Puglia, Italy

Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Orecchiette in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Traveling has become a second job for me and Italy is the country that we have had the pleasure of traveling to the most in our few years in Europe. We’ve been to Milan, Venice, Verona, the Italian Alps, Val D’Aosta, Piemonte, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Lucca, Turin, Rome, Florence, Bologne, Pisa, Sienna, Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and many more tiny little villages in between. You name it, we’ve been there. Usually we end up in Italy somewhere because the draw of the sunshine and the delicious food always wins out over other options. Not only that, but there is so much to see and do as the country is very diverse from top to bottom.

Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Bari in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

However, we realized we had really been missing out on a very important part of Italy. THE SOUTH. We have heard so much about this magical place (most of all about the beautiful beaches and abundant fresh veggies) and were dying to explore. So when a couple of our Italian friends were visiting Puglia for a long holiday, we were lucky enough to be invited along and as you can imagine we jumped at the chance.

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Puglia is relatively untouched compared to the more well known parts of Italy. The landscape and architecture in this corner of the world is beautiful in its own right and the weather is absolutely amazing! The sun shines most of the day and blue skies are the norm. The people are incredibly friendly and the food is so fresh and flavorful. You can see tomatoes getting red in the intense sun, huge watermelon fields on the sides of the roads and olive trees just about everywhere you look. If you look a bit closer, you’ll be sure to see fig, lemon, orange, almond and pomegranate trees and zucchini and chili plants growing in every tiny untouched piece of earth. The super sunny climate is perfect for growing some of my favorite fruits and vegetables and you can very much taste the difference. The tomatoes are especially flavorful and should most definitely be eaten with every meal in some shape or form!

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Patu in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Patu in Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Though all the locally grown produce is absolutely delicious, the seafood must not be forgotten. Mussels, clams, calamari and fish of all sorts are in abundance. The best place to indulge is right by the sea where you can either buy the super fresh catch of the day to take home or find a little restaurant that will serve some up for you. We couldn’t resist doing both many times!

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Life is slow and relaxed and you can very quickly find yourself adapting to this way of life! You don’t ever need a watch, you can tell the time of day by when people take a lengthy afternoon siesta and when they rise again. Long afternoon naps in the heat suited me just fine.

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

We stayed in a beautiful tiny little village close to the very tip of the boot where the Adriatic and Ionic seas meet. With either sea only 15 minutes east or west, Patu is the perfect place to spend your days by the sea and your evenings enjoying the cooler temperatures, watching the locals slowly come out and catch up with each other about the days events.

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Vongole Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

I’m always so amazed at the kindness of people, especially the ones who invite you into their homes to share cooking secrets and their favorite local foods. I suppose it’s not really that surprising because food is a thing to be shared and culturally it’s natural to eat with others. Especially here in this part of Italy where food is given with love and in huge quantities.

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

I was so excited to spend the afternoon with Francesca, her mother and a couple of her local friends. Francesca owns a little B&B in Patu called Buongiorno (how fitting) and loves cooking and food as much as I do! She has a cellar full of all her organic canned tomatoes and fruit jams- all done at home from local produce of course. She is passionate about the quality of her ingredients as much as she is about the end product itself.

We spent the afternoon making a very local pasta that is made without eggs and twisted up into lovely long twirls called Sagne Torte. After I had some lessons in the correct twirling form, I tried my hand at the most delicious (and incredibly fattening) traditional pastries from the area, called Pasticciotto Leccese. These were also lots of fun to make using local ingredients along with the homemade mandarin jam that was delectably hidden in the middle of these beautiful sweets.  They were delicious right out of the oven and just as delicious a couple hours later when we snuck another yummy bite! Even though we didn’t share any of the same languages, the language of food is strong enough and we had a lovely time cooking together!

Pasticciotto Leccese , Italy | Fig + Honey
Pasticciotto Leccese , Italy | Fig + Honey
Pasticciotto Leccese , Italy | Fig + Honey

Most parts of Italy are amazing, but if you’re looking for the more untouched, less touristy and very authentic part, then Puglia is where you must go. You will find yourself enjoying the slow ways of life and very obvious connection to the land and sea that all the people seem to have. Theres a lot of passion about this place and if you’re lucky, you might find someone that will share theirs with you. Can’t wait to return!

Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Pasticciotto Leccese , Italy | Fig + Honey
Puglia, Italy | Fig + Honey

Where we stayed

A Patu in Corte  – A beautifully decorated apartment right in the middle of the village behind a very unassuming door.  Great cooking facilities, beautiful decor and lovely stone sinks! Perfect place to spend a week and very very close to both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

Where we relaxed

Lido Gold Beach Club – A relatively small quiet piece of beach overlooking the Ionian sea compared to the huge and full beach clubs on either side.  Great beach chairs and umbrellas and much nicer design than some of the competition and a little farther down the beach to escape some of the crowds!

 

Matera, Italy

Sassi in Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

It’s rather unfortunate to say, but after traveling all of Europe for the past three years, most of the little medieval villages across the continent tend to blend together. It’s not that they’re not all uniquely beautiful and equally amazing, it’s just that most of these places were built in a similar time period with similar materials for similar purposes.

Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera Sassi, Italy | Fig + Honey

Matera however, breaks all of the rules. It’s so uniquely different to anywhere I have been to in Europe so far (or the rest of the world for that matter) and it was very much unexpected. Matera is located all the way down south in the heel of the Italian boot where the sun always shines. Supposedly it was created in the 3rd century BC making it significantly older than most of the European settlements that I’ve visited before. I have a hard time wrapping my head around these numbers as you expect the world to have changed so much more in so much time.

Matera, Italy | Fig + HoneyMatera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sassi in Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

The Sassi (stone built houses) of Matera are really what have made this place so famous. As the world moved into more modern times, thousands of people came to live in these caves and houses built into the landscape. However, as there was no running water or modern conveniences, they were considered completely unlivable and very much associated with complete poverty. In the 50’s this “shame of Italy” was completely emptied by the government and its inhabitants relocated to housing projects. Over the years, these buildings are slowly transforming again into livable and modern hotels and houses, but many still remain abandoned.

Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sassi in Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

The background is just so fascinating but it’s probably enough of the history lesson. By far, this is one of my favorite places in the world and it’s very easy to see why. The color palate is completely muted and is really what makes Matera feel so surreal. Neutral tones everywhere contrast deeply with the windows letting very little light into these stone buildings. The result makes you really feel like you are transported back in time.

Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

We were lucky to get a room in the Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita which has transformed quite a few of these Sassi into a very modern hotel. The original furniture throughout is starkly contrasted with the beautiful bathtub in the corner of a candlelit room. However everything comes together just perfectly and is actually incredibly romantic. The large breakfast spread is all locally sourced and of course delicious. Mozzarella for breakfast works so well!

You must visit this little corner of the world if you ever have the opportunity. It’s breathtaking, fascinating, beautiful and humbling all in one go.

Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Sextantio Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey
Matera, Italy | Fig + Honey

Where we stayed:

Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita – A very historically restored hotel set a little off the beaten path.  Amazing views, beautiful rooms and a great mission to protect the heritage of Italy.

Where we ate:

PaneCotto – Great lunch spot serving locally made food.  You must try the mozzarella and the fried dried peppers.  The focaccia is one of the best I’ve ever had and is perfect with the proscuitto and local tomatoes!

Il Terrazzino – Restaurant with the perfect view overlooking the Sassi di Matera.  Try the baked orecchiette – it’s delicious but incredibly filling!

Trattoria Lucana – We went here based on so many good reviews of the place but were a bit disappointed.  The food was mediocre, the atmosphere was lacking and wine was relatively overpriced. After talking to some locals it sounds like the place has changed hands and has been declining in popularity for some time now.

Cooking at Castello Di Verduno, Italy

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

For the past two weeks, I’ve been spending my days in Turin, Italy. Lucky for me, my husband had to travel there for work and instead of staying home alone, I decided to go with him. Who wouldn’t want to sit in a lovely Italian cafe and have a coffee and go shopping for beautiful leather shoes! I had a lovely time to say the least and just couldn’t get enough of the amazing gelato and pizza – my favorite foods!

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

On the weekend, we decided to get out of the city and drive south to the Piemonte countryside. It’s absolutely beautiful much like Tuscany with old medieval villages scattered across rolling hills of farmland. It was even better that Spring was in full swing and the blossoms were out all over the landscape. This corner of the world still has that untouched feeling that is fading slightly in other parts of Italy. Piemonte is home to the famous truffles of Alba, the famous chocolate of Torino and some of my favorite red wines in the world, Barbereso and Barolo.

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

I’m always eager to try the local cuisine of the places that we visit. Usually I spend ages finding the perfect places to go and dishes to eat as I’m never satisfied with tourist fare. One of my dreams is to cook in as many countries around the world as I can! Lucky for me, that the lovely Alessandra from Castello di Verduno agreed to spend one day teaching me some traditional Italian dishes from the region in her kitchen. To start the day off, we went shopping for ingredients in Alba. The whole city of Alba is actually filled with market stalls every saturday selling everything from fruits and vegetables to cleaning supplies and clothes. All the people from the surrounding countryside come to do their weekly shop and catch up with friends.

Alba Italy | Fig & Honey

We headed straight for the farmers market which is tucked away in an open air shed across the road from everything else. Here, all the produce comes straight from the farm and is sold usually by the farmers themselves. It was beautiful to see such variety in produce from so many leafy greens to glossy onions. And did you know that during this time of year, most kiwis come from this region of Italy? Apparently even New Zealand has them shipped over since they’re out of season over there.

Alba Italy | Fig & Honey Alba Italy | Fig & Honey

I just loved seeing the relationship between the customers and the farmers. Everyone searching for the best quality and the farmers eager to provide it. Now if only I could find something similar here in Köln!

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

After the farmers market, we headed back to Castello di Verduno to start cooking! We found so many seasonal goodies at the market that we had quite a lot of work to do in the kitchen preparing all sorts of different dishes.We spent quite a few hours learning and cooking the many dishes that follow and happily enjoyed it all after with lovely bottle of local wine.

Piemonte Italy | Fig & HoneyPiemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

The menu ended up starting with a fresh green salad with greens and radishes from the market accompanied by some fresh flowers that I picked in the garden. We then made Bagna Cauda which is an olive oil, garlic and anchovy sauce local to the area that goes perfectly with cardoon.

We also made a delicious stinging nettle soup with leek and potatoes. In the past, I’ve only had nettles in tea which I have a love hate relationship with.  However, it came out the perfect color green and was surprisingly good!

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

After, we made some vegetarian agnolotti that were filled with cabbage, leek, green onions, and potatoes. These were fun to make and came out beautifully. The vegetarian versions were quite a bit larger than their meat counterparts but were the perfect size for a good bite and a lot of flavor. They tasted delicious with just a simple sage and butter sauce.

Piemonte Italy | Fig & HoneyPiemonte Italy | Fig & Honey 

We also were able to find some fresh hops at the farmers market which are found only in the spring. These are gorgeous blanched and served with a poached egg yolk and a cheese zabaglione. They have such a unique flavor and texture thats different to everything I’ve tasted before. It’s amazing these hops are used later on in the season for beer!

Vegetarian Agnolotti | Fig & Honey

Next for mains, we had some pan fried quail with sautéed artichokes and potatoes. With the little room we had left in our stomachs at this point, we finished it all off with the traditional Bunet – a Piedmontese steamed chocolate and amaretti cake.

Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is a treat for me. I’m always so excited to get out of my own and learn different cuisines and techniques. It’s amazing how similar ingredients can be used in so many different ways around the world. After a full day in the kitchen and overly satisfied stomachs we thanked our hosts and finally made our way back to our hotel. If you’re in the area definitely stop in to eat at this great place or if you’re feeling adventurous, try cooking your food too!

Piemonte Italy | Fig & Honey

Where we cooked: 

Castello di Verduno
Via Umberto I, 9, 12060 Verduno, Italia
Tel. +39 0172 470 125
http://castellodiverduno.com

Where we stayed:

The lovely Palazzo Righini is a luxuriously restored an old convent in the town of Fossano. The service is impeccable and the rooms and grounds are just beautiful. Definitely a perfect place to stay if you are in this area of Italy.

Palazzo Righini
Via Giovanni Negri, 20, 12045 Fossano Cuneo, Italy
+39 0172 666666
www.palazzorighini.it/EN/

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European Road Trip: Day 4 Verona, Italy

verona1small

Though Italy has its own very specific feeling, the county varies greatly from top to bottom and from left to right.  No one city is the same. Verona was no different. It is quintessentially Italian, however so different from any of the other cities I have been to before.

verona2

verona-10Verona is a lovely city, although I’m not sure I can reeealllyy say I saw all of it.  Since the weather was so unbearably hot, we spent most of the afternoon hopping from one shadow to the next, hoping for a bit of relief from the intense sun.  Note to self: maybe visiting Italy in the middle of summer is not the best idea.

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