Things to do in Puglia

I’ve visited the major cities of central and north Italy, and feel like I know the culture and cuisine relatively well… but the rural region of Southern Italy was completely unknown to me. I’d heard fellow travel fanatics talk about the growing trend to visit Puglia, the less visited part of Italy which is known for centuries-old olive groves, whitewashed hill towns and crystal clear sea. The reality was even more idyllic than it sounds.

PugliaMasseria Moroseta

To stay

Masseria Trapana – Located on the outskirts of Lecce and surrounded by sixty hectares of ancient olive groves. Rob Potter-Sanders has transformed a derelict 16th farmhouse into one of the most luxurious hotels in Puglia. There are ten sumptuous suites to choose from, each with a grand four-poster bed and giant bathtub.

Masseria Moroseta – This stunning, minimalist bed & breakfast is found on the outskirts of Ostuni, and feels like it was built with Instagram in mind. The contemporary masseria was designed by Andrew Trotter and is set around a central courtyard, with six charming bedrooms, a beautiful pool and lovely common areas to enjoy.

Puglia foodPuglia seafoodPuglia food

To eat

Cielo – Tucked away in the Ostuni maze of white streets is the enchanting Cielo restaurant, inside the luxury hotel, La Sommita. Sit down for lunch and you will be treated to lots of little surprises throughout from foie gras chocolates to aperol liquid sweets. The plates of pasta are refined and delicious and the innovative Egg and Flour dessert is not to be missed.

Cremeria alla Scala – The best gelato in Ostuni. There are several branches of this ice-cream parlour in Ostuni, pop in for a cone of the speciality flavour, Sant’Oronzo (almond and mandarin).

Il Principe del Mare – Cheap and cheerful this basic seafood restaurant is found at the sea’s edge in Fasano. The family-run eatery offers the freshest fish straight from the ocean, while you sit watching the waves crash to shore.

Angelo Sabatelli Ristorante – There are only a handful of good fine dining restaurants in Puglia. Angelo Sabatelli is among the best, serving up inventive recipes based on the traditional dishes from Puglia. The Orecchiette pasta with 30 hour cooked meat ragu and canestrato cheese fondue is a triumph… Puglian cuisine at its very best.

Il Cortiletto – Located on the edge of Ostuni this neighborhood restaurant is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. The courtyard dining room has a lovely atmosphere and serves simple but authentic anti-pasti, pasta and wood-fired meats.

Gelateria Natale – Universally referred to as Lecce’s best gelato, Gelateria Natale is always busy and has enough flavours to satisfy everyone. I tasted the ricotta and fig and rum baba flavours which were both creamy and delicious. There is also a range of traditional Italian confectionery.

Places to Visit


Matera – This ancient town carved into the canyon is famous for its cave dwellings, known as the sassi. This World Heritage site is unique and enchanting, transporting you back to centuries ago.


Otranto – This historic town is on the east coast of the Salento peninsula. Visit the Romanesque cathedral to see the twelfth-century mosaic and if its hot take a dip in the crystal clear turquoise waters.


Lecce – One of the largest cities in the Apulia region Lecce is known for its magnificent baroque buildings. Visit the amazing Cattedrale di Lecce and the Basilica di Santa Croce, before cooling off with a delicious ice-cream from Gelateria Natale.


Gallipoli – The lazy town of Gallipoli has fantastic beaches and a charming historic old town to explore.


Alberobello – Although touristy it is worth visiting Alberobello to marvel at the amazing trulli, a traditional Apulian dry stone hut with a conical roof. Head a cafe with rooftop seating for the best panoramic views.


Polignano a Mare – Perched on top of a limestone cliff, Polignano a Mare offers a dramatic coastline and a beautiful beach in the centre of town. Wander round the streets and grab lunch in a local cafe before soaking up the sun.


Monopoli – This quaint town is centred around a lovely fishing port. Charter a sailing boat for the day, and sail up the coast to the St Stefano monastery where you can admire the amazing caves and take a dip in the azure Adriatic sea.

A weekend in Lisbon

Portugal seems to be a popular destination for British holidaymakers this year. Though the Algarve promises year round sunshine and Porto has an ‘underdog’ excitement about it, no-one can deny the historic charm of Lisbon. When I first stayed in Lisbon, on a whim a few years ago, I was surprised and delighted by the easy-going atmosphere, lovely people and abundance of unassuming food and art gems to discover. For this trip I revisited many of my favourite places and uncovered a few more local Portuguese institutions.

To eat

Belcanto – you will be dreaming of José Avillez’s imaginative creations long after you’ve left his restaurant. This meticulous two Michelin star restaurant serves up gastronomic delights that taste just as good as they look. My favourite dish was the Tangerine dessert, a mix of subtle contrasting flavours and textures.

Taberna da rua das flores – for authentic Portuguese fare in a humble and charming environment, head to this tiny 25-seat restaurant in Chiado. The venue used to be a barbershop and now serves reasonably priced, delicious plates of food from a daily-changing menu.

Eleven – this fine-dining restaurant has a smart and airy feel, and is a popular choice with businessmen working nearby. The menu offers elaborate and beautiful dishes with a focus on seafood. Enjoy a special lunch while admiring the scenic views of the surrounding park.

Manteigaria – recognised as one of Lisbon’s top custard tart makers, Manteigaria is found in an old butter shop behind an Art Deco facade in the Chiado district. Every 40 minutes a bell is rung to let locals know that a new batch of tarts has just come out of the oven.

Bistro 100 Maneiras – this contemporary restaurant presents tasty Portuguese food in a relaxed environment. The perfect place to slump for lunch after a morning of walking up Lisbon’s steep hills.

Pastéis de Belém – an institution which undoubtably makes the best Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon. The family’s recipe is top secret and their tarts remain the flakiest and creamiest in town. Sit inside rather than queueing for takeaway and order a strong coffee to accompany your tart.

To drink

Copenhagen coffee lab – the speciality coffee scene in Lisbon is just beginning. The design-centric Copenhagen coffee lab is leading the trend, I visited this modern cafe for a fab flat white.

Memmo Alfama – concealed within the ancient walls of the Alfama district is Lisbon’s most popular design hotel, Memmo Alfama. Head up to the rooftop bar for a cocktail and the best views in town.

A Luz Ideal – A little out of town, this stylish café looks like its straight out of a Wes Anderson film. Sip a coffee in the light-filled room and pick from the traditional Portuguese snacks.

The Independente – This is quite possibly Europe’s coolest hostel. Enjoy the vintage bohemian haven with a glass of Portuguese wine or head up to their new secret rooftop bar and restaurant, The Insólito, for a cocktail with a panoramic view of the city.

A Ginjinha – join the locals as they queue in the streets for a shot of cherry liqueur.

To do

Tuktuk Tejo – tuktuks are a popular trend in Lisbon, a nippy way to navigate the old narrow streets of the city. Organise a trip with Tuktuk Tejo who offer guided tours of different districts. The vehicles are all electric and the guides are friendly and extremely knowledgable. We loved our tour round the Belém area and learnt a huge amount about Lisbon’s history and culture.

Gulbenkian – this meticulously curated museum exhibits a thoughtful collection of ancient and modern art.

LXFactory – once a threads and fabrics factory, LXFactory has found a creative home in this industrial part of town. Wander round the impressive Ler Devagar book shop and stop by Landeau Chocolate for the best chocolate cake you will ever taste.

Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga – I was surprised to find this museum of ancient art very empty. Housed in a former palace, the collection includes paintings, sculptures, textiles, drawings and other decorative art forms from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century.

Hospital de Bonecas – for just 2 euros you can take a peek at Lisbon’s unique doll hospital which houses broken toys from over the ages. Each doll is seen by a doctor before being mended and returned to its loving owner.

Jerónimos Monastery – after sampling the area’s renowned custard tarts, visit this amazing cathedral which is a perfect example of late gothic architecture.

Old tram ride – the old trams are one of the most familiar symbols of Lisbon’s old town. They are not the cheapest way to travel but they are certainly the most romantic. Take route 28 up to see the most beautiful part of town.

To shop

A Vida Portuguesa – this much-loved emporium stocks an impressive range of Portuguese brands and products, from Alantoíne hand cream to Bordallo Pinheiro porcelain. The shop itself is as lovely as the items they sell.

Conserveira de Lisboa – you may not be a fan of tinned fish but it’s difficult not to fall in love with the charming vintage packaging at this store. Hundreds of coloured tins line the shelves; the perfect retro souvenir to remind you of Lisbon.

Luvaria Ulisses – there are a lot of historic places to shop in Lisbon but this little glove shop (which opened in 1925) has to be the most special. Tucked between the superstores of Rua do Carmo, it looks like a fairytale shopfront, with windows filled with coloured leather gloves. There is only room for one customer at a time so you will always have the assistant’s undivided attention.

Embaixada – a concept store of dreams. This amazing building houses a variety of independent local brands and food and drink outlets. Don’t miss the ethereal murals which decorate the grand staircase.

Feira da Ladra – the steep tram ride is worth the scare for the famous flea market at the top. Wander round the sun drenched cobbled streets and rummage for a bargain.

Caza das Vellas Loreto – this gorgeous wood-panelled shop has been making and selling wonderful candles since 1789. Buy some of the beeswax varieties or pick up one of the mock fruit candles.

To escape 

Sintra – this magnificent UNESCO world heritage town is just 30 minutes drive from central Lisbon, and is well worth visiting for a cultural day trip. First visit the spectacular Palácio Nacional da Pena palace before heading back down to the village to Piriquita for a travesseiros (traditional almond pastry).

Many thanks to the Lisbon tourist board for providing Lisboa cards for the trip. These cards are a passport to the city offering free public transport and valuable discounts on top tourist sites. More information here.

Things to do in Venice

This magical drowned city is quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited before. Functioning almost solely for tourists you’d assume the city would be tacky and lacking in culture. Quite the opposite. Beautiful bridges and basilicas, hidden foodie delights and a breathtakingly view from every street and every square. Let me introduce you to Italy’s most miraculous city, Venice.

To stay

Generator Hostel Venice – feel part of the coolest club in town at this hip and handsome hostel on Giudecca island, opposite the main island of Venice. With spectacular views and cool retro design you definitely get more than just good value for money!

To eat

All’Arco – avoid the tourist traps and head for this little bacari for a selection of cicchetti (small snacks). After picking 9 assorted mouthful sized bites we sat outside on the street with the rest of the guests. I can particular recommended the grilled aubergine with tomato and cheese.

Cip’s Club –  With the most spectacular views over Venice, this outdoors restaurant at the smart Ciprani Hotel is booked early in advance. Sip at a light Italian white wine, devour the breadcrumbed veal escalope and marvel at the sunset over the water. Perfect for a special celebration or occasion.

Arte della Pizza – Don’t expect to find tasty pizza on every street, it isn’t famous here like other Italian cities. If you do crave it everyone agrees that Arte della Pizza is the place to go. Avoid the precooked thick pizza on display, instead order a fresh pizza with your own choice of toppings. With such delicious dough and fresh ingredients, it really is the best in town.

Trattoria Ca D’Oro alla Vedova – famous for its irresistible polpette (meatballs) this traditional trattoria is hidden at the end of a narrow alley. For fresh, seasonal and reasonably priced vibrant Italian food and wine this is a brilliant option. I opted for an exquisite plate of Bucatini pasta with bacon, onions, tomato and pecorino.

To drink

Londra Palace bar – most will instruct you to try the famous Harry’s Bar for a Bellini… Don’t succumb to the hype, the drinks here are made with frozen peaches and cost a small fortune for an even smaller glass! Instead visit the luxurious and centrally located Londra Palace hotel for a properly made peachy pink Bellini. This bar will only use peaches when they are in season and sweet, in Spring order a Rossini (with strawberries), for Autumn a Tiziano (with red grapes) and in Winter choose a Mimosa (with oranges).

La Cantina– the waiters here are extremely proud of their Venetian lifestyle, and sneer customers who act like annoying tourists. Do what the locals do… Order a cheese and meat board to eat and their own home brewed Morgana beer to drink.

Al Merca– cheap and cheerful this little bar by Rialto market is always full of happy locals. Soak up the street atmosphere whilst enjoying a 2 euro glass of light and bubbly prosecco.

Do Mori – This classic cicchetti bar is a Venetian institution. This atmospheric little venue offers delicious bites to eat and flavoursome house wine.

Café culture

Caffe del Doge – Venice doesn’t have many great options for decent coffee. This concealed café offers one of the creamiest and richest roasts in the city. Try their speciality cappuccino topped in white chocolate crumbs.

Torrefazione marchi – This was one of my favourite finds in Venice, a charming and popular café/bar in the Cannaregio neighbourhood. The coffee aroma wafts out the door and encourages you in. Stand at the bar and order a Venexian (coffee, cocoa and milk foam) or buy a packet of their caffe della sposa ground coffee (made from eight of the best blends Arabica blends) to take home.

To see

Bridge of Sighs – Venice’s famous Bridge of Sighs was designed by Antonio Contino and was built at the beginning of the 17th century. Spanning the Rio di Palazzo (Palace River), the bridge was intended to connect the Old Prison and interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison, which was situated directly across the river. One story says that if a couple kisses under the bridge while drifting below on a gondola at sunset, they will enjoy eternal love. Thus, the “sighs” are said to come from lovers who are overwhelmed by the romance of the whole scene.

Santa Maria della Salute – The magnificent Roman Catholic church is located in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice. It stands on a narrow piece of land between the Grand Canal and the Bacino di San Marco so the church is visible when entering the main Piazza San Marco by water.

San Sebastien church – this beautiful church showcases the work of Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese. The stunning ceiling was completely restored back to full glory in 2012.

Rialto market – open from Monday to Saturday spend a morning strolling round this vivid food market and see endless stalls of tasty produce. Stop by a local bar to refresh with a glass of Prosecco and a snack.

To do

Go on a gondola ride – hail a striped gondola driver and float around the town for 40 minutes in this romantic mode of transport. You will see remote streets only accessible by water and wonderful little bridges. Don’t try to bargain, every boat should charge 80 euros for the standard trip, and the boats can fit up to 6 people in. Those feeling a little more adventurous should hail a Traghetto (the decommissioned old gondolas) the quickest way of travelling across the Grand Canal and perfect for accessing the city’s more obscure streets.

Climb St Mark’s clock tower – there is much less exercise involved than you’d expect. Pay your entrance fee, travel up in the lift and admire the impressive views over the whole water-work city.

Peggy Guggenheim – it was a joy to visit another Guggenheim collection. This wonderful modern art museum exhibits the private collection of American heiress Peggy Guggenheim. As the former wife of Max Ernst there are some brilliant pieces by him as well as works by Pollock, Picasso and Braque.

Enrica Rocca – Learn to cook with Venice’s favourite chef, Enrica Rocca. Having just received rave reviews for her cookbook ‘Venice on a plate’ there is no-one better to teach you about Italian culinary traditions. Her website also offers the best tips for staying and eating in the city.

To shop

VizioVirtu – a chocoholic’s heaven this little shop sells beautiful hand crafted treats. We tried the delicious and rich ganache cake.

Casa del Parmigiano – cheese freaks should head here for the best Parmesan and stock up on Italian delights like the popular Planeta olive oil.

Atelier Sagalin do Daniela Ghezzo– a magical and old fashioned shoe emporium. Admire the collection of amazing vintage pairs or design your own couture tailored pair.

Island Escapes

Lido island – when the weather is warm in Venice many head to the nearby beach island, just 20 minutes away from the centre of town by Vaparetto. Join the crowds at the rowdy public beach or enjoy the luxury of a private cabin for the day.

Torcello – a quaint and quiet almost deserted island. Appreciate the beautiful old church buildings and eat at the wonderful Locanda Cipriani restaurant, the rose filled terrace is particularly pretty.

Mazzorbo – this idyllic island is ideal for relaxing walks along the canals. I urge you to visit the spectacular Venissa Michelin starred restaurant. Owned by the Treviso-based wine and Prosecco maker, Bisol, the focus here is on immaculately presented fresh and healthy local fare. Sit outside where you can be surrounded by the rare Prosecco vines and breathe in the fragrant scented air. Our meal here was a real highlight of the trip to Venice.

Murano – Known for its colourful glass-blowing traditions, wander round this sweet island spying the craftsmen at work, and admire the bright glass objects in the museum or shops.

Burano – this picturesque island is impossible not to photograph. Filled with candy coloured houses everywhere, tourists can browse in the lace shops, dine at the casual eateries or just wander amongst the rainbow scenery.