Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ten Days in Puglia, Part 3: The Heel of the Boot

This was the first time I had booked a vacation home online, sight-unseen. I was a little wary as photographs online or in brochures occasionally accentuate the positive to the point of distortion. But I was also quite intrigued. When I contacted Bruno, the owner of “La Grica” where we stayed just outside of Tricase in southern Puglia, via the HomeAwayUK website, he sent me a link ( providing additional information on the location and amenities.

Upon arrival we thought, perfect! This is exactly what we expected based on the photos on the website! The house had whitewashed walls, blue shutters and painted tiles, a thatched roof protecting the large terrace surrounded by olive and fig trees. It reminded me of postcards from Santorini and had the same view to boot – an unobstructed 180 degree panorama of the Adriatic sprawled out before it. I typed “sea view” into my house hunt criteria on the HomeAway site and sea view is precisely what we got.

The inside was basic but sufficient and clean. The terrace was really so amazing that we didn’t spend much time inside. There was even an outdoor shower and a clay pizza oven and grill.

The beach was not right out the front door but was accessible. Being on the Adriatic side of the “heel”, we were on the rockier, untamed side. There were steep winding staircases carved into the rockface every few kilometers where swimmers can make their way down to the intensely turquoise water below. For divers or snorkelers, it is a dream; for parents with young children, it’s a bit of a nightmare. The pathways were steep in places and windy conditions meant strong waves which made getting in and out of the water tricky. Kids would do better on the sandier shores of the Ionian side between Santa Maria di Leuca and Gallipoli.

Speaking of kids, if we were to bring the kids back with us next time, I unfortunately would have to say that we probably would not choose to stay here again – as much as I would LOVE to. The house is located just off of a busy road (although you don’t notice this because the house itself is situated down a windy set of stairs, far below) and while the terrace was perfect for my husband and myself, it would be a bit limited for a few small children who would want to run around and kick balls – all of which would fly over the railing and roll 100 meters through olive groves toward the sea below. Easy beach access or a nice yard would be much more ideal for children. Basically, its not the kind of place you as a parent could relax and let the kids run around unsupervised: steep steps, busy roads, vertical drops – it’s the kind of place where you would want to have your kid on a dog leash. But for 2-4 adults – it is an absolute dream. If we can cajole the grandparents into taking the kids again, we would love to get a couple of friends together and come back here.

Or more. The house has two parts; the lower part was rented out to another couple, a middle aged Italian couple from Rome. We said hello in the mornings and they shared a few restaurant tips with us but otherwise, we were very respectful of each other’s space and we rarely noticed someone else was there.

Bruno rented the house on a weekly basis, from Saturday – Saturday. We explained to him that we would have to leave Thursday, two days early, as we had stashed the kids away with their grandparents and need to get back and he gave us a 100€ discount on the weekly rate – which was incredibly nice of him, as he didn’t have to do that.

Speaking of Bruno, he had the keys waiting in the door for us when we arrived. He came up shortly thereafter to introduce himself, see if we had any questions and clue us in as to where to find groceries, the nearest gas station, and the best restaurant in the area. His house was situated about 100 meters below ours and he instructed us to come see him if we had any questions or problems.

About Puglia itself...

Puglia is best undertaken with a car. Public transport is limited and bicycles require serious quadriceps for the gorgeous cliff-hugging roads. Small, charming towns like Otranto, Gallipoli, Santa Maria di Leuca on the coast offer incredible seafood, nighttime passegiatas that take one back in time through the old winding streets of the walled cities, and soft sandy beaches with turquoise water that locals liken to the Maldives. Small villages on the interior like Specchia, Taviano, and Tricase provide a peek at everyday life on the Salento where visitors can stock up on local produce from nearby farms (Puglia is famous for its vegetable antipasti), homemade salami and cured meats and legendary fresh cheeses like Puglian burrata. At A Casa Tu Martinu, diners (like us) sit al fresco in a gorgeous courtyard garden sampling the bread dipped in vino cotto, a cooked wine sauce, bruschetta melanzane, discs of fried eggplant a top a pomodorini salsa, fresh handmade orrchiette with stewed greens or pasta all ceci, pasta with chickpeas. Fresh produce is also the star on the menu at the many messerie in the area. Messerie are former or current farming estates that boast some of the freshest fare in the Salento.

We usually spent the mornings gasping at the view from our terrace over thick slices of succulent watermelon and strong shots of espresso. By the time we managed to tear ourselves away, it was nearly noon and we would explore one of the nearby towns while everyone was at home having lunch, avoiding the mid-day heat. We would escape the heat at one of the gorgeous beaches – Baia dei Turquie north of Otranto or Baia Verde, otherwise known as the Italian Maldives, south of Gallipoli – from 3 pm onwards. One afternoon, we opted to rent a boat and explored the gorgeous rocky coastline around the Baia dei Zagare, south of Otranto and the cliffs and coves north of Leuca.

Gorgeous beaches, delicious fresh fish and vegetables, stunning views and a very relaxed local vibe is what we experienced in the Salento. Thanks again HomeAwayUK for the opportunity to stay in one of your amazing properties. We will definitely be staying with you again soon!