No matter how many times I travel to Italy, it continues to surprise me.
Before people (Americans) travel to Italy, I feel like they have a very limited idea of what’s in store for them. Pizza, pasta, tall, dark and handsome Italian men in Armani riding vespas around leaning towers and Roman forums. You get the idea.
Venice. Rome. Florence. All wonderful cities but Italy is so much more than that. Once summer hits, so do the armies of camera-toting tourists on a mission to see every piazza and sample every gelato in town.
Don’t get me wrong, I did the same thing years ago, and even still I do it now. I shudder to think about how much gelato I consumed over the past month. Thank god for black leggings and baggy tank tops! Though speaking in general, my travel style has changed drastically over the years, and I’ve slowed down, preferring to spend time in lesser-known locals and meet natives, than standing in line for an hour to visit a cathedral.
When the opportunity arose to visit Brindisi in southern Italy in June, I jumped at the chance.
Just what I was looking for.
I hadn’t spent any time in southern Italy before, and I was really excited to see a different side of such a revered country. I am a huge fan of overlooked and forgotten spots around the world, and I have no reservations saying that the heel of the Italian boot definitely is on that list. What I found surprised me.
Brindisi blew me away. In the best way possible.
Remembered to many as the gateway to Greece, where many of the ferries in Italy depart from, Brindisi is just about as “local” and “authentic” Italian as you can get these days. Unpretentious, it was very much sailboat chic meets rustic countryside. It’s a place where everyone knows your name and the bright southern sun burns gold on the historic buildings and the air smells like the sea.
But Brindisi is a place that needs a little love.
Just how Córdoba, Spain and Istanbul, Turkey left a mighty impression with me regarding color, Brindisi did as well. Instead of remembering Brindisi through ticking activities off a checklist, rather my memories are filled with emotions and color.
From the crystalline blue waters of the Adriatic to the ancient green olive groves dotting the landscape, here are my first impressions of this understated southern Italian town through color.
Blue: Brindisi’s harbor
Brindisi is still very much a port town with an extensive sailing history. Boats are everywhere here, and the sea is a crucial part of the lifestyle. Walking around the historic quarter along the harbor, you can catch glimpses of the cerulean waters peeking up at you down the narrow cobbled alleys and side streets. I love the way the sailboats rock gently in the blue waters of the Adriatic, lined up like ducks in a row.
Growing up hopping around and tying bad knots on a 29 footer on the Virginia coast with a sailer stepdad and a mother who nicknamed me “fish,” some of my happiest memories took place on the water. Even now some of my favorite places around the world are coastal spots.
While in town, we were lucky enough to be involved in an annual sailing regatta between Brindisi and Corfu in Greece. Brindisi came alive with more boats in the harbor than you could shake a stick at, and folks who love the sea could be spotted exploring the town.
Red: fresh tomatoes EVERYWHERE
It took me approximately nineteen years to learn to love tomatoes, but now I can’t stop eating them ALL THE TIME! Itty bitty cherry tomatoes, big, gnarly green and red tomatoes, the long oval shaped ones, vine tomatoes, I love them all! Though lately I’ve begun to think that tomatoes grown in sunny southern Europe just taste, well, better.
It wasn’t until I left Spain last year and went home to grocery-store-sterilized-shrink-wrapped food that I realized what I lost – the freshness and true flavor that comes from right off the farm food. When they are so fresh from the market you have to rub the dirt off them, and they are slightly warm from sitting in the sunshine, well, that’s just the best, isn’t it?
In Brindisi, tomatoes are everywhere. I don’t think I had a meal that didn’t include tomatoes one way or another. Though my personal favorite snack was an Italian classic: bruschetta with sliced cherry tomatoes, tangy olive oil and salt. Yum, I get hungry just thinking about it.
Image via Cailin O’Neil on the Taste of Travel
Nearby Brindisi is a little town called Ostuni, also known as the white city (of Gondor) – just kidding, that’s only in my head! I love medieval, old-world preserved towns, many of which southern Italy has in abundance. When I heard that we would have the opportunity to visit Ostuni one afternoon, I knew I was in for a treat.
Narrow little streets, cobblestones everywhere, staircases leading off to god knows where, I was in heaven. But the best part was that it was all white. Whitewashed houses, white balconies, white everything. It was an extra special touch to make the town unique.
After exploring all the nooks and crannies Ostuni had to offer, I drank a nice cold coffee in the main square watching the sun set over the town with new blogging friends, an absolutely perfect ending to a perfect day.
Burgundy and White: Negroamaro Wine Festival
We were welcomed to Brindisi with the opening of their annual Negroamaro Wine Festival, showcasing different wines from all over the region. We spent our evenings sampling the local wines and dishes while chatting and getting to know each other. With booths sprawling all over the city center in the old quarter, wandering beneath the bright moon, it was just an extra special way to be introduced to Brindisi.
Since I can’t be trusted with my proper camera when free wine is involved, I was left to take photos with my iphone. Forgive me.
Green: the olive groves
Another essential part of the Brindisi area are olives. You see them everywhere here. Running wild along the dry countryside roads, they’ve grown to massive sizes, towering over you like some great arboreal cathedral. One of my favorite, simple moments from Brindisi was on our way back from snorkeling around a nature reserve, we stopped at sunset at an ancient olive grove. Quietly dispersing among the gnarled and ethereal trees,we lost ourselves for a time, reflecting about our day sailing the high seas and all we’ve learned about this new area of Italy.
With my feet sinking into the rich earthy ground, I thought to myself, what a great day!
Pink: summer flowers at the farmhouse
One of my favorite things about Italy, and especially the Apulia region in the south, is the tradition of old farmhouses converted into hotels and retreats. These rustic getaways are all charm and tradition, most with beautiful gardens and quiet niches to rest and relax outside in the hot Italian sunshine.
We spent a great afternoon at Masseria il Frantoio outside Brindisi near Ostuni, sipping red wine, munching on almonds and olives and gorging on one of the finest meals I had in Italy to date. Afterwards while the others wandered around taking photos or headed out for a bike ride, I explored the back gardens of the property, breathing in the heady scents of ,eventually channelling my Spanish past and taking a light siesta next to the peacock cage.
Tan: Torre Guaceto Nature Reserve
Channeling my water-loving childhood, I always jump at any chance I get to go swimming and snorkeling when I’m traveling. Perhaps this is why one of my favorite days in Brindisi was spent sailing out to the Torre Guaceto Nature Reserve and exploring the grounds and beaches in the area.
From snorkeling the clear blue waters to walking the pristine empty beaches to sitting among the wheat fields and watching the sun set over the horizon, choosing a favorite moment is impossible. But sitting there on a driftwood log, with my back to the sun and my eyes on the sea, once again I was reminded what an untouched and undiscovered this area of Italy was.
Brindisi, definitely was, my destination.
Have you heard of Brindisi or this area of Italy before? Would you like to visit here one day? Have you ever traveled to a place that stuck in your memory in terms of colors?
Many thanks to Brindisi is my destination for inviting me down to Brindisi and giving me the opportunity to discover a beautiful new side to Italy. Don’t worry, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own.