Travel: Star power shines in Italy’s Puglia

Picturesque Puglia, in southern Italy, is quickly becoming a travel hotspot due to its historic towns and delicious cuisine. 

The southern Italian region of Puglia is making headlines these days—why? Its scenic coast, historic towns and delicious cuisine are enough to focus attention on this part of Italy any day of the week, but now superstars too have tuned into the many charms of Puglia. Well, at least one superstar: Justin Timberlake has tied the knot with Jessica Biel there. Timberlake, an entertainment powerhouse who has gone from “Star Search” to “Sexyback” and beyond, has finally proven his “travel” star power by selecting Puglia as the setting for his recent wedding. 

Puglia, or Apulia in English, is one of Italy’s most magical regions. It is the spur of the boot of the Italian landmass, with an intricately chiseled coastline that often creates an island-style feel. The sense of history here is ubiquitous but never oppressive—vying for your attention is an almost staggering range of sites from prehistory to Magna Graecia, and from the Roman Imperial age to the Renaissance and the Italian Baroque after that. Puglia is nearly 7,500 square miles in size and there are almost as many reasons to fall in love with the place. 

Bari is the region’s capital and its largest city. This port city boasts the longest uninterrupted seaside promenade in Italy, and its historic center, Barivecchia, is a walled wonder that could easily be used as backdrop for a pirate movie. About 100 miles southeast, Lecce has a restored Roman amphitheater and a central district redolent of Baroque splendor. Its archeology museum is a jewel, with collections evocative of the region’s ancient Greek heritage. 

Continuing on the coast south of Bari you will find Polignano a Mare and its historic clifftop buildings that seem to hover over the water. The shiny village Ostuni is called La Città Bianca, or “the White Town,” on account of the dense core of whitewashed buildings in its historic hilltop center. Inland is Galatina, which is close to Lecce and a perfectly pleasant southern Italian town with a Romanesque cathedral that dates to 1390. The southeastern stretch of Puglia is called Salento, a sub-peninsula where you’ll find enchanting seaside towns like Otranto, Gallipoli and Santa Maria di Leuca. 

If you don’t think much of rosé wine (rosato in Italian), a trip to Puglia will definitely update your views. Puglia’s most representative wines are reds and rosés, but the region also produces some interesting white wines from local grapes. Distinctive tastes are achieved through time-honored methods of winemaking using Moscato of Trani, Verdeca, Malvasia of Salento, Primitivo, Salice Salentino and Negroamaro grapes. These grapes can be seen growing throughout the region. 

Now if the Smurfs were Italian, they might call the village of Alberobello home. This is where you’ll find an abundant inventory of trulli, the most distinctive architectural legacy of Puglia. Coming from the Greek word for cupola, a trullo (singular) is an old stone house with a conical roof built without mortar. Alberobello has so many trulli that it has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, but you’ll also find them in the vicinity of Locorotondo in the Itria Valley. 

Puglia’s Salento coast has a large assortment of great beaches, from the sandy Torre dell’Orso and Porto Cesario, to blissfully blue Marina di Ugento south of Lecce to the rocky, boulder-encrusted Riviera of Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca with its shimmering Grotta Grande. The latter is where the calm, crystal-clear waters of the Ionian Sea mix with those of the intensely azure Adriatic. Gallipoli on the Ionian Sea, was, according to legend, founded by Idomeneus of Crete. 

Back to Timberlake’s starry wedding, Italian newspapers reported that the wedding took place at the fabulous seaside resort Borgo Egnazia. The Borgo Egnazia, a five-star hotel surrounded by villas and set among ancient Roman ruins, is located on a scenic yet relatively short stretch of coast between Bari and Brindisi. You can book a stay here through Select Italy, an Italy travel specialist that also recommends the Masseria Torre Coccaro, a historic manor house dating from the 16th century and now a five-star luxury resort surrounded by olive groves and almond trees. Another great hotel option on Puglia’s “VIP Coast” is the Masseria Torre Maizza, just up the beach from where Timberlake and Biel had a happy pre-wedding gathering with several of their Hollywood friends. The five-star Masseria Torre Maizza is less than a mile from the beautiful southern Adriatic coast. During the 16th century, the Masseria Torre Maizza served as a watchtower against the invading Ottoman Turks and Saracens. The trulli of Alberobello are nearby. 

Start planning your Puglia adventure today – and who knows, you might even catch sight of Justin and Jessica on a repeat visit to this sunny, new celebrity magnet! 

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