Five things to do
1. Walk: A 5½-hour trip from Rome on the Frecciargento (Silver Arrow) train takes you to the sun-bleached heel of Italy’s boot. A culinary paradise, this largely untouristed region is surrounded by the sparkling Adriatic and Ionian seas and has plenty of breathtaking surprises. A great way to get around is to do a walk and I can recommend Exodus’s eight-day leisurely tour ($1805) through the olive groves and vineyards of the Puglia and Basilicata regions, which take in many gorgeous old towns with cobbled streets such as Ostuni and Locorotondo and seaside villages such as Polignano a Mare.
2. Stay: Get lost in the labyrinth of lanes and small squares of Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage town where 15,000 Italians once lived in cave houses. Made famous by Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ,
Matera is a perfectly preserved town from a long time ago. Stay in a cave hotel such as the Sassi.
3. Eat and drink: Alberobello (another UNESCO town) is famous for its hobbit-like, cone-shaped trulli homes. Taste the local wines at the Trulli e Puglia wine bar and eat local cuisine at Favola in Tavola.
4. See and be seen: Visit elegant Lecce, the creamy stone capital of the Salerno district, with stunning baroque churches and countless squares, the grandest being Piazza Sant’Oronzo with a partly excavated Roman amphitheatre. The locals start their passeggiata at around 5pm, filling the car-free streets and squares to see and be seen, sitting in the many outside bars and cafes with an aperitivo. Visit the Caffè Alvino for a ghiaccio, a chilled espresso over ice with sweet almond extract, and a pasticciotti, a friand-shaped pastry with a thick custard centre.
5. Visit Santa: The huge port of Bari has a lovely old town with a cathedral that houses the bones of St Nicholas, more commonly known as Santa Claus. Bari has wonderful art deco buildings and grand theatres. Enjoy a walking tour with the local guide Giuseppe (see freewalkingtourbari.it).
Preserved in stone ... above, the cave town of Matera; below, from left, a trulli in Puglia; baroque Lecce; and the cliffs of Polignano a Mare.