Sunday, May 5th, after a fun day that started in Gallipoli and included lunch in the crazy Tenute Al Bano, we picked up a new rental car in Brindisi (BRIN-dee-see) and said goodbye to Jon and Galina.
From Brindisi we drove to the Ostuni area, to the Masseria Il Frantoio, which is our base for the first three nights of our photography experienc Here begins our photography adventure with Eddie Soloway, called “Celebrating Italy.”
Our group is 10, including Eddie, Gerry and me. There are some new-to-us people: Jean, Linda, Cris, and Kate, and some we already know! Jim and Yoli we met on a similar event with Eddie in Santa Fe, and Deborah was in the Pen and the Camera class at Maine Media Workshops last June. (And, PS it turns out we know Cris, too! She was on the first National Geographic photography trip we took to Oaxaca. Her name seemed so familiar to me, but I couldn’t place her for the 13 days of the trip. Then, at one of our last meals together, she mentioned she had been at a workshop in Oaxaca that sounded just like ours. I looked it up when I got home. There she was in the group photo, standing right next to Gerry!)Our first event together was social: A welcome cocktail on the patio, a brief tour and presentation on the property, and one of the masseria’s famed dinners. (Note: You do not need to be a guest, to eat dinner here.)
Because I envision you are reading this section of the trip before the “first part,” I will explain (for some, again) what a masseria is. The word refers to a fortified farm. Brigands, raiders, and rogues terrorizing the countryside of Puglia is a part of the history of this region. A masseria provided shelter and protection to the family and the workers of the large farming estates. In a sense they were like the village that grew up around a baronial estate, but this village was fortified – walled in and impregnable in case of attack. Looking at a map of Puglia there are areas where you see only tiny settlements at the crossings of roads, and these are labelled with the names of masserie.
Today, the masseria have often been converted to upscale tourist hotels, though most also preserve their agricultural purpose. They are very similar to the agriturismi, that you find in other parts of Italy, but they don’t use that name. Il Frantoio is an olive oil producing farm, with trees that are nearly a century old. They produce four different olive oils, and at our first dinner we got to taste them all. Everyone had a personal favorite, but I bought the sampler package to bring home. Let’s see if place and people influence my perception of the taste of the oils, the way it does for wine!
Like the masseria (where we stayed in Part I) Il Frantoio also grows other crops for their own use in the dining room. Our dinner the first night, a multi-course feast, was accompanied by wine pairings. Each course comes with a verbal explanation of the food and the wine. The menu is fixed. The food is outstanding. Most common wine grapes for this area are primitivo and negroamaro. Both are reds and were great favorites of the group.
On May 6th, Monday morning, we met as a group for an orientation to the area, looking at maps and talking about what we might find to photograph. We all have our own cars, so we can explore on our own. Most of the group will head to Alberobello (AHL-ber-oh BELL-oh) the city of the trulli, which we have already visited (Part I of this trip). We drove to Cisternina (Chis-ter-NEE-nah) under a threatening sky, to enjoy one of “Italy’s Most Beautiful Burgs” (one of several on this trip!).
Cisternina is unique, in my experience. There is a central historic district, surrounded by older areas and the modern city. We were looking for the historic center, but we couldn’t find it! We certainly didn’t see it! And it was right there on the map, and we should have been right in it. Stopping at the tourist information point to get a paper map, made a huge difference.
There are only a few entrances to the historic center (or the centro, pronounced “CHEN-tro”) most, if not all, by foot only. Within the walls, there is a warren of narrow streets flanked by brilliant white houses. There is a main plaza in the center, surrounded by the four sectors, each with a different name, and color-coded on the map to help tourists understand the layout. There is an irregular, circular street that will take you from one sector to another or just “around” (literally). From this main artery, tiny little offshoot streets make a maze of dead ends and quiet pockets.
It was fun to explore and we spent time getting lost both on purpose and not. By lunch, it was
raining, causing a dramatic rush to find a place that was open. Many we found in our apps were not, perhaps because it was Monday. Finally, we found a restaurant, attached to a butcher shop, that would seat us. We were shunted off to an overflow room below street level with other tourists, but had a decent, hot lunch. I cannot find the name. You’re missing nothing.
On our way back to the masseria for the evening, we stopped to take pictures of the city of Ostuni from below. (You can read more about Ostuni from our visit there during Part I, but as you can see in this picture, it’s nickname “the White City” is honestly earned.)
We had dinner in the masseria again, and it was equally as good as the night before. Our group is very compatible and we had fun with our server, the indefatigable, Alessandra!
Tuesday morning (May 7th), I got up and out early to walk among the olive trees and explore the farm before breakfast. I had so much fun photographing the olive trees. I didn’t need to look far to find an interesting specimen. Each one was like a person, with its own personality. And, each was a work of art. Already a huge fan of the old olive trees (Actually, I am a huge fan of old trees, period.) walking among these characters gave rise to all kinds of imaginings, the most useful of which was the idea to do a special segment of this blog just on the pictures of them. Please click the link, take a look and let me know if you find them as enchanting and endlessly fascinating as I do! [Here’s the link to the Olive Trees gallery]
It was nearly noon when Gerry and I headed out to find grotto churches (Note: Closed during the week. Only open on Sundays!) and Egnazia, the excavation site and the archeological museum.
So, what is Egnazia? First, let me warn you that you may never see the name spelled the same way twice. The city was inhabited by various peoples in the ancient world and each had their own spelling and pronunciation. Egnazia is an extensive archeological site right on the Adriatic coast near Fasano, south of Monopoli. Excavations began here in 1912, and artifacts and structures were unearthed starting from the 16th century BCE and going all the way to the 8th century CE. You can visit the excavations and the wonderful museum.
The museum is first class. I found this startling because of the remote location (Puglia). It could only have been made better by more English explanations (or French or German, for that matter). There was a brief introduction to each room in English, but the exhibits themselves were exclusively in Italian. Yet, the displays and the information provided are all of the best quality.
Close to the museum you can visit a necropolis. There are even a few Messapian era grotto-style tombs that you can enter. (I wonder how long that will last?)
You can walk all over within the excavations, even stand on ancient column bases if you want. This kind of up-close and personal encounter with history is becoming rare. I am of two minds about that: For me, the preservation of ancient civilizations is crucial to maintaining an understanding of the history of our world. But, in a country where ancient Roman ruins are so prevalent, some of these sites, off the beaten tourist routes, may not be important enough to need to preserve in pristine condition. As a visitor, the opportunity to walk on the same stones that ancient peoples trod is a special treat. I felt guilty about it, but I did walk all over this site, thankful for the opportunity.
There is also an elevated walkway around it which actually gives you a different, more comprehensive view of what you’re seeing.
Because of the timing of the morning’s presentations and our excursion, we skipped lunch altogether today, so no restaurant report. However, we were in the same area, right near the coast, where we had been about a week before, so there were options, just no time.
When I returned to the masseria, I “interviewed” Alessandra about the olive trees and the production of olive oil. We discussed the facts, but also polemics of this topic. As is common, even here, progress and preservation of the past clash to the tune of politics and conspiracies. I explore them in the Olives Trees segment.
Gerry and I had dinner with Kate in Ostuni, at the Osteria Ricanati (Corso Camillo Benso Cavour, 37, 72017 Ostuni BR). [Puglia is not so up-to-date that all restaurants we visited have websites. Some are only found on restaurant compilers and Trip Advisor. You may be able to find restaurant reviews for some of these website-less places there, and most also have Facebook pages.]
When people ask me about this trip, my most common comment is that this part of Italy reminds me of what I found when I came to Rome back in 1974 – Friendly people, not a lot of whom speak English; some, but not too many, tourists. In almost every restaurant we ate, we had the opportunity to talk with our servers, and to express friendship and goodwill. Here, at Ricanatti, that was also true. The woman waiting on the tables was the chef’s mother. When we finished dinner, we were the only patrons left in the restaurant, so we got to talk with the chef, too, and take pictures. Experiences like this are the real reason I love to travel.
May 8th, Wednesday
Today is our last day in this area. This afternoon we move to Matera. Still focusing on places that we did not get to see during the first part of the trip, our goal was to hit the Martina Franca weekly market. But we were unable to find parking, so we didn’t stay. Most of the others in the group did and told us that finding the produce section of the market was time-consuming, but once found they enjoyed it very much. [You know! Photographers! They love markets.]
We, instead, continued to Locorotondo (lo-co-roh-TON-doh), another of the “Most Beautiful Burgs in Italy.” I have decided that in order to get that designation, your town needs to have lots of flowers in pots all over the place. Doesn’t bother me! The name Locorotondo makes the town sound like some kind of crazy rotunda, however, it comes from Latin: loco (place) rotondo (round). [Not quite so suggestive!]
Locorotondo follows the Cisternino plan with lots of little offshoots with dead ends emanating from the narrow, alley-like streets. The houses are all white. (You can see why all those flowers make it pretty.) We had lunch in a tucked-away corner at a place called QuantoBasta Pizzeria. It was very good (Note: A pizza for lunch is not a given in this part of Italy. Some restaurants have signs, “Pizza only after 5 pm”). Our pizza was an award-winning original pizza. Given that the cheese in Puglia is a real standout, you can count on having an excellent pizza here. But don’t assume you’ll always get a tomato sauce base and mozzarella. That was also rare. Here the pizza seems to be a vehicle for offering you really good cheese with interesting accents.
Alberobello, Cisternina, Locorotondo and Martin Franca are in the Itria Valley, a region of old olive trees, in an area referred to as the Murgia dei Trulli. These are the towns where you will see the trulli. You can see them easily in Alberobello, where the trulli make up whole neighborhoods, but scanning the countryside from any of the villages perched up on the hills, the typical, whimsical conical roofs are visible, dotting the landscape. (I will talk about them more in Part I when I describe the visit to Alberobello.)
[Remember: You can click on the small images to see them larger.]
From Locorotondo, we drove to Matera, in Basilicata. [Coming soon!]