Most tourists travelling to Apulia on holiday will head straight for the sub-region of Salento. Business travellers, however, are likely to find themselves in the central and northern parts of the region, which is just as fascinating and worth exploring. Upon hearing the name Valle d’Itria you might be tempted to think of a valley enclosed by mountains or hills, but that’s not the case. Apulia is a predominantly flat region and its only “valley” is an area of karstic lowland stretching between the provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto. The most distinctive local features are the so-called trulli, ancient small round stone houses with a characteristic conical roof. When travelling through this region, we recommend you take a few days off from your busy schedule to explore these hidden treasures.
Hidden Treasures: Valle d’Itria
Visit the trulli in Alberobello
Driving through the countryside in Valle d’Itria, the landscape will strike you for its bright, earthy colours, and you will know you are approaching a town because of the stark contrast between the deep red soil and silvery-green olive trees and the bright white of the traditional trulli. These uniquely shaped buildings were a creative solution that the local noble family came up with in the XV century as the King of Naples raised taxes on new urban settlements. The Earls of Conversano, who were lords of the region, demanded that new buildings were made of drystone, so that they could be knocked down easily, should the king’s men pay an unexpected visit. Not being allowed to use cement to hold the roofs of their houses together, the locals came up with the ingenious idea of giving them a conical shape, which is both safe, steady and easy to build. This is the first impression you will get when reaching Alberobello: a white island in a sea of red, green and blue. Alberobello is listed as a UNESCO Heritage site and it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, while managing not to give in to gentrification nor acquiring the commonplace features of most popular tourist destinations. This is the perfect place to taste local delicacies that you are unlikely to find elsewhere, such as the typical orecchiette (a traditional variety of homemade pasta) or the delicious friselle (a large crouton, softened with water and usually eaten with a simple seasoning of fresh tomatoes, olive oil and oregano). Many food enthusiasts come to this region to learn how to prepare these traditional recipes.
Visit some of the most beautiful hamlets in Italy
Some of the most beautiful old towns in Italy are located in Valle d’Itria. Locorotondo is one of the most popular: named after its characteristically round shape, consisting of concentric rings (Locorotondo literally means “round place”), Locorotondo is also famous for the local production of excellent white wines. Lose yourself in the dazzling-white maze of the old town and wander into its baroque churches, making sure you pay a visit to St. George’s, with its priceless XIV century bas-relief decorations. If you happen to travel to Valle d’Itria over the summer, don’t pass up the opportunity of going to Martina Franca and check out the Valle d’Itria Classical Music Festival, featuring highlights of Italian and international composers. Finally, no visit to the Valley can be complete without a trip to Ostuni, also known as the white city – the name is pretty self-explanatory. Ostuni, like so many coastal towns in Apulia, bears the signs of having been conquered and invaded for millennia: its architecture, cuisine, landscape and character are a syncretic mix of influences coming from the relentless Longobard, the Turkish, the Ostrogoth and Viking invasions.
Meet the oldest inhabitants of the region
Meeting a living thing that is over 1000 years old is not a common occurrence for most people. For the inhabitants of Valle d’Itria, however, it is just part of the everyday routine of living in towns like Cisternino or Locorotondo. Some of the olive trees in this region have been around for centuries, and around 3000 of them are over 2000 years old, dating back to the old Messapian civilisation. These natural landmarks are rightfully protected and revered and tourists can meet them as part of specific walking or cycling itineraries. Their crooked forms and enormous girth is a stunning testimony of resilience over time. Walking around one of these majestic giants, you will have the impression of being in the presence of an old and wise creature, and you will be tempted to see human features in the knots ad knarls of its weathered bark.