Our Globus Guru, Carla, recently returned from our Hidden Treasures of Southern Italy tour along with her friend, Larissa. While this was Carla’s seventh time to Italy, she still found plenty of new things to see, eat and drink while also returning to some old favourites. Read on for a day-by-day account as Carla, our Globus Guru, heads back to her Italy roots.
Larissa and I arrived in Naples the day prior to beginning our Hidden Treasures of Southern Italy tour with Globus, giving us some extra time up our sleeves to explore what used to be a mafia stronghold. Some of the greatest treasures in Italy are hidden in the Apulia region, known as the ‘heel of the boot’. Larissa and I are so excited to live la dolce vita travelling from the heel to the ankle, vineyard to grove, and clifftop to cave!
Our first port of call was to explore the Spanish Quarter in search of street art before heading underground to explore a maze of tunnels built by King Ferdinand II when he feared a rebellion. We then joined a Naples Street Food Tour where we visited several multicultural neighbourhoods. We learnt about Naples’ culinary history and tasted tarallo dough biscuits, deep fried anchovies, pizza a portafogluo (folded pizza), rich ragu, and an espresso and rum-soaked brioche baba dessert.
A spectacular sunrise over Mount Vesuvius from our hotel’s rooftop was a brilliant start to our first full day in Naples. We were up early to catch the ferry to the Isle of Capri. Our day trip was filled with a trip to Ana Capri before taking the chairlift to the summit of Monte Solaro; a unique lunch of spaghetti with lemon cream; window shopping; and a cruise that circled the island on the azure waters.
Back in Naples, we arrived in time to meet the rest of our Globus tour group that we will be travelling with for the next 9 days.
What better way to start the day than with a walking tour through Naples with a Local Guide. We strolled through Piazza Plebiscito (built from volcanic rock from Mount Vesuvius), St Charles Theatre (the world’s oldest continuously active venue for opera), Palazzo Reale (the centre of power in Naples and southern Italy for over three centuries), and the elegant Galleria Umberto I.
We also visited Herculaneum which was fascinating and a real highlight for me. We’ve all heard of Pompeii, but I never knew about Herculaneum, a complete city that was also destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. Led by a very entertaining guide, we were mesmerised by 2,000 years of history frozen in time by the avalanche of mud, ash and lava that covered the town. We discovered temples, villas, shops, restaurants, bakeries, thermal baths, the gymnasium, Forum, frescoes and mosaics.
Lunch was a tasty street food specialty – pizza fritta. Street food and pizza dough are synonymous with the city of Naples with origins dating back to the 16th century.
This afternoon, we spent time amongst the vines at Cantina del Vesuvio. Volcanic wine? Yes please! We spent a lovely afternoon tasting their Lacryma Christie ‘Tears of Christ’ wines.
Leaving the city was an amusing and chaotic journey weaving our coach through the traffic. As we headed east, we could spot an inhumanely exact geometric shape on the horizon – our next stop, Castel del Monte, that was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
Noone knows why King Frederick II built Castel del Monte. It wasn’t built to defend anything as there’s no nearby town, moat, drawbridge, arrow slits or trap doors. However, according to mid-13th century beliefs in geometric symbolism, the octagon represents the union of the circle and square, of God-perfection (the infinite) and human-perfection (the finite).
Tonight, we are staying in the famous port city of Bari, the capital of the Puglia region. It is too beautiful for words, and I’ve already made a note to myself to come back one day. I found a great seafood restaurant for dinner which had some beautifully fresh oysters and seafood tartare.
The breakfast buffets are loaded with delicious pastries. I’m particularly fond of the sfogliatella which originated in the Campania region. Also nicknamed lobster tails, the shell-shaped, wafer-thin pastry is crunchy on the outside and filled with a soft custard on the inside.
The Old Town of Bari awaits today. The narrow pastel and whitewashed streets of Bari Vecchia are filled with beautiful old buildings and the sounds of every day neighbourly chatter. Little old ladies sit busily working pasta dough into tiny ear-shaped shells, called orecchiette.
The beauty of Italian culinary specialties is that no two regions have the same recipes. Bari’s traditional focaccia barese is a doughy, potato-based bread. It’s delightfully crunchy on the outside and filled with ripe tomatoes, oregano, olive oil and olives. Our guide, Marisa, treated us to this local favourite for morning tea, a perfect snack.
From Bari, we continued to Ostuni through seemingly never-ending fields of olive trees. This charming hilltop town is also known as ‘the white city’, and is a maze of narrow, winding streets lined with whitewashed houses, shops and restaurants. The white buildings are not just for aesthetics but were traditionally painted this way to reflect the intense summer sun and keep the interiors of buildings cool. We took in the amazing views over the countryside and out to sea before grabbing a quick lunch and cold drink. Larissa and I couldn’t resist a toasted brioche gelato sandwich and enjoyed this under the shade of Colonna di Sant’Oronzo, an ornately carved stone column honouring the towns’ patron saint since 1771.
Finally, we reached Lecce with enough time to check in and freshen up for an included Apulian Delights farmhouse dinner and Pizzica show. The traditional masseria (farmhouse) has an onsite oil mill where we learnt how the oil is harvested, processed, stored, bottled and marketed. Dinner was served in a charming room where we feasted on delicious farm-grown ingredients, along with some lively Italian folk music and dancing.
Lecce is known for its magnificent Baroque buildings. Local guide, Emmanuella, showed us the stunning Basilica di Santa Croce with its sculptures and rose window, a column dedicated to Saint Oronzo and the sunken Roman amphitheatre. Lecce is truly impressive and filled with hundreds of sculptures of cherubs, gargoyles and gremlins carved out of the soft Leccese stone. Beautiful palazzos are now family homes and hotels, but history is all around.
This afternoon included an excursion to the wee coastal town of Otranto, another Italian town with historic landmarks (like its 15th century Argonese Castle) and a special treat of traditional pasticciotto. This beloved pastry was a ‘happy accident’ when chef Andrea Ascalone made too much batter. Using the excess ingredients to mix up the original pasticcio (meaning mishap or mess), a smaller pastry with a creamy filling was created. We devoured a pasticciotto with a refreshing almond iced coffee. Before we left, I even had time to dip my toes in the cool waters of the Ionian Sea.
We checked out of our Lecce hotel and made our way to the unique town of Alberobello, known for its whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs, called trulli. The hilltop Rione Monti district has hundreds of trulli. Alberobello has grown to almost three times the size of when I last visited here about ten years ago, but still has the divine olive oil and balsamic shop that I remember! We enjoyed a lovely lunch under a shady umbrella in the main square, where I was delighted to find one of my favourite dishes, troffie pasta with pesto, on the menu.
Next up was a visit to the Castellana Caves. These underground caves extend for over 3,000 metres with a depth of 122 metres from the surface. While the caves began to form about 90 million years ago, they were first discovered by a speleologist in 1938 who was brave enough to enter the ’Greve’ – the entry to the abyss of the cave which had long been feared as the entrance to hell. It was slippery going but quite overwhelming to be amongst the stalactites, stalagmites and fossils.
Today’s highlight was heading off the beaten path to Paestum, an archaeological site of Greek and Roman architecture. Home to three Greek temples and fascinating burial paintings from the 5th century BC, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered to be one of the most beautiful archaeological sites in Italy.
Today is our last full day on this Globus tour, so a day trip to Positano and Sorrento is in order. There was a lot of traffic along the Amalfi Coast, however it gave us ample chance to see the alluring panoramas and amazing views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
With just under two hours to explore, Larissa and I walked down all the stairs to the beach to dip our toes in the sea before winding our way back up through the shops and galleries to find a spot for lunch. I chose a delicious ravioli that was almost as good as my Nonna used to make.
Our tour group then headed to the west coast to Sorrento for a short orientation walk, some shopping and a lot of limoncello samples before our farewell dinner where we all shared our favourite stories from this trip.
After a lovely breakfast on the patio, we said goodbye to our new friends and took a transfer to Sorrento for our final night (which we had added to our tour). Larissa and I spent the day doing our own thing in lemon-filled Sorrento before meeting up for our last Italian evening together.
Luckily, I had made a reservation a month ago to have dinner at O’Parrucchiano La Favorita, an 1800’s glass-enclosed hall and lemon garden. We finished with a Three Tenors concert accompanied by strings and grand piano.
Sadly, it is now time to say goodbye to Italy, my ancestors, my history and one of my favourite countries. It’s been a wonderful adventure with Larissa and Globus, and we can’t wait to return. Ciao!
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