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National Geographic

February 5, 2014 in Puglia

Where Old Ways Still Rule

Greeks and Goths, Romans and Normans, Byzantines and Venetians: All put their feet, and flags, in the heel of Italy’s boot. There, the region of Puglia stretches a strategic 250 miles along the Adriatic Sea (and 95 miles on the Ionian), making it a key connection between Italy and Europe’s east.

Few visit Puglia beyond its most famous seaside towns, fewer still outside of the warm months. And—as proud as they are of their region’s ancient vineyards and medieval castles, cone-roofed trulli dwellings and white-sand beaches—many locals seem surprised by tourists’ attention. “If you go to Tuscany nowadays, you have to know where to go and what to do to have an off-the-beaten-path experience,” says Antonello Losito, a Bari native and the owner of tour company Southern Visions Travel. “But Puglia is always off the beaten path.” By the time the sun sets on even the busiest summer day in Bari, cruise passengers have fled back to their buffets, and locals swell the town’s narrow streets and cobblestoned piazzas in their stead. Old men clutching canes chat in the distinctive local dialect. The scent of ragù floats through open doorways, blocked from the street only by hanging blankets. Families push strollers. Laundry flaps from windows.

Will Puglia change? Probably, someday. But not yet. For now, Puglia boasts the best of southern Italy: the pace, the traditions, the beauty. Unconquered. —Amanda Ruggeri

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