Head for the heel! How Bari is the gateway to Italy’s best kept secret
Chalkmarks: Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy

PUGLIA has come under the spotlight this week for being the only region in Europe where the cost of dining out for UK holidaymakers has actually fallen – by 10.3 per cent. As travellers search for affordability, the report by the Post Office Family Holiday Report is perfect timing. So here’s what to do: with the cost of flights and hotels rising across the world, book a trip to Bari. Get there before the rest!

Pix of the trip: Puglia

On a quiet, narrow street Nonnas are making orecchiette under the hot Italian summer sun. It’s a mini pasta making empire in Bari’s Old City on the southeastern coast. They sit outside for hours at wooden tables while above them white sheets dry on the balconies. Women have been making these small ear—shaped pasta shells for generations, and today they sell them to tourists for €2.50 a bag. And Chalkmarks of course brought some home.

The city’s signature dish is orecchiette con cime di rapa (orecchiette with turnip). As with most food in Italy it’s obscenely tasty and yet there’s so much more to find. Elsewhere in this maze of ancient streets and alleyways are more ladies selling scagliozzi or fried polenta chips. 

At sunset families bring out their chairs and sit in the piazzas or by the harbour and talk long into the warm evenings. It has untouched charms – and the people speak almost no English. 

There’s something of the 12th century that lingers in Citta Vecchia. Every angle of the Old City is Instagrammable with the Basilica of Sant Nichola, Cattedrale Di San Sabino, and the Norman-Swabian Castle with its city walls that look out to the Adriatic.

Bari is the capital city of the Puglia region, which is emerging as the unmissable new destination in Italy for its beaches, history and food. It’s the third most important city in the south – after Naples and Palermo, Sicily – and with a three-hour flight direct from Gatwick, it’s bizarre it’s still a well-kept secret. 

While Italian food is familiar to us in the UK, there’s still plenty of new things to try. Local treats include panino col polpo (octopus sandwich), tiella Pugliese (potato, rice and mussels), focaccia and pinsa (local pizza) panzerotto (deep fried pizza) and pasticciotto (pastry filled with custard). It’s all so delicious. 

And you can afford to splash out, take time to enjoy life with a cocktail or two – and not break the bank. The average price of an Aperol Spritz is €3 (£2.59) and a gelato €2.50 (£2.17)! 

Chalkmarks: Old Town, Bari, Puglia, Italy
Just eat: Polenta chips being sold in the Old Town, Bari
Chalkmarks: Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia, Italy
Recipe for success: Orecchiette pasta
Chalkmarks: Old Town, Bari, Puglia, Italy
The Italian look: The streets of the Old Town turn into restaurants

Outside the Old City, Bari has one of the longest promenades in the world with almost 200 street lights leading you along the seafront on a 15km walk (30 minutes) to the beach. Just add a gelato and you have all you need for an evening stroll.

It would be easy to spend a week exploring the Citta Vecchia (Old City) and Murat (the new town) built in the 1800s but more surprises are to come. 

Train travel between the nearby villages and cities to explore more beaches costs a few pounds and boat trips are also inexpensive. Polignano a Mare (see above) and Monopoli are 10-out-of-10 must-see beauty spots. 

These are not typically long, wide, stretches of sandy beach, but small, rocky, pebbly coves with open caves and sheers cliffs that locals jump from. When you’re at the top the views looking down are impressive and when you’re on the beach the water is crystal clear.

Then there’s the Unesco whitewashed village of Alberobello, which is like walking on to a film set. In Lecce, the streets fill up at 10pm when everyone comes out to eat, listen to live music and watch performances in the main square.

In Brindisi you can eat and drink in Piazza Mercato from dawn till dusk. The Romans famously headed to the Amalfi Coast and the island Capri surrounded by the Tyrrhenian Sea but the hot hangout for young Italians is the island town of Gallipoli with its beach nightlife.

Then, right down on heel of Italy is Santa Maria di Leuca, where you can swim in two magnificent seas. On a three-hour boat trip you’ll sail between the Adriatic and the Ionian. Lonely Planet hasn’t even made it there yet. And if you have goggles you can see the fish swim close to the surface. What’s not to love? Puglia has the original Italian recipe. And when you see the prices you’ll be even happier.

Chalkmarks paid our own way. We flew from Gatwick to Bari and stayed in a mix of hotels and BnBs. 

Chalkmarks: Old Town, Bari, Puglia, Italy
Dish of the day: Pinsa and Aperol Spritz
Chalkmarks: Gallipoli, Puglia, Italy
More than just ice cream: Glorious gelato
Chalkmarks: Old Town, Bari, Puglia, Italy
Give it a go: Traditional octopus sandwich
Chalkmarks: Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia, Italy
Summer special: Pasta with mussels
Chalkmarks: Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia, Italy
Tasty pastry: Pasticciotto filled with custard
Chalkmarks: Old Town, Bari, Puglia, Italy
Ice to know: Coffee and tea Italian style