"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life."

Anna Akhmatova

Eat!  Play!  Live!

The Heel of the Boot
Puglia, Basilicata, Italy
August 15-25, 2011

Journey to Italy’s Heel of the Boot and
(truly) experience the Culture, Arts, People and Cuisine
of Southern Italy

Highlights:

Designed for adventurers seeking to explore the Italy not found in typical pre-packaged sightseeing trips, this tour offers an uncommon excursion through Puglia, Italy’s "heel of the boot" region. We will truly experience the culture, arts, cuisine and people of southern Italy through unique experiences, gatherings and events.

Our small group of adventurers will meet in Bari, a southern port city easily accessible by many European commuter airlines, including economically-priced Ryan Air. Bari is a natural origin for our exploration of southern Italy, the Mezzogiorno. Linda Alper, passionate Italiaphile, will greet our travelers with a welcome salon, local treats and our first language lessons in "travel" Italian. Linda adores southern Italy and has traveled there over a dozen times! She is eager to share the color, light, cuisine and culture of Puglia. Casual language lessons continue throughout the tour.

Our first journey, made in "navetta" (privately hired vans), takes us to the ancient city of Matera, the only destination on our tour not found in the Puglia region, but located in the nearby region of Basilicata.

Matera has two large villages carved directly into the rocky terrain, known as I Sassi. The Gravina, the Murgia and more than 120 rupestrian churches featuring Byzantine frescos create a singular setting. Here humanity learned to use the resources of the land not by destroying it, but by becoming integrated with it. Restaurants, homes and hotels have been renovated from ruins carved into the stone and dating back nine thousand years. So evocative is this ancient town, that several biblical films have been filmed here. It was the first site in the world to be declared a "cultural landscape" by UNESCO.

An experience unique in culture, exquisite cuisine, abundant regional red wine and comfortable accommodations carved out of rock awaits us in Matera. Travelers may share in organized activities or take advantage of free time for personal discovery and inspiration.

From Matera we travel to the Puglia region and to the extraordinary and beautiful town of Alberobello, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Alberobello is home of the curious "trulli", white-washed cylindrical houses topped by gray cone-shaped roofs. The Alberobellesi lived in these unique stone dwellings for many centuries. Hundreds of trulli survive in the Murge Valley due to their sturdy design, and over four hundred exist within Alberobello. Many are private residences, but there are dozens to explore since some house shops, artisan studios and guest accommodations.

From Alberobello day trips are available into at least two dazzling nearby towns, traveling through countrysides of Greek ruins, vineyards and ancient olive groves. Excursions are planned to Ostuni and Martina Franca. Ostuni is a town famous for the fairytale ambience of its serpentine streets and brilliant white-washed architecture. Martina Franca appears Spanish or Moorish despite the gorgeous Italianate baroque architectural features. Both of these expeditions include visits with local artisans, unusual choices for dining and delightful indulgence in local food products and wine.

Finally, we journey to the elegant and sophisticated city of Lecce, often referred to as "the Florence of the South." Lecce is one of Italy’s hidden treasures where Italians vacation when their own towns are overrun with tourists. Far off the beaten track of Italy’s traditional visitors, unspoiled Lecce sits on the southeastern tip of Italy’s boot. A succession of conquerors including Romans, Saracens, Swabians, and Cretans passed through Lecce resulting in the stunning buildings and piazzas. The local sandstone, tinged a warm pink, and easy to sculpt, fostered the rise of a local artistic style (barocco leccese) as ornate and intricate as any the world has seen. The local stonemasons, more so than the architects, left their mark on this city, decorating its buildings with fanciful cherubs, flowers, fruits, beauties and beasts.

The visit to Lecce includes a day trip to the sparkling Adriatic coast for guided sojourns to the towns of Gallipoli and Galatina. There will be time to savor the charm of Lecce in food and wine tastings and a cooking lesson in Pugliese cuisine, a cooking style based on mutton and local vegetables. We will enjoy truffles, mushrooms, vino novello and the olive oil harvest — all seasonal to November.

Before departure for home or other destinations, our group will share a dinner at Alle Due Corti, the Lecce restaurant known for its delectable home-style cooking.

Travelers wishing further exploration may combine this tour with personal visits to major northern attractions, Naples or Rome.