The First Time
You must visit Italy only once, to know there is something special about this country. From top to bottom, heal to toe, every region has something better than the next.
The most beautiful beaches, four distinct seasons (none of them too extreme, except maybe Sicily in the summer), safe cities, fresh local food, art, history, the Alps and the Med, beautiful people, easy lifestyle, and delicious wine.
It’s almost like Italy got second helpings when it came time to decide what country gets what.
Every year, tourists flock to this peninsula to absorb the lifestyle, bathe in the golden sunshine and cleanse from their stressful lives. Most people head to the rolling hills, cypress tree-lined driveways, and glistening blue ocean.
You know where I am talking about – Tuscany. The Jewel of Italy. A brand unto itself. In fact, the word “Tuscany” itself, immediately conjures up dreamy images that moviemakers and Instagramers continue to reinforce.
I live in Tuscany, so believe me, I get it. Tuscany is a dream, but it isn’t the only place that makes my heart go pitter-patter. I also have eyes for another….
It took us a few years to make our way south to Puglia and for some reason the furthest south we would go would be to our little house on the hill in Amalfi.
Then one boring winter morning (yes life in Italy has its boring days too) we decided to jump in the car, and head down to Puglia. I had heard many things about the region on the heel of the boot, some good and some bad so I was curious to see for myself.
The six’ish hour drive (depending on the speed cameras) is not so far for a Canadian to drive, and after a few Autogrill stops and stretches, we were soon traveling down country roads flanked by short stone walls that reminded me of when I lived in the Cotswolds in England.
But this was not England! Behind these little walls were majestic, ancient, thousand-year-old olive trees, whose limbs were arthritic with age, entangled and twisted around each other and expanding out and up to the canopy of silver-green leaves.
They stood ten feet tall, and some were so weary from holding up the olives, that farmers build cement crutches to prop up their old, tired limbs.
And there are hundreds of them. Standing in the red soil with the cobalt blue sky above gave such as stark contrast of color. I was mesmerized.
We whizzed by them with the windows open, neither of us talking, just taking it all in. I was, and still am, in love with the giants in the south. The only thing that broke our silence was the English GPS voice brutalizing the town name Locorotondo…. Turn right at the fork in the road….
As we approached the white-washed hilltop village I completely forgot I was in Italy. There was nothing that resembled Tuscany or that resembled anything I had seen in Italy.
This looked more like Greece.
As we rounded up the hills and past the Trulli estates, through lush green streets, and rolling farmland covered in perfect rows of vineyard and fruit trees, we finally came to a dead-end at the gates to the city.
This was Locorotondo. An elegant town, one of the three hilltop towns that make the triangle of the Valle d’Itria. The other two, Cisternino and Martina Franca can be seen in the distance.
I bailed out of the car before my husband had completely stopped, anxious to dive into what was behind the white arches to town. We pulled out our wheely bags and quickly found our Airbnb.
“Yes thanks, it’s nice..now go!” was what I wanted to say to the nice landlady who was checking us in and clearly proud of her flat.
But instead, I smiled, tried to look patient, nodded at the beautiful plants she pointed out, and waited for her to leave.
As soon as the door shut behind her “Andiamo!” was the order, and off we went exploring.
Locorotondo is small, you can easily walk the old town in a few hours. There is a road that encircles the old town, like many towns in Puglia that were built to protect themselves from invaders. But the only thing invading Locorotondo on that afternoon were two hungry Canadians.
I had heard that Pugliese food was good, but I was not expecting how good. After living in Italy for so many years, good food is taken for granted.
There are many famous restaurants on the inner streets, but we decided on one that was along the ring road, overlooking the valley. We ordered the antipasto della casa, which is always the best choice when you are trying food in a new region. This is because their mixed appetizer plates usually have many different things that are specific to the region and are mostly homemade. It’s a great way to sample a lot of things at one time.
I also recommend that you wait to make the rest of your order until after you get the antipasto because it can be surprisingly huge and filling. This one, in particular, was non-stop of boards filled with sliced meats, local cheeses, sauces, olives, onions, bread, meatballs, mini bowls filled with seafood, baked, grilled, and stuffed seasonal veggies, and more… add a couple of glasses of local Primitivo wine, and I had serious thoughts of leaving Tuscany for Puglia.
My husband was visibly worried.
We spent the next three days exploring the area around the Valle d’Itria, wondering what the inside of a Trullo looked like, eating our way through each village, making friends in the Piazza, and left with a full belly, winter sun-kissed cheeks, and a promise to return. Which we did, many times over.
Eventually, because there was no more will to resist, we would buy a Trullo set in a field of majestic olive trees overlooking Ostuni that we will begin to restore this fall. (Keep an eye out for our special series on renovating in Puglia because I am going to take you behind the scenes so you can follow every single step)
Puglia was love at first sight for me and when I try to explain to those who are disappointed that they have to choose to live in Puglia to take advantage of the 7% flat tax, I tell them aspetta..wait.
Puglia has a lot to offer. It is majestic, historic, emotional, and beautiful. it is as full of the most wonderful food, climate, people, history, landscape, cities, events, and wonders that any other region in Italy offers.
True, Puglia is not Tuscany, it is Puglia.
And Puglia has something that Tuscany doesn’t: the low cost of living and the 7% flat tax. To see Puglia. To experience it – is to love it.
If you are thinking about retiring to Italy, and have learned that you can save a mini fortune in taxes by choosing to reside in a 7% Flat Tax town in the south of Italy, I have some great news.
My team has organized new 7% Discovery Tours that are designed to take you to the TOP towns to move to. Join our expert guides, and learn about each town from the eyes of a future local, not tourist. These are serious game-changers if you are not sure where the best place is for you this is the best four days/four nights you can spend.
If you want a little more of Puglia check out this post How to Live Effortlessly in Puglia
For a new list of 7% towns in La Marche, Umbria and Lazio check this out The Italian 7% Flat Tax Zone Just Blew Up