoed paintings. The town is undergoing a 21st century renaissance, as it rebuilds and becomes reoccupied, all the while maintaining its connections with the past. No journey to Italy is complete without a discussion of the food and wine, and Puglia did not disappoint! One of our favorite meals was a lunch served on a fabulous family farm where, after we saw the making of mozzarella, burrata and strachiatella di bufala, and most importantly tasting each cheese with their rather sweet, red wine, we enjoyed homemade orecchiette pasta, a Puglian pasta that means ‘little ear,’ served with marinara sauce, home-made pickled vegetables, followed by almond cookies and almond milk. mozzarella 500 The only thing missing was a post-prandial nap under the ancient olive trees. Instead, we were entertained by the family patriarch’s whip-cracking expertise, a technique that Alessandro, our walk manager, tried and then discovered the next day how physically taxing it was! The opportunity to connect with an Italian family and learn so much about their food, and lives and passions is just another example of what makes each Wayfarer walk so very special. So, we strongly encourage you to add Puglia to your wishlist of Wayfarers Walks, and move it to the top. This carefully crafted walk by Paolo, our walk leader, is a masterpiece. Puglia will become the next ‘it’ place to visit, with its ancient and modern history, extraordinary architecture and amazing wild flowers. We’re so glad we had a chance to experience it before it becomes truly (trulli) discovered. Check out our Walk in Puglia here. 

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