Puglia and the Salento are fabulous destinations for long, lazy summer holidays but how about an autumn break? Try Puglia in October. Some of our regular summer guests who have become firm friends visit us every year for the last week of October. It’s become a holiday for us, after the end of the main summer season, and an opportunity to introduce our friends to more of Puglia and Salento. It’s almost always warm and sunny, but not too hot to get out and about and really explore everything the Salento has to offer. This is what we did in the October half-term week one year :
Our week included private dinners in a Wine School, visits to the local market, to wine-makers, an English-Italian-American lunch party, a private visit to an old palazzo, the discovery of a wonderful independent “biscotti” maker, wine-tasting and lunch in a “pastificio”.
Our English guests arrived on a Saturday on the early morning flight. A quiet day to recover from an early start, with siesta time, was necessary as we had a big evening planned. In the evening we headed to the Puglia Wine School in Squinzano for a private dinner. Squinzano is an interesting town with old palazzos, fabulous food businesses, wineries, olive growers and manufacturers of olive-based products. Our dinner was hosted and catered by Ylenia and Michele of Cook In Puglia, our very good friends who always organise amazing experiences for us and guests at Puglia Holiday Villas.
The mix of English guests, American and English fellow ex-pats and Italian friends made for a very lively evening. Conversation – Italian and English, an interesting mix of both, and wine flowing freely. Some of our visiting guests didn’t speak Italian. Some of our Italian friends speak a little English. Somehow everybody communicated with a lot of hand waving going on. The antipasti were never-ending, followed by a Pork Roast and for dessert, Tiramisu. We even made an attempt at a little traditional dancing, most of us were definitely in need of more lessons.
On the second day of our week, a beautiful sunny morning we headed into Casalabate for the Sunday morning Farmers’ market. A great way to soak up both the sunshine and the local ambience as well as buying fresh fruit and vegetables, great cheeses, almonds, walnuts, olives and more. Our neighbour, Domenico, is a market trader and has a stall at most of the local markets selling produce that he and his family have grown on their farm. Over the years our regular guests have become well acquainted with Domenico and he always enjoys it when they try out their Italian on him.
No visit to Puglia is complete without a trip to one of the many wineries. to taste and to buy, both for drinking during the holiday and to take home. It’s always wise to visit a winery early in your holiday so that you have the best wine at the best prices available during your visit. A great way to discover all about Puglia wines and to taste a good selection is to take a wine tour, something that is great to do any time of the year. No surprise then that on our third day we took our guests to one of the wineries we regularly visit, where we received a warm welcome, for a little wine shopping. No need for tastings this time as we all know what we like.
It was all hands on deck in our Puglia kitchen mid-week. We had invited Italian and ex-pat friends to join us and our visitors for lunch at our house. As we were 18 in total we were praying for good weather as we really needed to be able to eat outside. Our home, which is also one of our Puglia Holiday Villas, Casa Mare, has some great alfresco eating areas and will seat 18 in relative comfort. Luckily the gods were with us, it was mild and sunny.
With so many people to feed I was thankful for Vivia and Elly’s help. The day before we had taken a short trip into our local town of Torchiarolo for essential supplies and of course coffee sitting outside in the sunshine. The locals have somewhat got used to us crazy ex-pats and our friends and visitors. Now when they see us in shorts and t-shirts in November they generally just shrug and can be heard saying something that includes the word “pazzo” (mad). That didn’t stop one elderly lady telling Vivia off for wearing shorts and suggesting she go home and sit close to the fire to warm up! She probably would have had a heart attack if she had known that Vivia and Simon had been swimming in the sea just that morning.
I had planned something of an eclectic menu …. Italian antipasti, French Boeuf Bourginon and American Nutella muffins. I meant to ask Val to make her Tiramisu but somehow my message went astray. No need to worry. Our Italian guests arrived with trays of pasticceria and home-made profiteroles. Plenty for everybody. With Vivia and Elly’s sterling help we soon got food and wine on the tables and settled down to enjoy a long lunch. Amazing how everyone’s Italian improves with the help of a drop of vino.
Everyone enjoyed themselves – sharing food and conversation in a mix of Italian and English is an excellent way of introducing our English visitors to our Italian friends and neighbours. Vivia and Simon, our frequent visitors, have struck up a friendship with our neighbours Domenico and Vincenza, a friendship that overcomes the language barrier. Being able to lunch alfresco in Puglia in late October and early November is just another big Puglia plus!
A visit to Mesagne, inland but within easy reach, and a personal favourite is not to be missed. With one of the best maintained historic centres and a selection of superb restaurants, it never fails to delight. We took our guests to lunch at Osteria VicoLetto, a long term personal favourite, located on a tiny paved alleyway just inside the centro storico. The speciality antipasti arrived as two plates, one from the land, one from the sea with some very different dishes. We ordered three antipasti between the six of us and there was more than enough to go around. Our main courses were all fantastic: pork fillet stuffed with local cheese and sun-dried tomato and wrapped in prosciutto was sublime, the tastiest, tenderest pork I have had in a long time. The pasta with lobster sauce and the orecchiette with meatballs and involtini were also judged to be excellent. The men passed on dessert, we ordered a taster plate for the three of us; the waiter smiled knowingly. When the taster plates arrived, they were rapidly followed by extra plates and forks – our men soon joined in.
( Lunch for six, complete with complimentary prosecco, three bottles of very good wine, water and three courses …. 180 euros )
A gentle stroll is almost obligatory after such a great lunch; it soon led us to the No Time cafe where we sat outside opposite the church with digestivi and watched the sun go down.
It is so good to be able to show our regular summer visitors another side of Perfect Puglia. If you want to really discover Puglia and the Salento we do recommend that you visit in Spring or Autumn when it’s not too hot to explore everything on offer.