Monthly Archives: September 2010

Italy by Train – Casa Mare – at home by the sea

The final post from the Italian holiday; just a few words about Casa Mare. It is a subject of good fortune that Debbie and Bob, who own Casa Mare and live there all year round, have now become good friends.  We had a fabulous time going out and about to the sagra and restaurants with them.   In the summer months they move into their basement and rent out the main house to paying guests.  The garden is large and they use one side with a patio and vegetable garden leaving all the terracing and the pool for the guests to use.

The villa has spacious rooms, free wifi, a large bathroom with bath and separate walk in shower and an extremely well equipped kitchen.  Debbie also provides one of the best welcome baskets, complete with home-made marmalade, chutney and lemoncello.

The house is close to the beach and some of the cats that have adopted Debbie and Bob like to stroll down to join the afternoon picnic.  The cats have become the subject of stories I am writing, where they are known as the Onion Cats.  The latest stories though have gone AWOL; I know I’ve put the handwritten notes somewhere, but where?

By the time we were ready to book for next year Casa Mare is already full.  It will be Villa Rosa, Debbie and Bob’s other house, that will be home by the sea next time.

You may have seen a piece in The Sunday Times on 19th September by A A Gill on Puglia – try and find a copy if you can.  I agree with some of the things he says (yes it is litter strewn and there are incomplete buildings), but I will continue to return. I don’t think I’m an ‘English fantasist, braying at the architecture’ and I would be delighted if no other English people discovered it; it is quite nice to remain a rarity in a holiday destination.  Also anyone describing it as secret Italy is clearly wrong the northern Italians have been holidaying there for years.

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Puglia by Train – Old towns; Lecce and Matera

The penultimate post from the summer holidays, the old towns of Lecce and Matera. Lecce has featured in this blog previously and as tradition would have it, here is the espressino freddo, from the Bar Bar Cin Cin.

Yes, Lecce is a beautiful baroque town, that out baroques baroque but it is also home of perfect iced coffees, no two are ever the same.

Lecce is also a gorgeous venue for a wedding with picture perfect architecture as a backdrop. As we strolled around the town several weddings were taking place, the little cornucopia that once held rose petals was evidence, but best of all was the bride, groom and entourage touring the streets in their quadricycles.

We also used this trip to travel further afield to Matera.  A town where up until the 1960’s people still lived in the cave houses.  These were then bought by the state and it became a UNESCO world heritage site.  Gradually the area is being restored and some of the dwellings have now been incorporated into very smart hotels.  It is an area that has to be seen to be believed and photos can not do it justice the town clings to the side of a steep-sided gorge and the colours are all muted, natural stone.

There are plenty of ancient towns to visit in the region but Matera which counts as Basilicata and not Puglia is well worth crossing over the border to discover.

Italy by train – Sagra

This was the year we finally tracked down a sagra or two.  The Southern Italians are famous for their food festivals, the difficulty though is that whilst they can be very well publicised, little details like exactly where in a town they are taking place or at what time have to be gained by a process of absorption.

The first and largest was the Sagra delle quattro stagione, in Torre Dell’Orso on the coast not far from Lecce.  We went with our hosts Debbie and Bob from Casa Mare; after meandering around we found the huge site full of people, food stalls and set up ready for the pizzica music.  The routine is that you buy meal and drink tickets then queue up for your plates of food.  I had swordfish steak, fava and chicory and a sausage, each was served with chunks of bread and glasses of beer or you could have the local fizzy wine.  Below is a short clip taken with an ordinary digital camera of the pizzica. The music really gets under your skin, this is music of the Salento region, the very tip of the heel of Italy.  The pizzica tarantella is based on a traditional dance supposed to drive out the damage caused by a poisonous spider.  It is worth watching the video just for the reaction to taking an apron off!

The second Sagra was a much more low-key affair, set at the top of the beautiful town of Oria.  The idea was that it was a mediaeval re-enactment.  Here we changed Euros to mediaeval coins and then into some mugs of potent red wine and meatballs followed by cake and lemoncello. We sat down at the long tables set out in the square where everyone sits together whilst they eat.  There was much walking about by knights, but we just did not have the stamina to stay up for any battle which may have taken place later.

Fancy some more pizzica music?  Go Here for Spotify list – I defy you not to be spinning round your kitchen in your apron by the end.

Puglia by Train – Water Sports

Puglia is the recipient of long dry summers and although intensely hot, the heat is often kept under control by the sirocco and mistral winds.  The nature of the beach changes.  The Italian’s themselves don’t tend to play in the waves as Brits do at the seaside.  Once the waves are of above a gentle roll the local holiday makers seem to loose interest in swimming, standing or sitting in the waves.  However, a few hardy souls, the windsurfers start to appear and the sky is filled with what appear at first to be coloured crows, but are actually the kites of the boarders turning pirouettes as they turn.

On the water-sports front though the thing I enjoyed most works best once the winds have dropped.  This holiday I  learnt to snorkel.  I have never done it before; seeing shoals tiny silvery fish that were like meteor showers, larger fish with dark eyes that followed me around and the thrill of watching a cuttle fish making its way around a artificial reef. Now that I am confident swimming out of my depth and feel strong enough not to panic when I wander off away from the crowd, snorkelling is a real pleasure.  In addition to as snorkelling at Contrada Cipolla we also took a trip to the Torre Guaceto nature reserve.  Here you can snorkel in protected water and the range of fish and the number of sea urchins, sponges and other creatures is greater than ever.

Next time I could do with a waterproof camera – any recommendations?

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