The Valle d’Itria is, for many people, the heart of Puglia. It’s where you’ll see the white rendered trulli houses with their stone conical roofs for which Puglia is famous, along with white-washed villages such as Alberobello and Locorotondo, and larger towns like Martina Franca and Ostuni. The rolling green valley is criss-crossed by dry-stone walls, vineyards, ancient olive and almond groves and winding country lanes. It’s a visitor’s dream location.
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.
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.
Mention the town of Le Mans, and many of us would probably first think of the motor racing circuit famous for its gruelling 24 hr. endurance race held every year in June. The majority of visitors at that event watch the race, enjoy the local cuisine and the friendly bars and leave. Amazingly, most of them never realise that there is a beautiful old town so close by. The don’t see the Roman ruins, they miss the narrow cobble-stoned streets lined with half-timbered houses, and miss out entirely on the wonderful medieval architecture.
The town of Soissons in Picardy, designated a City of Art and History, has deep, obscure roots that date back to ancient Gaul. It occupied a strategic location, much fought over by Caesar and his Roman legions and the Gallic tribes, and later became an important city in the Frankish Empire, eventually becoming its capital—the first of France. If you enjoy discovering little-known destinations that offer important historic monuments, a magnificent Gothic cathedral, and dramatic experiences during both world wars of the 20th century, then you will find a visit to Soissons a very rewarding experience.