Friday, May 22, 2015

Great Britain by Train: An ideal international family vacation

The magnificent Royal Crescent of Bath, England sits on a hill overlooking the famed Roman spa  (wikipedia)
LONDON International family travel is a growing trend as grandparents are joining grandchildren in journeys that are both memorable and educational.

When it comes to international family travel, there may be no better starting point than Great Britain and there is no more convenient way to go than by train.
Modern British trains glide through history  (wikipedia)

A journey through the UK by rail is time travel by train. It is a beguiling destination for Americans that beckons us to savor its spirit. A place for legends and myths to merge with historic truths to create the ideal blend of fact and fiction.

Much of the appeal of the British Isles has to do with heritage and tradition, for this is a land of “once upon a time.” It is a place where the procession of history thrives within its own timelessness.

Jousting was popular in Medieval England  (wikipedia)
Consider literary characters and personalities, imagined and real, who pass through our minds as voices personified in a panoramic parade of poetry and prose: Macbeth and Lear and Hamlet; Tom Jones and Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle; Oliver Twist and Ebenezer Scrooge and Phileas Phogg.

There is an aura of mystery and suspense as well. Stonehenge, the Tower of London and the Loch Ness Monster; Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appear out of the mists.

Kings and queens have their own special allure in this land with its stories of King Arthur’s knights, Henry VIII, Victoria and Elizabeth and today’s royal family.
King Henry VIII was one of many notorious English monarchs  (wikipedia)
Truly this is a land for all seasons, enveloped by the richness of its history -- and trains are the ideal links to those legacies. British rails connect us to a cavalcade of culture that is familiar to us all.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a classic horror story  (wikipedia)
In many ways, the roots of our American spirit can be traced to the glories of the British past, and trains are pathways that lead us through the tunnels of time to new moments of discovery.

They take us to the birthplace of golf past neat fields, through a sea of vivid green tumbling landscapes that one writer said creates a sense of being at the “midpoint of creation.”

Trains pass by, and travel to, walled towns and haunting ruins. There is a medieval quality to it all; an ancientness enhanced by a kaleidoscope of colors amid heather carpeted hills and echoes of untamed vistas.

They reveal castles, estates and stately mansions, which are monuments to the works of man that are as engrossing in their own way as works of nature.

Castles are in abundance throughout the United Kingdom  (wikipedia)
British trains come to rest where the Romans once bathed in natural spring waters. Where cobblestone streets are squeezed into narrow alleyways beneath half-timbered houses. Where distant pastures can be seen through empty archways or as British journalist and writer H.V. Morton noted, “Where every meadow has a valet.”
Scotland is famous for its heather carpeted hills and deep lochs  (wikipedia) 
No trip is complete with visiting a pub  (wikipedia)
Taste the traditions with a full English breakfast. Have tea with Devonshire cream and scones. Try fresh fish chips or perhaps enjoy a pint of ale with locals in a country pub.

Meander through the countryside where sheepdogs bark in the distance and hedgerows and rock walls give order to things.

In Scotland and Wales a panorama unfolds as the landscape rises and falls past muscled peaks, fertile fields and dense forests before giving way to deep Scottish lochs or the embraces of the Irish Sea.

Steam train crosses the historic Glenfinnian Viaduct in Scotland  (wikipedia)
Diversity creates the character of Great Britain, and it is this variety that refutes the concept that “there are no more unknown places.” You see, every place is unknown until you experience it yourself.

Britain’s compact size offers concentrated travel experiences unlike any other, and the rail system makes it convenient to use one city as a base for individual day trips that seem like mini-holidays within themselves.

York is still surrounded by its wall  (wikipedia)
From London, for example, head north to the walled city of York. Journey to the Roman ruins at Bath. Spend a quiet afternoon in the gentle surroundings of the Cotswolds. Explore Shakespeare’s Stratford and visit Trinity Church where he is buried. Or stroll among the historic “rows” of Chester.

All are within easy reach, yet still close enough to have you back in London in time for the theater.
Prices for point to point tickets and passes vary according to distance, time of day, level of service and, even, a traveler’s age. Rail Europe is the complete one-stop shop for answering all of your individual questions and providing the best options for your particular itinerary.

Pulteney Bridge in Bath remains a commercial center filled with shops (wikipedia)
British trains do, indeed, tell tales of “once upon a time.” As someone once wrote, “the past is no ghost at this banquet, rather it sits at the head of the table.”

For American family travelers, our links to Great Britain are powerful reminders of our own heritage which is no more characterized than by sharing a common language.
The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror and later housed many famous prisoners  (wikipedia)

Listen to the rails of Great Britain, for here legends do linger and the rails are the “ties that bind.”

Friday, May 15, 2015

Stein am Rhein, Switzerland: Medieval magic, colorful facades and oriels

Half timbered houses, frescoed facades and oriels make Stein am Rhein a picturesque treasure  (wikipedia)
STEIN AM RHEIN,SWITZERLAND All too often travelers become so wrapped up in checking cities, attractions and sights off their list that they fail to achieve their primary reason for traveling…discovery. 

Alfred North Whitehead reinforced that notion when he wrote “One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering.” 

 “Hidden treasures” are the essence of travel and Stein am Rhein, Switzerland is one of those “treasures.”

Quaint narrow streets of Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
In many countries Stein am Rhein might be considered remote.  Not in Switzerland.  While it may be off-the-beaten-path, the accessibility of the Swiss Travel System, combined with its proximity to Schaffhausen, Winterthur and other delightful spots along the River Rhine and Lake Constance, make Stein am Rhein a great place as a base for day trips.

The tiny municipality is a jewel in the canton of Schaffhausen.  Stein am Rhein, which translated means “stone on the Rhine”, lays claim to being the best preserved medieval town in the country, featuring some the finest half-timbered houses in Switzerland
 
Stein am Rhein is famous for its bay windows and intricately painted buildings  (wikipedia)
If you take your time, you can walk leisurely through this outdoor museum and back in thirty minutes.  Frescoes adorn the facades of the buildings and oriels, or bay windows, overlook delightful cafes and storybook streets.  In some places, the layers of time have elevated the streets enough to even force strollers to duck beneath those bay windows to walk under them.

Aerial view of Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
Situated along the shores of the Rhine, just a short distance from the place where Lake Constance spills into the river on it way to the North Sea, Stein am Rhein became a strategic location during the 11th century.  It was then that Henry II, the fifth, and last, Ottonian emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, moved St. George’s Abbey from Hohentwiel in Singen to what was little more than a quaint fishing village. 

Over time, commerce grew along the river and Stein am Rhein flourished.  The monastery, which was abandoned during the Protestant Reformation, remains a highlight for visitors today.  Located near the Town Hall Square, St. George’s Abbey Museum, as it is commonly referred to now, dedicates its exhibitions to local art and history.  Perhaps of more interest however, are the ceilings, paneling and murals of Thomas Schmid and Ambrosius Holbein.

St. George's Abbey on the shores of the Rhine, Stein am Rhein, Switzerland  (wikipedia)
Abrosius, the son of Hans Holbein the Elder and the older brother of Hans Holbein the Younger, lived in Stein am Rhein in 1515 while assisting Schmid with the murals in the main hall of the abbey. 

With a population of 3,000, Stein am Rhein is only twice the size it was during the 1800s.    

Hohenklingen Castle on a hill overlooking the village (myswitzerland.com)
Adventurous travelers can walk up to the Castle of Hohenklingen, a 13th century fortress overlooking the city where they can see the Lake of Constance and the Alps when weather permits.

For less ambitious visitors, there is still plenty to explore including the frescoed facades of the buildings which depict biblical and historical themes throughout town.  In addition, the oriels that elegantly perch above the streets, are symbols of the city’s former affluence, as are the paintings.

Even today, ownership of the frescoed buildings in Stein am Rhein comes with serious obligations to the history of the village.  As a condition of proprietorship, a titleholder must agree to maintain the paintings in the same condition as the originals without compensation for the investment.

Stein am Rhein is a great place for a stroll  (wikipedia)

With its Lilliputian size, Stein am Rhein is built on a human scale.  It is a charming place for walking and exploration.  Most people begin their strolls at the 16th century Town Hall, pausing frequently to admire the frescoes and oriels before stopping at a cafĂ© along the way to simply savor the surroundings.

You can access Stein am Rhein by car, boat or rail.  The train station sits on a hill across the river
from the main village, but it is only a short walk across the bridge which spans the Rhine.  Bike rentals are available at a kiosk at the railway station.  For 32 Swiss francs a day there are several well-marked bicycle paths along both shores of the river.  Schaffhausen is just 13-miles to the west or you can peddle eastward to Kreuzlingen which is 18-miles away.
Rhine Falls near Stein am Rhein is the largest waterfall in Europe  (wikipedia)
There is also regular boat service between Kreuzlingen, which is easily accessible by rail or car, and Schaffhausen.  Cruises meander through a beautiful region that alternates between Switzerland and Germany.  Among the special sights are the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall, just outside Schaffhausen.  The cascading torrents of water can be likened to Niagara Falls in miniature.

Another popular place for an outing is nearby Winterthur with its remarkable private art exhibition at Am Romerholtz.  The Oskar Reinhart Collection is known throughout the world as one of the finest of its kind.  Featuring the work of artists such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Miro and Klee to name a few, the Reinhart Collection is displayed in a private residence rather than a museum.  Just 17-miles from Stein am Rhein, Winterthur is a convenient 40-minute train ride to the south with hourly service throughout the day.
Am Romerholz, home of the Oskar Reinhart art collection in Winterthur, near Stein am Rhein  (wikipedia)
For the traveler who seeks a quiet destination far from the madding crowd yet accessible to a rich diversity of scenery, history, quaint villages and world-class art, Stein am Rhein is a gem to consider.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Asheville, N. C.: Proof there is no place like home



















The front entrance to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It is also known as "America's Castle"  (wikipedia)
 ASHEVILLEN.C. Asheville has long been a cultural oasis in the state of North Carolina. In fact, CondĂ© Nast Traveler once ranked it among the 20 “friendliest” cities in the world.

Asheville is an ideal spot for a base to visit the famed Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains and immerse in a diverse selection of historic homes. It’s  Americana at its best, running the gamut from a Native American village to the glory days of turn-of-the-20th century industrial entrepreneurism.

Omini Grove Park Inn with its natural stone charm  (wikipedia)
Begin at the century-old Omni Grove Park Inn, which has been visited by no less than ten presidents. The 44,000-square-foot resort with its subterranean spa was inspired by Edwin Wiley Grove who was known as the “Father of Modern Asheville.”

Grove, a Civil War veteran, purchased a pharmaceutical company in his mid-20s. He believed the climate in Western North Carolina would have health benefits and serve as an ideal location for a resort.

The original property opened in 1913 with Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan delivering the keynote address to more than 400 distinguished southern gentlemen.

Though expanded several times, the favorite rooms are still in the original building with its over-sized fireplaces at each end of the lobby and the outdoor balcony overlooking a jagged expanse of bluish-gray mountains.

Cherokee tells the history of the original tribe (wikipedia)
About an hour away is Cherokee, home of the original Cherokee nation and the starting point for “Trail of Tears” in 1838. At that time Cherokees controlled over 140,000 square miles covering what is today part of eight states.

The drive is beautiful any time of year, but during the fall season it is especially vibrant with its myriad palette of rust oranges, buttery yellows and candy apple reds.

Historians date the ancient civilizations in the area more than 11,000 years ago, to the end of the last Ice Age. Europeans arrived in the territory in 1540 in search of gold and other riches.
Scene from Unto These Hills, Cherokee's outdoor drama about the Trail of Tears  (wikipedia)
Today, Oconaluftee Indian Village takes visitors 250 years into the past to demonstrate Cherokee life as it existed in the mid-1700s. Serpentine pathways guide travelers into the past through ancient homes, and through demonstrations of basket weaving, canoe making and dart blowing and lectures about Cherokee myths and legends.

For non-historians, the Harrah’s Casino at the outskirts of Cherokee offers a contemporary alternative.
Moving forward to the 1800s, head north out of town along the winding road that hugs a rushing stream leading into Cades Cove. Preserved by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the site features original pioneer homes, farms, barns and pastures as they were more than two centuries ago.

Carl Sandburg home in Flat Rock, NC  (Wikipedia)
Another day trip from Asheville is Flat Rock and historic Connemara Farms. It’s a name that immediately garners more attention when you learn it was the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Carl Sandburg. Sandburg required peace and solitude for his writing, so he moved to his 30-acre North Carolina home in 1945.

Sandburg’s wife, Lillian, also needed extensive pastureland for her award winning dairy goats. The goats remain and are a favorite with visitors. In summer, live readings of Sandburg’s works and excerpts from the play about his life are performed in the amphitheater at the park. Sandburg spent the last 22 years of his life at Connemara.

Thomas Wolfe house in Asheville  (wikipedia)
Complete the Asheville “homecoming” visit with a tour of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. Though severely damaged by fire in 1998, the Old Kentucky Home boarding house, which Wolfe described extensively in Look Homeward, Angel, re-opened for tours in 2004.
The picturesque serpentine beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway -- take your time this is no Interstate highway (wikipedia)
Wolfe was strongly influenced by his hometown of Asheville. He died at the age of 38 writing four novels in his all too brief lifetime.

Last stop: the famed Biltmore Estate of George Vanderbilt. The Chateau-style mansion took just six years to build, opening on Christmas day in 1895.

Vuew of Biltmore Estate from the south (wikipedia)
Still in the family, it is owned and operated by William A.V. Cecil, Sr., one of Vanderbilt’s descendants. The estate has become a major national attraction, the setting for several movies and has undergone considerable renovations to open more of the property to the public.

Sometimes known as “America’s Castle” and said to be the largest private home in the country, Biltmore Estate covers nearly 180,000 square feet with 250 rooms.

The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also did Central Park in New York City. The gardens at one side of the chateau are always a treat as is the winery. There are also other enjoyable food and beverage concessions on site and an inn.

North Carolina’s mountains are proof positive that Thomas Wolfe was wrong, “you really can go home again.”




Friday, May 1, 2015

Nisbet Plantation on Nevis combines history with relaxation

Avenue of the Palms and the Great House at Nevis Plantation  (Nevis Plantation)
NEVIS Nisbet Plantation on the island of Nevis is the sort of place where Valium goes to relax.
“On the island time forgot is a hotel you will remember forever,” is the way the Caribbean’s only historic plantation on the beach describes itself.

Palm Tree Alley leads the way to the beach (Nisbet Plantation)
If it is true that first impressions are lasting ones, then visitors are immediately impressed by Nisbet Plantation’s signature gateway to the Caribbean Sea known as “Palm Tree Alley.”  The 30-acre tropical beachfront property uniquely combines a storied history with casual elegance.

Travelers may take a while to adjust to the serene rhythms of island life, but once immersed in the contagious ambience of Nevis, they soon wonder what all the fuss was about back home. Nevis’ sister island of St. Kitts, just two miles across the shallow channel called “The Narrows,” seems like Mardi Gras by comparison.

On Nevis the biggest event of the day will likely be a dominoes match between some of the locals in the capital city of Charlestown. Or it could be the spotting of a green vervet monkey roaming through town.
Rope hammock with Mount Nevis in the background  (Nevis Plantation)
Meanwhile, at Nisbet Plantation, the toughest decision a guest may make all day is which rope hammock to choose at the beach.

Interlaced within its tranquil setting, Nisbet’s history hearkens to the romantic past of a more genteel era. Nevis is a gumdrop shaped island encompassing just 36-square miles. In the center rises Nevis Peak, the island’s dominant geographical feature. At 3,232-feet, the extinct volcano is almost always surrounded by clouds.
A real life fantasy island, Nevis Peak with its perpetual clouds  (Wikipedia)
Little wonder that the island’s 18th century plantation life embraced a legacy of cultured gentility and charm. That ambience still lives at Nisbet Plantation, and it’s part of the magic.

Admiral Lord Nelson  (Wikipedia)
Remnants of the sugar cane industry that once made Nevis “Queen of the Caribees” can be found everywhere on the island, and Nisbet Plantation was one of the richest. When Admiral Lord Nelson, the famed British naval hero, visited Nevis, he met Frances Nisbet, the wealthy widowed wife of Dr. Nisbet, who had owned the plantation. 

Fanny, as she was affectionately known, quickly fell in love with the captain and they were married at Saint John Figtree Parish Anglican Church in 1787.

Just 32-years earlier, in 1755, Alexander Hamilton, was born on Nevis. Hamilton spent much of his childhood there before becoming a founding father of the United States. Even today the Nevis Island Assembly Chambers are located in the place of Hamilton’s birth.
Alexander Hamilton's birthplace is now a museum  (Wikipedia)
When Christopher Columbus sighted Nevis in 1493 he called it “Our Lady of the Snows,” referring to the perpetual cloud cover around Nevis Peak.

Breakfast overlooking the Avenue of the Palms  (Nisbet Plantation)
More than a century later, in 1607, Captain John Smith visited Nevis during the voyage that eventually led to the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

Coconuts dining room is the best of all worlds  (Nisbet Plantation)
Electricity came to Nevis in 1954, but it was not available throughout the island until 1971. Even today, one will not see traffic lights, nor buildings constructed taller than a coconut palm tree.

For travelers enjoying the luxurious rustic ambience of Nisbet Plantation, Nevis’ quiet history whets the appetite for island exploration or lively dinner conversation following a hard day of croquet and lounging on the beach.

In 1950, Mary Pomeroy purchased the property and attempted, without success, to turn it into a coconut plantation among other ventures. Eventually Pomeroy refurbished some guest rooms and later added bungalow-style cottages leading down to the beach.

Following several ownership changes, current owner David Dodwell purchased Nisbet in 1989 and since has received international attention for the property.

Nisbet Plantation features 36 rooms, of which 14 are superior rooms and 22 are suites in three categories. All rooms are elegantly appointed with a regional motif and soft Caribbean pastels.
Deluxe luxury suite (Nisbet Plantation)


Rates, which include full a breakfast and dinner, as well as afternoon tea, vary according to season. Currently, special offers are booked only via phone or by e-mail. Among the amenities are free Wi-Fi and 110-volt electrical current sockets, the same as the United States.

Resort facilities include a spa, tennis, fitness center and croquet lawn, plus three restaurants offering a light fare menu up to fine dining.

A favorite gathering spot is the great house with its trademark setting that faces the rows of palm trees that somehow manage to lure visitors away from the beach. The Tea Patio overlooking Palm Tree Alley is especially enticing in late afternoon when the day eases into the amber glow of twilight and sea breezes caress the grounds.
Serenity is Nisbet Plantation's greatest natural resource  (Nisbet Plantation)
On the tiny hump-shaped paradise of Nevis, Nisbet Plantation is one of the few properties with direct access to the beach -- reason enough to saunter down Palm Tree Alley to locate that perfect hammock for the surge of serenity that awaits.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Travel Tip: European railway stations can be your BFF

Atocha railway station in Madrid, Spain features a botanical garden in the main lobby   (wikipedia)
CHARLOTTE When traveling abroad, many inexperienced travelers have two primary common fears: language barriers and getting lost.  Here’s a tip that may surprise you. In Europe, one place in almost every city where help is available is the train station.

Cafes and shops in Stockholm's railway terminal  (wikipedia)
With Europe’s vast rail network keep in mind that rail terminals can readily alleviate fears and become a major refuge and ally.

A railway station located in an airport is a usual convenience in many European hub cities. Arriving and departing passengers can frequently begin their travels by validating rail passes or purchasing point-to-point tickets without making bus or taxi transfers into the city. It is not only a time saver but an easy way to get your bearings after a long overnight journey.

Electronic departure board at Gare du Nord in Paris  (wikipedia)
In most major and medium-sized cities throughout the continent, train stations are located in the heart of town.  That means visitors are immediately centrally located before attempting to conquer new worlds.  But that’s only the beginning.

Information is always available in English at a railway station. Just look for a sign with a lower case letter “i” or one that says “Tourist Information.”  There you can get city maps, transportation schedules, hotel information (sometimes you can even make reservations), directions, restaurant suggestions or answers to almost any question.
           
Note that tourist information is not the same as “Rail Information” which is limited to details about rail schedules, prices, track numbers and the like.
Milan's central railway station is a massive structure that was built by Mussolini  (wikipedia)
Railway terminals usually have currency exchange and/or ATMs plus a variety of food services.  Many feature gift shops, newsstands and sundries. Some even have drug stores, pharmacies or fine dining restaurants.

 In fact, Le Train Bleu, in the Gare de Lyon in Paris, has been serving elegant cuisine to travelers and locals alike in Belle Epoque surroundings since 1901.
Le Train Bleu restaurant in Gare de Lyon in Paris hearkens to the Golden Age of travel  (wikipedia)
When French president Emile Loubet inaugurated Le Train Bleu its vast rooms were filled with sculptures and paintings depicting rail travel and events at the turn of the twentieth century, a stunning display of the styles of the era. While Le Train Bleu is certainly an anomaly, even by today’s standards, it represents a superb example of how versatile and practical a European railway station can be. For instance, in many villages throughout Switzerland there are Bahnhof Buffets where the food is so good that locals frequently dine at the train station instead of more traditional restaurants.

Switzerland's Jungfrau is the highest station in Europe  (wikipedia)
For travelers in transit, lockers are available, especially in larger cities.  If you don’t have a lot of luggage, a locker can provide a place to store your bags for several hours or a day so you can easily immerse yourself in sightseeing, shopping or other activities before traveling onward. Some railway stations even have shower facilities.

In many European cities, underground passageways offering safe, efficient transfers between the congested streets above have been cleverly adapted into lively subterranean malls where locals and visitors alike will find a diversity of shopping and dining resources. The Haupbahnhof, the main railway station in Zurich, has such a large entry hall that it is able to accommodate its own Christmas market during the winter holiday season. At other times throughout the year, there are a variety of exhibitions and displays to tantalize visitors in Switzerland’s largest city.
A Eurail Global Pass is great value  (wikipedia)


Obviously not all railway stations provide a complete selection of all services, but the point is that a European train terminal can become a traveler’s best friend. At the very least visitors will find information, food and currency exchange.

Regardless of how you say it, be it bahnhof, gare, or statzione, a railway station always translates to an oasis. Travelers making the transition from the familiarities of home through the learning curves of new environments will quickly discover that railway stations can be an island of consolation in a vast uncharted sea of uncertainty. For novice travelers a train station can become a vital comfort zone just knowing that help is readily available. A railway terminal is a one-stop bonanza where numerous small tasks can be accomplished, ultimately saving time and energy, allowing more opportunities for exploration.
A railway station like the Gare du Nord in Paris has a magic all its own at night  (wikipedia)
Best of all, European rail stations are also the ideal place to catch a train.



Friday, April 17, 2015

Puglia: Italian treasure on the east side of the boot

The unique dry-stone huts known as "trulli" in the village of Alberobello in Puglia  (Wikipedia)
PUGLIA, ITALY Just when you thought you had seen all of Italy, a new destination has arisen on the back end of the boot. She is called Puglia.

Situated upon the extensive eastern spine of Italy, Puglia is a region lovingly embraced by two seas with mile upon mile of pristine coastline nestled along serpentine ribbons of golden sand. Here the only interludes are hidden coves and enchanting outcroppings of rock that enhance the surroundings rather than disrupt them.

Ancient streets of Matera  (Wikipedia)
In purely travel time Puglia is a relative newcomer that is only now undergoing its own “renaissance.” Because of its beaches, Puglia has always been a favorite holiday spot for Italians, but it has only come into its own as an international destination within the last ten years. Nada Vergili, owner of Nada’s Italy and a native of Florence describes Puglia as a “place for people who want to go back to Italy to squeeze out the last ounce of treasure.”

To the east lies the Adriatic. To the west is the Ionian Sea. In between is pure magic.

Nada Vergili in the vineyards of Puglia  (Nada's Italy)
Don’t expect masses of infrastructure. Puglia is not a third world port of call mind you, but it is, in its own way, Italy as it used to be.

The region is famous for its olive oil but even that is a relatively new discovery. In the past, the olive oil was used in lamps as fuel until the citizens realized it was more delicious for cooking than lighting. Today, Puglia is known for its underground olive mills.

One popular site for an excursion is a visit to see the dry-stone huts called trulli in the village of Alberobello. The white houses with conical roofs were built either as temporary shelters and storehouses or as permanent homes for the small groups of agricultural workers living in Alberobello. The community thrived in the latter part of the 19th century because of its wine growing industry.
The dazzling "white city" of Ostuni where ancient archways open to awe-inspiring courtyards and narrow streets  (Wikipedia)
The “white city” of Ostuni is one of Vergili’s favorites with its dazzling whitewashed Mediterranean-style houses. “It is a succession of delicate arches, quaint courtyards and noble palaces,” says Vergili with a sigh, “an uneven series of layers and levels filled with staircases, alleyways, narrow streets and arches.”

Cathedral Square in Lecce  (Wikipedia)
Among the newest developments in tourism is something called “albergo diffuse” which is rapidly becoming a popular concept in Puglia. As the Italian words suggest, the “albergo diffuse” offer rooms that are spread throughout a village rather than in a single building. Thus they are “diffused” with perhaps one, two or three rooms in one part of town and other similar combinations in another. The idea allows travelers more opportunities to immerse themselves into the culture.

One of the favorite attractions in the region is technically not in Puglia but close enough for a visit. Matera is one of the oldest human settlements in the world dating back to the Paleolithic Period some 12,000 years ago.
With its ancient troglodyte caves, Matera is a favorite spot to visit near Puglia  (Wikipedia)
Many parts of Matera had no running water until the 1950s. That is no longer the case today, and the troglodyte cave dwellings where people made their homes within the porous rock that provided natural protection from the elements never cease to fascinate visitors.

The harbor in Bari has become a popular port for cruise ships (Wikipedia)
With its abundance of Baroque architectural monuments, the community of Lecce has been nicknamed the “Florence of the South.” In many ways the city feels more Greek than Italian because the original settlers are said to have been from Crete. Not far away, in a small group of villages known as the Grecia Salentina, Greek is still a predominant language.

Seafood is a specialty in Puglia as are the traditional meatballs with tomato sauce and the famous mozzarella known as “burrata” which Nada describes as “decadent.”

Bari, the capital of the region, is situated on the Adriatic Sea and is the second most important economic center in Southern Italy after Naples. As Puglia grows in popularity, Bari is quickly becoming known to travelers because it is now a favorite port city for cruise ships sailing between Venice and the Greek Islands.
Lecce's Cathedral Square is especially dramatic when it is lit up at night  (Wikipedia)
As Nada Vergili sees it, “Puglia is probably not a trip for first, or even second-timers to Italy. There is just too much to see in the rest of the country. But for people seeking something new and different to satisfy their Italian appetite, Puglia is the perfect spot. Puglia is for explorers.”


Vergili couldn’t be more accurate. After all, everyone who has ever been there, always gets a “boot” out of Italy.