Puglia & Basilicata culinary tour
JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF SOUTHERN ITALY
2010 Tour Schedule: We will not be offering any cooking tours to Italy in 2010. We'll post the schedule for future years as soon as tour dates are determined.
Here it is: a tour to two of southern Italy's most pristine regions, where local cooking traditions still reflect the area's peasant past and the beauty of the landscape remains much as it was hundreds of years ago. Silvery olive groves alternate with golden wheat fields; stretches of glimmering coastline beckon the eye beyond every curve; plump chilies hang over doorways of white-washed houses; narrow, maze-like streets lead to sandy beaches, quiet churches, solemn castles.
Our week-long cooking tour of Puglia and Basilicata will provide you full immersion in southern Italian food culture. We'll stay at a luxury four-star hotel in the quaint fishing village of Polignano a Mare, and from there we'll take day trips aboard our private bus to Lecce, Altamura, Ostuni, Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Castellana Grotte, Alberobello, and even to Matera, known as the "City of Stone," in nearby Basilicata. As we make our way across southern Italy, we'll enjoy hands-on cooking lessons, wine tastings, traditional country lunches, elegant regional dinners, visits to outdoor markets, and more.
Three things are essential to the kitchens of Puglia and Basilicata: wheat, vegetables, and olive oil. Semolina flour is transformed into a variety of handmade pastas (some shaped like little ears, others like concave shells, others still like thick ropes) which are boiled with wild or cultivated greens, tossed with hearty meat rag¨s or just-caught seafood, or cooked into soups. Wheels of rustic bread are baked in the ancient ovens of Altamura and Matera, to be enjoyed as companions to daily meals and serve as the starting point for numerous appetizers, salads, soups, and simple desserts; the most interesting offering is frisedda, a twice-baked ring-shaped bread. And almost every dish (from sublime tomato-topped bruschetta to lamb roasted with onions and potatoes) is doused with olive oil: after all, Puglia is Italy's largest producer of olive oil. Fava beans, the region's favorite legume, are transformed into thick soups, refreshing salads, and comforting side dishes, and rice is baked with potatoes and seafood or vegetables to make an unusual main course called tiella (named after the pot in which it is cooked).
Locals use a wide variety of wild and cultivated greens in the kitchen. Some, like sorrel, are relatively mild and astringent; others, like broccoli raab and dandelions, can be bitingly bitter. They tame the bitterness of these potent greens by lengthy cooking; like all Italians, they don't believe in undercooking vegetables, and prefer vegetables slippery soft, never crunchy. Bitter greens are typically boiled first in ample water, then sautÚd slowly in plenty of olive oil; the result is a mass of tender greens with only a pleasant note of bitterness.
Sea urchins are savored raw in the port city of Taranto, flavored with a squeeze of lemon to underscore their briny flavor. The locals, shepherds by trade since ancient times, are partial to lamb, mutton, kid, and goat, which they cook simply with fragrant herbs, olive oil, and perhaps a handful of tomatoes or potatoes. Offal too is prepared ingeniously: lamb's hearts, lights, and intestines are skewered and cooked on a blazing grill, then eaten with raw celery and sharp sheep's milk cheese. And when it comes to sweets, an appetite for honey, nuts, and dried fruit gives rise to a number of pastries, cakes, and fritters with roots in ancient Greece and echoes of the Orient.
If you want to experience the landscape, food, and wine of Puglia & Basilicata, this is the trip for you. We are accepting a maximum of 24 people per tour. Call 917-602-1519 or email to reserve.
To reserve, call 917-602-1519 or email us.
Puglia, a sprawling, fertile region that forms the heel of the Italian boot, is a tranquil commingling of hills and valleys, densely wooded forests, craggy coastline, and stretches of sandy beach. Lecce, one of Puglia's most important cities, has been dubbed the "Florence of the South" and is well-known for its Baroque architecture. The dreamlike promontory of Puglia's Gargano Peninsula offers unbeatable vistas of the sea, and the stunning white town of Ostuni, the serene countryside of the Val d'Itria, and Alberobello, home to thousands of unusual stone houses with conical roofs, dazzle the eye with their stark, surreal beauty. And all along the coast, dozens of tiny villages and small towns sit perched over the deep blue water like so many white jewels glimmering in the distance.
Basilicata is best known for the unique city of Matera, a maze of white stone where homes are dug in the soft tufaceous rockface of a mountain, and the floor of one home serves as the ceiling of the one beneath it. The rugged Pollino mountains, though difficult to traverse, yield succulent mushrooms, wild asparagus, and more for country feasts, and the western coast of Basilicata is famous for its breathtaking views and exclusive resorts perched on the sea.
Testimonial: What a wonderful time we had on the tour. Great Food! Great Itinerary! And Great Hosts! We watch a lot of travel shows on television, and can't help but notice that Puglia is quickly becoming more and more popular. We are delighted that you showed it to us while it is still real and less commercialized. It was amazing that the people truly seemed delighted to have us frequent their establishments. We tried to list the highlights of the trip, but were unsuccessful as the entire trip was a highlight. The only low point of the trip was having to say goodbye to you and our new friends. We would like to thank you both for a wonderful culinary experience and we look forward to joining you for another trip.Joe & Marianne B., Punta Gorda, FL
Day 1: Polignano A Mare
- Prosecco welcome reception on the veranda of our luxury four-star hotel in Polignano a Mare, a small fishing town along the Adriatic Coast; we'll enjoy a splendid view of the Mediterranean Sea as we make a toast to our week together in Puglia.
- Seafood lunch paired with local wines overlooking the sea; we'll sample a seafood terrine, two fresh pastas tossed with seafood, swordfish with bread crumbs and garlic, and a heavenly coffee semifreddo.
- Free afternoon for sightseeing, shopping, or, best of all, lounging at a nearby secluded beach.
- Hands-on cooking lesson at Polignano a Mare's most exclusive restaurant; we'll learn to prepare a classic Pugliese pasta called orecchiette and a traditional pasta sauce from four local ladies (who better to teach you how to shape orecchiette than a mamma who makes them every Sunday?)
- Four-course Pugliese dinner following our cooking lesson in the restaurant's private grotto; we'll even taste baby octopus cooked in a spicy tomato sauce, a local specialty.
- Optional shopping excursion to purchase cheeses, cured meats, regional pastas, and more; the shop-keeper will offer you a complimentary sampling of local delicacies and vacuum-pack your purchases for safe travel.
Day 2: Locorotondo & Ostuni
- Morning drive to the town of Locorotondo, home to a centuries-old winemaking tradition; Locorotondo has been nicknamed "the balcony of Valle d'Itria" for its breathtaking views of the countryside
- Typical Pugliese lunch at Locorotondo's best restaurant
- Brief drive to Ostuni, known as "The White City," one of southern Italy's prettiest destinations
- Walk in Ostuni's historic center
- Cooking lesson at Ostuni's most renowned restaurant with chef Melina; we'll prepare cheese- and mint-stuffed zucchini blossoms, branzino with clams in parchment paper, and a rich, heavenly Ricotta tart topped with toasted almonds
- Following our cooking lesson, we'll taste everything we learned to make (and more, including homemade orecchiette with clams and broccoli raab!) paired with local wines
Day 3: Lizzanello & Lecce
- Visit of a traditional family-run olive mill in the countryside near Lecce; we'll meet Gianni, who produces not only an extraordinary olive oil, but a traditional (and very ancient) Pugliese wine-based condiment called Vincotto made from cooked grape must that is aged for years in barrels
- Olive oil and Vincotto tasting
- Cooking class featuring vincotto... if you like balsamic vinegar, you'll love vincotto!
- Lunch at Gianni's estate
- Brief drive to Lecce, one of Puglia's most important cities, first settled by Greeks and later by Romans
- Free time for shopping or sightseeing in Lecce; there's plenty to see, and the architectural style here (ornate and intricate) is known as Barocco Leccese
- Four-course dinner paired with Pugliese wines at Lecce's best restaurant; we'll enjoy a family-style feast of Pugliese fritters, fresh pasta, the real eggplant parmigiana, homemade meatballs, and a delectable sour cherry and Ricotta cheesecake
Day 4: Martina Franca & Castellana Grotte
- Free morning for lounging at the beach or for a private boat ride in Polignano a Mare; we'll explore Polignano's stunning turquoise grottoes with our charsimatic guide, Dorino
- Late morning drive to Martina Franca, a white-washed town renowned for its wines
- Lunch and wine tasting at a family-run winery in Martina Franca; we'll enjoy Puglia's version of pasta e fagioli, among other delicacies
- Afternoon drive along the coast to Castellana Grotte, where we'll visit an impressive series of underground caves
- Leisurely dinner at an elegant restaurant in Castellana; we'll enjoy an array of regional appetizers like stuffed eggplant bundles with basil, tomato, and caciocavallo cheese, fresh pasta, roasted pork with potatoes, and heavenly cannoli filled with a fresh fig mousse
Day 5: Matera, City Of Stone
- Free morning for lounging at the beach or for a boat ride in Polignano a Mare
- Late morning drive to Matera, "The City of Stone," in the neighboring region of Basilicata; the homes are dug in the soft tufaceous stone of a mountain, and the floor of one home serves as the ceiling of the one beneath it
- Informal lunch at a trattoria overlooking the Sassi (as Matera's stone homes are known); you'll taste Basilicata's justly famous sausages, cheeses, amazing vegetables, chickpeas with wheat (a delicious and hearty stew), and homemade spumone
- Free time for walking, exploring Matera's ancient churches, or visiting the Grotto Museum, where you'll get a glimpse of what life was like in the grotto homes until they were modernized in the 1950s
- Hands-on cooking lesson at Matera's Michelin-starred restaurant with chef Francolino; we'll explore the cuisine of Basilicata, which differs from that of Puglia and relies more heavily on the fruits of the land. We'll learn to prepare focaccia with spicy onions, fresh pasta with a variety of country sauces, and more
- Four-course dinner of dishes prepared in class, paired with local wines such as the world-famous Aglianico, dubbed "The Barolo of the South"; Francolino's lamb roasted in a terracotta pot is one of the best dishes we'll enjoy during our week together
Day 6: Alberobello & Altamura
- After a leisurely breakfast and some free time for sunbathing or swimming near our hotel, we'll drive to Alberobello, a town renowned for its trulli, unique dwellings with cone-shaped roofs; there are thousands of trulli in Alberobello, some of which house restaurants, others shops, and others still museums
- Lunch in Alberobello; we'll feast on local cheeses, marinated zucchini, hoemade focaccia topped with tomatoes and fresh Mozzarella, a memorable greens-and-cheese terrine, roasted rabbit with white wine, and a fresh fruit tart
- Cooking lesson at Alberobello's newest and most popular gelateria; if you're a gelato-lover, you won't want to miss this class! Katia will unveil the secrets of making authentic Italian gelato in her state-of-the-art gelateria... and of course you can taste as many gelati as you like (the spicy chocolate gelato is unusually delicious, and classic varieties like fig or hazelnut are pure heaven)!
- Brief drive to Altamura, a town whose bread was already famous in the days of ancient Rome (the Romans used to transport it weekly to the seat of their Empire by horse-drawn cart)
- Visit of Altamura's most famous bakery, where we'll see how the prized Pane di Altamura and Focaccia di Altamura (usually topped with tomatoes and herbs) are made, followed by a tasting of freshly baked bread and focaccia
- Free time for shopping or unwinding at the town cafe' in Altamura
- Traditional Pugliese dinner featuring (of course!) the local bread in a number of traditional dishes; we'll dine on fresh and aged Pugliese cheeses, fried artichokes, braised chicory and fava beans, fresh ravioli in a long-simmered ragu, tender lamb morsels, roasted potatoes, and an array of homemade sweets
Day 7: Polignano - Farewell Breakfast
- Farewell breakfast at our hotel
- Check-out from the hotel.
Local ladies teach us how to make fresh pasta; smiling cooks after a hands-on class.
Kneading semolina and water to make orecchiette; colorful wine bottles.
A town statue in Lecce; a view of the Sassi in Matera.
The table laid out with ingredients for a cooking class in Matera; making onion-topped focaccia.
Local tomatoes at the farmers' market.
Standing amid olive trees that date to the 1200s, learning all about olive oil.
Comical moments... interacting with cars and local kids.
Two classic Pugliese dishes: tiella, a seafood and potato casserole; and tomato focaccia.
The rugged coastline of Puglia boasts clear azure waters; the view from our hotel in Poliganano a Mare.
Baroque architecture in Lecce; cone-shaped homes called trulli in Alberobello.
Designs on the trulli represent pagan and astrological symbols.
Our group after the first hands-on pasta class with four local ladies and chef Vincenzo.
Closest Airport, Transfering To Polignano A Mare, And More...
Polignano a Mare, the town in Puglia where we will be staying, is about 30 minutes away from Bari. Bari is a connecting flight from most major North American cities, through Rome or Milan.
You can reach Polignano a Mare in three ways: by train from the main train station in Bari (the ride is just over 30 minutes and direct; train information here); by private car from the Bari airport, which we can arrange for you if you like (cost is around $100 depending on the exchange rate); or driving on your own.
Keep in mind that upon arrival in Italy, you will be jetlagged. You should plan on arriving in Italy no later than one day prior to the start date of the tour, so you can get over jet lag before we begin our journey together. You can request an additional night at our hotel in Polignano a Mare prior to the start date of our tour (or after if needed) and pay the hotel directly for your additional night(s). Just let us know if you need additional hotel nights and we will contact the hotel in Polignano a Mare directly on your behalf.
Plan on leaving Italy no earlier than the day after our tour ends. Most flights out of Europe are early in the morning and you would miss the last morning's activities if you book a flight out the same day our tour ends (you would need to be at the Bari airport by 8 am or earlier to catch a 10 am flight, and you would also be quite tired since we will not be returning to the hotel before 10:30 pm the evening before the tour ends).
Before booking your flights, please call 917-602-1519 or email us so we can review your travel itinerary.
To purchase travel insurance, visit here.