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Italy’s Hidden Gem: Puglia

When you think of Italy a few things probably come to mind: ancient Roman ruins, Renaissance art, Mediterranean beaches… But if you’ve ever been to Italy, food tops your list, propelled by memories of exuberant Italians shoveling third, fourth and fifth helpings onto your plate, insisting that you didn’t really like it or you’d have eaten more.

Italy is known the world over for its refined, earthy food and its boisterous, charming hospitality, and nowhere is this on fuller display than Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot. Ask an Italian where to find the best food in the country, and he’ll tell you his mother’s kitchen. But, after some prodding, he’ll likely concede Puglia is a close second.

Delicious Italian Cheese

Pulgia is dominated by agriculture and has been for centuries, giving rise to truly local delicacies like creamy soft burrata cheese, which is so fresh it has to be eaten within 24 hours. Pulgia’s rugged landscape is perfect for raising sheep, giving rise to some of the best sheep milk cheeses in the world like pecorino and sheep milk ricotta.

Great Walks around Puglia

But the region also produces Durham wheat and many fresh vegetables. Handmade half-moon shaped pasta, called orecchiette, is often prepared with flavorful cherry tomatoes, spicy broccoli rabe, or tender baby artichokes. Each town you visit in Puglia has its own specialty, providing ample incentive to explore this beautiful province.

Tasty Italian CheesePuglia

I travelled around Puglia for 10 ten days with my Italian cousins in car, eating our way through their favorite towns and villages. My absolute favorite spot was Ostuni, but then again I am a carnivore.

Beautiful Sunset, Puglia

Ostuni is full of tiny butcher shops that use traditional wood fired ovens to roast locally raised meats, including perfectly spiced pork sausages, juicy cuts of beef and succulent lamb. You point out which meat you want and grab a seat at the communal table at the front of the shop to await your feast. It’s casual, incredibly delicious and cheap.

Tasty Italian meay

Food with the family, Puglia

Tired Kids

Another culinary (and visual) highlight is the nearby town of Alberobelo. This town is slightly touristic due to its stunning white stucco houses topped with pointed roofs made of perfectly stacked grey stones. They look like hobbit homes, only built with characteristic Italian craftsmanship and style.

Beautiful little restaurants

Quirky Restaurants

While you’re there, be sure to stop by Trullo di Oro, a restaurant that’s been a local favorite for hundreds of years. This is the perfect place to try burratta and orecchiette; and make sure you order the battered deep fried shrimp scampi stuffed in zucchini blossoms. Seriously, you’ll eat more than you ever thought possible. It’s the type of restaurant where you tell your waiter “I cant possibly eat any more,” and he offers you a little fresh fruit to cleanse the palate, and then brings out a massive cornucopia of sliced fruit on ice.

Great Views

Great restaurants in Puglia

Vieste is also a must see. The white staccato town is picturesquely situated atop a cliff jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. It’s simply magical. If you’re with a special someone, take him or her to Ristorante I can’t think of a more romantic spot.

Great underground restaurantsNearby Vieste is Monte Sant’ Angelo, which is definitely worth a stop. Check out Monte Gargano, a 12th century Catholic sanctuary built deep underground inside a cave.

Puglia is best seen by car, the countryside is stunning and there are plenty of worthwhile stops along the way. To visit the places I’ve recommended, you’ll need about a week, but you could easily spend two or three happy and full weeks exploring this delectable Italian province.