Puglia Vacation – Part 3 – Bari, Matera, Altamura, Lecce

Image result for basilica san nicolas de bari

Basilica San Nicolas

November 10:

We decided to take a drive into Bari, thinking the traffic would be less daunting on a Sunday morning. We managed to find our way into the old city and began to stroll about. In time we came upon the large basilica church of St. Nicholas which contains the relics of the saint, removed from Turkey. We entered in time for the creed, left to explore an adjoining church on the square, then wandered over to the Cathedral, where we arrived in time for the dismissal. From Bari we drove on to Matera, a very ancient city perched on the edge of a gorge, with pre-historic caves known as Sassi. Matera is actually located in Basilicata, a region which borders on Puglia.

This Sunday’s New York Times has an article about Basilicata, including Matera:


It took a bit of doing to get a map and find our way, but we did get to the restaurant highly recommended by a cousin of our friend August Ventura,  and we found ourselves in a large and amiable cave with many Italian families having their lunch.

Oi Mari, Matera:

Great atmosphere in the center of the old town. Gnocchi with mussels and gorgonzola, topped with arugula, caprese, cotoletta with fries, mixed seafood grill, grilled eggplant and zucchini. Food was very tasty. Total was 65 euros with a bottle of wine.

Image result for matera italy

After lunch, we hiked up to the heights where the Cathedral was perched, and then descended to the road that wraps around the city, rising again to meet the central piazza. Matera is slated to be a designated cultural center of Europe in 2019, so they have some time yet to scoop up the dog poop and sweep up the rest of the detritus. We had made a day of it, and headed back to Monopoli as darkness fell and the roads began to become virtually unnavigable, due to the faded road markings.

That evening we had hoped to have dinner in Monopoli with Marcello, Marilena and Patrizia, but the restaurant was booked, so we went back to Polignano a Mare and had a truly splendid meal at the Antiche Mura.

Polignano A Mare at night

Antiche Mura, Polignano a Mare:

This is a beautiful restaurant with excellent service and ambience, specializing in seafood, with a great selection of whole fish. Assorted antipasti. Marinated raw tuna, stracciatella, stuffed eggplant, bruschetta, several types of mussel preparations. Raw seafood assortment. Sea bass with zucchini, potatoes, and tomatoes, zuppa di pesce. We wanted a red wine, so our server recommended a Negroamaro that was not too full-bodied, just right with the fish. Total for 5 people was 240 euros.

Marcello would depart in the morning for a factory inspection in Rimini, so we parted expecting to see him again in Paris.

November 11:

We were on our own and decided to head out to Altamura, which is also on the way to Matera. We found what we thought was the approximate location for the Cathedral and old town, but misplaced signs had us walking in a circle until we cut in and found our way to the center. The Cathedral is the only church to have been specifically commissioned by Frederick II, but was suffering from a case of chiesa chiuso.

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We wandered about checking out restaurants, including the highly recommended one by August which seems to have vanished, as restaurants are wont to do. We settled on a well-recommended pizza place and were happy to settle for a simple pizza lunch:

Tre Archi, Altamura:

We checked out the lunch options as we walked around the old town. This one looked appealing, and turned out to be pretty good, and obviously popular with locals. Mixed vegetable antipasti. Pizza with bacon, smoked scamorza and a light tomato sauce. With a half liter of house wine, it came to 23 euros.”

We gave the Cathedral another try after lunch, but no luck. In departing we found that we had, indeed, parked very close to the center. We headed south toward Taranto, encountering some rain as we approached, driving along the old Roman road. We were enticed to stop in the old city, but it was quite abandoned and dull. We then drove into the 19th C. City, with its long esplanade along the Bay of Taranto. It would probably have looked better on a sunny day, but it was overcast and growing dark, so we sped home, following much of the route that took us to Martina Franca.

Marcello had given us the names of some simple osterias in Monopoli. We settled on one not far off the main piazza and entered finding it largely empty, but were met by an announcement that it was completo. We managed to divine that it was a festa that caused this, and we learned that it was St. Martin’s Day – Martinmas – when the new wine was celebrated in Italy. We tried osteria number 2 and found a table and a  very respectable meal:

Trattoria San Domenico, Monopoli:

Photo of San Domenico

This is a lovely small restaurant with subdued lighting (many places tend to be very brightly lit). Maltagliatti with swordfish and tomatoes, spaghetti with eggplant and tomato sauce, frittura mista, scallopine with artichoke and scamorza, grilled vegetables. Almond croccante with crème anglaise and strawberries. 60 euros including a bottle of wine.

November 12:

The day dawned mixed in Monopoli, but there were predictions of heavy rain. Undaunted, we set out in a south easterly direction toward Lecce. It was a very easy city to drive around in – literally – around and around the old city core, until we found a place to park and wander into the larger part of the old city. There were the remains of a Roman amphitheater and a covered pedestrian area where we took refuge from periodic blasts of rain. We walked up the main fancy shopping street, coming to the Cathedral piazza.

Thankfully, the Cathedral was open and we stood in the entranceway while gales of rain whipped about. I was focused on finding a luncheon locale, and the best restaurants were either closed or not there, so we looked into hotel restaurants, none of which looked particularly interesting. This took us in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Cross, where we took more refuge. We settled on Osteria dei Spiriti, which I had identified early on from Michelin, and arrived at about 12:40 only to learn it did not open until one o’clock, so we went to the next corner, which was covered, and waited for the minutes to tick away:

Osteria dei Spiriti:

Very charming restaurant, pleasantly lit. Can’t recall the pastas, but they were good. Meatballs, beef filet with green peppercorn sauce. Assorted grilled vegetables. Cappello di Prete 2008 Salento Rosso Candido. Elegant atmosphere with subdued lighting. 81 euros including wine.

After lunch we headed back and decided to make a stop at Ostuni, which loomed above in the clearing skies and presented a not unattractive large hill town. It was, however, a mantrap for unsuspecting tourists. Copious signage for the Cathedral led innocents such as ourselves up to a certain point or intersection where all the signs for every other destination were prominent, but the signs for the Cathedral vanished without a trace. We parked and trudged, and finally espied it on the opposite side of town. Even then the signs would not allow us to make an approach, so we bagged it and headed home. Dinner that evening in Monopoli was in an even more basic trattoria, complete with TV:

Trattoria al Cavaliere, Monopoli:

Gnocchi with artichokes and monkfish, maltagliati (can’t remember the sauce). Big portion of grilled tuna (cooked rare as it should be), frittura mista, grilled vegetables. Spumoni, chocolate mousse. Simple atmosphere, nice service, tasty food. 67 euros including wine.

November 13:

We packed up and were out of the apartment by seven o’clock to give us enough time to get back to Naples for a 12:45 flight to Paris via Munich. There was rain along the way, but it was sunny in Naples by the time we arrived, dropped off the car and made it to the airport.

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