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HEEL OF THE BOOT - ITALY
I have been hearing/reading about the Puglia and Basilicata Provinces of Italy as they have become increasingly more popular travel destinations, so I started looking into it. My research showed this was an area I had to explore for my clients, especially since it had been on my bucket list for twenty years! When good friends, Tom & Collette Gubala said they would love to go, Bill and I immediately started planning our trip. The more we studied the more excited we got. We have an authentic Italian Pizzaria in town and spend several evenings with Tom and Collette eating pizza and drinking Italian wine as we cussed and discussed the trip. Of course, we couldn’t just go to Puglia and Basilicata, we also had to visit Rome and the Amalfi Coast once again.
So, in early March, 2016 we flew out of Vancouver, B.C. through London to Rome. Before you say, isn’t that a bad time of year to go the weather was, actually, very cooperative and pleasant, but we did have to layer most days.
Our first stop was Rome where we spent four days touring the absolutely fabulous sites the city has to offer, tasted the excellent food and drank our share of good Italian vino. Highlights of Rome included our visit to the Scavi which only a handful of people are allowed to do each day - this is the Necropolis under the Basilica of St. Peter and is a must see if you can. We spent two days with a fabulous personal guide who took us to and fro and gave us the history and flavor of most of the well-known sites along with some that are off the beaten track. I highly recommend using a guide with a vehicle to see Rome, even if you have been there before. Seeing Rome through the eyes of an expert guide is the best way to do it and you will see far more than if you try to do it on your own. LBTours can help you do that! While in Rome, we stayed at a small boutique hotel, centrally located and very accommodating. I have had many satisfied clients stay there over the years and often they find themselves upgraded when they check in.
On day five, we headed out early in the morning to the main train station. We boarded the high speed train for a 5 ½ hour ride to Lecce, a town in Southern Puglia (the “Heal of the Boot”) which was to be our first stopping point on our journey into the scenic and interesting Puglia and Basilicata Provinces. We picked up our rental cars (we each had one) and explored the area from Lecce for two nights then branched out from Alberobello for two more, then Matera for another two before we headed to the Amalfi Coast.
As I said, the “Heel of the Boot” of Italy is the up and coming tourist area in Italy for Italians and Europeans, but not so much for Americans yet. Based on our experience, it is well worth the kudos it has received. There are many fantastic sights to see and excellent hotels to stay in along the way. Even though we were off season and many hotels had been closed earlier, we were still able to book amazing ones. And did I mention the food and wines were fabulous? To see the area, it is essential to rent a car, however, LBTours can easily arrange a group trip if several people are interested which might be a little easier for those concerned about driving.
The towns of Alberobello and Matera are extremely interesting cities and "must places to stay and see." Along the way though, we drove to many other scenic and interesting villages. Once you get inland, this is a beautiful part of Italy, hilly to mountainous with interesting little villages. Of course the coastline is beautiful as well. Alberobello is the home of the Trulli houses. These unique, white-washed houses with stacked rock conical roofs called Trulli date back to the 14th century, and are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We actually stayed in a Trulli house hotel; the entrance to our room is shown in the picture to the right. The entire village and surrounding area are full of Trulli houses. Very cool!
Our next stop was Matera. Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back to the Palaeolithic Age. Matera has gained international fame for its ancient town, the “Sassi di Matera.” The Sassi are cave habitations dug into the rock. Over time, the city of Matera with traditional buildings has been built. As you wander around you see layer upon layer of old Sassi overlaid by newer buildings. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been the site of many movies, including Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ. People actually lived in the Sassi until the 1950s, when the government declared them unsuitable to live in. I had arranged for a guide who had lived in Matera all of his life and what a fabulous guide he was! We can help you plan your Southern Italy trip.
The hotels we stayed in were all four to five star and ranged from a castle dating back to the 15th century to an updated Sassi as shown to the right and finally a very luxurious hotel at the top of Matera.
After spending six days in Puglia and Basilicata, enjoying the sights, sounds, food and wine it has to offer, we got in our vehicles and headed to the Amafi Coast. For those who have not been there, the entire coast is one spectacular view after another. The views are great, unless you are driving. A word of advice, don’t try to look at the views while driving along the Amalfi Coast, not matter what other people in the car are saying. The two don’t mix. You are driving on winding, narrow roads with lots of tourist busses. Need I say more?
Lois and I have stayed in the town of Almalfi many times before. This time we decided to stay in the picturesque village of Ravello, a small village nestled in the hills about 1,200’ above the coastline. We stayed a small hotel/villa and loved it. Just outside our room was a spectacular view of the Amalfi Coast, but there are fabulous views everywhere you go. We were there for three nights and explored much of the coast, spending time in Positano and Amalfi, both very scenic towns. As with everywhere else we went in Italy, food was excellent and the vino superb.
Finally, the day came for us to head back to the Rome airport for one last night before we flew back to London, then Seattle.
This was a such a fun and special trip with Tom and Collette and we are very thankful for the opportunity to do it with them. We had lots of laughs...once time we got literally stuck in the narrow streets in a tiny village (and the police and locals all came out to assist us in turning around...we were thankful that we had two small cars instead of one larger one or we would still be there!)
How I look forward to working with any of my clients to plan this fabulous trip for you.. I can make it happen; we would do it all over again in a heartbeat!