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06/04/2018

Puglia Dreaming

Take your top down: a rich culture, great food and heavenly beaches make this Italian region Portofino-perfect

The sun is shining, the gentle breeze is carrying smells of warm earth and olives. Ancient towns dot a countryside that is green but not exaggeratedly verdant and pristine beaches abound along the 750 kilometres of wild Mediterranean coastline: welcome to Puglia, the Italian region that forms the heel of Italy's 'boot' shaped peninsula. With winding coastal roads and an internal topography that swells like a gentle tide, this is the perfect place to open the top of your Ferrari Portofino and discover a region as rich in culture and history as it is in great food and wine.

Start your tour in the south at Borgo Egnazia, a luxury resort with an 18-hole golf course near Brindisi. With a light pressure on the Portofino's steering wheel 'start' button, you set off the car's deep baritone rumble and head eastwards to the Adriatic coast where you soon reach the marina of Savelletri.

Its archaeological park hosts the remains of a once-flourishing town erected by the Messapi, an ancient people that inhabited the region in classical antiquity.

Roads in these parts are often not so smooth, so set the Portofino's Manettino dial – selecting driving style - to 'comfort'. The car then easily absorbs the irregularities of even the worst of the region's surfaces.

 

Comfortably seated, firmly gripping the car's carbon and leather steering wheel, head north along statale 16 (Route 16), for a panoramic run along central Puglia's east coast. A stop at Polignano a Mare, birthplace of famous Italian singer Domenico Modugno, is a must. It's a pearl of the Adriatic, famed for its Lama Monachile beach cove just a short walk from the town's historic centre, and for sea-food specialities such as grilled umbrine and swordfish burgers.

Puglia's coastal roads are a driver's paradise of curves and coves

Leaving Polignano behind, keep heading north along statale 16 to Canne della Battaglia, where in 216 BC Hannibal's Carthaginian soldiers vanquished the much bigger Roman army. Then its statale 170 to Castel del Monte, roughly 30 kilometres inland. Enjoy driving along the winding country roads flanked by drystone walls beyond which fields abound with olive trees. Locals say that further south toward the town of Monopoli, some of the trees are more than 2,000 years old. Trekkers and nature lovers come from afar to admire the gnarled tree barks that have been modelled by the wind for centuries.

 

To the west the fortress at Castel Del Monte is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built on the Murge plateau in the mid-13th century by Emperor Frederick II. Intended to serve as a temple of knowledge, its octagonal shape purposefully evokes powerful mathematical and astronomical symbolism.

From here, take the statale 170 back to the coast, to Trani, famous for its majestic, 13th century cathedral, concealed amid the town's small buildings overlooking the sea.

Centuries-old olive trees populate the region's countryside  Photo: Luca Locatelli 

Whilst you are enjoying the sights, don't forget to enjoy the tastes of Puglia, as well. Aside from the abundance of seafood choices, the local cuisine offers excellent pasta, such as orecchiette con cime di rapa, and cheeses - including mozzarella, burrata, giuncatam and cacciocavallo, accompanied by bruschetta with sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil. And - of course - get your fill of the famous, crunchy taralli biscuits, which, together with the crisp Altamura bread, are ubiquitous. And be sure to have some non-driving time so that you can enjoy some of the region's wonderful bouquet of wines, including now-famous reds like Primitivo di Manduria, Negramaro and Castel del Monte.