Small group tour
(10 – 15 people)
30 March – 8 April 2017
(Enquire for Oct/Nov dates)
€1995 per person sharing
(€290 Single supplement)
All inclusive, 4*
One of Italy’s finest national archaeology museums
Three UNESCO World Heritage sites
Roman mosaics and sculptures, a theatre and an amphitheatre
Local cuisine in some of Puglia’s best restaurants
With evidence of human occupation going back to the Palaeolithic, Puglia, or Apulia as it is known in English, is one of the richest and most diverse regions in Italy for its archaeological heritage. From a historical point of view, the strategic position of the Salento Peninsula (the heel of the Italian boot) has meant that this region has been intimately linked with major historical events in the Mediterranean. The area was inhabited by the Mycenaeans, and later colonised by the ancient Greeks as part of Magna Graecia; taken over by the Romans whose Emperors used the eastern seaports to launch their voyages to the east; and the taken over by a succession of people from the Byzantines in the sixth century, the Normans, the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II, the Turks, the Angevins, the Aragonese, the Austrians, the Bourbons.
Even Napoleon had a hand, albeit briefly, in shaping the history of this region. It was not until 1861 that Puglia became a part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Trying to pack thousands of years of archaeology and history into nine days is not easy. A number of sites and museums have been listed to create a tour that provides an introduction to some of the more notable archaeological and architectural splendours of Puglia.
Architecture from prehistory through the Middle Ages, top left and clockwise: a Bronze Age dolmen; Port di Napoli in Lecce built for Charles V; the Otranto Cathedral with its Norman crypt; Norman city walls of Ostuni.
Day One – 30 March: Arrive at the Ostuni Palace, our first hotel for the tour and where we will be staying for four nights. In the afternoon there will be an informal walk around Ostuni for those who may have arrived early and are ready for some sightseeing. Ostuni is one of the most beautiful towns in Puglia, an appropriate start to the tour. Known as ‘La Città Bianca’ (the white town) because of the whitewashed city walls that surround similarly whitewashed buildings on the top of a hill. Our first gathering together will be at dinner in the Ostuni Palace, known for its innovative fusion of modern and traditional Italian cuisines.
Day Two – 31 March: We begin the tour with a morning excursion from Ostuni to the seaport of Trani, a city steeped in history dating back to at least the ninth century. Of particular interest here is the Romanesque cathedral, dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim. The architecture of the cathedral is amongst the finest in Apulia, with beautiful Romanesque decoration on the portals and pillar capitals throughout the church – some of which suggests Arab influence. Going much further back in time, we move on to the Bronze Age Dolmen della Chianca, discovered in 1909 and excavated in 1913. The remains recovered were typical of these kinds of structures throughout Europe, suggesting this too was a funerary monument. Our final stop for the day is the UNESCO listed Castel del Monte, or Castle of the Mountain. This striking castle built by Emperor Frederick II has obvious influences from classical antiquity, the Islamic Orient as well as north European Gothic.
Day Three – 1 April: We will start the day visiting the underground limestone Castellana Caves, one of the most amazing natural wonders of Puglia. And then it is on to the Egnazia archaeological site and museum. Although there is evidence of habitation on the site since the Bronze Age (15th to 12th centuries BC), it was during the Roman era that the town rose in prominence. Situated on the Via Traiana, that linked modern day Brindisi to Rome, Gnathia became an important seaside, trading town. Many of the features of the Roman town can be still be seen, for example the forum, a necropolis, a criptoporticus, including a portion of the Via Traiana. Also visible onsite is an early Christian Basilica.
Day Four – 2 April: In the morning we explore Ostuni, in particular the town’s museum and the Cathedral with its Bishop’s Palace. The historic part of the town makes up the citadel, which is still surrounded by Medieval walls. Within the confines of these walls are many palazzi of wealthy aristocratic families and fine examples of Baroque-style churches. After lunch we will spend the rest of the afternoon in Alberobello, a small town known for its distinctive trulli, traditional Apullian domestic and agricultural buildings. Once the dwellings and storehouses of local farmers, these dry stone huts with conical, stone roofs that date to just before the 19th century are now a popular tourist attraction.
Day Five – 3 April: We transfer to Otranto and the Vittoria Resort and Spa where we will stay for the next three nights. Otranto is a small seaside town not far from the most easterly point of mainland Italy, which is marked by the Faro della Palascìa (a lighthouse). Otranto was founded by the Greeks, but became an important port for the Romans as it was favoured by the Emperors setting sail for the east. Of particular interest here is the Norman cathedral and the castle. The cathedral, consecrated in 1089, has a superb 11th century mosaic floor with old testament imagery and columns that are said to have come from a temple dedicated to Minerva. The irregular five-sided castle is surrounded by a moat and originally had only one entrance, which was accessed by drawbridge. Castello di Otranto is one of the must-see Aragenese castles in Puglia.
Day Six – 4 April: Today we will cross from the east coast of the Salentina Peninsular to the west, to Gallipoli on the Ionian Sea. We will spend the day exploring historic Gallipoli. The old city of Gallipoli is located on a limestone island, which is separated from modern Gallipoli by a 16th century bridge. The island is still surrounded almost entirely by the Medieval town walls, constructed during the 14th century. The castle was built by the Byzantines in the 13th century, later modified by the Angevins and following them the Aragons added their style. As with many historic Apulian towns, there are a number of splendid churches. One of the more interesting is the cathedral dedicated to St Agatha. The richly decorated façade, finished some time towards the end of the 17th century, is one of the finest examples of Baroque in the region. Gallipoli is also home to the enigmatic Fontana Greca. Once thought to be the oldest fountain in Italy, made by the Greeks when they inhabited the island around the 3rd century, today it is widely accepted to have been created sometime during the Renaissance.
Day Seven – 5 April: Although Lecce is rich in Baroque architecture, which is why it is called by some the Florence of the south, its origins go back to classical times. The city was founded by the Greeks and became an important Roman town – then called Lupiae. We shall spend the whole day exploring the many diverse architectural gems of this city. Highlights include a Roman amphitheatre as well as a theatre (do you know the difference between the two?), the Church of the Holy Cross to see the elaborately decorated façade, the Lecce Cathedral is one of the most important in Italy, and a 16th century castle built for Charles V. Lecce boasts two archaeology museums.
Day Eight – 6 April: We transfer to our final hotel for the tour, the beautiful Park Hotel San Michele, which was as the beginning of the 1900s a large palatial city villa. Before going to the hotel, we visit the town of Taranto, an important and sovereign city of Magna Graecia, which was founded by the Spartans. Besides another Aragonese castle, built in the 15th century to protect the town from invading Turks, we will also visit the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto rich with collections from the founding Greek era of the city. Just beyond Taranto is the Saturo Archaeological Park, which has everything from Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements, the remains of a temple dedicated to Athena and a Roman villa.
Day Nine – 7 April: For our last day we journey to the borders of Puglia and the adjoining region of Basilicata. Metapontum, modern-day Metaponto, was an important city in Magna Grecia. We will visit the archaeological remains, including the striking columns still standing of the Temple of Hera, and the archaeological museum which has an incredible collection of artefacts relating to Magna Graecia from numerous excavations in the area. In the afternoon we will explore Matera, also known as ‘the subterranean city’, which will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019. Matera is known for its ‘sassi’, cave dwellings as well as the many stunning later Medieval churches.
Day Ten – 8 April: Check out of the hotel, with transfers to the airports in Bari or Brindisi for those who require them.
Anyone wishing to extend their stay in Puglia, or if are thinking of having a few days before the start of the tour, my partners at Puglia.ie will be happy to help with any arrangements.
Sculpture through the ages in Puglia, top left and clockwise: a Messapian funerary model of a banquet; Medusa on the front of an antifix; fragments of Roman sculptures; white marble head of Attis.
Towns and attractions included on the tour are indicated with a red marker; the green pins mark hotels used for the tour.
30 March – 8 April 2017
2285 Euros per person
1995 Euros per person, sharing
INCLUDED in the price is a guidebook to the sites included on the tour, accommodation for nine nights (bed and breakfast basis in 4* hotels), eight lunches (days 2 to 9), seven dinners, local guides to Matera, Otranto and Taranto, entrances to museums and sites, all transport for the duration of the tour, the costs of an English speaking guide, entrances to museums and sites included on the itinerary, all other activities mentioned in the itinerary
EXCLUDED in the price is your travel to and from Puglia and the start of the tour in Ostuni, beverages during meals, tips and gratuities for the guides, driver and hotel porters
€600 Deposit secures your reservation. The balance is required 12 weeks before the start of the tour.
FOOD & ACCOMMODATION
During the tour we will be staying at three hotels, each one offering outstanding four star accommodation. And, allowing us to be on the spot to explore three different towns by day and night.
The first four nights will be spent at the Ostuni Palace (or Hotel Monte Sarago), which has a spectacular panoramic view over the whitewashed buildings of Ostuni. Perfect for people with a passion for photography. The following three nights will be spent in the ancient Greek city of Otranto, at the Vittoria Resort & Spa (or Basiliani Resort & SPA). This is a very modern hotel, only a few metres from the historic city centre. The final two nights will be spent at the Park Hotel San Michele (or the Park Hotel Sant’Elia. A characterful hotel that has been sensitively restored from what was a large and palatial Villa in the early 1900s.
Restaurants for lunch and evening meals have been carefully chosen that provide excellent local cuisine. For two of the evenings (Day 4 in Ostuni and Day 8 in Martina Franca), you will be free to decide for yourself where to eat. Of course recommendations can be provided, or you can research the local restaurants for yourselves, or just go out and explore the city and what there is. Puglia is a rich agricultural region, and produces about 40% of Italy’s olive oil. Consequently local cuisine is based on local produce, tomatoes and artichokes, lamb and beef. Pasta typical of this area is orecchiette, small ear-shaped shells that are still made by hand. As the region has an extensive coastline, it is not surprising that seafood and fish features prominently in the diet here, a popular dish being mussels with rice, tomatoes and potatoes. Puglia is the land of the primitivo and negroamaro grape, red wines that are a perfect match for spit-roasted lamb.
SMALL GROUP TOUR
This is a small group tour, which will go ahead with a minimum of 10 people, and a maximum of 15.
There is a quite a bit of easy walking involved. Driving from hotels to the various sites will be in comfortable vehicles; the longest nonstop drive is about an hour and a half.
This tour has been created in collaboration between me, Thomas Dowson – founder of Archaeology Travel, and Puglia.ie, an independent tour company based in Ireland that specialises in travel to Puglia.
The knowledgeable and friendly staff of Puglia.ie have made all the necessary logistical arrangements for the tour, and will continue to manage the logistics throughout the tour: from arranging transfers to hotels, ensuring dietary requirements meet at all restaurants, entrances to sites and museums, and safe and comfortable travel for ten days.
With my professional background in archaeology and the history of art, I have put together a tour that will be of interest to those who are keen to learn more about the archaeology and history of Puglia over the last 10,000 years or so. Besides providing continuity between the places and attractions we visit, I will be on hand throughout the tour to share my expertise and ensure an exceptional service and experience for those on the tour. Read more about my background and reviews of other tours.