14 to 21 April 2012
A group of 23 including some friends from Reading and District Natural History Society left Gatwick on a very late flight to Bari for a Ramblers Worldwide Holidays sightseeing and Grade D week in Apulia, in the “heel” of Italy. Our base was the pleasant and helpful Hotel Lanzillotte in the town of Alberobello.
Alberobello is famous for its “trulli” (approximately conical houses built from the local limestone) which were shown to us by a local guide on the introductory morning. After a picnic lunch there was a walk to and through a local wood – the Bosco Selvo. To those interested in natural history this was a magical place with a superb range of flowers, birds and even the odd snake. As a consequence the pace was slower than the leader, and some of the party, anticipated. The wood was so exceptional that one couple visited it four times and several others visited three times.
The second day’s walking was wet and went through country lanes past olive and fruit orchards, not uninteresting but marred by the fact that the farmers seemed very keen on the use of herbicides. The next day, a coach took us to a starting point that allowed access to a covered aqueduct that takes water from the Apennines to the arid lowlands of Apulia and which provides an excellent level path that was very rich in orchids and many other flowering plants, plus butterflies and other insects. The natural historians were thrilled by this walk and many others in the party were gripped by the beauty of the flowers and the scenery. The day was completed by a visit to the Alberbello Wine Museum where we heard about the differences in the local grape varieties (like negroamaro and primitivo) and were able to judge these for ourselves.
Non-availability of a coach on a key day meant that sightseeing days came at the end of the week. The train enthusiasts in the party had two brief journeys on the Wednesday, from Alberobello to Marca Franca and back from Locorotondo. Our leader, Anne, guided us through the narrow streets of these delightful small hilltop towns, pointing out interesting aspects of the architecture and taking us into churches, ancient and modern.
The party dispersed in all directions on the next, free, day. Some stayed in Alberobello, where there was a huge and fascinating market with stalls offering foods familiar and unfamiliar. One of the latter turned up as a pre-dinner snack in the hotel – grape hyacinth bulbs!
We saw the sea, the Adriatic, on the Friday, first in the distance from the hilltop town of Ostuni, another place with narrow lanes, rococo churches and a pleasant central piazza, then close to. Some paddled, others investigated the seaside plants. The climax of the day was a visit to an enormous cave system at Castellaria which provided the longest walk of the day, underground. The hotel pulled the stops out for our final evening, providing a pianist as well as the usual good food.
Our flight back was in the late evening so Anne arranged a quite long but interesting coach trip out of Apulia into Basilicata to Matera. The oldest parts of this town are built into limestone cliffs very similar in appearance to Malham Cove. We were back in time for a pleasant lunch in the hotel and a stroll around the town, or back to Bosco Selvo. The sun set spectacularly, in the classic manner, over the Adriatic during our journey back to Bari and the tedium of waiting for the flight. Most of the party were thoroughly satisfied by the trip, others thought it was splendid!