I am Linda and along with my husband Richard and our dog Muffin we enjoy our summers on the UK's canal system

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Our Italian Honeymoon - Solento

Friday 11th May

Today was an early start and I still had the packing to do. It did all get a bit stressful but in fact it all went to plan and we got to the station in plenty of time. We got waylaid by a little man who showed us to our seats and helped with the luggage - however he then demanded €10! The train was packed with no spare seats which surprised us. The area south of Rome is full of small mountains but once we turned east around Naples everywhere was very flat. We turned south as we reached the east coast and then the train ran along the sea with lots of olive groves between the tracks and the sea. The train reached Lecce spot on time and we got a taxi to the Hertz office. Our car is a pretty metallic blue Chrysler but unfortunately our GPS won't work in it. I had to map read which wasn't too bad once we actually got out of Lecce!

We found the Masseria Appidè quite easily as it is well sign post
ed. We were greeted by the Manager and shown to our room. The room is a duplex with a large living room downstairs and bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. The Manager then showed us around. He told us how they have lots of weddings here and I told him that we are on our honeymoon.

The word Appidè is a Greek word used in this case to describe local wild pear trees. Masseria Appidè is an 18th century rural estate once belonging to the Barons Comi. It is one of the few masserias in the locality which was never totally deserted. It was converted by the Rota family 35 years ago into the hotel it is today. The rooms are round two courtyards and they have ordinary rooms like ours, superiors and suites. There is a nice swimming pool and jacuzzi. We are miles from anywhere and everything is so quiet after Rome.

Before dinner we both showered and it had to be the worst shower I have ever had. I could almost count the water jets, there is nowhere to put even a bar of soap and I kept turning the water off when I moved about. Needless to say I put in a complaint to the management.

Dinner is quite late here, well for us anyway, 8pm to 10pm. We walked across to the dining room and met the only other diners, an English couple from York. Unfortunately they are leaving tomorrow but were able to give us some tips. The food was good, three courses including 1/4 bottle of wine and 1/2 bottle of water each.

Not sure what the temperature was today but it was hot!


Saturday 12th May

A good though very hot night. Breakfast was OK, the usual European type. On our way back to the room we were waylaid by the Manager who said that as we had had problems with the shower and are on our honeymoon they were upgrading us!

We went off to Maglie to find the market which we found, I think, more by luck than judgement! It was all fruit and veg and the produce looked lovely. There were some huge radishes and interesting looking things I had never seen before. We bought some strawberries and cherries. The car was parked opposite a small supermarket so we stocked up on wine and beer.

We then headed east towards Otranto and then turned north up the coast. The Adriatic is very blue and looked inviting though we reckoned it is probably very cold! We stopped at San Basiliare cave which no longer has a roof but the sea comes in under the rocks and now forms a pool. Just down the road we found a beach side restaurant, Lido Rokamel, where we hoped to get a pizza but they only do them at night so we bravely chose things off an Italian menu that we didn't really understand! The owner then made a suggestion which sounded like moules so we said yes please. We ended up with a moules starter between us and then Richard had a seafood Risotto and I had a seafood pasta - it was all excellent. We continued up the coast to San Cataldo before turning west to Lecce and back to the hotel.

When we got back I had to pack up again and we were moved to one of the Superior rooms! In this room you come in through the front door and either go down a few stairs to the living area and bathroom or up the stairs to the bedroom which is on a mezzanine floor. The strange part is that the wardrobe is downstairs but the chest of drawers is upstairs! We have a bath with a hand held shower but there is a screen round the bath and the shower is very powerful.

Before dinner we sat outside in the courtyard and opened a bottle of Prosecco which was very cheap but lovely.

Today was hot - about 27 degrees.


Sunday 13th May

It is Mother's Day in Italy today.

We had a late start and drove to the local town of Corigliano d'Otrando. We had heard that there was a castle there which we found easily. We wandered around but it was only small so didn't take long. The castle was constructed during the 16th Century when Giovan Battista delli Monti drastically changed a building that already existed in the 1400s turning into a fortress. In the late part of Delli Monti’s domination, the castle changed hands and was home to the Trani family. The new owners made a ducal mansion out of the castle in 1667. We had a coffee at the bar next door and I was given a rose to celebrate Mother's Day. On our way back to the car we stopped in the town square and watched the locals going about their Sunday morning. Our next stop was Cutrofiano but this was a bigger town and not as interesting.

We drove back to the hotel and had a lunch of strawberries, cherries and apricots - lovely. The afternoon was spent round the pool which opened for the season today - it was quite chilly but not as cold as we expected.

It was hot today - around 26 degrees.


Monday 14th May

We woke up to rain : -( We knew it was coming but didn't really expect it to be so heavy.

We decided to try and sort out the satnav today and the hotel manager told us how to get to a place in Maglie which he said would be able to help us. As we were talking we realised that the car charger was actually broken - not surprising it didn't work! We found the shop 5 minutes before siesta and got what we wanted. We set off a lot braver than before!

As we drove to Lecce the rain stopped and it turned nice. The good old satnav took us right into the centre of town. Of course it was siesta so nothing was open but we really enjoyed just wandering around. It's a lovely old town with very narrow streets and, of course, seeing it when everywhere was quiet was, in fact, a bonus. We did however find an ice cream shop that was open :-) As we walked back to the car the heavens opened and we got soaked - of course as soon as we got in the car the rain stopped.

Because of the rich Baroque architectural monuments found in the city, Lecce is commonly nicknamed "The Florence of the South". The city also has a long traditional affinity with Greek culture going back to its foundation; the Messapii who founded the city are said to have been Cretans in Greek records. To this day, in the Grecìa Salentina, a group of towns not far from Lecce, the griko language is still spoken.

Lecce has a Roman amphitheatre - not quite on the scale of Rome though! The monument was completely buried under rubble due to earthquakes and was only discovered in 1938 when they were excavating for some foundations. Modern day ground level comes to the top of the amphitheatre and only a third of it has been excavated - the other two thirds are under a square and other buildings.

We are finding this 3 hour siesta a real pain - we are usually heading back to the hotel about 4pm just as everywhere is reopening. What fascinates me is where do all the shop workers go? I assume they must all live close by or they are all part timers.

I am getting a bit fed up of veal on the menu at the hotel as I don't eat it. We have a choice of 2 courses from starters (which can be a very nice buffet), pasta and main. For two nights now 3 of the 4 main courses have been veal while the other has been gilthead bream. If it happens again I think I will choose something off the a la carte menu.


Tuesday 15th May

The sun was shining this morning but it has been chilly all day - well chilly for here anyway.

We decided to go to Galipolli and soak up some history about Winston Churchill and the Galipolli Campaign - ooops wrong Galipolli!! Fancy having two places with a name like that! The town is made up of the old town on an island and the modern town on the mainland. The old town was built on a limestone island, linked to the mainland by a bridge built in the 16th century. We walked all round the outside of the old town but it wasn't very nice - a bit dirty and the buildings were scruffy. We had hoped to get a coffee but the south side was all residential and the cafes on the north side were all closed. We walked into the centre and everything changed. It was back to narrow, and I mean narrow, streets and it was cleaner. We found a pretty little square and had our coffee. We bought some food from a patisserie (we never know what we are getting!) and ate it sitting on the sea wall.

From Galipolli we drove south down the coast. We had been told that isn't as pretty as the Adriatic coast and we saw that for ourselves. It all reminded me a bit of a deserted town in a wild west movie - I was just waiting for the tumbleweed to come blowing down the road! Everything was still closed for the winter and even the houses looked as if they were summer residences. The coast line is flat and rocky with little bits of sand. This side of the "heel" faces southish so I guess it is a popular holiday destination. Just before we got to the tip of the "heel" there was a bit more land between the road and the sea with, what appeared to be, dirt tracks leading to private beaches.

Santa Maria di Leuca is at the very point of the "heel" and was founded in the early 1st century AD by some monks. We didn't go into the town but went to the Cap itself. Santa Maria di Leuca is famous for its lighthouse, which, with its height of 154 feet and its position at 335 feet above sea level, is the second most important lighthouse in Italy, after the one in Genoa. Next to the lighthouse is the large Sanctuary, or Basilica, De Finibus Terrae ("End of the Land", 1720-1755), built to commemorate the passage of St. Peter here during his travel to Italy. It is devoted to Saint Mary (from which the name of the town Santa Maria di Leuca). It lies on the former site of a Roman temple dedicated to Minerva. The lighthouse was all covered in scaffolding and plastic which was a great disappointment for me. However there was a lovely view over the town and it's marina. From there we headed north again and back to the hotel. We will do the other coast tomorrow.

One of the things we have noticed here, I don't know if it's a local thing or a general Italian thing, but children are not restrained in cars. On Sunday we saw a couple get into their car and drive off with the baby on the mother’s knee. Today I have seen the same again, one child standing between the front seats and even one driver with a baby on his knee!

Today was cloudy with a few sunny intervals. The temperature has been around 20 degrees.


Wednesday 16th May

The sun greeted us again this morning : -)

I'm sure you will be pleased to know that the menu was better last night. Only one veal dish, a different fish, chicken and beef in green pepper sauce which we both had and it was delicious.

We headed over to Otranto on the east coast this morning and discovered a really lovely town. There is a newer part which has grown up round the beach and an older part round the harbour. The harbour had a few small ships in plus a marina. Otranto has a colourful and mixed past. It was important as a Greek and then Roman port, called Hydruntum. Later it was ruled by the Byzantines, the Normans and the Aragonese. In 1480 the town was invaded by Turks, and 800 locals were executed for refusing to convert to Islam.

We walked round and found the obligatory 15th Century castle but, as in Lecce, we didn't go in. There were some nice gift shops - most are full of tat - but we found three that were lovely. I now have another lighthouse to add to my collection. We found a restaurant overlooking the harbour and had hoped to have pizza, but once again the pizza oven is only on at night, so I had a pasta dish and Richard had a sea food salad. Richard usually complains that there is too much salad but this time it was too much seafood!

We then drove south down the coast. It is all cliffs with rocks at the bottom and certainly no sand whatsoever. It is a bit like north Cornwall with the road going down to fishing villages and up the other side but most of the houses look quite modern. The sea is so blue and clear (not like Cornwall!) but cold - one big toe in told me that! It is a lovely coast and certainly made up for yesterday.

We turned north at the same place as yesterday so we have now been round the "heel" from Galipolli to San Cataldo.

We stopped in Maglie for more wine and water - I'll put that in in case you think we are only drinking wine! The satnav has taken us through some tiny streets in the towns but today it did get a bit lost. It's amazing how it knows all the one way systems - I think it has only gone wrong twice when we have been faced with no entry signs. Richard does find it tiring but he said he would do the driving to save paying for an extra driver. I hold the satnav, it won't stay on the windscreen, and tell him where to go - it seems to work!

Today was sunny and about 23 degrees.


Thursday 17th May

We woke up to sunshine but, unfortunately, the day soon deteriorated. The wind got up and there were some very heavy rain showers.

I didn’t take any photos today so the ones here are of the Masseria Appide

Neither of us felt very well today. We chose steak off the a la carte menu last night and when it came it was huge and quite rare. We were both awake for a couple of hours during the night with, I guess, indigestion. After breakfast Richard fell asleep for an hour - unheard of! I took the opportunity to write some postcards.

We then decided to go over to the west coast to Porto Cesareo and drive south to Galipolli. Porto Cesareo was dead which was a shame as I bet in the season it is lovely - there were a lot of boats all bobbing about in the rough sea. The marine fauna of Porto Cesareo is so rich that even in mediaeval times it supplied the whole of Lecce, Nardò and other nearby towns with their fish. We managed to find a restaurant that was open and had some lunch. I had spaghetti with a plain tomato sauce and Richard had sea food salad and chips - this time there was no salad just seafood!

We headed down the coast through Santa Caterina and Santa Maria al Bagno which were both really pretty. We have done the coast in four parts and each part has been very different. North of Otranto was sandy, south was cliffs and rocks. South of Galipolli was flat and rocky and tatty whereas north of Galipolli is pretty though again rocky, but a much more varied terrain. Each little village had it's own sandy beach.

Yesterday I said that we had been round the "heel" from Galipolli to San Cataldo but we have now done San Cesarano to San Cataldo.

We have been amazed by the state of the roads here - Richard reckons the Italians must go through an awful lot of shock absorbers! With the rain today I was worried we might disappear down a pot hole as they all looked like puddles! We have vowed never to complain about the British roads again.

When we got back to the hotel we both had a rest and then I had to face the packing but it had to done - I didn't want a repetition of Rome!

Today was showery and windy. I guess the average temperature was about 20 degrees.


Friday 18th May

An early start after a good night's sleep for both of us. The waiter seemed to be surprised to see us in so early for breakfast!

We finished the packing, said our goodbyes and set off for Lecce. Our car was hired from Hertz which was extremely well situated for us - the right side of town for Maglie and the station. We checked it back in - we had done 646 kilometres and someone took us to the station. When I asked Richard how he had enjoyed his Italian driving he said that he had found it stressful and it wouldn't bother him if he never had to do it again! What we found was that the main road took us through most of the towns - there were very few bypasses. The road markings are pretty non-existent so it is hard to work out who has the right of way. Pedestrians also seem to think they have right of way! In fact if you put an Italian on the road whether it be behind the wheel or on foot they seem to change personality!

We had an hour before the train left so I went to the station cafe and bought some ham and cheese rolls for lunch which looked really scrummy - they didn't look Italian at all! We found our seats and sat back for the 7 hour journey to Bologna.

We had done the first part of the journey before on our way down. After Foggia there is a little nobble of land on the coastline which is quite mountainous. After that we ran right beside the sea for most of the way - a very long sandy beach with a man-made reef just off the shore. We noticed how the land was suddenly quite green and arable but still no animals grazing - I can only assume that somewhere in Italy there are some cows and sheep.

We realised at about Pescara that the train was running late and by the time we reached Bologna we were 30 minutes late and had missed our connection to Venice. There was a great queue of people at the information office all off our train ranting and raving. I got our ticket revalidated but we had to make a further change which didn't please either of us. As we got off the train I had run one of the suitcases over my toes and one of them was bleeding and very painful.

We got on the first train but had no booked seats but we found some empty ones in the restaurant car. We had to get off at Venice Mestre and change again for Venice St. Lucia. By the time we got into Venice we were about an hour late and were tired and hungry. It took us a while to suss out the waterbuses and eventually got to our stop at 21.30 to meet our contact, Leth. She took us down lanes and allies and I just hoped we would be able to find the place again! The apartment is lovely with one big room for cooking, eating and it also has a sofa bed in it. Then there is a bedroom and bathroom. The bath is no bigger than a hip bath really and is under a sloping roof - it has a hand held shower but as you can't stand up under the roof it should be interesting!

Leth showed us a nice pizza restaurant in a local square and we rapidly devoured our pizzas.

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