Salento blood runs through my veins. Not Apulia blood – mind you – but the Salento blood of my home region. To an outsider this might seem to be the same thing, but not for us Southern Italians. I spent the summers of my childhood and teenage years holidaying between Lecce, Gallipoli and Otranto. “Lu sole, lu mare, lu ientu” – home for me means sun, sea, wind as well as cream-filled pasticciotti and pizzica. The rivalry among many Italian towns and cities is legendary: Bergamo and Brescia, Pisa and Livorno – and not forgetting Lecce and Bari, of course.
As an adult, I became a world traveller – I’ve washed my clothes in the Arno, Amazon, Nile and Danube rivers. Nevertheless, I arrived in Bari with a suitcase full of prejudices – a legacy of my Salentino grandmother who was fond of giving loud and forceful vent to her disapproval of the natives of Bari. I wish she were still alive, so I could tell her just how mistaken she had been.
I’ve been in Bari for just five minutes and I’m already gripped by an indescribable feeling of well-being. The Southern Italian sky is bluer than ever, the white buildings and walls of Bari’s old town reflect the light in a way otherwise only snow can, and the wonderfully salty sea air fills my lungs.
I’ve opted to stay in the San Nicola quarter in Bari’s old town: a good choice. Il Pescatore isn’t just a fish restaurant, it’s imperative to visit – a restaurant your friends would definitely rave about – it has also recently started a small B&B, offering direct views of the Castello Normanno-Svevo castle. The beds are so soft you seem to be floating on clouds, and breakfast is like a king’s banquet.
A fortifying breakfast is exactly what I need today, as I will explore the city – and the only way to get around the heart of the old city is on foot. Just the walk there, through the labyrinth of streets and narrow alleys between the promenade and the Murat quarter, is already an experience.