Puglia

Life in Ostuni Part 2 – sounds of the city

Every city has it’s own sound. Melbourne sounds like trams chortling along rickety tracks. London sounds like the never ending screeching of bus breaks. Edinburgh, so far, sounds like fireworks (seriously, any excuse will do). And Ostuni? Well, Ostuni sounds like a boisterous family get together.

People talk about Italian communities being close, and after my week in Ostuni I think they don’t just mean in the family kind of way. I really do think they mean the ‘everybody knows everybody else’s business’ way. And how could you not? It’s probably the same in many cities, especially the ones with warmer climates, ones where since it’s hot, you leave shutters, doors and windows open. And since the houses in Ostuni are virtually piled on top of each other, this means your house often seems like there’s a few large, loud and invisible families living in there with you too.

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Ostuni rooftops all huddled together, seen from my own one close to the main square.

Mostly, for me this wasn’t a negative. It was simply another element to life in Ostuni. And that’s what I was there to absorb anyway. Well, that and some sun.

The first night I arrived in Ostuni there was a party going on next door. The happy sounds of a group of people being entertained by a live pizzica band (that’s pizziCA, not pizza, a traditional Southern Italian folk music) made me wander to the back windows to see what was going on. Being surrounding on all sides by apartments, I couldn’t tell exactly which ‘next door’ it was and when I stuck my head out the tiny window next to the dining table, all I could see was a patchwork of open windows and the soft, orange lights from within. The music could have been coming from any of them. It didn’t really matter, but since it felt like a band and twenty revelers were in my lounge with me, I thought some added visuals might be nice. At midnight the music stopped, they sang a spirited version of happy birthday and then the neighborhood and I all went off to bed.

I spent my mornings in Ostuni  looking at properties, so afternoons began by sitting on the roof terrace eating lunch, reading a book or just listening to the sounds of the town below. Surprisingly, the only day I saw more than one person on their roof was Saturday. That day it occurred to me Italian roof top terraces are sort of the equivalent of our backyards. People were hanging out their washing or watering their plants and one even painted the roof of their (non sanctioned) wooden awning. According to my real estate connection, only fabric constructions or ones that are not permanent and can be easily dismantled are allowed on rooftops in Ostuni. But being Italy, nobody really takes much notice of this rule and looking around, it cetainly didn’t seem like anyone enforces it. (more…)

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Life in Ostuni Part 1- the food

Erm, that title is a bit misleading. The longest I’ve spent in Ostuni is a little over a week, so this is certainly not the definitive tale of life there. And, unusually for me when ensconced in Italia, this time I barely skimmed the surface of what Ostuni has to offer food-wise. So think of this instead as the taster, the nibbles, the (cough) antipasti.

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Ostuni’s old town, with the tempting Adriatic Sea in the background for when you want to escape city life for a while.

As I explained here, I made the decision in May that I needed to spend some time in Ostuni before committing to buying property there. Sensible? Well, yes. Obvious? Well, yeah alright, that too. Puglia trip #2  was therefore to become a reconnaissance mission.

This time I didn’t hire a car, something I would insist any other visitor to Puglia do by the way, because I had no real need to see the sights. My mission was simply to look at properties and get a feel for the city. Traipsing around all week to the stunning dual coastlines of Puglia, exploring ancient villages and playing spot the Trullo as I trundled through the Valle d’Itria were distractions that would just have to wait till next time.

After seeing properties in the mornings, I set about trying out the things I imagined I’d be doing if I lived in Ostuni part of the year. Mostly this involved sitting on the rooftop terrace, soaking up the sounds of the city which wafted up from the streets and out the many open windows of the houses surrounding me. Happily, it also allowed me to soak up the late September sunshine, leaving me enough of a tan to last at least half way through the fast approaching, long, cold UK winter.

Each day, when I reached the point where I might be risking skin cancer, or worse – boredom – I came down and wandered around the old town, searching for gelato and photo opportunities. Separately that is, I don’t mean that I was looking for nice places to take pictures of ice cream. Although, there was this…

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Surprisingly, no – sacrilegiously – it took me three goes to find a truly amazing Gelateria in Ostuni. I know! I won’t tell you the name of the first one, lest they get their feelings hurt. But I will tell you it’s on the main road into the old town, half way up the hill on the right, with muscular guys behind the counter who obviously think they’re too good to be scooping gelato for tourists. (more…)

Puglia Visit #2 – Italian Real Estate Agents

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The gorgeous Ostuni laneways and arches in the old town.

Last time (also the first time) I came to Puglia, my goal was to find an area where I thought I’d like to buy an apartment. After a lightening visit to towns in both the north and south of this beautiful part of southern Italy, I decided the north was the place for me. And after an even quicker visit to Ostuni for a couple of hours, I decided I liked it enough to book myself a longer stay a few months down the track. This time the goal would be to contact real estate agents and actually see some properties.

So let’s begin with some history. Ostuni is a small but beautiful hilltop town in the Brindisi provence of Puglia. Apparently it was smashed to bits by Hannibal during the Punic Wars and then rebuilt by the Greeks, which may come as no surprise if you’ve looked at my picture above. In fact the word Ostuni comes from the Greek ‘Astu neon’ – New Town. But more on Ostuni later.

Another goal for this trip was to simply spend time ‘living’ in Ostuni. After all, visiting somewhere as a tourist is totally different to living there permanently, right? London’s the perfect example of that for me. Amazing city for to visit, not so amazing when you live there. Unless of course, I imagine, you’re lucky enough to be loaded. And yeah, I know nine days is hardly enough to make that kind of determination, but it’s long enough for me to get a pretty good vibe, and I’m all about listening to my gut. Although I’m not in a super rush, I’m mindful of working to some kind of timescale. So I’ve given myself twelve months, and at this stage I’m already four months in.

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As gorgeous as it is, the idea of living in the old town doesn’t appeal. Too many bloody tourists like me wandering around taking photos all day.

Continuing my “I don’t really know what I’m doing” and “I’ll make it up as I go along” modus-operandi, I decided to just do what I would do if I were buying an apartment in the UK, or even at home in Australia. So I went on a website a week before I got here, found some places I liked the look of and sent an email to the agents asking if it was possible to see them the following week. I used Casa.It, a website where a whole lot of different agents advertise their properties. If you’re in Australia, it’s just like Real Estate.com.au or Zoopla or Rightmove in the UK. 

I told myself all I needed at this stage was to see a few properties and try to grasp what the market was like, what kind of places were available in my budget and what I could get if I had more money… because you know… maybe I’ll win the lotto between now and next year. It’s totally possible… if I start buying lotto tickets. (more…)

When is a tourist attraction not a tourist trap? When it’s a Trullo.

Sometimes a tourist attraction is not a trap. Sometimes you can take the seriously touristy and turn it into the kind of ‘once in a lifetime’ experience many of us yearn for when we go on holiday.

I’ve had my fair share of ‘once in a lifetime’. When I was younger, and not as concerned with little things like comfort or extending my life,  I trekked the Himalayas, sailed the Barrier Reef on a square rigger and almost froze to death to eat reindeer stew in a wooden hut  in the Swedish wilderness. I’m sure there’s still some adventure to come, but I’m really getting too lazy old for all that action business now. I can’t be climbing mountains  and washing out of a bucket for a week at my age. And I promised myself years ago I’d never again have to endure a ‘toilet tent’ (basically a hole in the ground with a teepee over it)  shared between a group of strangers suffering from ‘funny tummy’ and an inability to squat and aim. Call me a snob, but I want to be able to brag about doing something no-one else in the room has done without having to have forgone basic standards of human cleanliness. So maybe you’ll understand why this particular Puglian non-tourist-trap offering is slightly more… err.. sedate. I stayed in a Trullo.

“A what?”

Yes, I know. That’s exactly what I would have been asking a few months ago. A Trullo is a 19th century stone hut with a distinctive cone shaped roof, and you won’t see them anywhere else in the world except Puglia, predominantly in the north. It’s believed they were most popular in the 1800’s as a solution to the particularly high property taxes of the time. You see Trulli are built without mortar or cement, so they can be easily dismantled. Apparently people used them to avoid property tax by simply pulling them down whenever a tax inspector was known to be in the area. They look something like this…

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You only need to spend five minutes in Puglia to see a Trullo. You’ll see them in the towns, you’ll see them on postcards, look out your window whilst driving (through the Valle d’Itria region especially) and you’ll see them in the fields. They are everywhere, and as synonymous with Puglia as olive oil, Orecchiette  pasta and the Salento. So yes, they are a tourist attraction, especially in Alborobello (see pic below) which is like Trulli Disneyland, where you can see a whole town of traditional Trulli, and buy yourself every kind of Trulli-shaped souvenir known to man, if you so wish. But over the last ten years or so, more and more entrepreneurial folk have begun to restore abandoned Trulli and turn them into unique holiday rental accommodation.

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So once again, this is what an abandoned Trullo typically looks like…

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And here’s the pimped up version…

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This is La Dimora Di Genna, hidden away amongst farm land slightly north-east of Putingano. It’s surrounded by fields of olive and cherry trees and after a nerve wracking week of driving through Italy on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, the utter quiet and seclusion here tempted me to just stay put for the entire three days I was there. But then I got hungry. Not a problem though because a short drive takes you to any number of nearby towns, such as close-by Putingano and Alberobello, or Martina Franca, Locorotondo and Cisternono a little further out. Plus, the Adriatic sea is only a twenty minute drive away, thirty if you drive like me. (more…)

Food, glorious (Italian) food

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As I mentioned in my last post, before I went to Puglia in May I was fortunate to make contact with Caroline Edwards, advocate/promoter/endorser of all things worth knowing in Puglia. Caroline took me along to a tasting session with a company in Martina Franca called Selecto, and I was able to sample some of Puglia’s scrummy local products.

Selecto take the best local delicacies, source the best producers of those delicacies in all of Puglia, then package them under the brands Tebamia (for supplying restaurants and retailers) and Deapulia (for online orders). If you’re already familiar with Puglian food, maybe you’ve long wished for another taste of hard to find cheeses like cacciocavallo, provolone or peccorino. Or maybe you dream about peperonettto (peppers stuffed with tuna), soppressata (spicy sausage) or confettura di cipolla rossa (red onion jam). Or maybe you just remember that you had some of the best wine of your life in Puglia. Well, even though I’m sure a quick trip to Italy to stock up would be lovely, you don’t have to get on a plane to taste them again because Selecto deliver worldwide. All hail the wonders of the internet!

And if you just happen to be in Puglia right now, get in contact with them and arrange a visit to their shop in Martina Franca. You won’t be able to resist making a purchase or two, so best bring something to take them home in. An empty suitcase should just about do it.

If mere words aren’t enough to tempt you, here’s some pictures I took:

Peperonetto…

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bite sized Peperonetto…

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The quality of the packaging makes it a perfect gift too (if you can bare to share)…

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Helpful Tip Numero Uno: Contacts contacts contacts…

At the end of this blog, apart from having my own slice of Italy to call home for part of the year, I would like to think that I’ve been some kind of help to others who are thinking of buying property in Italy. I don’t have an awful lot of knowledge to impart just yet, and by ‘not an awful lot’, I mean bugger all. But, there is one thing I can tell you; at some stage, you’re going to need to make some contacts.

It’s pretty obvious I suppose. The more people you talk to, the more stories you hear (good and bad), the more opinions you get, the easier it will be to make decisions with the benefit of all that advice to pull from. I know for some people this can be hard. I’m the world’s worst networker. I can be incredibly shy sometimes, but I know I’m not going to get through this by myself (especially since I haven’t learnt Italian – yet). Any bravado that shows from behind a keyboard usually stays right there.

So here’s my helpful tip number one – use the blogosphere. It’s huge. It has everything. And if you’re shy, it’s perfect. There’s that keyboard thing to hide behind.

There are blogs on everything. Go to WordPress reader, put a topic in the search box and Bob’s your uncle. If it’s property in a foreign country you’re after, there’s bound to be a plethora of ex-pats who have made the jump before you.

This is exactly how I found the website of Caroline Edwards; long time Monopoli resident and font of knowledge on all thing Puglia. She has a blog called Personal Puglia, and of course when I found it I went straight to her food section. After I commented on one of her restaurant reviews we got talking, and wouldn’t you now it, among Caroline’s many Puglian hats, she helps people searching for homes in Puglia. Over the next few months, Caroline couldn’t have been more giving of her time and her resources. She organised a fabulous Trulli villa for me for a few days (which I’ll write about later), took me around a couple of towns and even let me tag along to a tasting session at a food supplier (which I’ll also write about later). While we were there we even stuck our noses in their fridge…

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