By Michael Broussard
This was my third HE Travel experience, and they have all been wonderful vacations, and all very different. I had been considering the Puglia bike tour for over a year, but at my age (60) I was worried I would not be able to “keep up with the pack,” even though I know there is no pressure to do more biking than you can manage. So I was delighted to see the addition of the Puglia Culinary Tour where the focus is more on sites and food. I was also concerned about visiting Italy in November, but the weather was nearly perfect: chilly in the evenings but generally in the 60’s during the day. It only drizzled once. Villa owner Paul admitted he could not promise such pleasant weather every November.
The other HE Travel excursions I experienced had a dozen or so participants each; this trip had only two of us: Stephen from Key West was a stranger to me but I am delighted I can now count him as a friend. The small group turned out to be a great benefit, as it greatly simplified logistics. We each had our own room with private bath; not a lot of time was spent waiting on group assemblies and decisions; changes to the itinerary were easily accomplished; and there were more flexible dining options: I’m not sure the spectacular Antichi Sapori Restaurant could easily accommodate large groups.
The villa is hundreds of years old and looks it, but after several years of renovations and improvements is comfortable and inviting. When owner Paul showed me to my room, he said: “I hope you weren’t expecting the Sheraton,” to which I replied: “I would be disappointed if it looked like the Sheraton.” My room was spacious, well-appointed and clean, and had a great view. Lovely.
Paul and his partner Steven and Paul’s daughter Casey are the perfect hosts; the other guest and I felt more like family than paying guests. After breakfast Paul would take us touring to a new lovely city or museum.We saw (and tasted) mozzarella being made on a farm, and tasted extra-virgin olive oil one minute old after watching the olives being pressed.
Some days the main meal of the day was an exotic lunch in a beautiful town; one day we procured the freshest seafood and vegetables from an open air market for a long lunch at the villa; two lovely dinners were at local eateries in Terlizzi. In the evenings at the villa I got quickly spoiled by Paul’s vodka martinis, alternately garnished with caperberries, or olives, or tiny onions, all house-brined.
One highlight of the week was Thanksgiving at the villa. I didn’t have to cook the turkey, which Steven roasted in the wood-fired clay oven, but knowing this was a culinary tour I did bring my favorite Shun knife and got to chop vegetables for the stuffing, cut up apples for the pies, and potatoes for the mashed (which were actually riced, but I had to volunteer to use the ricer because it’s apparently too much trouble). I was feeling guilty about being away from my family for the holiday, but participating in the traditional dinner that the villa hosted for us and for ten of their Italian friends was awesome.
See details about the Puglia Culinary Tour HERE.