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The enormous fortified castle at Gallipoli. Photo, Alamy

Puglia is a land of conquests and domination.  Strongholds and castles stud the countryside throughout the region, majestic symbols of ancient nobility, but also a turbulent past.  The castles were not built purely as residences, but rather as heavily-fortified bastions that could stand strong and invincible against all comers, whether by land or by sea.  There are no mountain peaks for Puglia’s castle strongholds.  Instead, its horizon traces, almost without interruption, a flat line lacking any elevations.  There are around 49 great fortresses across Puglia, a number of which can be visited.  No trip to this fascinating region would be complete without visiting some of these great landmarks.

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The magnificent Baroque Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce

The capital of the province of Puglia, located in the Salento region of the “heel” of Italy, Lecce is a dazzling Baroque jewel.  Constructed in the local creamy limestone, the buildings of Lecce are covered with joyous, ornate carvings and adornments executed with exuberance and great skill.  It is the cultural capital of Puglia, with so many monuments, churches, palazzi and museums, that it is often referred to as “the Florence of the South”.  With its elegant city centre and vibrant lifestyle, Lecce is the perfect destination for the visitor.

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The moat and drawbridge of the medieval fortress guards the entrance into Sirmione. Photo, Alamy

There aren’t many places in Europe more beautiful than Italy’s Lago di Garda.  Its stunning scenery is due to the extensive backdrop of the Dolomite mountains to the north, together with all the picturesque towns and medieval villages dotted along its shore, it’s the perfect region to spend some time.  It has long been a favourite destination of ours, and we tend to gravitate to the beautiful town of Sirmione on the southern shore, which is a great base to explore a number of the other gorgeous small towns via the lake ferries.

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Castello Estense is in the centre of Ferrara. Photo, Alamy

The north of Italy has an abundance of riches for the visitor, and it’s almost impossible to make a list of top favourites.  There’s the sublime beauty of the various lakes, the glories of Venice, and numerous small Renaissance cities to choose from.  We’ve spent many wonderful trips exploring these Renaissance gems over decades, and they all have their own unique character and attractions.  Recently, we re-visited the beautiful city of Ferrara, a little over 110 kms south of Venice.  We hadn’t been there for years, and thought another visit was well overdue.

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Venice is always magical whether it’s a Biennale year or not.

We revisited Venice a few weeks ago for the first time since COVID shut down the world for travellers.  Venice has been one of our top favourite cities for many decades, and this was to be our 4th Biennale, so we were interested to see what changes had occurred to La Serenissima since our last visit.  Would it still be magical, or a crowded nightmare now that the world has re-opened for travel?  We were keen to find out.

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