Italia Food and travel Experiences is a unique travel network based in Rhode Island. Known for its customized, luxurious travel packages that never disappoint. Food and culture tours throughout regional Italy, with the primary objective to immerse travelers into the lives of the Italians. Of course, the pandemic placed everything on the back burner, but we feel positive on the prompt return to exciting tours. We have several itineraries scheduled for 2021, and Apulia will be the first out of the gate. It could be the region to consider for your travel desire. I was in Puglia just before COVID arrived in the country, and below is a condensed overview of the experience.

The Apulia region comprises sea, rolling hills, and immense plains, adorned with 800 kilometers of coastline. Packed with historic villages, religious traditions, charming masserie, vintage farm-structures brought back to life, immersed in ancient olives groves. It is a trendy region, visited by thousands, and continues to expand its visibility in the travel business.

I have chosen my preferred must-see locations once you get there, hopefully soon.

First on my list is Lecce, art city, and Baroque treasure. It is an open-air museum with outstanding masterpieces and landmarks.

Next is Gargano, the spur of the Italian boot. Pristine peninsula packed with unique wilderness and beautiful beaches, charming villages, olive and citrus groves.

Among visitors, the Itria Valley offers mild elevations and centuries-old olive trees. Also known as the valley of Trulli with quaint villages like Alberobello, Locorotondo, Cisternino, and Martina Franca. Trullo is a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof.

Ostuni called “White City” due to its historical center of whitewashed houses, a real sight not-to-be-missed. One of the most stunning cities in southern Italy famous for the dazzling effect of its whitewashed houses.

Off the coast, the Tremiti Islands only archipelago in the region comprises five islands in a nature reserve with a sea that is a paradise for diving.

Castel del Monte, built by Emperor Frederick II in the XIII century, is internationally renowned because of its peculiar octagonal plan and is the region’s most visited monument. Located near Andria, this 13th-century citadel attracts thousands every year.

The Caves of Castellana is a 3-kilometer assembly of underground caves,  considered the most spectacular in Italy.

Southern Apulia Salento is a beautiful land with a unique history and traditions, among masserie and white sandy beaches with crystal-clear waters (no coincidence called “the Maldives of Italy”).

Another must-see is Polignano, a Mare clinging on a rocky cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea; it is a holiday resort much appreciated also for its sea caves and Roman remains.

For the religious buffs, I suggest the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo pilgrimage site in the province of Foggia.

About the cuisine?

The Apulian cooking is a rustic kitchen, based on simple ingredients and rich in products of the land: vegetables like chicory, cime di Rapa, tomatoes, onions, eggplants, and peppers, present in any course. Dishes I like to mention are peppers and eggplant preserved in olive oil. Fried bread-meatballs with anchovies and capers, as a second course, and fried mussels or fried sweet olives, chilly and garlic, combine with some Altamura bread, taralli, or a choice of local cheese like Pallone di Gravina, Canestrato Pugliese, or burrata. Hundreds of more specialties available.

First courses are an inevitable dish in the Apulian cuisine, with many countless pasta variations, mostly homemade, according to recipes handed down from generation to generation. Among the most popular is orecchiette with cime di rape or with tomato and dried ricotta. Typical of Apulia is also tiella, a first course made with rice, potatoes, mussels, onions, and tomato, and baked ziti, a kind of pasta prepared with tomato, sausage, and mozzarella cheese.

As for second courses, you have many recipes to try, both with fish or meat: for example, bombette pugliesi, rounded veal meat rolls stuffed with pancetta, and Caciocavallo cheese; or baked lamb with potatoes, typical of the Easter period. Seafood such as cozze alla tarantina, mussels seasoned with tomato sauce, Orata alla Pugliese, gilthead bream with potatoes and Pecorino cheese, or polpo Alla pignata, a classic recipe from Salento in which octopus cooked in a terracotta pot with onions, tomatoes, and herbs the stars. The choice of vegetables is ample: from fava bean purée with chicory to stuffed tomatoes and artichokes, from fried lampascioni to eggplants cooked in a thousand variations.

If you crave sweets, the undisputed leader is pasticciotto leccese, a classic dessert of Salento, a short-crust pastry filled with crème pat to which you can add black cherries, typical for breakfast in Salento. Or in its variation: fruttone, with white almond cream and a heart of apple or pears marmalade, covered with chocolate, perfect together with a coffee, or pitthedde, star-shaped pastries typical of the Salento cuisine.

As for street-food, in the Apulia region, there are plenty of options: you cannot miss focaccia Barese, in many variations from area to area (the traditional recipe asks for fresh tomatoes and olives, but you can have it also with potatoes or plain), fried panzerotti, prepared for example with minced meat and peas, Caciocavallo cheese and mortadella, Cime di Rapa and Scamorza cheese, or the classic Rustico leccese, a puff pastry stuffed with mozzarella cheese, bechamel, tomato, and black pepper.

The Apulia region is also a land of valued wines: among its most well-known examples, you have Primitivo di Manduria, a DOC and DOCG protected red wine of the province of Brindisi and Taranto, Negroamaro, a vine variety native of Salento, also in its variation as Salice Salentino DOC, that can also be rosé, and Castel Del Monte Aglianico, a DOC red wine produced in the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani and Bari. I’ll stop here because I could go on forever. Anyways, consider a tour with us and “See and taste Italy through the eyes and palate of a chef.”

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