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7 Nights Northern Puglia, Italy

The notable differences between the south and north of Puglia will immediately strike you. While the southern region of Salento gains points for its untouched purity, simplicity, lack of foreign tourists, and its slightly "rough around the edges" charm, the north of Apulia (the Italian name for Puglia) is more heavily populated by tourists, a touch more sophisticated, and more easily manageable for Americans who don't speak Italian since most Italians speak English in this region. Valle d'Itria is packed with bustling towns, infinite restaurants specializing in seafood dishes, and beaches at every turn. Olive trees dominate the landscape with the Adriatic Sea on the horizon. The temperatures while still high, are cooler in the north. Both areas of Italy's boot heel operate at a decadently slow place. While the food in both regions is exceptional, I cannot think of a place on our planet that has continuously and consistently fed us so well as Valle d'Itria. We were convinced each meal was the best one until the next meal came. Our trip unexpectedly turned into a food tour, immersing us in the local foods and as a result, the culture of the people. Below is the ideal seven-night itinerary in this glorious part of Italy, perfectly balanced with lazy lido days and sightseeing and always with tantalizing Puglian cuisine.

Where to Stay:

We booked a villa in Monopoli, located in the Valle d'Itria region of northern Apulia through The Thinking Traveller, a leading concierge vacation rental company that repeatedly holds the title of "best villa rental service in the world" by Conde Naste. This is our third time renting a home through them and each time we've thought that we struck on the most incredible property, the next one somehow manages to outdo the other. The rental service has a portfolio of stunning vacation rentals that are impeccably maintained and completely stocked for your vacation needs. No detail is left overlooked from being greeted by the villa owners who always gift guests with an abundance of local treats, produce, and wines to a 24/7 concierge team who addresses any need that may arise. Our assigned concierge, Joanna, worked with me on planning our trip for ten months. She was always at my disposal to answer questions and make reservations as needed. With Thinking Traveller on our side we have always been able to arrive at our destination and not think about or plan a single thing. Thanks to their services, we enjoyed the most epic eight days in northern Puglia with a vacation that balanced beach days and explorations, one filled with great meals throughout the days, and the most stunning and centrally located Puglian property surrounded by hundreds of acres of olive trees, an original trullo on site (traditional cone roofed hut of the region), and breathtaking grounds.

Day One:

Check Into Your Villa

Unpack, pour yourself a glass of local wine, and explore the grounds of your temporary home for the week. Consider hiring a chef to prepare your dinner as you ease into your first vacation day in a new location. Our chef, Annalisa, spoiled us with a spread of antipasti that included a variety of local cheeses, a Caprese salad, local pane (bread), and a sample of focaccias. For our first course, we enjoyed orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta popular in Apulia) followed by a perfectly grilled sea bass topped with olives and roasted potato slices (I'm stealing this recipe!) sided with a salad. To end our meal, she served us with her homemade tiramisu. What an ideal way to launch the new week!

Day Two:

We hired Annalisa for the duration of our stay to prepare breakfast for us daily. Compared to the United States, hiring a cook is more affordable in Apulia. Our highlight of this morning's meal was the omelet she prepared stuffed with ricotta and mint. We've never had mint in our eggs and loved being introduced to this delightful flavor combination!

Find a Lido You Love

Coccaro Beach Club is my idea of perfection. This luxury lido has everything you can hope for - sophistication, doting beachside service, great cocktails, massage rooms (the scalp massage treatment is divine), and a clear, aqua coast. For the first time in our eight days in Puglia, we heard English spoken by both Americans and the staff. I missed practicing my Italian like we did in southern Puglia but I also loved lounging here for hours and being flawlessly catered to in the ways Americans on vacation like to be.

Lunch at the lido

Their "ciccio pizza" with mozzarella, salmon, and pickled zucchini strings deserves an award. I have nothing else to report.

Pool Time at the Vacation Rental

If you're going to splurge on a beautiful vacation property, you should aim to enjoy it as much as possible. Heading to the rental when the sun peaks is a great time to swim, cool off, play lawn games, and relax before dinner.

Dine on Delightful Regional Fare for Dinner

La Locanda sul Porto is the only restaurant during our entire stay in Italy filled with diners by 7:30 pm, which is usually an early start time for dinner by Italian standards. As we dined we witnessed many walk-ins being turned away by the host stand because the night was booked. Dozens walked over to make a reservation for the next evening. Once we received our dishes we understood what the buzz was all about. Not only is the restaurant beautifully appointed, but its menu of mostly seafood delivers dishes to die for. The bruschetta sampler plate was pure fun to share allowing us to experience the different flavors that work so well on top of a slice of bread: tuna, basil pesto, mozzarella, almonds; salmon, grilled pepper, mustard mayo, and honey; red prawns, spinach, sun-dried tomato cream, and hazelnuts; prawns, ricotta, courgettes. The octopus and potato salad with red onion mousse and black olive powder had me counting my blessings. Their pasta is exceptional and uniquely prepared like the spaghettoni with plum tomatoes, aubergine pesto, swordfish, and toasted almonds. The kitchen wins guests over with the wow factor delivered in each bite.

Day Three:

Wake up to a lovely table loaded with various bites, frothy cappuccinos, and delicious rustico stuffed with Formaggio. When hiring a chef in Italy, breakfast will quickly become your favorite meal.

Plant Yourself on Your Property:

What's the point of renting a perfect vacation home if you don't spend a worthwhile amount of time enjoying it? We were thrilled to have our friends from San Diego join us today for three nights. The entire day was spent with them poolside, eating a huge alfresco lunch, getting massages under a five-hundred-year-old olive tree, and lounging on hammocks.

Attend an Italian Festival

Italians love their festivals! During summer you're guaranteed to stumble upon a celebration of one of the many Catholic saints. This evening, Fasano held a holy mass and the return of the sacred figures to the church. Locals poured into the streets to walk along the market and hear Italian singer, Noemi, perform. Inside courtyards, friends played chess, and residents people watched off their balconies. As the sun set, the town lit up with festival lights while bars and caffes welcomed guests to watch the football match between Croatia and Italy. You'll love living like locals while in Puglia!

La Locanda D'Martume specializes in Apulian dishes and warm hospitality. We were greeted with welcome prosecco and treated to a mid-meal plate of cucumbers to cleanse our palates. I ate one of the most memorable pasta dishes I have ever eaten: homemade ravioli stuffed with violet potatoes and topped with fresh tuna, mushrooms, and toasted almonds. The unique combination of ingredients resulted in unforgettable flavors.

Day Four:

Since I am the cook in our family often preparing three meals each day, I cherish the moments others prepare a meal for me. While on vacation, I vow never to step foot in the kitchen allowing myself a proper break from the constant meal prep. Annalisa's breakfasts were a welcomed start to our day. I've never eaten as many fruits and vegetables for breakfast as I have in Italy.

Meander Through Martina Franca

A popular destination in Valle d'Itria, Martina Franca, founded in the 1300s celebrates both the old and new masterfully. Baroque buildings stand proudly near modern architecture, the stunning Basilica di San Martino and expansive Piazza Maria Immacolata lead to white-washed alleys with gorgeous gardens and colorful doors. The 17th-century Fountain of the Four Rivers shares space with sculptures erected in the 21st century. Each summer the town hosts a large opera festival; we were fortunate enough to hear an opera singer warming up in his apartment. Walk to the lookout point to enjoy the picturesque landscape covered with farms, vineyards, and trulli. There is a ton to appreciate in this hilltop not-to-be-missed treasure.

Fall in Love with Locorotundo

Locorotundo will steal your heart. Its meaning is "the round place", named after its circular design that boasts a piazza in its center. Far from the sea, and perched on a hill, it's known as one of Puglia's "prettiest little towns" for its countless whitewashed streets, Baroque remnants, pops of color on doorways and gardens, beautiful churches, and plenty of restaurants. The most notable quality of this town is that it isn't inundated by tourists who foolishly miss having it on their radar. You can expect to get lost roaming the side streets, marveling at the shops, and catching your mind fantasizing about living like an Italian in this magical town.

Have Lunch Along a Farm and Amongst Trulli at Trattoria Terra Madre

"Farm to table" takes on a new meaning when you dine along the same farm used by the kitchen to prepare your dishes. There is a heavy emphasis on the vegetables grown resulting in fantastic creations. We savored the eggplant cutlet with tomatoes, rocket, and cacioricotta cheese and the troccoli pasta with zucchini flower pesto, fried zucchini, and stracciatella cheese. However, the fried eggs with smoked burrata cream and grilled garden vegetables are a perfect example of how fresh ingredients can be elevated into a majestic realm.

Check Out UNESCO World Heritage Site, Alberobello

After spending almost three weeks in Italy, you may begin to think that many of its towns look alike. However, Alberbello is like nowhere you've ever been. The city boasts approximately 1,500 original trulli, dry stone huts with conical roofs dated as early as the mid-fourteenth century with many still inhabited. Many roofs have painted symbols on them which held religious or astrological meanings to the dwellers. Despite the heavy tourist load, this town cannot be missed.

Dinner in a Hidden Courtyard, Il Cortiletto

Upon arrival, you may think twice about this dinner destination. Its unappealing location and unassuming entrance may cause you to reconsider your reservation. Once you enter the courtyard you'll gasp with joy at the charming beauty before you. You must include this incredible restaurant in your Puglian dining journey. While everything was delectable, we especially raved about the Apulian broad beans puree with cornaletti peppers, the roasted pepper flan with garlic, oil, and hot pepper cream, the paccheri pasta with capers, tomatoes, and bread crumbs, and the eggplant parmesan with pasta. The smoked beef fillet topped with blue cheese and mulberries is worth mentioning too.

Day Five:

Annalisa started our day with fresh fruit, friselle, eggs, and mini homemade panzerotti stuffed with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese along with a variety of three local types of cucumbers and perfectly frothed cappuccinos.

Up Your Laziness at Lido Bambu

Can you imagine a more lazy activity than lying limp with your toes in the sand as you bask in the sun? Lido Bambu is the perfect place to lose the day doing nothing but lying, swimming, and eating. The beach club's earthy tones deliver a lovely setting, the service is fantastic from the moment you check-in, and the clear waters entice you to swim way beyond the point of getting pruney.

Lunch at the Lido

We were constantly blown away by how good the food in Apulia is, even at beach clubs. The lunch at Lido Bambu was excellent. Our highlights were the grilled octopus over hand mashed potatoes and the linguine with zucchini and garden-grown lemon although the grilled eggplant topped with fresh tomatoes and the catch of the day were pretty spectacular too.

Cook a Meal in Your Villa

The produce in Italy is like nowhere else, especially the tomatoes, which are so succulent and sweet. These little nuggets of juicy joy were a part of each of my three meals for the three weeks we spent in Italy and I never grew sick of them. Lucky for us, our friends from San Diego spoiled us with a delicious meal using my favorite Italian vegetable in all the dishes: Caprese salad, bruschetta topped with garden basil and tomatoes, angel hair pasta with homemade tomato sauce, and a delicious cod cooked in tomato and garlic. We lingered over dinner cherishing friendship, long summers in Italy, and the delicious ingredients that made for a perfect meal with good friends and family.

Day Six:

Breakfast continues to kick off our days happily. Annalisa prepared our daily cappuccinos along with a spread of fresh veggies and fruit with her signature omelets, always prepared with new ingredients. Today she stuffed our eggs with mushrooms and local cheese. Breakfast will never be the same back in San Diego, or perhaps I can continue this new tradition of a breakfast spread filled with healthy options.

Lounge at a Lido

The beaches of the Adriatic Seas are a big draw to vacationing in Valle d'Itria and you'll want to spend as much time immersed in the aqua waters as possible. Lido Le Palme has everything you'll need for a day at the beach: a delicious restaurant, a luxury boutique, massage treatments, large sunbeds, beachside service, and a private stretch of sand.

Enjoy Lunch in Your Swimsuit

It's a wonderful luxury to roll off your daybed, put on your flip-flops, and walk over to a shaded restaurant with a menu that has plenty of options. We opted for a chilled glass of local rose wine, a Greek salad, a Margherita pizza, and a pizza topped with roasted tomatoes and burrata cheese. We left extremely satiated and ready to lay on our loungers with the sea breeze on our skin.

Dine Inside "Ancient Walls"

Every time we eat in Valle d'Itria I say "This is my favorite meal", yet the food keeps getting better with each restaurant we dine in. Tonight, we were blown away by the seafood dishes at Antiche Mura. You'll be instantly impressed as you walk into the stunning setting inside the ancient walls of Polignano a Mare, elegantly dressed to prepare diners for an unforgettable meal. Our sea bream catch of the day grilled with zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, and Bitetto olives blew us away with its simple ingredients and big flavors. The tagliolini pasta with lobster in a fresh tomato sauce was equally outstanding and the breaded grilled calamari was so good that it was devoured in under one minute. A meal here while visiting northern Apulia cannot be missed.

Day Seven:

Annalisa felt inspired to make us individual mini omelets with zucchini today. Adorable! The cantaloupe on our table was the highlight of our breakfast, gosh the fruit here is so darn good!

Explore the Beautiful Towns of Valle d'Itria

Pogliano a Mare is one of the more tourist-heavy towns in Puglia you'll visit. Porto Cavallo is the picturesque cove the town is famous for, packed with beachgoers and likely one of the most photographed places in Apulia. When we visited, Red Bull was setting up for a free-fall diving competition, preparing a diving board perched almost one hundred feet from the sea. Stop along the promenade to take in the stunning design of the town, built high upon the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Then stroll on Via Roma for a lively stretch of shops and restaurants. Prepare yourself, finding a parking spot is very difficult but worth the effort.

Get to Know Monopoli

With so many breathtaking Puglian towns, it'll amaze you how each has distinctive qualities. Monopoli is one of the largest cities in Valle d'Itria and with its size comes a lot to appreciate. As you enter Monopoli you'll walk past the expansive coast of clear waters leading you into the heart of the city. Like other towns, Monopoli has its fair share of historic churches and ruins, but what makes this town special is how the "old" plays peekaboo with visitors, suddenly appearing at the end of alleys or on the other side of one of the many arches. We spent the most time in Monopoli as it piqued our interest for longer than the other cities mostly for the surprises that awaited at each turn.

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