Leisurely exploration of Puglia, unspoilt & undiscovered
Wonderful Norman Cathedrals & Castles at Trani & elsewhere
Day spent in the atmospheric town of Matera in Basilicata
Explore Lecce, a jewel of southern Italian Baroque
Excellent food & wine
Comfortable 5* hotels at Martina Franca & in the historic centre of Lecce
Puglia in ancient times was known as Apulia. Like much of southern Italy and Sicily it was “discovered” by the Greeks who founded a number of coastal settlements. These were absorbed into the Roman world through conquest in late Republican times. With the end of the Roman Empire, Apulia had to fend for itself and it was highly prized not just for its agricultural riches of olives, wheat and wine but above all for its ports. These provided access for those who wished to travel on to the East. Then there were those who came from the East to invade, primarily the Byzantines and the Arabs and eventually from the north, the Normans, the first of the many non-Italian dynasties to establish their “kingdoms” in the south.
While warlords, tyrants, nobles and monarchs came and went, the rich land of Puglia played a major part in the wider struggle between Popes and Emperors which convulsed much of Italy in those times. Who controlled Puglia and from where? In brief answer, no one who lived locally. The Norman de Hauteville dynasty and their German Hohenstaufen successors were both based in Palermo. The French House of Anjou and the “Spanish” Houses of Aragon, Habsburg and Bourbon-Parma were based mostly in Naples. This template of foreign domination from afar is reflected in the buildings and cuisines imported via these dynasties, their Viceroys and settling aristocrats into Puglia. It is extraordinary that today so few people come to this part of Italy. However, this neglect by popular tourism is one of its great attractions and surely to our advantage?
Given our early departure time on Monday 17 September, accommodation is included at the Premier Inn, Gatwick North, if required (room only), on the night of Sunday 16 September. In Puglia we shall be based in two comfortable hotels. The 5* Relais Villa San Martino is a restored nineteenth century masseria just three kilometres to the south of historic Martina Franca. Facilities include a spa, fitness centre, swimming pool, restaurant and a shuttle service into Marina Franca’s old town. In Lecce we stay at the 5* Patria Palace Hotel, ideally situated in the heart of the historic centre. Puglia has superb local cuisine so we shall eat and drink well. The pace of the visit will be gentle with free time to explore independently.
Day by day
- Day 1: Monday 17 September
- We fly from Gatwick to Bari arriving just before midday. We transfer by coach the short distance to the small town of Ruvo di Puglia where we shall break for lunch (not included). This pretty town contains a fine Cathedral in the local Apulian Romanesque style, a suitable introduction to our visit this afternoon at Castel del Monte. This is the most important Norman castle in Puglia. Built for Frederick II in about 1240, it is unique both in terms of its octagonal plan and its detailing. We transfer to Martina Franca and check into the 5* Relais Villa San Martino for a four-night stay. We have dinner in our hotel - wine, water & coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Tuesday 18 September
- This morning we drive into Martina Franca. Its historic centre is full of Baroque enthusiasm with a large Cathedral and Ducal Palace, both of which we shall visit. After coffee, we continue northwards across the Valle D’Itria to the area of Puglia known as the Murge introducing us to the famous limestone structures known as trulli houses. Alberobello is the best place to view these curious trulli constructions of un-mortared limestone with conical roofs where we shall also have a group lunch. In the afternoon we continue the short distance to nearby Conversano overlooking the Adriatic. Its Cathedral marries Romanesque and Gothic forms well, whilst nearby the small Civic Museum and Picture Gallery houses some local ancient finds and interesting paintings. We return to Martina Franca where the evening will be free.
- Day 3: Wednesday 19 September
- This morning we travel northwards along the Adriatic coast to Molfetta to visit the excellent medieval former Cathedral and its late seventeenth century replacement, the latter built in the local late Baroque manner. After coffee we continue to Trani, an important port from where many a Crusader set off for the East. Our short walk through this charming port features small churches and medieval palaces of great charm. We end our morning with a visit to Trani’s beautifully articulated Cathedral. We have our group lunch in one of Trani’s most renowned restaurants. After a little free time we return to the hotel where the evening will be free.
- Day 4: Thursday 20 September
- Though in neighbouring Basilicata, Matera is truly unique and well worth a visit. It was used by both Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mel Gibson as ‘Jerusalem’ for their respective films on The Passion of Christ. The houses and churches hewn from the natural rock, I Sassi, together with the later more conventional churches and palaces, are a ‘must see’. Following lunch (not included) and a visit to the splendid Picture Gallery, we return to our hotel. In the evening we dine as a group in the old town of Martina Franca.
- Day 5: Friday 21 September
- We make a leisurely start and depart mid-morning to the nearby town of Ostuni, standing proud on a hill, almost completely whitewashed. Following our visit to the fine local Cathedral we shall enjoy a group lunch and in the afternoon make a brief visit to the small Abbey of Santa Maria Cerrate, probably erected by King Tancred de Hauteville in the twelfth century. We continue to Lecce and check into our second hotel, the 5* Patria Palace for a three-night stay. The evening will be free.
- Day 6: Saturday 22 September
- Today is devoted to the great architectural jewel of Puglia, Lecce. The beauty of this remarkable town cannot be described in words – it is more than just a renaissance and baroque ‘set piece’ – it cannot be missed! We spend the morning visiting a selection of its finest churches and monuments ending at lunchtime. Lunch is not included. Afternoons and evenings in Lecce are dominated by shopping, eating, drinking and hectic socialising, too good a theatrical opportunity to miss - thus, your afternoon and evening will be free.
- Day 7: Sunday 23 September
- From Lecce we drive down to the heel of Italy to the coastal town of Otranto and en route, we visit Galatina. In one of the town’s churches the finest cycle of frescoes in southern Italy lie utterly unvisited – a mini Assisi, probably painted by artists from Umbria. We continue on to Otranto where you will be free to have lunch, not included. Otranto is a lovely sea-side town dominated by those twins of medieval power, a fine Castle and a Cathedral. On our return to Lecce our final group dinner will be in a local restaurant.
- Day 8: Monday 24 September
- We depart for Bari Airport for our return flight at midday to Gatwick.
- Price: £2,495 per person
- Price without flights: £2,330
- Deposit: £300
- Single Supplement: £335 (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: James Hill
1 night at the Premier Inn London Gatwick North Terminal pre departure on the 16 September; 4 nights with breakfast in the 5* Relais Villa San Martino near Martina Franca & 3 nights with breakfast in the 5* Patria Palace Hotel in Lecce (Baths are available in the majority of bathrooms)
Outward: BA2590 Depart London Gatwick (South Terminal) 0720 arrive Bari 1110
Return: BA2591 Depart Bari 1205 arrive London Gatwick (South Terminal) 1405
3 dinners & 3 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, services of Charles Freeman & our local tour manager, James Hill
Travel to/from Gatwick, 4 dinners & 4 lunches
Weather Conditions for Puglia in September are:
Average Temperature between: 18oC - 29oC / 65oF - 85oF
Rainfall: 38mm / 1.5 inches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.