We are on holiday in Puglia: taking a few days to recharge our batteries before we start to harvest our grapes, and then move on to the all important olive harvest.
We were last here twenty five years ago, because …
Once upon a time, way, way back when we were very young, Scott came home from work one day, and announced that his next tour of duty would take place in Italy, as an exchange officer with the Italian Air Force, at a base called Gioia del Colle.
Before I had a chance to start iffing and butting, Scott told me that moving to a random air base in Italy would be fantastic.
Of course, Scott didn’t know where Gioia del Colle was, but he had been to Rimini for a weekend once, and it was quite nice. Furthermore, he had been to an Italian Air Force Base in Sardinia several times, and that was blooming fabulous. I had never been to Italy, but I did like sunshine, and I spoke a bit of French. Scott and I discussed that Italian was, probably, quite like French, and that I could probably take some Italian lessons before we moved to Italy.
We dug out the family atlas, found Gioia del Colle in somewhere called Puglia, right in the heel of Italy. Extra sunshine! The deal was sealed.
Scott disappeared off into six months language training, and I took a language lesson most weeks. Scott’s teacher, who was Italian, laughed incredulously when Scott told her he was moving to Puglia. My teacher, who was actually a French teacher, but had an Italian text book or two, had never heard of Puglia.
Finally, in July 1995, it was time to move to the heel of Italy.
All our worldly goods were put into storage, we packed up the car, hitched up the caravan, and, together with Deefa the labrador and our toddler son, we set off for Portsmouth, and the ferry to our new life in the sun.
In this pre-SatNav, pre-Internet, pre-mobile phone era, we had sensibly bought a road map and a caravan site guide book some months previously, and meandered down through the continent, holidaying as we went. We never travelled more than a couple of hours a day, and stayed several nights in each campsite.
It was wonderful! At each site in France, we would tell people that we were moving to Puglia.
Nobody had heard of it.
Over the border into Aosta, for my first ever night in Italy. Here, the reality checks began.
“You’re moving WHERE????? Are you mad????”
Onwards to Portofino.
“Your’e moving where???? Are you mad?????”
“WHAT????? WHY?????It’s Africa!!!!
“Are you out of your tiny minds???”
“Ah, well, poor you, but at least they make wonderful mozzarella!
Finally, having spent three weeks in one glorious location after another, we arrived at our campsite on the coast of Puglia. Nothing had prepared us for what it was like.
Let’s just leave it there.
We spent the next couple of years slowly but surely falling in love with Italy. I think that it’s probably fair to say that this was mostly despite Puglia, bureaucracy and the appalling way we were treated by Scott’s superiors (British and Italian). However, by the time we moved on to our next assignment, in Germany, we were confirmed Italophiles.
Fast forward twenty years or so, and as our time in Brussels drew to a close, the offer of a tour of duty in Rome was dangled under our noses. This tour would be Scott’s final tour, and so, dear reader, of course we moved to Rome.
By now, Puglia was cool. When we told people we had lived there, now we were greeted with sighs, and glassy eyes. Everybody we knew went there on holiday, or dreamed of holidays there. Initially, we found this amusing, but finally, this summer, we decided that it was finally time to discover this summer playground for ourselves.
And so, here we are!
Once again, we’ve arrived into a Puglia that we were utterly unprepared for, but in an entirely different way!
The beautiful, ever changing countryside is still here, but, in place of the enchanting ghost towns and abandoned buildings that we remember, is a landscape dotted with holiday homes, tourist attractions, tourists, and, most surprisingly of all, FOREIGNERS!
In the two years that I lived in Puglia, with the exception of the small number of Brits either stationed at Gioia, or operating the “Op Deny Flight” jets out of the base, we never saw a foreigner, heard a foreign voice, or even met a foreigner who had heard of the area. Now, my National Geographic guide book tells me that the castle at Gioia is a “not to be missed” attraction. Trip Advisor is full of gushing reviews about the various winery tours available there, written by Americans, Canadians, Australians and more. We saw British cars parked all over the place – something that we never see in our home area, which is six hours further North!
We lived a roller coaster of a life in Gioia, and some of the difficulties caused by our experiences there lived on with us for many years. But all in all, I’m glad that we did it, and I’m glad that we’ve been back. I’m glad that we, like Puglia, have moved on from those difficult years, and I’m glad that we are all thriving, happy, and healthy now.
Long may it last, and do go there for a visit, before it is entirely taken over by tourism!