Apulia is the heel of the Italian boot. It is located in the southeast corner of Italy on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Apulia was frequently invaded by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Among its many rulers were the Byzantines, Goths, Lombards, Normans, Spaniards, and Turks. Its moment of greatest glory was in the Holy Roman Empire of the 13th Century, when majestic Romanesque cathedrals and palaces were built. This article presents the western and usually northern part of Apulia. A companion article presents the rest of the region.
Apulia’s administrative center is Bari, the biggest city in southern Italy, with a population of over 325 thousand. It is a major port that includes a modern city center, with its Piazza della Libertà (Freedom Plaza) and a città vecchia (old town) that is definitely worth seeing. Everywhere you turn you can see the Adriatic Sea. The pedestrian-only street Via Sparano is the site of evening strolls. The nearby Eleventh Century Bascilica di San Nicola is said to contain the remains of St. Nicholas, yes Santa Claus. According to legend local sailors stole his remains from Turkey. Funny, I always thought that Santa Claus… In any case, the Bascilica is the only building to have survived the sacking of the city by the Normans way back in 1152. Make sure to see the Cattedrale (Cathedral) built shortly afterwards. Nearby is the Castello Svevo which is undergoing restoration.
About 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Bari is the small port of Trani, which was the major Adriatic port during the Crusades. Santa Maria di Scolanova and Santa Anna are two standing medieval synagogues. The city contains several historic churches, a Swabian castle, and a Gothic Palace of the Doges of Venice, transformed into a seminary.
Of course you know that Italy is shaped like a boot. Did you know that its spur is Promontorio del Gargano (Gargano Promontory), a very popular destination for both Italian and foreign summer tourists. With a rough and ready landscape and curvy mountain roads make sure that you watch your driving, even more so than in most of Italy.
The area’s major center near the tip of the spur is the whitewashed town of Vieste known for its castle. Take a ferry from Vieste to the nearby archipelago Isole Tremiti. A word of warning before you go, the name Tremiti is associated with the word tremor. There have been earthquakes. Some of the islands are uninhabited and one of them has the interesting habit of being covered by waves. But the view is spectacular. Perhaps it was a consolation to the political prisoners exiled by Benito Mussolini during his reign.
Don’t miss the Foresta Umbra (Shady Forest) which encompasses over sixty thousand acres, hundreds of animal species and two thousand plant species including beech, maple, oak, and sycamore trees that one would expect in northern climes. How do they do it? The forest is 3,200 feet above sea level?
Monte Sant’Angelo has been a major destination for pilgrims over the last fifteen hundred years. Among them were St. Francis of Assisi and Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. You’ll want to see the Santuario di San Michele (Sanctuary of San Michele) and the Tomba di Rotari (Tomb of Rotari), a medieval baptistery. Other sights include the ruins of a Norman castle and the old city known as Rione Junno.
You might want to finish your tour of western Apulia with a visit to the famous Castel del Monte, a mysterious eight-sided castle built in the Thirteenth Century. Unlike most medieval castles, it lacks military structures. Perhaps it was a resting place for pilgrims seeking the Holy Grail. Or maybe…
What about food? Italy has a classification process for food, roughly similar to the wine classification. Among Apulia’s classified foods are Clementines, Olives, two Cheeses, and four Olive Oils. There are so many specialties that one of these days we will have to sit down and write one or several articles on the foods of Apulia. In the meantime let’s suggest a sample menu, one of many. Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal. Start with Ciceri e tria (Chick Pea and Noodle Soup). Then try Grata alla barese (Roasted Bream with Potatoes, Garlic, and Pecorino Cheese). For dessert indulge yourself with Carteddate (Marsala, Honey, and Cinnamon Fried Pastry).
Let’s finish by taking a quick look at Apulian wine. Apulia ranks 2nd among the 20 Italian regions for both vineyard acreage and total wine production, about 7o% red or rosé (only a little rosé), leaving 30% for white. The region produces 25 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Less than 4% of Apulia wine carries the DOC designation. The best known local wine is Castel del Monte DOC, which is available overseas and is frankly not that great. If you’re in western Apulia you may want to try the Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera DOC because of its interesting name, which can be translated as ‘knock it back’. I am told that the name is quite appropriate. The word is that Moscato di Trani DOC is an excellent sweet white wine, but you may have to go to Apulia to get it. When you think about it that’s just one more reason to visit this sometimes overlooked region of Italy.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his website www.travelitalytravel.com devoted to Italian travel with an accent on fine Italian wine and food. Visit his central wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with weekly reviews of $10 wine and columns devoted to various aspects of wine including wine and food, humor, trivia, organic and kosher wine and lots more.
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