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Jewish Puglia Culture & Jewish Roots of Italy


Puglia: the Culture and Jewish Roots of the Heel of the Boot

Our tour of Puglia, the untouched heel of Italy’s boot, explores Southern Italy’s cultural traditions, authentic food, and stunning landscape. From crystal-blue coasts to whitewashed cities, Puglia brims with picturesque sights. In addition, this tour will highlight unique history of Jewish settlers in the Puglia region. Trip highlights include behind-the-scenes olive oil tour/tasting, Matera’s meandering stone streets, seaside views of the Mediterranean, and exploring Trani’s medieval Jewish community. Expert local guides will share with you the Southern Italy that only locals know and love.


TOUR ITINERARY  { 10 days / 9 nights }

DAY 1:

ARRIVAL IN PUGLIA

Welcome to Pulgia! Upon arrival at the airport or train station, you will be transferred by private car to your authentic lunch. You will savor here Puglia’s famed cucina contadina (home cooking), featuring traditional recipes and seasonal ingredients.  After lunch, we will head to your accommodation in Ostuni.  Dubbed the “white city” for its sun-bleached buildings, Ostuni is a medieval hilltop city overlooking the sea.  You will pass your first three nights in Puglia in the city of Ostuni or in the countryside nearby.  In historic Ostuni, travelers can enjoy the 5* boutique hotel La Sommita Relais, set in a converted 16th century monastery. If you prefer to quiet charm of Puglia’s countryside, you can instead enjoy Masseria Torre Coccaro, a noble family’s farm now transformed into a luxury spa and golf resort.

DAY 2:

DISCOVERING CISTERNINO, ALBEROBELLO & POLIGNANO A MARE

The first stop on day two of your tour is the charming town of Cisternino. We’ll stroll the village’s narrow streets, passing whitewashed buildings in the medieval city center. Next, you will be driven to the town of Alberobello – passing field after field of silver-green olive orchards along the way.  Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, Alberobello is famed for the cone-shaped homes found only in this valley.  These traditional dwellings are called trulli. Their conical roofs are built – stone by stone – without ever using mortar.

After touring the town of Alberobello, you will enjoy the local cuisine at the family-run La Cantina restaurant. Francesco will prepare a delizioso meal for you from his open kitchen.  Watch as he crafts each delicious bite the old-fashioned way.  In the afternoon, we set off for Polignano a Mare — renowned for its sweeping views of the blue-green Mediterranean and homes built atop the dramatic sea cliffs.  Enjoy a tour of Polignano’s historic center, including ample time to take stunning photos by the sea.

DAY 3:

ORIA AND MANDURIA

Pick up from your accommodation at 09:30 am.  We will then drive you to Manduria (1 hour approx.) and visit the synagogue in Manduria’s historical giudecca or Jewish quarter.  After your guided visit through the traces of Manduria’s Jewish history, we will lunch at the authentic Trattoria dei Mercanti in the town. In the afternoon, we will drive to the town of Oria and walk through the “Door of the Jews” (Porta degli Ebrei) which leads to Oria’s Jewish quarter.   This community thrived between the ninth and eleventh centuries. The main square is named after Shabbethai Abraham Donnolo, a medieval doctor and scientist who lived in Oria; one of Tel Aviv's hospitals is named after him. We will then proceed to Brindisi (45 minutes) and visit the Provincial Archaeological Museum where we will observe some astounding examples of Hebrew inscriptions, found on medieval tombstones.

DAY 4:

GALLIPOLI, NARDO AND SANTA MARIA AL BAGNO

From Ostuni, we will next head south – crossing the heel of Italy to Gallipoli, a charming fishing village on the Ionic Gulf. After a stroll through the town’s vibrant fish market, we will tour an ancient underground olive oil mill.  The, we will savor a delicious seaside lunch at Puritate — one of the best seafood restaurants in the entire region. In the afternoon, you will tour a local winery, Schola Sarmenti, in Nardò. Here, you will visit its ancient wine cellars and taste their award winning, organic wines.  Finally, we will drive 10 minutes to Santa Maria al Bagno and visit the “museo della memoria e dell'accoglienza” – learning about the one thousand German and Polish Jewish refugees who lived in Puglia between1943 to 1947, as they awaited entry to Israel or the U.S.

In the evening, you will be surrounded by the golden-hued stones in the Baroque jewel of Lecce. We will dine at Le Zie (The Aunts’ House) – a favorite of locals and celebrities. As we walk to and from the restaurant, we will experience Lecce lit up at night. Centuries-old palazzos and the carved facades, made from the soft local sandstone, fill the city’s center. You will enjoy three nights in Lecce at the 5* luxury resort Hotel Risorgimento, situated in the heart of this Baroque city; this elegant resort has been an inn since the 15th century. The gourmet restaurant's executive chef, Cosimo Simmini, uses local produce to bring to life the traditional flavors Puglia’s cuisine.

DAY 5:

HISTORICAL LECCE AND THE MARVELS OF JEWISH OTRANTO

After breakfast, we will explore the city of Lecce. Lecce’s architecture reflects highly ornamented Baroque style, which flourished in the 17th century. At the time, Lecce was even called the “Florence of the South” – due to its astounding architecture and the flourishing of the arts here. We will start with a visit to the “Jewish Museum ” and its medieval Mikveh. Next, we will head to Piazza S. Oronzo and observe the magnificent Roman Amphitheater.

We will lunch at Il Cantico dei Cantici in the stunning village of Otranto — one of Puglia's most vibrant seaside towns. Otranto overlooks a bright blue bay, crystal-clear all year long.

Between the 9th and 12th centuries, Otranto was also one of the main centers of Jewish scholarship in Puglia. As the Jewish community prospered thanks to commerce and entrepreneurial ventures, scholars gave lasting contributions to the study of the Bible, the Mishnah and the Talmud of Babylon.

When Benjamin of Tudela visited Otranto in about 1159, he found about 500 Jews here. It was indeed considered one of the most important rabbinical centers in Europe.  So much so that, in the Sefer ha-Yashar, Jacob Tam (12th century) quotes an old saying paraphrasing Isaiah 2:3: “For out of Bari shall go forth the Law and the word of the Lord of Otranto.”

DAY 6:

THE BASILICA OF GALATINA AND BEAUTIFUL TRICASE

In the morning, we will drive to Galatina and visit the Basilica Santa Caterina d'Alessandria with its stunning frescoes. The paintings here are similar to those at the Basilica San Francesco in Assisi. It is thought, in fact, that some of the artists who worked with Giotto were also employed in Galatina. We will then drive to the Leuca peninsula, where we will lunch at Osteria Del Pardo — famous for its fish and seafood dishes. Leuca is the southernmost tip of continental Italy – offering sweeping views of the sea and craggy shoreline.

In the afternoon, we will visit the centuries-old winery Castel di Salve. Due to the presence of microclimates and differing soils in the area, this winery is able to produce multiple varietals of wine on four neighboring vineyards. You will visit the winery’s historic cellars and enjoy a tasting of the unique varietals produced in this area.  We will then visit the old town of Tricase, enjoying a prosecco toast at Farmacia Bilboa. You are then free to enjoy the evening in Tricase before we drive back to Lecce.

DAY 7:

THE SASSI OF MATERA

Today we leave Lecce and head the unforgettable city of Matera – a town that seems to be carved from the mountain. First, we stop in Grottaglie, for its handmade ceramics. Here, we will visit the potters’ workshop before continuing on to Matera. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, Matera is unlike any other city in Italy.  Winding stone streets and rock grottoes fill this mountaintop city.  We will lunch at Falco Grillaio to enjoy the regional cuisine and food products.

Our tour of Matera will bring you in touch with the city’s famed sassi – rock caves gouged from the mountainside.  The people of Matera used to live in the sassi. In addition, numerous chapels were also carved into the stone here. In Matera, you will spend two nights in the spectacular hotel, Sextantio Grotte della Civita – a cultural project of preservation and renovation located in the oldest part of the sassi. The hotel overlooks the Gravina stream and the mountainous scenery of the Murgia Natural Park. We will dine at Abbondanza, an innovative restaurant housed in a cave.

DAY 8:

MORE OF MATERA

 After breakfast, we will visit the Crypt of the Original Sin commonly known as the Sistine Chapel of Rupestrian Art. It was only discovered in 1963 – despite some of its paintings dating back to the eighth century.  Carved into the rock, this chapel was painted by Basilian monks residing in the area. After a delicious lunch at Baccanti, you may choose between a bike tour to a natural reserve outside Matera or an easy walk in the old town to explore local artisans’ workshops or to relax at a local pastry shop with an espresso.

DAY 9:

TRANI AND CASTEL DEL MONTE

Today we travel to Castel del Monte, a fortified castle built in the 13th century by the emperor Fredrick II.  Castel del Monte is one of the most sophisticated lay buildings of the middle ages, designed as octagon.  Its unique shape has inspired many novels and theories.

For lunch, we will either dine at Antichi Sapori in Andria or Corte in Fiore in Trani. In the afternoon, we will visit the seaside town of Trani — touring its cathedral built by the sea.  During the middle ages, the town was an active port and bustled with with merchants and Knight Templars traveling throughout the Mediterranean and the Holy Land.

We will also visit here the only extant synagogue in Puglia, “Schola Nova” – built in the 13th century, at the time of the greatest prosperity for the Jewish community in Trani. In 1160, Trani’s Jewish community had over 200 families.  Its members included Isaiah of Trani the Elder (1232-1279), a Talmudic authority.  David, his son, and Isaiah of Trani the Younger, his nephew, followed his example as did their descendants until the end of the 17th century. We will also visit the church of Sant'Anna, the former “Schola Grande” synagogue built in 1246 and recently tranformed into a museum. We will spend the last night at Corte in Fiore in Trani and have a closing dinner at the delectable Le Lampare.

DAY 10:

GOODBYE

After breakfast, you will enjoy a stroll through Trani’s lively marina and fish market. Then, we will escort you, by private car or van, to the airport. Arrivederci!

+ DAY 1

DAY 1:

ARRIVAL IN PUGLIA

Welcome to Pulgia! Upon arrival at the airport or train station, you will be transferred by private car to your authentic lunch. You will savor here Puglia’s famed cucina contadina (home cooking), featuring traditional recipes and seasonal ingredients.  After lunch, we will head to your accommodation in Ostuni.  Dubbed the “white city” for its sun-bleached buildings, Ostuni is a medieval hilltop city overlooking the sea.  You will pass your first three nights in Puglia in the city of Ostuni or in the countryside nearby.  In historic Ostuni, travelers can enjoy the 5* boutique hotel La Sommita Relais, set in a converted 16th century monastery. If you prefer to quiet charm of Puglia’s countryside, you can instead enjoy Masseria Torre Coccaro, a noble family’s farm now transformed into a luxury spa and golf resort.

+ DAY 2

DAY 2:

DISCOVERING CISTERNINO, ALBEROBELLO & POLIGNANO A MARE

The first stop on day two of your tour is the charming town of Cisternino. We’ll stroll the village’s narrow streets, passing whitewashed buildings in the medieval city center. Next, you will be driven to the town of Alberobello – passing field after field of silver-green olive orchards along the way.  Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, Alberobello is famed for the cone-shaped homes found only in this valley.  These traditional dwellings are called trulli. Their conical roofs are built – stone by stone – without ever using mortar.

After touring the town of Alberobello, you will enjoy the local cuisine at the family-run La Cantina restaurant. Francesco will prepare a delizioso meal for you from his open kitchen.  Watch as he crafts each delicious bite the old-fashioned way.  In the afternoon, we set off for Polignano a Mare — renowned for its sweeping views of the blue-green Mediterranean and homes built atop the dramatic sea cliffs.  Enjoy a tour of Polignano’s historic center, including ample time to take stunning photos by the sea.

+ DAY 3

DAY 3:

ORIA AND MANDURIA

Pick up from your accommodation at 09:30 am.  We will then drive you to Manduria (1 hour approx.) and visit the synagogue in Manduria’s historical giudecca or Jewish quarter.  After your guided visit through the traces of Manduria’s Jewish history, we will lunch at the authentic Trattoria dei Mercanti in the town. In the afternoon, we will drive to the town of Oria and walk through the “Door of the Jews” (Porta degli Ebrei) which leads to Oria’s Jewish quarter.   This community thrived between the ninth and eleventh centuries. The main square is named after Shabbethai Abraham Donnolo, a medieval doctor and scientist who lived in Oria; one of Tel Aviv's hospitals is named after him. We will then proceed to Brindisi (45 minutes) and visit the Provincial Archaeological Museum where we will observe some astounding examples of Hebrew inscriptions, found on medieval tombstones.

+ DAY 4

DAY 4:

GALLIPOLI, NARDO AND SANTA MARIA AL BAGNO

From Ostuni, we will next head south – crossing the heel of Italy to Gallipoli, a charming fishing village on the Ionic Gulf. After a stroll through the town’s vibrant fish market, we will tour an ancient underground olive oil mill.  The, we will savor a delicious seaside lunch at Puritate — one of the best seafood restaurants in the entire region. In the afternoon, you will tour a local winery, Schola Sarmenti, in Nardò. Here, you will visit its ancient wine cellars and taste their award winning, organic wines.  Finally, we will drive 10 minutes to Santa Maria al Bagno and visit the “museo della memoria e dell'accoglienza” – learning about the one thousand German and Polish Jewish refugees who lived in Puglia between1943 to 1947, as they awaited entry to Israel or the U.S.

In the evening, you will be surrounded by the golden-hued stones in the Baroque jewel of Lecce. We will dine at Le Zie (The Aunts’ House) – a favorite of locals and celebrities. As we walk to and from the restaurant, we will experience Lecce lit up at night. Centuries-old palazzos and the carved facades, made from the soft local sandstone, fill the city’s center. You will enjoy three nights in Lecce at the 5* luxury resort Hotel Risorgimento, situated in the heart of this Baroque city; this elegant resort has been an inn since the 15th century. The gourmet restaurant's executive chef, Cosimo Simmini, uses local produce to bring to life the traditional flavors Puglia’s cuisine.

+ DAY 5

DAY 5:

HISTORICAL LECCE AND THE MARVELS OF JEWISH OTRANTO

After breakfast, we will explore the city of Lecce. Lecce’s architecture reflects highly ornamented Baroque style, which flourished in the 17th century. At the time, Lecce was even called the “Florence of the South” – due to its astounding architecture and the flourishing of the arts here. We will start with a visit to the “Jewish Museum ” and its medieval Mikveh. Next, we will head to Piazza S. Oronzo and observe the magnificent Roman Amphitheater.

We will lunch at Il Cantico dei Cantici in the stunning village of Otranto — one of Puglia's most vibrant seaside towns. Otranto overlooks a bright blue bay, crystal-clear all year long.

Between the 9th and 12th centuries, Otranto was also one of the main centers of Jewish scholarship in Puglia. As the Jewish community prospered thanks to commerce and entrepreneurial ventures, scholars gave lasting contributions to the study of the Bible, the Mishnah and the Talmud of Babylon.

When Benjamin of Tudela visited Otranto in about 1159, he found about 500 Jews here. It was indeed considered one of the most important rabbinical centers in Europe.  So much so that, in the Sefer ha-Yashar, Jacob Tam (12th century) quotes an old saying paraphrasing Isaiah 2:3: “For out of Bari shall go forth the Law and the word of the Lord of Otranto.”

+ DAY 6

DAY 6:

THE BASILICA OF GALATINA AND BEAUTIFUL TRICASE

In the morning, we will drive to Galatina and visit the Basilica Santa Caterina d'Alessandria with its stunning frescoes. The paintings here are similar to those at the Basilica San Francesco in Assisi. It is thought, in fact, that some of the artists who worked with Giotto were also employed in Galatina. We will then drive to the Leuca peninsula, where we will lunch at Osteria Del Pardo — famous for its fish and seafood dishes. Leuca is the southernmost tip of continental Italy – offering sweeping views of the sea and craggy shoreline.

In the afternoon, we will visit the centuries-old winery Castel di Salve. Due to the presence of microclimates and differing soils in the area, this winery is able to produce multiple varietals of wine on four neighboring vineyards. You will visit the winery’s historic cellars and enjoy a tasting of the unique varietals produced in this area.  We will then visit the old town of Tricase, enjoying a prosecco toast at Farmacia Bilboa. You are then free to enjoy the evening in Tricase before we drive back to Lecce.

+ DAY 7

DAY 7:

THE SASSI OF MATERA

Today we leave Lecce and head the unforgettable city of Matera – a town that seems to be carved from the mountain. First, we stop in Grottaglie, for its handmade ceramics. Here, we will visit the potters’ workshop before continuing on to Matera. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, Matera is unlike any other city in Italy.  Winding stone streets and rock grottoes fill this mountaintop city.  We will lunch at Falco Grillaio to enjoy the regional cuisine and food products.

Our tour of Matera will bring you in touch with the city’s famed sassi – rock caves gouged from the mountainside.  The people of Matera used to live in the sassi. In addition, numerous chapels were also carved into the stone here. In Matera, you will spend two nights in the spectacular hotel, Sextantio Grotte della Civita – a cultural project of preservation and renovation located in the oldest part of the sassi. The hotel overlooks the Gravina stream and the mountainous scenery of the Murgia Natural Park. We will dine at Abbondanza, an innovative restaurant housed in a cave.

+ DAY 8

DAY 8:

MORE OF MATERA

 After breakfast, we will visit the Crypt of the Original Sin commonly known as the Sistine Chapel of Rupestrian Art. It was only discovered in 1963 – despite some of its paintings dating back to the eighth century.  Carved into the rock, this chapel was painted by Basilian monks residing in the area. After a delicious lunch at Baccanti, you may choose between a bike tour to a natural reserve outside Matera or an easy walk in the old town to explore local artisans’ workshops or to relax at a local pastry shop with an espresso.

+ DAY 9

DAY 9:

TRANI AND CASTEL DEL MONTE

Today we travel to Castel del Monte, a fortified castle built in the 13th century by the emperor Fredrick II.  Castel del Monte is one of the most sophisticated lay buildings of the middle ages, designed as octagon.  Its unique shape has inspired many novels and theories.

For lunch, we will either dine at Antichi Sapori in Andria or Corte in Fiore in Trani. In the afternoon, we will visit the seaside town of Trani — touring its cathedral built by the sea.  During the middle ages, the town was an active port and bustled with with merchants and Knight Templars traveling throughout the Mediterranean and the Holy Land.

We will also visit here the only extant synagogue in Puglia, “Schola Nova” – built in the 13th century, at the time of the greatest prosperity for the Jewish community in Trani. In 1160, Trani’s Jewish community had over 200 families.  Its members included Isaiah of Trani the Elder (1232-1279), a Talmudic authority.  David, his son, and Isaiah of Trani the Younger, his nephew, followed his example as did their descendants until the end of the 17th century. We will also visit the church of Sant'Anna, the former “Schola Grande” synagogue built in 1246 and recently tranformed into a museum. We will spend the last night at Corte in Fiore in Trani and have a closing dinner at the delectable Le Lampare.

+ DAY 10

DAY 10:

GOODBYE

After breakfast, you will enjoy a stroll through Trani’s lively marina and fish market. Then, we will escort you, by private car or van, to the airport. Arrivederci!


Price: please inquire for pricing and specifics »


INCLUDED:

  • Transportation
  • Pick-up and Drop-off from/to airport in Bari or in Brindisi.
  • Accommodation with breakfast daily
    • 3 Nights – Ostuni
    • 2 Nights – Lecce
    • 1 Night – Matera
  • 5 Lunches & 2 dinners with wine
  • 1 cooking class with lunch
  • 1 wine tasting
  • Entrances to museums and monuments
  • Expert guides

 

NOT INCLUDED

  • Air Transportation
  • Meals, when not indicated in the itinerary