Apulia, Lecce and Vieste - Undiscovered Italy

Apulia, Lecce and Vieste - Undiscovered Italy

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There are some impressive statistics on Apulia: it is one of the most fertile regions of Italy producing more olive oil than the rest of the country combined, most of its fish, 80% of Europe’s pasta and more wine than the whole of Germany. We mention this because this very fertility and resultant wealth has attracted attention from a host of envious invaders from throughout history, with all leaving remarkably evident footprints and it is this which makes Apulia delightfully different. Colonised by the ancient Greeks in the 8th century BC; then came the Romans, Byzantines followed by the Saracens, Normans, Spanish and Bourbons before finally becoming Italian in 1861. As you may know, in Italy, ‘dialect’ – almost entirely different languages are still in everyday use and here in Apulia the language is full of Greek expressions. During our tour of Bari, the tall narrow streets, lined by a host of traders whose wares spill onto the ancient cobbles, carry a huge Moorish influence. In Lecce an imperial column marks the end of the Appian Way, one of the greatest of Roman roads and at nearby Cannae the empire suffered its greatest ever defeat, courtesy of Hannibal and his Carthaginians. Every town seems to boast a Norman cathedral, and they are some of the most beautifully ornate you will ever see, decorated with intricate stonework, colourful medieval frescos and fine art. Huge Spanish-built castles dominate the rolling countryside whilst picturesque, now peaceful fishing ports once hummed with activity as devout Crusaders embarked for the Holy Land. This history has of course all blended together and today you will see some of the most fascinating cities, villages, unusual sights and stunning scenery you will find anywhere and most importantly it remains genuinely unspoilt. Lecce, a gem of a baroque city, boasts 100 churches ranging from Romanesque and Gothic to Rococo. Its centre is a labyrinth of tiny alleys where Romans, rich medieval merchants and finely clad bishops once roamed. Today despite its stunning classical architecture, staggeringly the city remains almost devoid of tourists. Around Alberobello is a huge number of Trulli - unique houses whose instantly recognisable shape has become Apulia’s unofficial symbol. Moving on, we visit Matera where an entire medieval town was hewn from solid rock and remains inhabited to this day. Wander round Bari’s old town and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Moorish times, so intense is the sense of history. As we explore Apulia, it is evident this is not the Italy of the north, the tiny villages studding the olive tree carpeted countryside are flat roofed and white, resembling Greece or Crete from where the first settlers of this biscuit coloured land once came. All this makes an eclectic mix, but Apulia is not just about the past; the Gargano peninsula provides one of Europe’s most unforgettable seascapes, standing comparison with the Amalfi coast and the sheer natural beauty of its forest equally so. Here in the deep, south-east of Italy, nature and history are powerful influences, the locals still wink cheekily at authority and the relaxed and communal way of life is in harmony with the sunny dry climate. There remains a deep rooted and historic suspicion of rule from afar, engendering a relaxed atmosphere perfect for ‘getting away from it all’ so why not join us and explore this hidden gem, just in case the masses do discover it!

Highlights

  • Return flights
  • Seven nights four-star half-board accommodation
  • A journey discovering a fascinating and unspoilt collection of cultural and scenic gems
  • Guided tour of Lecce, one of Italy’s finest baroque towns - often compared to Florence
  • Visit to Alberobello, home to the unique ‘trulli’ houses, set amid stunning countryside
  • Guided tour of Matera, the amazing cave village and UNESCO world heritage site
  • Visit to Bari’s old town, once home to ancient Greeks, Saracens and Normans, with an amazing Romanesque cathedral, final resting place of St Nicholas – Father Christmas!
  • Visit to Castel del Monte, one of Italy’s finest medieval castles
  • Stay in ancient Vieste’s delightful old town, beautifully situated on one of Italy’s most inspiring coastlines
  • Drive along the Gargano coast, one of Europe’s most stunning seascapes
  • Tour the beautiful national park and Crusader church of Monte St Angelo, where the Archangel St Michael appeared and one of Europe’s most important medieval pilgrimages
  • Escorted by our experienced tour manager

Inclusions

  • The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are subject toavailability at a supplement of £149 per person. The price includes seven nights half-board accommodation (Due to late arrival dinner on day one dinner is not included, instead lunch will be provided on day two),alltours as mentioned, return flights to Bari from London Gatwick, airport departure taxes, guided tours of Lecce,Matera and Castel Del Monte and the services of a Riviera tour manager.Where hotels feature an outdoor swimming pool, this will be open summer months, weather permitting.

Itinerary

Day 1

You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Bari. On arrival you will be met and transferred to the international standard four-star Hilton Garden Inn in Lecce for two nights. This fine hotel is very modern in style, with the normal facilities you would expect of such a property, plus roof-top swimming pool and is just a short walk from the old town.

Day 2

Lecce dates from ancient Greek times, flourished under the Romans and boasts an amphitheatre which once held 20,000 people. The Normans built a castle here, but Lecce entered a Golden Age during the 16th century when it was embellished with a host of splendid Renaissance and Baroque churches, monuments and one of Europe’s highest bell towers completes a kaleidoscope of cultural wonders. Today Lecce is referred to as the ‘Florence of the South’ and with good reason as its architecture is outstanding and around every corner is a photo opportunity of real beauty. During our guided tour this morning you will see the pinnacle of this remarkable example of man’s creativity at the Sante Croce basilica. Its stunningly crafted detailed interior decoration and multi-coloured, marble columns are outstanding, as is its facade of highly intricate, carved stonework. After lunch at the hotel, you are free to explore as you wish. You will love just wandering where your feet take you, stumbling on the host of medieval palaces as you amble through the quiet cobbled streets leading to intimate little piazzas, lined with family-run restaurants serving the fabulous fresh food for which Apulia is noted. Along this theme, this evening we dine in an excellent restaurant, once an ancient Roman granary, serving superb local food in the true tradition of regional Italian cuisine.

Day 3

This morning we have a guided tour of Bari’s old town, nestling beautifully on the Adriatic, a thriving walled port even before the Romans, capital of Byzantine Italy and as important as Venice during Norman times. There is much to see: an imposing medieval fortress dominates the old town and the massive Romanesque cathedral has some stunning 11th century frescos. Bari’s highlight is the Basilica di San Nicola, whose beautiful 900 year old vaulted crypt is the final resting place of Saint Nicholas – Patron Saint of Russia but better known to us as Father Christmas! Bari is an entrancing jumble of endless fascinating passages where you see fishermen mending nets, ladies hand-making pasta sat in colourful doorways whilst tailors bend over humming sewing machines and artisans are busy creating all kinds of wares. The passages which twist through arches, into whitewashed courtyards and lead back out to the sea, were designed to confuse invaders and today are delightfully successful in giving visitors a true taste of southern Italy, whilst having an unmistakable North African ambience. Here and there are animated groups of men-folk loudly discussing the day’s news and it’s a great place to experience the traditionally communal laid back lifestyle of the locals. During our drive this afternoon, the view to the horizon is a carpet of olive trees studded with the occasional white-washed village underlining Apulia’s historic connections with Greece and North Africa. Progressing, the countryside becomes more undulating and open with patches of oak forest, bisected by dry-stone walls, incredibly scenic it is rather reminiscent of Tuscany. You’ll begin to notice the distinctive whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs dotted across this bucolic landscape; these are Trulli, traditional local houses unique to Apulia.  Extraordinarily Alberobello, is completely comprised of Trulli and we explore this fascinating townscape, learning all about their construction and intriguing history. Many are adorned with large symbols, some religious, some pagan and some celestial: you really are stepping back in time.  We stay two nights with breakfast and dinner at the nearby four-star Hilton Garden Inn Matera. This contemporary hotel is set in extensive landscaped gardens with a lovely pool benefiting from panoramic views over the rolling countryside. All in all a very tranquil and relaxing setting.

Day 4

This morning, we have a guided tour of Matera, a remarkable ancient town thought to be one of the first inhabited places in Italy. Originating as a prehistoric troglodyte settlement, astonishingly, even today people live in the same cave houses that their ancestors probably occupied thousands of years ago. An entire town is here, with churches, shops, workshops, all hewn from rock! It has often been used as set for biblical films including Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of Christ’. Is there anywhere else where you can walk along a street which is the roof of the house below? We return to our hotel this afternoon to relax. This evening we will dine ina local restaurant in the historic old town of Matera where we will sample the local cuisine.

Day 5

This morning we leave Matera calling at delightful Trani, an important port during medieval times with extensive trading networks and some lovely Romanesque architecture but most of all is today a picturesque fishing port. This afternoon we visit to the Castel del Monte, a grandiose 13th century castle built by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, standing white and imperious with commanding views across the coastal plain to the Adriatic Sea beyond and whose design was probably inspired by Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. Check your loose change: it is featured on the Italian issue one cent coin. After the visit, we pass lagoons where salt has been harvested since before the Romans, sleepy villages unchanged for centuries and Manfredonia, where the Crusaders embarked for the Holy Land. Then the countryside changes as we climb the deserted yet spectacular Gargano peninsular coastal road. The warm air is heavy with that unmistakable Mediterranean aroma of pine and wild flowers and we soon arrive in charming Vieste staying three nights with breakfast and dinner, at either the Palace Hotel Vieste or Hotel Degli Aranci, both ideally situated about 250 metres from the beach next to the atmospheric old town. The Palace Hotel is the tasteful conversion of a 15th century noble’s house into a lovely classic hotel. With high ceilings and plaster coving throughout you have a wonderful atmosphere of yesteryear, coupled with the comforts of an elegant and modern four-star hotel. All rooms are individually decorated, spacious and of course air-conditioned. There is a bar and restaurant, plus free use of the private beach with two sun beds and an umbrella per room. The Hotel Degli Aranci is again four-star rated and has been the lifelong project of its professional owners and whilst a modern hotel, it generates a very homely feel due to the genuine warmth of its staff. The rooms are very nicely appointed, well maintained and air conditioned. Again there is free use of the hotel’s private beach plus two sun beds and an umbrella per room.

Day 6

Vieste, almost an apparition, is a beautiful village of white flat-roofed low buildings, dominated by its simple 13th century cathedral. It cascades down a sun-bleached limestone promontory surrounded on three sides by the azur-blue Adriatic. Originally Phoenician, but as you amble through its haphazard, maze of alleyways, surrounded by hallmarks of Apulia’s historical pedigree, you are hard pushed to decide where in the world you are; it really is a uniquely fascinating place. Today is a free day to just relax, bury your head in a good book, perhaps enjoy a leisurely lunch of succulent local seafood or just wander through one of Italy’s most attractive coastal towns. As you feel the warm sunshine on your face and you deeply breathe in the fresh sea air, home will seem very far away! For something different you could take one of the many boat trips viewing the peninsular from the seaward aspect. The dramatic coastline features endless peaceful coves, bays and sheer, white cliffs carved into spectacular shapes.

Day 7

This morning we arrive at Monte Sant Angelo, a gorgeous hill-top village with superb 360 degree vistas of the surrounding forest. Here, the Archangel Michael appeared and in the 8th century an outstanding abbey was built. What appears to be medieval on the surface, as we descend, you notice the air cools and in the magnificent crypt below is an astonishing display of marble carvings and multi-coloured frescoes from the past 1,200 years. This was one of the most important of medieval pilgrimages visited by Popes, Monarchs and especially the Crusaders many of whom scratched messages of hope on the walls which can still be seen. Our journey continues along the Gargano Peninsula, much of which is a National Park and this afternoon we explore some of its treasures. The breathtaking coast road follows a series of cliffs with a green carpet of aromatic pine and oak forest shielding a kaleidoscope of colourful wild flowers to your left whilst the deep blue sea disappears to the horizon on your right. We visit the delightful sleepy fishing port of Peschici before driving inland into the mysterious Foresta Umbra, a “Dark Forest” and natural wonderland of ancient trees and one of Europe’s finest orchid habitats. The road soars, twists and turns, as slivers of bright sunshine pierce the dense canopy, casting intriguing shadows on the forest floor below. We then return to Vieste and our hotel with time to relax before dinner. This evening we dine in a local restaurant, set in a renovated natural cave located directly under the Duomo in the heart of Vieste, ran by a local family serving traditional dishes of this region of Apulia.

Day 8

At the appropriate time you will be transferred to Bari airport for your flight home– don’t tell too many friends or the magic will be gone!

Accommodation

Hilton Garden Inn Lecce

four-star rated, this fine hotel is modern in style and just a short walk from the old town. The hotels roof top swimming pool benefits from panoramic views over Lecce. Featuring the Cube restaurant,...

Hilton Garden Inn Matera

four-star rated, located just of outside Matera set in extensive landscape gardens, with a lovely outdoor pool benefiting from panoramic views over the rolling countryside. This modern hotel is fully...

Palace Hotel Vieste

Four-star rated and fully air-conditioned, situated about 250 metres from the beach. Located in the atmospheric old town, is a tasteful conversion of a 15th Century noble’s house in to a lovely...

Hotel Degli Aranci

Four-star rated and fully air-conditioned, situated about 250 metres from the beach. Situated next to the atmospheric old town. It has been a long time project of its professional owners and whilst a...
  Cost per person: €1,299pp
  Number of nights: 7
  Dates available from: Sep 2017

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  Call:  01 905 6300