Puglia: Like stepping on to a film set

When Brian Viner and his wife went to Puglia for a second honeymoon, they found it to be impressively like a film set – right down to Danny De Vito's doppelgänger

Buying underpants was not the activity Jane and I envisaged for the first morning of our second honeymoon, but then holidays, like marriage, can serve up some unpredictable fare. Let me first set the scene. Among parents, attitudes vary widely about the propriety or indeed the desirability of taking holidays away from one's children. Our posher friends take weeks or fortnights away from their little darlings, whom they hand over to their own parents, telling us: "Mummy absolutely insists on having Ivo and Camilla for two weeks a year. She says it's crucial for Crispin and I to have time on our own."

We, by contrast, had not spent more than two consecutive nights together away from the children since we first became parents in 1993. I'm not claiming some sort of parental Blue Peter badge here; it's just that the opportunity never arose and nor, particularly, did the inclination.

When eventually both coincided, with Jane's parents kindly offering to look after the kids for three whole days and nights, we excitedly made arrangements to go to the Masseria Torre Maizza, a hotel in Puglia halfway between Bari and Brindisi about which we had heard great things. Aware that it was a decidedly chic establishment, Jane bought a glamorous red halterneck dress, and I bought myself a linen suit – my first – which in concert with a rather swish pair of new brown loafers, and possibly, daringly, no socks, I hoped might dupe the locals into thinking that I hailed from closer to Rome than Rawtenstall.

We made our connecting flight from Milan to Bari, but our luggage didn't. We therefore arrived at the Torre Maizza late one Thursday night with nothing except the clothes we were wearing and an assurance from Alitalia that our delayed bags would be delivered early the following morning. They weren't, so we spent the first full morning of our precious break buying underwear and toiletries in an Italian version of Primark. As Jane's late grandma used to say, worse things happen at sea. But it still felt like a dismal turn of events.

We drowned our glumness over lunch at La Marena, a fine seafood restaurant in the nearby fishing village of Savelletri. "Why is it that we're so gutted about our bags not turning up?" I said to Jane, as we embarked on our second bottle of vino rosato. "I can't remember," she said.

In the afternoon we headed up to the delightful hilltop town of Martina Franca. Had we not needed clothes we would not have gone, and would have missed a treat. Martina Franca sits 400m above sea level overlooking the Valle d'Itria and getting there, in the age of the horse and cart, must have seemed a real achievement. Even in our hired Fiat we felt proud of ourselves.

The town was settled by folk from the coast fleeing Saracen attacks in the 10th century, and it still exudes a reassuring sense of detachment. Few of the shopkeepers spoke even the most basic English, which pleased us no end, even though we therefore had to suffer the indignity of miming a pair of socks. The nicest shops were in the centro storico, a maze of picturesque alleys dominated by vast, incredibly ornate wooden doors; the humbler the building, the more ornate the door. We also found swish boutiques with, ironically, prosaic English names. Over perfect cappuccini in the exquisitely named Piazza Immacolata we sniggered at the Italian conviction that an English name confers a certain stylishness on a retail outlet. Jane had just bought a dress in "Girl Fashion" and a pair of shoes in "Born Free" . But then it occurred to us that we are guilty in England of precisely the same practice in reverse. After all, why would you call a shop "The Sweet Life" when you could call it "La Dolce Vita"?

Anyway, laden with swanky shopping bags (the Italians do terrific shopping bags) we returned to our Fiat, which was being guarded by a traffic warden who was the doppelgänger of the actor Danny De Vito. He very animatedly told us something, which we guessed involved an unpaid parking fee, although my offer of a ¿20 note did not seem to appease him.

We drove away from Martina Franca with Roberto De Vito, as I like to think of him, chasing us down the hill. The road back to Savelletri was lined with trulli, the curious little stone houses with conical roofs that litter the Apulian countryside. Nobody knows exactly why they evolved. The theory I like most is that they were easy to dismantle in times of high taxation on property, for when inspectors were in the neighbourhood.

We dined that night back at the Torre Maizza on a candle-festooned terrace in our new Italian finery. It is an irrepressibly romantic hotel, built around a converted 16th-century watchtower – one of a string along the Apulian coast, designed (clearly with only sporadic success) to keep invaders out. These days, the watchtower exists to tempt foreigners in. There's a decent golf course and an excellent spa. Jane and I both had the same aromatherapy massage in adjacent rooms, only mine began about 30 seconds earlier, so Jane could hear from my every "ooh" and " aah" what was about to happen to her.

The following day, the elusive luggage turned up. Jane was determined to wear the red dress, as I was to wear my cream linen suit, and yet we had already decided to spend our last evening not at the five-star Torre Maizza but in the nearby town of Polignano a Mare, which was how we came to join the passeggiata – the see-and-be-seen twilight promenade that is one of Italy's best customs – looking somewhat overdressed.

Maybe that is why so many of our fellow passeggiati stared at us, or maybe it's that we looked startlingly like Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale, at least until I got a blob of pistachio ice-cream on the lapel of my suit. Whatever, the town is a revelation. It hardly gets a mention in the guide books, but it looked to us like a film set, rising spectacularly from a sheer cliff above the Adriatic. We had a pizza in a restaurant at the top of a ravine – Polignano a Mare does not do things by halves – looking across at the old town, which was dramatically floodlit (the Italians are also very good with floodlights). We then meandered through the streets, finding houses that teetered out over the sea. Apparently, more intrepid youths have been known to dive directly from these windows. I might have considered it myself, but that really would have ruined my suit.

On our final morning, we headed off to Bari early, hoping to find somewhere nice for lunch in the old part of the city. At first it looked as if we'd goofed: although there was a promising maze of ancient alleyways, none seemed to house restaurants. Moreover, we kept coming across elderly women in black shawls cooking on rudimentary barbecues on their front steps. Maybe, we concluded, there is no tradition in Bari of eating Sunday lunch anywhere but at home.

Then we turned a corner into another alleyway, and che bella vista! (Which might very well be the name of a shop in Leamington Spa.) Stretched along the alley was a long table, around which were seated about 20 men tucking into vast plates of orrechiette, the ear-shaped local pasta. Serving them was a man in an apron who looked suspiciously like a waiter. Again, we felt as if we'd ambled onto a film set. Scarcely 10ft above our heads were washing-lines festooned with colourful garments, and parked between two of the tables was a Vespa, seemingly waiting for Mario Lanza to climb on to it singing an aria.

We never did discover the name of the restaurant or even whether it was a restaurant, but the man in the apron brought us an astoundingly good lunch, for which he charged only ¿35 (£25). We then got to the airport, arrived at Heathrow at the same time as our luggage, and several weeks later, after a robust exchange of emails, received a noble undertaking from Alitalia to refund all the money we had spent on clothes, right down to the last pair of underpants.

Traveller's guide

GETTING THERE

The writer travelled with Citalia (0870 909 7554; www.citalia.com), which has seven-night packages to the Masseria Torre Maizza from £1,055 per person, including B&B accommodation, return British Airways flights from Gatwick to Bari, and car hire. In addition to BA (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) from Gatwick, Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair. com) also flies to Brindisi and Bari from Stansted. To reduce the impact on the environment, you can buy an "offset" from Equiclimate (0845 456 0170; www.ebico.co.uk) or Pure (020-7382 7815; www.puretrust.org.uk).

STAYING THERE

Masseria Torre Maizza, Contrada Coccaro, Savelletri di Fasano, Puglia, Italy (00 39 080 482 9310; www.masseriatorremaizza.com).

MORE INFORMATION

Italian Tourist Board, London: 020-7408 1254; www.italiantouristboard.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?