The heel of the Italian boot, caught between the Adriatic and the Ionian seas, the region feels like an island, peripheral, a place apart, only tenuously European. Down here on the edge of Europe, you feel other worlds. The white cubist houses could be North Africa and the labyrinthine towns, their lanes a bewildering maze of privacies, could be the backstreets of Istanbul.
In Puglia the summer seems to go on forever, almost lingering into November. Puglian summers are nostalgic. They feel like the summers of childhood, lodged somewhere in our collective memory, perhaps more imagined than real – that sense of freedom among sand and rock, the bone-melting heat, the paths threading through dunes to the sea.
Puglia is the resin-y scent of pine and roadsides thick with oleander shedding spent pink blossoms and the high-pitched drone of cicadas. It is calamari and ice-cold beer and the glow of sun on your skin at day’s end. It is beach umbrellas ruffled by the sirocco and bronzed limbs unfolding in hammocks. It is long, dishevelled lunches and jugs of rosé wine in the shade of porticoes where you find yourself suddenly confessing things you thought you would never say. Puglia is those inappropriate summer love affairs that last a week and that you remember a lifetime. Puglia is where Italians go to escape real life. It is dolce far niente, the sweet languor of doing nothing. It is summery oblivion.
Puglia is the end of Europe, and the beginning of Orient.