Dylan Jones: Thoughts on fashionable Puglia

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The Independent Online

Every now and then, almost as if by some swirling grand design, some particular part of the world is blessed by a creeping fashionability. Take Italy: once it was the Amalfi Coast, then Tuscany, then Umbria, swiftly followed by Sardinia, and now - the news delivered to your home like an estate agent's Exocet direct mail shot - it's Puglia. Or, more correctly, Puglia!

With 500 miles of Adriatic and Ionian coastline, Puglia sits right on Italy's heel, although, considering the number of six-star fancydan hotels that have sprung up here in the past five years, it might soon start being called Italy's stiletto. The beaches here are extraordinary - empty, clean, and free of the sort of tacky roadside detritus you see along the coasts up north; while the ancient olive groves stretch as far as anyone can see in any direction (two thirds of the country's homegrown produce comes from Puglia). Plus, because the area is relatively sparsely populated and, it has to be said, generally rather poor, northern Italians are snapping up second homes here like stand-up espressos. Rich foreigners are coming, too, enticed by the flat, underdeveloped terrain and the prices.

Farmhouses can be bought for a fraction of the cost of those in Tuscany, and if you're coming from abroad, what difference does an extra 30 minutes in the air mean? The cost of property has risen by 40 per cent in the past three years, although you can still pick up an unrestored farmhouse with half a dozen acres for under £50,000. Plus, since Ryanair started flying here in 2004, it's been in easy reach of holidaying Brits.

The architecture in Puglia is diverse in the extreme. You have Moorish-influenced buildings, Greek-like whitewashed terraced houses, Norman castles and traditional northern Italian tenements with elegant brass doors and Romanesque arches. Plus you have the famous "beehive" huts, the little stone houses with removable roofs, proving that even 500 years ago the Italians were adept at avoiding tax (you paid less if they came off).

The architecture is representative of the way in which the area has been seriously, seriously invaded over the years, leaving behind Byzantine, Romanesque and complicated Oriental influences. Unsurprisingly, it is still a target for illegal immigrants who come across the water in their droves in the middle of the night, mainly from North Africa, searching for a good meal and new life.

The locals can be suspicious of strangers, even those who come - in full morning dress - from -London for a local wedding celebrating one of their own. But as I stood in Ciolo Gagliano del Capo, wolfing down the mozzarella and the ice-cold prosecco, a thought occurred to me: where do we go when we've run out of Puglia?

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ

d.jones@independent.co.uk

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