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Don't talk about Puglia

Don't say you've been Nor that it has the best beaches in Italy. Nor that it is pure Italy. Nor that fascinated you. Keep the secret.

The sea in Taranto from around the Aragonese Castle © David Moralejo

It is no longer a secret that Puglia deserves to remain that, a secret, an open secret, although some want to make it the new Tuscany, the new Sicily, the new Amalfi Coast, the new Italy.

Moreover, many of these, eager for conquer the boot from end to knee, they've been smelling the pasticciotto (Jo, what a bun) and putting the pushpin on the hotel where Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel got married, that Borgo Egnazia that, sotto voce, the pugliese are defined as "a Disneyland, that is not Puglia", or the cocktail bar in which Helen Mirren - British with permission from Hollywood - Stir the beautiful life in the heart of Tricase, beautiful villa where the clink of the dollar is already perceived.

Who wouldn't want to geolocate the coordinates of a paradise that, for now, It still has a lot of authentic to offer, a lot of Italy to give.

And, although the American dream of Puglia is lived more easily if you land in Brindisi to launch you directly to the aristocratic Lecce and around postcard, nothing better than doing "European", in Bari, and start the journey by car from here.

Plaza Federico II of Sweden, in Bari © David Moralejo

Because yes, Bari is that southern Italy that we want to see so much, the one of the alleys that give yuyu, the one with the strong smell of saltpeter, the one of the support of the Magnani of turn shining to the sun.

And Bari is also St nicolas, Basilica of deep devotion where the kitsch postcard is sublimated between lace veils and unexpected neorealism. Ask the saint to answer your prayers and then run along the coast with an immediate stop forced by tourist brochures, Polignano a Mare.

What to do, nobody resists taking the picture of rigor before that sea tongue framed by hanging houses whose caves at water level sound pirate.

One of those typical Italian prints in the center of Bari © David Moralejo

The best in any case is to blast Nel blu dipinto di blu, from Domenico Modugno, who was born here, and continue towards Monopoli, where the pun is cast, because you will want to buy a house (or ten) in the Giuseppe Garibaldi square, for example, where the fetish plan consists of watch life go by while tasting a wimp wine from another pullés singer, Albano Carrisi. Congratulate.

It is in the triangle formed by Monopoli, Fasano and Alberobello, famous town for its trulli -a whitewashed stone cabins with a coniform roof that give a story and joy of souvenir stamp- where some of the best accommodations in northern Puglia are concentrated, such as La Peschiera, former fish farm that the owners of the Il Melograno masseria have also become discreet and elegant temple of dolce far niente.

Tagliatelle alle vongole in Saleblu, the restaurant of La Peschiera, Monopoli © David Moralejo

From here, the road to Lecce seems long, and not for kilometers, just over a hundred, but because the traffic is intensely Italian and the roads are the same. That is why one stop in Ostuni you can brighten the way, a little for the snowy whiteness of its historic center and a little for the sporcamuss ("Stain faces"), typical cream-filled puff pastries that do not leave a clean mustache.

Upon arriving at Lecce, city in the top of the most beautiful in Italy, we are already in the region of Salento, which defends its idiosyncrasy beyond the pugliese in a land between two waters -the Adriatic and the Ionian- painted olive, fruit and vine. Mediterranean butt.

Small cove in Santa Caterina, one of the favorite holiday villages of the families of Puglia © David Moralejo

Lecce, insultingly baroque, elegant enough to want to make it clear that not everything is going to be the north, that not everything is Milan, deserves more than a walk and the subsequent rest in one of the many masserie that dot its surroundings, as well as the tenuta, agrotourisms that are saving with simplicity and good taste until recently, a very scarce and outdated hotel offer.

From the bio concept of Tenuta Monticelli to the familiar Tenuta San Nicola or to the sophisticated Masseria La Gresca and Masseria Fulcignano, The list is growing and confirms the momentum of the region.

Of the last to arrive, and in what way, is it Masseria Trapanà, an agricultural estate from the late 16th century, Stunning Santa Barbara chapel and phenomenal zero kilometer philosophy restaurant included, than the Australian Rob Potter-Sanders It has become the realization of the dream of all who yearn to leave everything and set up a hotel in the middle of nowhere. From the dream of (almost) everyone.

Main courtyard and facade of Masseria Trapanà, in Lecce © David Moralejo

The same phrase would be worth to understand the smile with which they receive us Diana E. Bianchi and Massimo Fasanella d'Amore, owners of the hyperbolic and newly opened Castello di Ugento, much more than a hotel.

The castle that spreads the streets of Ugento is today a superb accommodation with nine suites, a museum in which to contemplate the impressive frescoes with which Francesco and Nicola d'Amore, ancestors of Massimo, wanted to pay tribute to family history at the end of the 17th century and, above all, a gastronomic center that promises to put the Polish cuisine on the international map.

Garden in the Castillo di Ugento © David Moralejo

He Puglia Culinary Center He was born with an academic vocation and now boasts of receiving students from the Culinary Institute of America, who, from September to March, work with chef Odette Fada in the avant-garde kitchens of the castle.

Hotel customers can also sign up for short courses to know the seasonal products of the region, prepare recipes with the kitchen team and even learn from nonnas local some traditional recipes dishes as well as discover the still little exploited wines of the area, with grapes of the primitive, random, negroamaro, susumaniello and black malvasia varieties, as well as a winery tradition that dates back to the eighth century.

This is also where Tommaso Sanguedolce runs the gastronomic restaurant Il Tempo Nuovo, where fish from the Gallipoli fish market are next to the vegetables in the garden, Aromatic herbs and lamb.

Ugento is a good starting point to go direct, let's be a little mitómanos, to one of the most desired objectives of the trip: Farmacia Balboa, the cocktail bar that Helen Mirren herself runs in Tricase.

The actress and her husband, filmmaker Taylor Hackford, They are two of Puglia's best ambassadors since they decided to buy a house here and spend long periods with friends and ... between drinks.

Those of this Pharmacy that surprises by its location (the bar of the town square, to understand us) and its careful selection of cocktails, like that Helen's Hanky ​​Panky by gin, red vermouth and Fernet-Branca that makes the visit happy after the disappointment of not bumping into the owner.

Farmacia Balboa, the cocktail bar by Helen Mirren in Tricase © David Moralejo

The minimum distance to Tricase Porto, already on the edge of the (still) Adriatic, it is perfect to take something in the Porto Taverna, of superb decoration and matching fish.

From there the route deserves to be done on the road that runs parallel to the sea, although it is only suitable for travelers without hurry. We don't have it, right?

The calls “Maldives salentinas” because of its white sand beaches and crystal clear waters they enliven the road until Gallipoli, photogenic fortified city in which the tourism of postcard and souvenir, here itself, has found its place.

But its resounding past deserves to take a walk and stop at the Palazzo Presta, a happy oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle.

17th century frescoes in Ugento © David Moralejo

From here to Taranto the coast changes, it becomes more provincial, more authentic, more summer pugliese. And conquer thanks to the relaxed authenticity of Santa Maria al Bagno, Porto Cesareo, Punta Prosciutto ... spas whose appeal lies in their calmness out of season.

Perfect parenthesis before finding in Taranto that Italy, again, chaotic, port, of succulent pizzas at a time in garitos that you would never recommend (notes: Picce de Fame, Via Duomo 254) and alleyways that give yuyu, strong smell of saltpeter and the support of the Magnani on duty praying to the sun.

The famous (and addictive) pasticciotti of Dolce Guglia, in Soleto © David Moralejo

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