Tonight it is my final night in Puglia and I am staying on the outskirts of Taranto. I have a love/hate with Taranto. Love it because Relais Histo is a wonderful hotel, with great style and position, and hate it cause Taranto has such potential and is really not worth a visit. Taranto was the principal city of Magna Grecia and claims a wealth of history, yet it is a difficult city for tourists to enjoy. The outskirts are industrial, and years of steel production and abandoned steel factories have ruined the surrounding land. Add to that,the city is confusing. For instance, it took an hour and a half instead of 15 minutes as it should, to arrive at The National Archaeological museum , which was the only valid reason I had to visit the city to begin with. The museum has been closed for years and has a wonderful gold jewelry collection, but only one floor is open. I had also been advised not to go to the "centro storico" historic center even in the daytime unless accompanied by a guide.

Puglia has great food and great wines. Wonderful shaped pastas such as minchialeddi, orecchiette, fresh vegetables like Cima di Rape, specialty cheeses such as burrata, pecorino stagionato and it is not unusual to find tables in your ristorante an entry table filled with lots of different antipasti. For wine lovers, there are hearty reds like: Alianico, Negro Amaro and Primitivo. With a bonus , since the area also produces fabulous rose` wines, (which I adore ) and they can drink them here for more months in the year then we can in our high elevation, since it is hot more months of the year in Puglia. During this visit the thermometer went to 26,27 C almost every day. I was told that in summer months they see days of 40C. Least we forget driving past miles and miles of olive trees, we passed thousands of them hundreds and hundreds of years old.

Select your towns carefully, when driving around Puglia, as not all are worth the stop, even if they are noted for their 5th C frescos. Here are the towns that made it to my list: Cisternino, Locorotondo, Castro, Gallipoli, Specchia, Leuca, Otranto, Ostuni, Monopoli, Manduria ( for the wine museum).

If you intend to stay on the secondary roads as I did, then full coverage on your vehicle is a must as every single road needs to be paved. Paving the roads would also help the cycle tourism that they are trying to encourage on the southern tip between the towns of Gallipoli, Leuca and Otranto.

During this R&D I have looked at 20+ Masserie and hotels and have found a great variety of accommodations and price points.Very few have baths. It is always a plus to be able to dine in your hotel for those evenings that you are to tired to go out again.

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I passed a funeral in Locorotondo today. Was not expecting it as I was frantically searching for something to eat, I had waited to long to stop. You see here in Italy you must be seated for lunch no later than 14:00 or they will not seat you.
I was racing around, (which is my usual state when doing research), and realized I had not eaten. It was not 15:30, and at that hour of the day the staff is dining, when the funeral crossed my path as it marched up the hill towards the Chiesa Madre in the center of town. Stopped.

There they were, the entire community walking slowly behind the limo with casket all in black. One cannot race in front of a funeral. One waits. Time has stopped. One cannot photograph a funeral either. Respect is everything in southern Italy. I am sure at one time, the casket was laid on a carriage drawn by a horse. Life can resume its usual speed once the funeral has passed, but it forces you to stop and consider time. and your life of course.

I have dedicated two weeks to discovering "la Novita" in Puglia and Basilicata, with one day dedicated to "i Miei" that is my ancestors, honored with a stop in the unknown town of Oliveto Citra Provincia di Salerno, birth home of Maternal grandmother whom I adored. The major part of this visit to southern Italy, is to see what is new, different or interesting, in order to advise my clients better.
I have been to Puglia and Matera before, and have already led tours here, on a few occasions, however, some time had passed, and therefore research is required, to stay on top of my game so to speak.

When asked if I am here for vacation, I shrug....I am here just 48 hours already and have already visited nine hotels. The list even becomes longer asas I travel from north to south. Matera, Bernalda, Faesano, Martina Franca, Lecce, Ostuni, Monopoli, Otranto, Leuca, Gallipoli, Taranto before departing Puglia. There is no time for a cafe in piazza or a rest near the piscina. Do you understand how much time it takes to find where you are going. I do not use GPS, they do not really work here, intuition and a 4th generation Michelin spiral bound map are my travel companions and accessories. No, I am not here for a vacation.

Do not get me wrong. I adore this work... it is not work... but a found joy in life that not many can experience. This can only be said the Italian way, I found a passion, "To know Italy", is my passion. Maybe an American will not understand this. But here "passion" plays a role in each and every day, and more so the further south that one goes.

As for food, I am trying to dine on less flour every day. I adore la Pasta. And nothing improves my disposition better than steaming hot pasta and red wine, immediately I become a joyful person once again, however, flour on top of flour, does nothing for a middle aged body that is not getting her normal exercise. Difficult as it is to pass up orechiette ( little ears) for lunch AND dinner, abstention every day either during breakfast or lunch, is what I am trying to do. The good thing is Puglia is known for their vegetables. Last night in Cisternino I went to Zio Pietros’ Maccelleria ( butcher shop) . Apparently Cisternino’s speciality is grilled meats selected by you from the glass case, weighed and grilled over an open fire right there in the butchers shop is a common way to dine. I suggest that Jack the butcher in Aspen, set up a small dining room in the back of the Butchers Block to be able to stay competitive and try this novelty. This concept will catch on easily apart from the fire marshals objection to the open fire pit in the center of Aspen. This will help them stay on top of Whole Foods in El Jebel.

What I have noted so far is that this area has an unusual amount of Great Pyranees, those big white fluffy dogs that are used to herd sheep. Here the tradition remains of  the transhumanza or the movement of the herd from summer to winter pastures and vice versa, whereby those dogs come in handy to control the herd movement. They are everywhere. There is not one GSP in sight here. Even the "Cane in Giro" or tame abandoned dogs that lounge around on the streets seem to be Great Pyranese.

To be continued.. further south, Lecce, Otranto and Leuca.

And if you like what you’ve been reading, like us on Conde Nast Traveler’s Travel Specialists List, where I’ve appeared for the last five years straight.

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Travel + Leisure Magazine has named Joyce Falcone-The Italian Concierge to their prestigious "A-List" for her knowledge of Italy for the fourth straight year.

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