You’ve probably heard of Bari and Polignano a Mare…but what about Brindisi, Puglia? I recently wrote about Margherita di Savoia, the town with pink lakes and flamingos (read about it here) and now for a bigger city in the region. You can fly from Dublin to Bari, then take the train (less than an hour) to Brindisi, or fly there direct from UK. Here’s my list of top 9 things to do in Brindisi, Puglia
Rowing with Vogatori Remuri
Turning up at the marina, I’m not quite sure what to expect from the planned rowing experience. It’s a beautiful day, the water is calm and I’m greeted by the boat captain and his team. We waste no time, jumping in and starting the row. It’s a bit of a surreal experience, they’re professionals and I’m, well, a kind of out of shape tourist. We enter an internal courtyard for a sneak peek at the castle from a different perspective, straight through the ancient arches right up to Castello Alfonsino for my very own Game of Thrones style moment. The perfect photo opportunity looking back at Brindisi, one you won’t find much on Insta. On the way back to land, they (probably rather foolishly) let me have a go at rowing myself and even shout orders to the rest of the team! The wooden oars were a lot heavier than I expected, this isn’t kayaking, but the guys and girls make it look so easy. At the front of the boat you lead the others, so they need to keep up with your pace and rhythm. So, needless to say we moved a lot slower when I was in charge and a couple of times I nearly lost grip of the oar completely – might need to work on that core strength. Once we swapped back places and I resumed my role of sightseeing and taking photos, I exclaimed “andiamo” and we sped towards the home straight. Being on the water is my jam, and this was a pretty unique thing to do in Brindisi
Visit the National Sailors Monument
You can see the ‘big rudder’ that is the huge stone monument at the National Sailors Memorial from so many different vantage points in Brindisi, but for the best views head straight to the top! At 54 metres tall, this symbol of the city is a must-see and entrance is free. From the rooftop, you will have 360 panoramic views and the best spot for a photograph of the waterfront. For nautical or maritime enthusiasts this is a must do, you’ll see the the huge anchors at the base of the monument which are relics from Austrian battleships and the chapel is dedicated to the 6,000 Italian sailors you lost their lives during the First World War
Dinner at Braceria Semeraro
Given its geographical location, it’s unsurprising that the gastronomy in Puglia is heavily seafood led. But being the carnivore that I am, dinner at Braceria Semeraro in Brindisi was totally up my street. The idea is simple, a butcher counter with quality cuts of raw meat that you can choose to have cooked to order, with a couple of simple sides. I spot some Irish Angus beef and the chef proudly shows me the label, the quality of produce is hard to beat. The square is filled with families and friends, all dining al fresco. A “starter” of chicken and chips arrives at the table, random and a jug of slightly chilled red wine. But the main event was worth the wait. The Italian sausages, or salsiccia, are firm favourites among our group and we spot another party having a huge joint of beef carved directly at their table. Our steak is served with rocket and tomato with lashing of olive oil, simple and delicious. The meat feast doesn’t leave me with any room for dessert, but of course there’s space for an after dinner digestif, a typical Amaro herbal liqueur
Stand-up Paddle (SUP) lesson at Guna Beach
Arriving at Guna Beach, I’m surprised by the Caribbean-like white sand, turquoise sea and gentle breeze. The beach stretches as far as I can see and the water is crystal clear and very inviting as the temperature starts to rise. The stand up paddle boarding instructor comes over to greet us and talks us through some of the principles of SUP (in Italian, which I don’t speak, sure). While I’ve tried it before, I find that each different instructor has different tips on how to keep your balance and tricks for not falling in! The board is wide and the waves gentle, so we head out into the water to give it a go. Starting on my knees I wade out enough to pass the tiny breaking waves and when I’m steady enough rise to my feet. I’m reminded which direction to paddle in and to keep looking straight ahead or at the horizon rather than down at the board which really helps. When I inevitably do lose my balance, the fall isn’t that bad when it’s into delish water. A post-activity Aperol Spritz at the Guna Beach Club in their outdoor hot tub is a no brainer
Lunch at Xfood social restaurant in San Vito dei Normanni
The ExFadda community centre might not be the most obvious choice for tourists, but if you’ve got a hire car, it’s worth the drive for lunch. The converted 1950s stable building has huge high ceilings with bespoke art and light fittings filling the space indoors and making use of the original arches. Out the back, there’s a small group learning how to make clay pizza ovens and another project focusing on guitars. Inside, I watch a couple performing a contemporary dance and behind a sound-proofed door an incredible singer practicing with her partner who’s on keys. Talent literally behind every door! There’s also a yoga platform and furniture workshop dedicated to restoring vintage pieces found at flea markets around the area.
In the Xfood social restaurant, you’ll see some of these one of a kind restored items and in fact, everything is available to buy. There aren’t any price tags though, just make your best offer. Lunch is a never ending assortment of small plates to share, followed by seafood pasta. If you’re not used to antipasti, like me you’d think that this was the main event, there’s just so much food, but it’s actually just the first course. My favourite dish is fava bean mash with roasted peppers, comfort food at its best. Everything is served on pre-loved plates and china, all ornate and different to the next and the menus use fresh herbs from the gardens and local seasonal produce. Some of the staff with learning disabilities have undergone training programmes with ExFadda to teach them the skills they need for the workplace and everyone is from the local community, so there’s a lovely spirit of camaraderie and everybody has a purpose. While Xfood is a community restaurant, anyone can go for a meal in the eclectic converted space
Driving through the countryside in Brindisi, it would be difficult to miss the rows of vines in the Negroamaro area that are grown to produce high quality wines for local consumption and to be exported outside of Italy. Puglia was the biggest wine producing region in the country in 2016 and 70% of the output is exported overseas; mainly to England, Scandanavia and Germany. Being in the region, it would be a shame not to visit one of the many local wineries and vineyards to learn more about the production and of course taste the wine, duh.
At Cantine Paolo Leo, in the heart of Salento, I take a tour of the family-run business learning about its historic roots right through to the modern day production line. We’re walked through the production process by the young winemaker who explains the steps from the vines all the way through to bottling (about 6,000 bottlers per hour) and labelling. In the barrel room, the smell of French and American oak fills the air, maturing some of the Paolo Leo wines from between 4 months and a year. When it comes to tasting, we try the light, every day Negroamaro wine and the more full-bodied Passo del Cardinale Primitivo. Leave some room in your luggage, as you’ll want to take a few bottles home!
Brindisi guided tour provided by Eliconarte
We meet our guide Daniele from Eliconarte (I’ve linked his personal Facebook page, you can message him direct) at the symbol of Brindisi, the Roman columns. He starts the tour by explaining their significance and talks about why only one of the columns is intact and we’re left wandering what happened to the other until the end of the tour. We move on to the Archaeological Museum (look how deserted that square is – I love Brindisi!!) where numerous finds from excavations throughout the city can be found. I see casks that would’ve been used to transport olive oil and remains of other historic items, such as the bronze sculptures which were found by divers in the waters of Punta del Serrone as recent as 1992. Here at the museum there are four rooms dedicated to Brindisi in the Roman age, where you will find ceramics and a scale reconstruction of a trade ship’s bow showing these amphorae (tall ancient Roman jugs with handles) as they would have been stored while transporting goods.
I’m amazed by the Roman ruins under Teatro Verdi. The theatre was built over Roman remains and mosaics that were discovered during building works and can now be visited.
At the end of the tour we come full circle and see the very well preserved original top of the column in the museum of the Palazzo Granafei Nervegna depicting Neptune who faces the sea and Jupiter, Mars and Minerva on the other sides.
Finish off in the café and try a ‘Rustico’, a traditional Italian puff pastry snack filled with mozzarella, béchamel and tomato sauce. Beware, the filling is HOT
Bike and electric car tour at Parco Dune Costiere
Ok, so this is an electric bike tour, but I don’t cycle. So I pick up a tiny Twizy electric car at MadEra base at AlbergaBici in Moltanbano in the Regional Natural Park Dune Costiere and set off for a rural olive oil tour. It’s an incredibly unique experience passing through an ancient olive grove plain in a hi-tech, environmentally friendly vehicle. At each stop, we learn about the history of olive oil from the cultivation to the harvest of olives. Puglia has over 60 million olives trees, producing 40% of Italy’s olive oil and It’s so impressive to see such history in front of your eyes. The trees are not only hundreds of years old, but some are thousands and are such a huge part of the history of the area.
The tour takes about 3 hours and covers 10km of ground and we finish off at a local olive oil producer’s mill to see the production line and have a chance to taste the finished product. You’ll have the chance to purchase some to bring home too or ship it back (so cheap that it’s worth it). The family’s adorable goat showed up just as we were leaving, complete with a heart shaped white patch and cheesy grin
Lunch at Il Cortiletto in Speziale
A food photographers dream. White washed walls, accents of colour, dappled light and delicate plants and flowers. The quiet courtyard behind the unassuming green doorway simply labelled ‘Trattoria’ is a hidden gem. We found a shaded table and ordered the lightest blush rosé wine and start with a refreshing chilled beetroot soup. The ricotta with pistachio is a favourite, as are the tiny meatballs, meats and cheeses with jam and walnuts and the pasta course is perfectly al dente spaghetti with pumpkin. For those with a sweet tooth, the dessert options are to die for, especially the berry bombe with white chocolate shell and mint. Everything is fresh and locally sourced and the service was also a winner. There is a traditional element to the food of this restaurant but with a modern edge and although there’s an authentic aesthetic, it’s balanced with a clean up to date feel. Delicious Pugliese cuisine, perfect portion sizes and excellent value for money. There are some slightly more unusual options on the seasonal menu and the food presentation really steals the show. Shaded by trees, dining under a canopy, the setting is very relaxed and welcoming. One of my favourite meals in Brindisi, Il Cortiletto is a must-visit if you’re in the area
For more information on Brindisi, visit www.destination-makers.com
For more Italy inspiration, watch my short Sardinia video