Today we pay a visit to Alberobello to see the trulli, buy a loaf of what is supposed to be the best bread in the world in Altamura, and sleep among the sassi.
About an hour from Lecce in the Itria Valley is Alberobello, home of a large concentration of trulli. These are traditional Apulia dry stone huts which used to be temporary field shelters or storehouses and were sometimes used as permanent homes for small businesses and agricultural laborers. They were built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Because they are odd and charming, they have become big business in Alberobello. Some hold B & Bs, or restaurants, and there is even a Trulli church. The most common business, though, is gift shop. There are many, many gift shops selling exactly the same thing although we are told that everything has been lovingly made by someone’s mother.
Some houses houses have symbols on their roofs which are usually related to Christian themes.
Leaving Alberobello we head to Altamura which is famous for having the world’s best bread. These large boules of bread supposedly looking like priests’ hats have only four ingredients. We need to find a bakery and buy one before everything closes down for siesta. We want to have lunch but I insist that bread must come first or we will be out of luck after lunch. We stop in at Fantasie del Grano and pick up a half kilo loaf. It costs 1 Euro! We will eat it later. (BTW when we come back from lunch every store is closed.)
Now we need to find lunch which is not an easy task and we meander about without finding anything. I know how to find lunch. I did it in Manfredonia and I will do it here too. While my esteemed companions with their smattering of Italian hope to stumble across something, I flag down a butcher outside a market and say, “Scusi, Senore. Ristorante pranzo?” I find using all nouns works best for me. Well, of course the butcher is happy to help and yells to another guy that we need lunch and he should take us to so-and-so restaurant. The new guy walks us there and, voila, we have lunch.
We have accomplished two things on our list and now we just have to get to Matera and find our way through the sassi to our hotel, Locanda San Marino. The sassi are ancient cave dwellings which originate from a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and are suspected to be among the first human settlements in Italy. There is evidence that people were living here as early as the year 7000 BC.
Originally the houses were dug into the soft rock on a slope that led down to a river. Although it was an area of poverty in the 1980s, it has now been regenerated into an area of tourism with businesses, pubs, and hotels. It is a UNESCO site. Our hotel is in this warren of dwellings. We will be sleeping in a cave.
Instead of going out for dinner we go down to the bar, order some wine, and ask for plates and olive oil. Tonight our dinner is the pane di Altamura, the best bread in the world.
Walking back to our cave room, the sassi of Matera look pretty magical.