Nonna Isa (http://www.nonnaisa.it/): Great location, nice rooms (we had the Suite Room). You’re less than a 10 minute walk from the old center of town, and there are a few cafes nearby. The owner was a super-nice guy. At breakfast, he brought us jam that his sister had made from homegrown fruit. I freaking love Italy for things like that!
Torre dei Preti
A fantastic agriturismo (sort of like a farmstay) in Peschici that features amazing olive oil, beautiful views, and a sweet pool. Definitely get the half board option, because the food is fantastic. The antipasti buffet absolutely blew me away! Where else would you get a a four course dinner (including amazing antipasti buffet) and unlimited wine for two for a mere 60 euros? The owners are super-nice, and the location is nice for exploring the rest of the peninsula. If it’s warm, take a dip in the infinity edge pool overlooking a valley of olive groves. Breathtaking!
Residenza Porta Guelfa
The guy who runs the place, Michael, is an absolute sweetheart. He did so much to make our stay in Bevagna great, and he was so friendly! The room we had was gorgeous, complete with exposed beam ceilings, and included satellite TV, sitting room, coffee and breakfast in the room, and internet. The pool is quite nice, and the on-site spa is also a nice place to spend an hour. Staying in Bevagna strategically locates you close to almost anywhere in Umbria you’d want to go.
This was a charming little restaurant in an underground vault in the old part of Ostuni. The Slow Food logo on the front door hinted at how yummy this place was going to be, and it surely did not disappoint. We got amazing service, and the owner even gifted us with a second dessert and shots of 23-year aged rum. I’ve heard that if you ask nicely, they’ll take you down to the olive press below the building.
Antiche Sere di Sabbatini Luciano
Amazing little restaurant on Piazza Garibaldi. Our meal here (tagliatelle with wild asparagus and gnocchi al sagrantino, panzanella, and dessert) was one of the best we had in Umbria. We got a bottle of Sagrantino to go with dinner, and then had some passita di Sagrantino (a dessert wine), and both were outstanding. The food was great, the prices were fair, and the atmosphere was charming. When you’re in the area, you should definitely try Sagrantino and Rosso di Montefalco.
Epic. Any place that has a tasting menu that is vegetarian gets an A+ in my book. Tons of fresh, local, and seasonal produce served by a stellar waitstaff in a cavernous space under an ancient Roman amphitheater…it really doesn’t get any better than that, folks. You have to try the zabaglione! Hell, who am I kidding…you have to try everything here!
Stuff to do
Ostuni: Walk around the old part of town. It’s truly a unique city in Italy.
Lecce: There are tons of amazing Baroque-style cathedrals and churches here. They don’t call it “The Florence of the South” for nothing! You won’t go wrong just walking around for a few hours, maybe even a day or two, if you have a side trip in mind.
Scenic drive along the southern Gargano coast: If you’re headed to the Gargano from southern Puglia, definitely take in the drive from Mattinata to Vieste along the coast. The hairpin turns can be a bit scary, but the scenery is absolutely stunning. You’d be a fool to pass this up!
Umbran Forest: This dark, shadowy forest in the center of the peninsula is a cool respite during the heat of summer. There are lots of hiking trails and camping areas that are a nice diversion from the usual Rome/Venice/Florence/Tuscany itinerary.
Monte Sant’Angelo: This is a town with a ton of history and includes a beautiful church in a cave in which the legend says the Archangel Michael appeared a few times. Even if it isn’t true, it’s still a pretty cool place to check out. There’s also an old castle that’s been around for about 1200 years and gives you a sense of the history of this part of Italy. Don’t let the god-awful tacky tourist shops put you off…this is a place worth seeing!
On the way from Puglia to Umbria, Tuscany, or all parts North/West, you should DEFINITELY take a side trip to see the Piano Grande. The cool, mountain air, the snow-capped peaks, and the vast plains of wild flowers will absolutely stun you. This was probably my most favorite thing in all of Italy.
Assisi: The obvious choice is Basilica San Francesco. Even if you aren’t a religious person, this is a truly moving place that really exemplifies the beauty of the legend of St. Francis. Another great sight is Chiesa di Santa Chiara (Church of St. Clare). St. Clare was a friend of St. Francis, and she seemed like a cool chick: vegetarian, not materialistic, and big on manual labor. There’s another cool church a bit off the main street called Santo Stefano that’s really old and very simple in its construction. Assisi is a pretty little town that can be visited in about 3-4 hours, tops.
Gubbio: This is a charming little town with a lot of little things to see, but no one thing in particular. My favorite activity was taking the funicular up to the top of the hill and checking out the Church of St. Ubaldo. (Yes, that body up there in the glass case is indeed St. Ubaldo himself. Creepy, eh?)
Orvieto: I really liked Orvieto. The Duomo is absolutely beautiful, on the level of Siena’s or Florence’s Duomo. Another cool site to check out is the Well of St. Patrick (Pozzo di San Patrizio). The story goes that the Pope fled to Orvieto after the Sack of Rome and asked the residents to build a deep well to ensure a reliable source of water. It’s a long way down (and up), but it’s a cool experience, nonetheless. While you’re here, you should also try the most famous wine of Orvieto, Orvieto Classico.