Culture and cuisine are two of Italy’s biggest selling points, so as you can imagine, we’re pretty big fans of Italy Unpacked, the BBC2 show featuring art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon and chef Giorgio Locatelli on a tour of the country.
Luckily for us, the new series kicks off this evening (at 9pm – we’ve already Sky Plus-ed it, just in case). The first episode sees the duo exploring the lesser-known regions of Basilicata and Puglia, down in Italy’s heel. We could wax lyrical about the whole area, but instead we’ve chosen our three favourite destinations – all of them within daytripping distance of our hotels in Puglia (and all of them visited by Andrew and Giorgio on Italy Unpacked tonight).
Basilicata’s former capital is one of the quirkiest places in Italy. The reason? Its sassi – districts of cave dwellings that date back centuries. The UNESCO-listed area sprawls down a hillside, with houses and churches hewn out of the soft rock (some of which have now been converted into hotels and restaurants). Give yourself at least a few hours to explore the town’s tiny alleys and stairways.
Puglia is famous for its trulli houses – little limestone dwellings with grey, cone-shaped roofs. Alberobello is filled with them. There are so many, in fact, that the town has been designated a World Heritage Site. Trullo houses are dotted all over the town, but the two districts where you’ll find the most are Rione Monti and Aia Piccola.
Lecce’s big draw is its Baroque architecture – you’ll find intricate churches, buildings and houses at every turn, all made from creamy local limestone. Highlights include the Basilica of Santa Croce and the Piazza del Duomo. You’ve got white-sand beaches in easy reach, too.
It’s not all about culture…
We couldn’t finish without a little mention of food. Like most Italian regions, Puglia has its own distinct cuisine and dishes, as Giorgio is bound to show tonight. It’s all about seasonal, home-grown produce, so what you’ll eat depends on the time of year you’re visiting.