Zest of Italy - Puglia, Italy
Puglia, also known as Apulia, is greatly defined for its baroque towns, white-washed trulli houses, olive groves and orchards, blue sea, secluded beaches, plenty of sunshine and excellent cuisine. Historically ruled by foreign invaders, this region was always deep rooted in its relatively humble agricultural past. From the cultural gems brought about by Greek colonists to the bold impressions left from the Middle Ages to the Romanesque influences: all aspects of Puglia has been influenced from the Barletta-Andria-Trani province to the area of Salento, otherwise known as the heel of Italy.
We sought out on a heavenly venture around a few of southern Italy's best finds with Zest of Italy. This boutique tour company is driven by Kathrin Fehérváry Colapinto and her husband Livio Colapinto. Together in 2009, they opened Zest of Italy officially after graduating from the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences together, which is where they first met. Kathrin is originally from south-eastern Austria while Livio is deeply grounded in his Apulian roots, as he grew up in Puglia and now hosts his love affair with his region. Both boutique tour guides are well travelled professionals, with a substantial philosophy of travel that results in experiencing the authentic side of a place.
Upon arrival from our brief trip to Rome, we were met and greeted by Livio at Bari airport. He guided us through the beautiful town he was raised in called Bitonto. Here we had delicious pugliese bocconotto ricotta cream at Boccabò on Via Sedile nº7. It is said that there are two popular legends about the origins of bocconotto, one coming from the region Abruzza and another in Puglia. The Benedictine nuns of the old town of Bitonto use their unique recipe of ricotta and less sugar than the more popular version of the pastry. We were also introduced to some local fornai(bakers), and came across 800 year old hole in the wall spaces a few metres underground, and were impressed to see how the tradition is still very much alive in this part of the world. The local baker at our first stop let us try some black pepper taralli which we were impressed by for its taste and texture, so we bought a bag to take back with us. After seeing impressive architectures from the town's dozens of palazzos and churches, we headed to see one of the last remaining fish and vegetables open-air markets located in the small town of Bisceglie.
We headed to the historic petite city of Trani just before our best fine dining fish restaurant reservation with The "Ristorante Corteinfiore". We learned of the cultures that has inhabited Trani for centuries; from the Byzantine settlers, Spanish conquistas to Venetians and very importantly the Jewish community. This historic melting pot has dozens of cafés on the harbour with the elegant stone belt of parapets outlining along the docks. An upmost sweet destination for the warmer months, Trani is a festive and joyous city par excellence, holds all of its festivals on the harbour. Many of these celebrations are religious festivals, and also cheerful, swarms of people come out for a stroll on summer evenings, with band concerts in the lighted sound-box in Piazza Quercia, open-air concerts and shows.
After lunch we went to Polignano a Mare, the city that gave birth to “Mr. Volare”, D. Modugno. We were in awe of the stunning sightseeing and had a sip of the local “caffè speciale”, a curious mix of coffee, lemon zest, cream and almond liqueur at Bar Gelateria "Il Super Mago del Gelo". This seaside town famous for the Grotta Palazzese restaurant in a cave on a rocky cliff and the 2015 celebrated Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competition actually has one of the prettiest squares and alleyways in Italy. Our tour guide Livio personally knows the acclaimed glass artist Giuseppe Campanella, who is an expert in his trade.
Zest of Italy do organised tours around the roads less travelled in Gargano as well. This area is considered the 'spur' on the Italian 'boot', for its shape. Serenaded with a wide isolated mountain massif made of highland and several peaks and forming the backbone of the Gargano Promontory projecting into the Adriatic Sea, the tour guides know the locals that inhabit these parts. They can take you to meet the breeders and cheese-makers as well as go for tastings. We are surely open to do the coastline from Trani to Mattinata the next time we are in Puglia, as the views are said to be something out of a movie.
As mentioned earlier, Kathrin and Livio are both Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences graduates from Piedmont and are qualified private culinary guides and passionate chefs. Together they bring travellers to their favourite food artisans that offer a genuine experience of the region. Both guides are extremely reliable and can do their tours in German, English and Italian. There are numerous gastronomic options for Foodie Day Tours and Culinary Grand Tours catered to couples, groups and single travellers. Whether you want to explore Italy's heritage pasta landmark, hike over biodynamic vineyards or explore the food odyssey of the Itria Valley; the endless options will allow you to experience Puglia like a local.
Thanks to Zest of Italy, we have declared our love for Puglia.