Last Night In Ostuni

June 15, 2010, continued…

This wasn’t only our last night in Ostuni — it was our last night in Italia. At least for this trip. If it weren’t for the California wedding reception coming up in four days, I would be getting sad. But we still had one glorious evening left, and we were going to celebrate!

It looked like we weren't the only ones celebrating

Not far into the old part of Ostuni, we saw our daily bride. We called out “Auguri!” to the newlyweds, and in unison they responded, “Grazie!”

Just beyond, Gino veered us into a small artist’s workshop. It was filled with a collection of small, smooth rock slabs decorated with various scenes of Ostuni.

The artist explained and demonstrated how he delicately scratches intricate scenes onto pieces of stone slabs. It is quite labor intensive, but the result is incredibly beautiful. Gino, who has a discerning eye for art, could not resist taking a piece of this amazing art home. If you get to Ostuni, make sure to visit Bottega d’Arte di Croci Sisinni on Via Cattedrale.

Deeper into the old town we went, burning the images into our minds so we would never forget.

This huge painted vase would certainly
remind you of Ostuni

We came upon a wine bar and lounge called Gipas 111. Music with a Middle Eastern tinge emanated from the interior. That was enough to pull me in. We plopped ourselves on two of the black, poofy bean bag seats scattered about the small courtyard.

The outdoor bars in Ostuni have the coolest seats!

Look up from your drink and this is what you'll see

Last call!

All of a sudden, the wind came up, swooshing through a corridor and into the space where we sat. It was enough to not only snuff the candles on our drink table, but knock off a glass lantern on the other side of the walkway. The lantern fell, crashing loudly and spraying glass over the stones. A waiter rushed over with a broom and swept it up as best he could.

More of Ostuni's outdoor bar seating

Our steps slowed — not from weariness, but reticence. It was time to return to our hobbit house to prepare for our departure early the next morning. But instead of getting right to the task of packing up for the plane trip home, we took two glasses and the last of the Prosecco up to the rooftop terrace.

We sat there a long time, savoring the skyline views of Ostuni and contemplating the unsurpassed warmth and friendliness we had found in the people of Puglia. Then, with a sigh, we went inside to pack.

Our neighbor, an Italian dachshund,
to remind us of our own back home

But we won’t say goodbye yet! The next post is something you won’t want to miss!

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Masseria Asciano

After our excursion to the beach, we returned to our hobbit house. As we opened the door, a note fluttered out. It was from Tim, inviting us to come with him later to a nearby masseria (farmhouse) that produces its own olive oil. A friend of his would drive us all in her car — just meet them at Caffé Trieste on the corner of the piazza.

The excursion sounded fun. At the appointed place and time, we met Tim and his friend, an Italian woman who also spoke perfect English. She drove us to Masseria Asciano, an agriturismo a mere four kilometers (about two and a half miles) from Ostuni.

Agriturismo is exactly what it sounds like: a combination of agriculture and tourism. Farmhouses have been converted, renovated, or expanded to create farm “resorts” where guests can experience life in rural Italia. The food served at these houses is usually grown or produced right there on the farm. Often, they provide an opportunity for guests to participate in the activities of the farm.

Masseria Asciano was such a place. Not only does it offer accommodations in a peaceful, relaxing setting, it actively produces high quality olive oil. The grounds cover over 170 acres of olive trees — 12,500 of them! These gorgeous trees are the lords of this land: ancient, gnarled, knobby trunks topped with masses of silvery-green leaves. They are regal, worthy of great respect.

A young woman met us as we stepped out of the car. Although she spoke no English, she set about giving us an olive oil tasting tour. I was pleased to find I could understand most everything she said.

The masseria was lovely. A long portico lined with huge glossy terracotta urns led into the large tasting room. Inside, a table was set up with several bottles of different types of olive oil, a stack of tiny plastic cups alongside. Our host explained the production process, from tree to table. Then, describing the subtleties of the different varieties, had us taste each. The oil was sublime.

Olive oil containers

Imagine this on your dining table, filled with delicious oil

This was how the olives were crushed in the old days

Back in town after our brief tour, Gino and I said arrivederci to Tim and Angela, then made a beeline to the centro storico. This was where we wanted to spend our last evening in Italia.

Torre Pozzelle Beach

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Today we woke up with a bittersweet feeling. This was the last full day of our trip. But we still had a fun day at the ocean ahead of us. We hoofed it down to Annamaria’s bar for our prima colazione and to check email for a response  from Matera about my jacket.  Nothing yet.

Anna Maria (behind the bar) and her sister at Tito Schipa Bar

Annamaria suggested we stop by at lunchtime. They’d be making some good food. We thanked her but said we’d be at the beach by then. She suggested a couple of beaches to try. Back at the Hobbit House, we gathered a few things for the day and struck out.

Getting to the sea was a short, uncomplicated drive, and without any problem we found the beach we had picked from the map: Torre Pozzelle. This part of the Adriatic coastline is wild and unspoiled, a meandering line of small coves and inlets. Although stretches of the shores have patches of soft sand, they are mostly dotted with rough rocks and scraggly scrub brush.

There weren’t very many people on the beach, but it was still fairly early. Staking out a spot on some smooth rocks a bit away from the sandy beach, we spread out our towels and lazed in the sun. I had brought along a book I found on the shelf in our room: Chocolat. I loved the movie, and now the book was proving just as good.

Look at the color of that water! And the guy is pretty cute, too!

Gino ventured into the water, but when he got out, suggested we move to the sand since the rocks made it rather difficult to climb back up.

We had been told that there was a small bar at this beach where one could buy provisions. There was, but it was closed. Gino saw another one down a dirt lane and went to check it out while I stayed with our things. He returned with drinks and reported that we could get panini and all kinds of food there, which later we did.

After a couple of hours of swimming and reading, we decided to hike over to a crumbling stone tower down the coastline a bit. Although through reading I knew that this was Torre Pozzelle, there was no identifying sign other than Ingresso Vietato — pericolo di crollo, advising us to keep out since the tower was in danger of falling.

It is this tower that also lends its name to the beach. Now in a sorry state of neglect, this 500-year-old structure must have been imposing when it was first erected to defend the coastline against the repeated invasions that Puglia has suffered over the centuries.

We walked up close and circled it, imagining how it must have appeared in its glory days. I was heartened to learn that there is a movement afoot to save this historical monument and keep it from further deterioration. It hope it succeeds.

Wandering farther out onto one of the rocky reefs, we stooped over to watch a blow hole. Every time a wave came in, an explosion of water would gush up then recede, like a flushing toilet. We stood awhile gazing out to sea, marveling at the intense blue-green of the water glittering in the afternoon sun before returning to the car for the short jaunt back to Ostuni.

It had been a great day at the beach

Truly Trulli

After lunch at an outdoor trattoria, we meandered back and forth, up and down, just enjoying this dazzling town. Walk with us. Enjoy the visions of Alberobello.





This stone dog had his own trullo, on the roof of a big trullo!

Not even a hobbit could fit into this one



Not a day goes by in Italia without seeing at least one bride



Gino is ready to return to Ostuni and relax awhile

I was OK with that...I had finally seen Alberobello

Inside A Trullo

Aside from the main street lined with shops selling souvenirs and local crafts, the entire trulli area was mostly deserted. Walking past one house, a bicycle propped against its front, we glanced toward its open door. A man stepped out, beckoning us inside. Va bene?” I asked, still not sure he was motioning us into his home. “Sí!”

The interior was cool and spotless. A woman and a boy about eight sat on a couch. We smiled at each other. The man proudly showed us around, explaining that they used to live here, but don’t anymore. Still, they own it and come during the day to keep it open for tourists. It was a priceless glimpse into life inside a trullo.

Equipped with a fully functioning kitchen and modern bathroom, the house also had a bedroom off to the side of the living room/dining room. I was surprised at how roomy it really was.

Nonna and her grandson

Notice the curving ceiling, making it a bit tight for non-hobbit-sized people.

I took their pictures and the man asked if we could send him copies. “Certo!” I replied. He wrote out his name and address. I was almost not surprised that his name was Pasquale. (How many are we up to, now?) They invited us to sit on the couch with them awhile, so we did. The woman told me they were the boy’s grandparents, and it was obvious all three of them were proud of this unique home.

They even had us perch on the edge of their bed

The little boy was a sweetheart

An he loved his cat

Later in the day, we came upon another trullo also open for visitors. This one had a bowl set out for donations, if you chose to toss a few coins in. We did.

Inside another trullo

A cozy cubby for sleeping

Pasquale hadn’t asked for a thing, other than copies of the pictures, but we also left him a few Euro. And, yes, we sent him the pictures of his sweet family.

Rooftop Magic

Two crafts that are common in this part of Italia are whistles and paper maché. I am not particularly smitten with either of those, but it was still fun to look at all the colors and designs. What is my thing is silver jewelry. An intriguing display of earrings in a window enticed me for a closer look.

I saw that they were dangling replicas of the strange markings we had seen splashed in white across some of the conical trulli roofs. The man inside the shop handed me a paper with an explanation of each of these rooftop symbols.

The symbols, which signified ancient beliefs in magic and religion, were categorized as either primitive, Pagan or Christian. Painted boldly on the trulli roofs, these markings served as signs of luck, protection, and sometimes simply decoration. I found them quite bewitching.

Bello Alberobello

Monday, June 14, 2010

Today was Alberobello day. This town has been on my list of must-sees for a very long time, and finally we were going to see it. We scuttled over to Annamaria’s bar for our morning cappuccino and cornetto. There, I was also able to dash off an email to the hotel in Matera to ask if they had found my jacket. Then, I turned my thoughts to the trulli.

Back in the car, we headed down into the Itria Valley. I couldn’t wait to get to Alberobello, famous for its trulli. Trulli are the ultimate in architectural whimsy: rounded sugar-white houses, curiously constructed with stones and rocks gathered from nearby fields and topped with comical domed roofs. Their thick limestone walls keep the houses cool in summer and cozy in winter.

Although the roofs of new trulli are still built in the ancient technique of drywall construction, the old trulli were built completely without mortar or cement. This enabled their owners to dismantle them at a moment’s notice if word came along that the taxman was on his way. Then, after the taxman left after seeing their poverty-stricken plight, the houses would be put right back up. Or at least that’s the common story.

Trulli dot the entire Itria Valley

The Itria Valley, which stretches across parts of three Puglian provinces, is dotted with trulli. While driving through the rolling hills of this area, you can see them sprout up like white wizard huts among the olive trees and grapes. But the town of Alberobello is trulli central. Spread over two gentle hills, the town boasts 1500 of these mystical dwellings.

Welcome to Alberobello!

It wasn’t a long drive from Ostuni; we arrived mid-morning. The trulli were everywhere. We just wandered, taking pictures and surveying the otherworldly scene from the town’s high point and then losing ourselves among the blindingly white streets.

Gino doesn't think he's in Greece anymore.

I know exactly where I am.

Gino, positively enchanted

Two men were hard at work on the front of one house, splashing white lime over the walls with rollers on long poles. We stopped to watch awhile, fascinated, before continuing down the white, curving lane.