The southeastern region of Puglia (Apulia) encompasses
the forested crags of the Gargano Peninsular (home
to Gargano National Park), the mostly flat Salentine peninsula and
known as the heel of Italy and, between them, the
Murgia, a limestone plateau riddled with caves.
With the exception of Bari and Taranto,
both large industrial ports, the Apulian economy
is wholly agricultural. The main products are almonds, grapes, olives,
tobacco and vegetables. There are fine beaches on the Adriatic coast
between Barletta and Bari.
Puglia was important in Roman times as the
gateway to the eastern Mediterranean. The port of Brindisi,
now eclipsed by Bari in commercial terms, was the
terminus of the Via Appia, along which Eastern
produce was conveyed to Rome and beyond. The Museo Archeologico
Provinciale houses many relics from this prosperous era.
Virgil died in Brindisi in 19 BC.
On the Murgia plateau, in Alberobello,
one can visit a number of extraordinary stone dwellings known as
trulli. Circular with conical roofs , they are
similar to the nuraghi of Sardinia. Also in this area stands a unique
octagonal castle, the Castel del Monte, built as
a hunting lodge in the 13th century by the Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II (the self-styled Stupor Mundi, ‘Wonder
of the World’). Both are now UNESCO-listed World Heritage
A remote and mainly mountainous region situated between Puglia
and Calabria, Basilicata is heavily forested in
the north around Monte Vulture, a large extinct
volcano. Elsewhere, the hills are flinty and barren. Many rivers
flow down from the southern Appennines into the
Gulf of Taranto, irrigating the fertile coastal
plain behind Metaponto (birthplace of Pythagoras).
The population is small. The principal town, Potenza,
was almost entirely rebuilt after a severe earthquake in 1857, only
to suffer a similar scale of destruction in World War II. In Matera,
one can visit the extraordinary Sassi, a vast troglodyte
settlement of houses and churches carved into tufa rock. Home to
15,000 residents until the 1950s, this is now a UNESCO-listed World
The toe of the boot, a spectacularly beautiful
region of high mountains, dense forests and empty beaches. Beech,
chestnut, oak and pine cover almost half of Calabria and are a rich
hunting ground for mushroom enthusiasts. Porcini
(boletus edulis), fresh, dried and pickled, naturally adorn the
shelves of all the speciality shops of the region. Higher up in
the mountains the land only sustains light grazing, but the meadows
bloom with a multitude of lovely wild flowers each spring. It is
only on isolated patches of reclaimed land on the marshy coast that
agriculture is possible and consequently the inhabitants are among
some of the poorest in Italy. They are further tormented by frequent
earthquakes. Some wolves still survive in the mountains, particularly
in the central Sila Massifs. Catanzaro,
Cosenza and Reggio Calabria, on the straits
of Messina, are the major towns.
Calabria’s best beaches are located on the west coast, where
one finds long stretches of sand, punctuated by rocky outcrops and
secluded coves. The beaches on the east coast are rockier, rugged
and less explored.