Welcome to Apuloa, also known as Puglia - this really is Italy! The 'Heel of Italy' it may be, but 'down at the heel' it certainly is not!
This is a region which until comparatively recently was undiscovered by non Italians but then came Ryanair, followed by other low cost airlines who between them fly into Bari, Brindisi, both in the region and then Naples only 3 or 4 hours drive away by autostrada. Okay, so the days of the one pence flight have gone but even this year a family of four can get return fights for under £200. How long that will last nobody knows.
So you've flown into Bari or Brindisi, if you are heading for the south, for example, Otranto its an hour or so down the motorway but don't miss the Fairytale Land of the Trulli. Situated between the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea is a countryside so unique it's worth spending some time there.
Your hire car can be booked in advance, so on arrival at the airport away you go. Out into the land of Fiats, Alfa Romeos and Italian drivers!! They make a formidable mix but they are less forceful in the south than say in Rome or Milan or even worse, because they make them up there, Turin! I am told FIAT stands for Fix It Again Tony, but Italians don't understand that. The one thing they do understand is that they don't want to hit your car and you don't want to hit theirs, so they will give way... eventually!
The towns of Ostuni, Locorontondo, and Martina Franca are all less than an hour from either airport. Beautiful Baroque towns with that slow Italian pace of life where even "Domani" seems a little to fast. The first on that list, Ostuni, or the white city as it is known is a must to visit on a Saturday when the town is monopolised by a wonderful open-air market. The freshest of fruit and veg. can be had from traders who can pick out a Brit at fifty paces but they will make you welcome and offer samples to your hearts content. The towns all have wonderful architecture and beautiful churches. Martina Franca makes the ideal centre for touring the region and it is also on the Valle d'Itria which is claimed to be the prettiest of Puglia's landscapes. Dotted, indeed sprinkled, with Trulli. Ancient dry stone houses topped with conical roofs. Alberobello is the capital of "Trulliland" with over 1500 trulli forming the whole of the old town. Many myths surround their origin but I will leave you to discover them for yourselves.
September brings a fabulous festival to this town which is lit from head to toe with lights, music and pageantry. Martina Franca is said to be the town of festivals and a tour of their website is well worth doing if planning a trip.
Food and drinks are the wealth of the area, with countless restaurants offering local wine and food. If eating at night, don't venture out until after 8pm as this is when the Italians emerge for the evening. Lunchtime eating can be difficult if you only want a light meal as everything (except restaurants) stops from about 1.00 until around 4.00 and that includes garages and banks!
To really sample the history you can rent an ancient Trulli, many of which have been restored and brought into the 21st century. Although the coastline is only 40 or 50kms away the tranquillity of a trulli with its own pool is an experience to be savoured until, of course your next visit.
If you're looking to stay in the area, there's plenty of other places you could try. There's some great short term rental villas in Alberobrello, for example, or even a self catering apartment in Brindisi.