Everyone knows Italians love their food, but where do the country’s most passionate epicureans reside? The answer – as a select group of Travellers Choice agents recently discovered – is Puglia.
Often described as the country's best kept secret, the region on Italy's south east coast is famed for its dedication to 'slow food' – delicious locally-produced produce and traditional cooking.
The agents explored the region's culinary traditions on an exclusive seven-night Back-Roads Touring Co. educational that saw them savour silky mozzarella and burrata cheeses, enjoy fresh pasta in a countryside masseria (estate), discover the secret to making olive oil, and taste some of Italy's best wine and seafood.
Travel and Cruise Professionals' Kymberly Rohrsheim says what makes Puglia attractive is the fact that it’s so easy to explore and "every village is so different from the last one".
"One town might be whitewashed stone buildings, while the next will be a fishing port or feature traditional trulli [dry stone huts with conical roofs]," says Rohrsheim. "But they all know food really well, and each tiny sleepy town will have its own hidden treat, which means every day offers a different experience, and it's all within a small compact region."
As well as its quaint villages, Puglia is also known for the remarkable cave dwellings of Matera.
Thornleigh Cruise & Travel's Hughla McLaren says exploring the caves – where people are thought to have resided from as early as 7000 BC – was a highlight of the tour.
"At one stage the Italian government cleared everyone out of the caves, but people have slowly come back and there are now businesses, hotels, pubs and apartments all carved into the rock," says McLaren. "Some of the apartments are apparently more expensive now than those in Rome."