Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lecce, Ostuni, & a fantastic day of Puglia wine tasting!

Since we were so close to the Puglia region of Italy during our trip to Matera, we decided to sign up for a day of wine tasting with a trip to Lecce. Puglia is the southeast portion of Italy, encompassing the heel of the boot. It has hundreds of miles of beaches, gorgeous hilltop villages, and cities like Lecce boasting Baroque architecture. It produces a lot of Europe's pasta, catches a majority of Italy's fish, presses most of Italy's olive oil, and produces more wine than any other Italian region. All of these reasons is why we wanted to visit Puglia. We started our day with a drive to Bari where Giovanni and Maria picked us up. They picked out two wineries south of Lecce for us to visit.

With our new friends
A great winery with delicious wine!
At the second winery.

Our guides had made a reservation for the four of us at a restaurant in Lecce that looked like the downstairs of someone's house. We felt right at home as members of the family brought out their homemade specialties; ravioli, gnocchi, eggplant... everything that came out was delicious! Afterwards, we walked around Lecce. Lecce is commonly referred to as "The Florence of the South" because of its stunning buildings using the baroque style of architecture. The monuments and churches are built with a soft limestone that reflects gold and ivory in the sun.

Basilica di Santa Croce
Basilica di Santa Croce
Piazza Sant'Oronzo
St. Oronzo, the patron of the city, watches over everything
In Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo

Arco di Triofo, The Triumphal Arch
Church of Santa Chiara

On the drive back to Bari, Giovanni and Maria insisted that we see the town of Ostuni. We had actually never heard of it, but we were excited to see a town that the locals boast about as well as tourists from around the world. Ostuni, known as the "White City" because of the white reflective houses and buildings that one can see from afar, is perched high on a hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea. One can walk the narrow streets browsing chic stores, passing fancy bars and restaurants, and listening to traditional folk music being played by the locals.

Playing some music
Ostuni Cathedral

St. Oronzo overlooking the city

Just when we thought our day was done Giovanni and Maria took us to their friend's bed and breakfast for some drinks and coffee. The Italian hospitality that we experienced on this trip was amazing.

Some people call Puglia "The New Tuscany", but we think it's simply another very real part of Italy that many people don't get a chance to visit. The landscape, the fresh and local food, the wine, and architecturally beautiful buildings make this a region that we will definitely be visiting again.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Matera, Italy

Matera is one of the most unique and unusual cities we have ever seen! One of the oldest cities in the world, Matera is famous for its sassi, which are stone houses carved out of caves and cliffs. The sassi are located on either side of a deep ravine and have been inhabited for centuries. Until the 1950s, hundreds of families were living crowded in the cave houses in unbearable conditions until they were forced out by law and moved to more modern buildings. The sassi remain a reminder of the past, with more cave houses being converted into restaurants, hotels, and comfortable houses. During our time there we were lucky to stay in one of the renovated cave hotels.

We spent our time wandering around the sassi districts, where narrow maze-like alleys lead every which way and the streets are sometimes rooftops of people's homes. It was amazing to see the historical, architectural, and natural heritage packed into the Sassi of Matera. While walking around we developed a feeling for this ancient city and discovered its structures, significance, and cultures.

Like many Italian cities, Matera boasts many churches and piazzas:

Matera Cathedral
A church near the main piazza.

Madonna di Idris
The Church of San Pietro Caveoso
Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario is a cave house that is filled with items to show how a typical cave house was set up and the conditions that the people lived in up until the 1950s. It was unbelievable how the people lived here: chickens were kept under the bed, a horse was kept in the corner, children slept wherever they could find a spot, and there was a manure area. During the audio description it was interesting to learn how they made do with these restricted living environments.

We also headed over to the Belvedere di Murgia Timone, which is on the opposite side of the 200 meter ravine. The best views of Matera can be seen from here as well as many churches cut into the rock.

A set of caves.

Matera from afar
Inside the cave church

The church

By the caves
Before visiting Matera we made sure to read about the history of this amazing city and we think it really helped to have a bit of historical background in order to make sense of the sights here. It is one of the most interesting and unique places we have ever seen!

Venerdi' scorso, siamo andati a Matera. Siamo stati in un albergo in una grotta sasso. La nostra stanza era molte grande e bella! Matera e' famosa per i sassi. E' anche dove il film "Passion of the Christ" e' stato girato. Matera e' una citta' antica e diversa. Alcune persone abitano nelle case di 9,000 anni fa! Abbiamo camminato molto intorno alla citta' e abbiamo visto molte chiese e grotte. Questa e' la citta' affascinante.