I don’t know where you all are in the world right now, but most of my friends and family are coming off the end of the #PolarVortex which pretty much turned most of North America into a popsicle this past week.
Is it rude of me to say I went to the beach? Twice.
If it makes you feel any better, the weather in Wellington is generally shit, and I really don’t think we are going to have a proper summer. It is never NOT windy here. I hate it! I’m still cleaning sand out of my ears from the beach!
Going from summer in Europe to a New Zealand “summer” (a phrase I use lightly since I’m convinced summer doesn’t exist in this part of the world) has been strange. It feels like only yesterday I was sweating my clothes off in southern Italy and Greece. Can I go back?
Sigh, I miss Europe sometimes. Back to Italy!
Maybe I’m wrong (please tell me if I am) but after spending some time in southern Italy, I’ve realized a few things, the first and foremost being that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Rome, Florence, Venice, and all those great cities and regions of the north get heaps of love from us foreigners, and for good reason, they rock. But what about the south?
Always the champion for the underdog, any chance I have to visit a place that I feel is being overlooked, I jump at.
I just got a taste for southern Italy this summer, and it wasn’t enough. I am already thinking about when I might be able to go back to explore and dig deeper.
Has a place ever affected you that way?
While staying in nearby Salerno, one of the day trips I was most excited to make was out to Positano. Can anyone hanker a guess as to why? Go on.
If you thought Under the Tuscan Sun, you would be absolutely correct!
I actually first visited Positano in 2008 while traveling around the Amalfi Coast, and yes, for the same reason. Here is why Diane Lane spontaneously has a love affair with Marcello, where she drinks limoncello on the beach with him and finds a kitten to take home. It’s like fate really, until she finds out he was already seeing someone else.
Anyways, there’s no denying it, the Amalfi Coast is stunning, and when I visited before it was a very wet spring, so I was thrilled to go back in July.
Little did I know the rest of the world would also be there.
Crowds aside, getting to walk down the streets I remember so fondly from 5 years ago was a beautiful feeling.
Have you ever gone back to a place you loved after a good chunk of time has passed? Have you ever gone to a place you saw in a movie?
Brindisi was my first solid introduction to southern Italy this summer, and it was fabulous. A week of exploring olive groves and harbors, getting lost on the crumbling old side streets in the hot sun, trying local dishes and hanging out in the markets, it couldn’t have been more local and more special.
Brindisi has that charm of old-school traditional Italy that sometimes feels lost in the more touristic cities. Here is a place where tradition is only just beginning to collide with modernity, where shopkeepers know your name and the food is local and fresh.
Emma, the powerhouse behind Brindisi is My Destination, helped introduce me to so many of the things that makes Brindisi special, from the budding interest in ecotourism, to the sailing and maritime culture to the wine, of course. But I think one of the things I loved the most about this little corner of Italy are all of the old farmhouses-turned-B&B’s and beautiful rural masserias.
Getting to wine, dine and stay at Tenuta Moreno outside Brindisi was a dream come true in many ways. A hop, skip and jump aways outside Brindisi, down some dirt farm roads winding through olive groves that have probably been there since Roman times, you’ll eventually stumble on the massive Tenuta Moreno.
Here is the perfect example of historic colliding with modernity. Exploring the beautiful stone corridors that lead to gorgeous gardens and swimming pools. The property is vast and the kitchens are divine. I was blown away by the depth and precision of the meals offered.
I have conflicting feelings for Italy. On the one hand, I love how old-school, traditional, and rustic certain places can be. Nothing gets me more exciting than visiting a place with real old-world charm. But the flipside? Sometimes I get extremely annoyed with how behind the times places in Italy can be. No functioning website? Or the worst, wait for it, no wifi. *gasp*
You just can’t win. Unless you’re in Brindisi.
At Tenuta Moreno, I was lucky enough to hang out with the owner who really gets it, and the idea of having an innovative property. Clad in a very nice Italian suit (as if you could expect something less after all) we rode bicycles together around the property as he pointed out the gardens where the food is produced for the kitchens on site, or the best part, the new chicken coops he’s built so that they will have fresh eggs every day.
Here is a place where the top person truly cares about making a better, sustainable, green hotel, and is passionate about change and productivity. IN ITALY OF ALL PLACES. Here is a place that really cares about keeping it local, sustainable farming and having a hotel that can supply itself – how often do you find that?
I couldn’t help but smile to myself as we cycled back to the main building, me in my jean shorts and tank top, and him in his suit. What a pair.
The white city of Ostuni near Brindisi was also one of the biggest surprises for me last summer. I really wasn’t expecting to be as wowed as I was. Living in Andalucía in southern Spain for a year, I had no shortage of picturesque white towns surrounding me. Hell, I even worked in one, in Espejo, near Córdoba, complete with castle on the top.
But Ostuni embodies just about everything I loved about Italy. A beautiful old quarter packed with narrow streets you can spend ages getting lost in, rusty wrought-iron balconies juxtaposed with overflowing flower pots adding a splash of color here and there to the bleached white town.
After spending hours exploring the town under the bright sun, it was perfect to relax in the shade of the main square sipping beer with new friends.
Don’t you just want to explore this place?
After a month of nonstop travel, I was in need of some down town and to hang out with friends. Through a friend of a friend, I ended up in Salerno for a few days. Just what I needed.
Tucked in on the beach at La Isla Resort, I was lucky enough to explore the area with locals, and really get an idea of what makes this area of Italy tick. After all of the hustle and bustle of the popular Amalfi Coast, getting to Salerno felt like I was coming back to the real Italy.
For me, there are times when I want to be a tourist, relish in taking photos, buying postcards and enjoy being the token foreigner. But there are other times I want to put my camera down and experience a place for itself, observe what it must be like to live there, wonder at cultural differences.
Can you guess which one I went for in Salerno?
With my camera tucked away and my mind focused on food and making new friends, I enjoyed my few days in Salerno. From eating proper Italian pizza with Italians at La Basculla, to visiting a buffalo farm and eating decadent buffalo ice-cream (holy shit, how have I not tried this before?!) at Tenuta Vannulo to sitting on the beach and watching the sun set, I forgot about all trying to analyze a place and just enjoyed being there.
This is something I need to do more often. Oh, and buffalo ice-cream.
Have you ever gone off the grid in a place like Salerno?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Matera was one of the biggest surprises for me this summer.
Straight out of a movie (The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson) Matera is one of best preserved ancient cities and one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, making walking its narrow cobbled streets feel like you’ve actually stepped back in time.
Combined with the fact that the rest of the known world has yet to discover the charm and magic surrounded this time-capsule of a city, makes Matera one of my top favorite places in Italy.
From sleeping in a restored Renaissance palace to getting lost in overgrown back alleys and following the cats to trying flower flavored gourmet gelato in the main square, I have nothing but fond memories from Matera, well except for the part where I royally fucked up the public transportation in Puglia and almost didn’t arrive.
Selective amnesia, let’s forget about that little mess.
All in all, I can’t recommend southern Italy enough, and I know next time I head back to Europe, I will be building in time to discover more about this area of the country.
Have you been to southern Italy? Heard of any of these places? Would you like to visit one day?