122 Chapters
Medium 9781628873184

14 THE BEST OF BASILICATA & PUGLIA

Stephen Brewer FrommerMedia ePub

Puglia is known for its coned-roofed houses, called trulli.

South of Naples, the Mezzogiorno begins in earnest. The name literally means “midday” and evokes images of rugged, sun-baked landscapes. But that doesn’t begin to describe the riches you’ll discover down here in the instep and heel of the Italian boot, or, officially, Basilicata and Puglia. Two of Italy’s great architectural marvels are down here, the sassi cave dwellings in Matera and the trulli, those fairy-tale stone houses with cone-shaped roofs that only exist in Alberobello and the surrounding Valle d’Itria. Lecce, meanwhile, is city of honey colored stone, chiseled into intricate baroque facades.

Outside these towns and cities, the landscapes are a sweep of groves, orchards, vineyards, and fields, often edged by beaches. It’s estimated that more than six million olive trees carpet the southeast, yielding almost half the country’s oil production, and almost any view is likely to take in gnarled trunks growing out of red earth. Where there’s good olive oil, there’s good wine and good food. The region’s simple but delicious cucina povera (peasant cooking) will nicely fuel your explorations—and you’ll never think of a fava bean with indifference again.

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2 GREECE IN CONTEXT

Stephen Brewer FrommerMedia ePub

2

Greece in Context

While most Greeks are besotted with all that is new—a common greeting is Ti nea? (What’s new?)—most are also fiercely proud of those longtime attractions that enthrall visitors: Greece’s mind-boggling physical beauty and its glorious past. Certainly, for most of us, to leave Greece without seeing Athens’s Acropolis or Delphi, the most beautiful ancient site in all Greece, would be, as Aeschylus himself might have said, tragic. As for Greece’s physical beauty, a trip into the Peloponnese or to Santorini or just about any other island will have you spouting clichés. Palamas, the poet who wrote the words to the Olympic Hymn, was reduced to saying of his homeland, “Here, sky is everywhere.”

Of course, Palamas was right: The Greek sky, the Greek light, the Greek sea all deserve their fame. This is especially obvious on the islands. Greece has anywhere from 1,200 to about 6,000 islands (the count depends on what you call an island, an islet, or a large rock). In any event, almost all of the approximately 200 inhabited islands are ready and waiting to welcome visitors. On the islands and on the mainland, throughout the countryside, picture-postcard scenes are around every corner. Shepherds still urge flocks of goats and sheep along mountain slopes, and fishermen still mend nets by their caiques.

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Medium 9781628871128

5 Around Florence

Stephen Brewer FrommerMedia ePub

5

Around Florence

As if Florence wasn’t endowed with enough attractions to keep you interested for months, within a very small radius of the city is a wealth of other attractions. Some, like Prato and Pistoia, are art cities filled with sculpture and painting that can easily contribute to your sensory overload. The Chianti wine county is a good antidote, providing a tonic of rolling green hillsides and a taste of some of Italy’s best wines. Fiesole is the easiest break from city life, topping a hilltop that’s a bus ride of a mere half hour or so away from Florence. You will lengthen the list of possibilities almost inordinately if you consider that just about anywhere in Tuscany, and many places in Umbria, are an easy train journey away from Florence—Lucca, Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano, and Volterra are short trips away (see chapter 6), as are Arezzo, Cortona, and Montepulciano (see chapter 7). Umbria’s Perugia and Assisi are also relatively short journeys away (see chapter 8). In the meantime, though, here are some worthy choices well under an hour away from the Tuscan capital.

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4 NAPLES

Stephen Brewer FrommerMedia ePub

4

Naples

In Naples, Mt. Vesuvius looms to the east, the fumaroles of the Campi Flegrei hiss and steam to the west, and the isle of Capri floats phantomlike across the gleaming waters of the bay. But for all the splendor and drama of this natural setting, one of Italy’s most intense urban concoctions is the real show. Naples shoots out so many sensations that it takes a while for visitors to know what’s hit them.

Everything seems a bit more intense in Italy’s third-largest city, the capital of the south. Dark brooding lanes open to palm-fringed piazzas. Laundry-strewn tenements stand cheek by jowl with grand palaces. Medieval churches and castles rise above the grid of streets laid out by ancient Greeks. No denying it, parts of the city are squalid, yet its museums are packed with riches. Dozens of churches are not only architectural masterpieces and showcases of a long artistic tradition, but they’re also rich in the endlessly fascinating stories of artists and patrons that unfold behind almost every doorway in this city.

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7 Central & Eastern Tuscany

Stephen Brewer FrommerMedia ePub

7

Central & Eastern Tuscany

The Tuscan lands that flank either side of Italy’s big central valley, the Valdichiana, are first and foremost places of distinctive landscapes. Silvery olive groves sweep up and down hillsides, large swaths of otherwise barren-looking countryside are ablaze with sunflowers and punctuated with pointy cypresses, and vineyards produce two of the world’s favorite red wines, Rosso di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. This part of the world, from Arezzo in the north to Montepulciano and a string of nearby towns in the south, welcomes you with an everyday beauty and unsophisticated, easy charm that leaves no doubt you are in a place apart.

You’ll experience the region’s warm hospitality in sun-drenched hill towns that are almost eponymous with everything that’s good about Italy, from friendly little restaurants serving homemade pasta, to bright, warm-stoned piazzas that are the centers of town life, to masterpieces tucked away in dusty little museums. An overnight stay in any of the towns below introduces you to some memorable experiences of real, everyday Tuscan life, and a visit to any or all of them will fill as many pleasant days as you can spare.

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