Valle d’Itria: The Tale of Olive Oil – Italy
Discover beautiful hill towns with endless views, ancient trees and copious olive oil
The Valle d’Itria is Puglia at its most bucolic: a gently rolling landscape punctuated by hills towns, each with a subtly different character and architectural style. Amid olive groves and cartoonish cacti, magpies swoop, grandmothers tend to the family vineyards, and men ride bicycles with huge bundles of herbs strapped to the back.
The town of Alberobello is defined by its trulli (traditional, cone-shaped houses), which form an undulating sea of dunce-hat rooftops, constructed with local stone laid like fish scales. Alberobello dates from the 14th century; the drystone wall technique was imposed on inhabitants by the feudal lord who allowed them to settle here, so that houses could be quickly deconstructed if occupants fell behind on their tithes.
With each about the size of a spacious four-person tent, trulli were built in clusters so one family could spread over several. The Monti quarter contains more than 1,000 trulli, while higgledy-piggledy Aja Piccola is around half the size. This curious cityscape attracts lots of visitors, but some escape to the quieter back lanes to get a sense of the town as it once was. In Aja Piccola, locals sit outside selling cherries and almonds, stretching cats eyeing the occasional passerby.
A few miles away, the milk-white town of Locorotondo (‘round place’) neatly crowns another hill. Here, the old town is all wrought-iron balconies and blazing flowerboxes, its rooftops white-washed pointed gables, called ‘cummerse’. Locals chat on their doorsteps and music floats from a tailor’s shop that has occupied the same basement for more than 50 years. On a corner, some elderly men pass the time at what they call the ‘lungomare’ (seaside promenade) – a local joke, given that the Adriatic is nine miles distant.