They say that time is relative and nowhere is the sense that life can be taken at a more leisurely and decadent pace more apparent than in the coastal town of Brindisi, where the only thing you could possibly get worked up about is whether or not you've tried all the different local dishes.
For some gorgeous sunshine, incredible food and an autumn break that won’t break the bank, nothing beats slow living in Brindisi, as Jasmine Phull finds out
PHOTO © HELEN CATHCART
Brindisi has long seen the comings and goings of the world’s travellers. In Roman times, wayfarers from traders to crusaders would make the journey south along the Appian Way, waiting to catch sight of the two magnificent harbour columns that marked the end of the long road and welcomed them to the town (only one is still visible today). Travellers passing from West to East and East to West have long had an impact – from cuisine to culture – on this ancient port, with its natural harbour on the Adriatic. So to be a true Brindisini, a visitor must be prepared to slow down, expand the palate, embrace the sea and explore the land – which is exactly what I did.
With a friend native to the city as my guide, I ended up tasting every fish and crustacean that could be caught in this corner of Italy, and only just managed not to overeat! The seafood, along with the fresh vegetables, wines from hillside vineyards and olives from stretches of protected groves, all come together to create mouth-watering meals.
And the pasta, as in most of Italy, is plentiful. To try some of Puglia’s traditional ear-shaped variety, orecchiette, head to Terrazza Buena Vista (57-59 Via Colonne, tel: +39 0831 172 0488, www.terrazzabuenavista.com) in the town centre. The restaurant also serves dishes like “taieddha” (mussels baked in the oven with rice and potatoes). One of finest evening restaurants we found was a little husband- and-wife-run joint named Un Angolo de’ Roma, centrally located on Via Degli Albizzi. A trattoria-pizzeria in the centre of town, it’s known especially for its pizza and meat. It’s always the little places that are the best.
In most of the world’s trading ports one thing you’ll always find is a market, or three. Most mornings the city centre buzzes on Piazza Mercato, where a colourful fresh-food market sells fish, vegetables and local produce. Time your visit for the first Sunday of the month and pass by the Antique Market on Piazza Teresa, selling furniture, books, records and WWII paraphernalia among other random items. I found an old parasol for just a few euros that, with a little TLC, became a perfect vintage accessory. Wednesdays in the Sant’Elia district sees a far-from-kitsch local market selling all manner of cheap clothes and shoes – though in October you’re more likely to need flip-flops!
Which brings me to walking. You’ll be doing a lot of it, especially in the evening during the passeggiata. Here family and friends walk along the main artery of the city, Corso Garibaldi, amid the pebble-stone pathways, Roman architecture and tantalising restaurants. Lined with cafés, restaurants and shops, the promenade runs through the centre and ends at the marina. Lapping up the atmosphere on the walk will make you feel like a true native.
On your way, a must-try is Brindisi’s low- priced street food, from typical pepperoni pizzas to “fritta”, the famous folded, fried variety. Sitting on the beach devouring one of these hot pockets, gooey cheese included, was heaven-sent! But don’t forget to stop off at a café to try a traditional Brindisi coffee – where Italy meets Morocco, and iced almond milk is the variant. To end a balmy day, grab a gelato from Bar Betty on the seafront – there are as many flavours as there are colours. My personal favourite is a scoop of Nutella nestled beside a second scoop of amarena, sweet and creamy, laced with a sauce of stewed sour cherries. Perfect. Munch it down on the Scalinata Virgiliana (marble steps named after Roman poet Virgil) with the best seafront view in town, then cure your gelato-full tummy with a short walk to the end of the port to take in the spectacular late-19th-century architecture.
One thing to remember is that this time of year is grape harvest, so everyone is enjoying their wine and celebrating. On 11 November, don’t miss the St Martino’s Day festa, marking the end of the agricultural year and the first annual taste of the local Novello wine. In fact, there is so much wine from the region that you could sample two or three different bottles a day for a week and still not try them all.
Puglia alone produces twice as much wine as all of Australia, including those made from the Brindisi Malvasia Nera grape and the Negroamaro grape. One of the best reds I tried was the Primitivo di Manduria, a ruby, fruity wine that sells for under €6 a bottle. A steal! But even better than that, many of the numerous vineyards in Brindisi’s hinterland open for visits, making for the perfect excursion from the city. I visited the Botrugno vineyards (www.vinisalento.it), where owner Sergio Botrugno is more than happy to give wine tastings and all the advice you need when it comes to Puglian wine. Hailing from a long generation of winemakers, Sergio tells me it’s all in the name. “In Ancient Greek, botrus means ‘bunch of grapes’, botruoteros means an owner of vineyards, and botrumai means anyone who grows vineyards,” he says. It’s all in the taste, too, and a three-box set of Botrugno wines will set you back a mere €18.
Evening tipples (pre- or post-dinner) in Brindisi are best taken along the port, close to the Teatro Verdi, where the best bars in the city are located. I spent a couple of nights in a row sipping at two favourite local joints. The first is a real lounge place named C’est La Vie, with great offers on wines and a good crowd. The second, Camera a Sud, offered something a little different – it doubles as a bookshop where you can drink and browse at the same time. For more of a party, wait until late then head out of town to beachfront bar Guna Beach (www.gunabeach.com) for some live music as you chill on wicker chairs with cocktails; or over to one of local promoter Giovanni Limongelli’s monthly Transition Lab parties at Nine Club in the city centre that go on till 6am.
October and November are all about Indian summers here in Brindisi, and whether you do party all night or get an early one and wake up refreshed, one priority must be bronzing and hanging out at the beaches up and down the coast, as it’s just the perfect temperature this time of year. The public beaches Apani and Punta Penne are lovely, with crystal-clear waters perfect for swimming or scuba diving. You can also be a bit adventurous and hide away in one of the many remoter beaches cut off by cliffs. For something really special, get yourself to Penna Grossa close to the Torre Guaceto nature reserve, just north of Brindisi, which is totally free of development and crowds, and try some snorkelling, biking or nature treks.
After a week here in southern Italy, I run through my list. Expanded my palate? Check. Embraced the sea? Check. Explored the land? Check. Slowed down. Absolutely! I am definitely a true Brindisini now.
Brindisi’s airport is located 7km north of the city centre. Ryanair operates flights from Barcelona (Girona), Billund, Bologna, Brussels (Charleroi), Eindhoven, London (Stansted), Milan (Bergamo), Pisa (Florence), Rome (Ciampino), Turin, Venice (Treviso) and Verona. For more details, visit www.ryanair.com. The journey into Brindisi from the airport takes 15 minutes by bus, taxi, or hire car. Hertz (www.hertz.com) provides special rates for Ryanair passengers.
Keeping on the country theme, one of the nicest hotels to stay in is the agriturismo Masseria Baroni Nuovi (Strada Provinciale Acquaro, KM 6, Brindisi, tel: +39 0831 555762, www.masseriabaroninuovi.it), a 19th-century refurbished farm villa with 13 rooms starting at just €100 for a double in October and November. The hotel also makes and sells its own olive oil and wine. Also nestled in the countryside is Masseria Torre Coccaro (8 C.da Coccaro, Savelletri di Fasano, tel: +39 080 482 9310, www.masseriatorrecoccaro.com), a five-star luxury stay from €270.