Dave the motorhome’s surprised. Affluent hill towns like those of Tuscany, down south here in the mezzogiorno, they don’t exist do they? Dave, you clot, of course they do, welcome to Locorotondo (N40.75267 E17.33153)! He’s parked face first into well-maintained hedges and trees facing into a kiddies’ play park, the sun setting behind us is casting a shadow of the bell town over the free car park. Get. In. Only problem is, signs all around say no parking is allowed from 6am on Fridays or festival days, and we’re not sure if Easter Monday’s a festival day, best lay off the vino…
Ju told me this morning that she’d told me last night the car park was getting rammed busy, proof of the Rough Guide’s claim folks from the countryside around Ostuni travel in to party the night away on Saturday. Having drunk far too much vino rosso, I either didn’t hear this, or forgot it. We didn’t make it out to enjoy the festivities. I doubt any of the bars would meet my 45p a pint criteria anyway?
With a free, unlimited source of water within easy carrying distance of Dave, the three of us indulged in flowing hot showers. Our little wet room has a shower head attachment in the ceiling which only ever gets used once in a blue moon. Although, believe it or not, we do shower, the affairs are usually short lived. They involve getting wet, cutting off water, lathering, and having a quick rinse. Minimal water use. Today we went for it, gushing the stuff about the place; poor old Charlie didn’t know what hit him.
As this went on the bells rang out. Being a campanologist out here seems to involve a single skill: pulling at a rope like a gibbon. The towers took it in turns to sound out the alarm: a series of bongs like an ancient bomb alert and then silence ready for the next tower. Easter Sunday’s taken seriously around here.
Over at the water fountain a chap was filling up old bottles and popping them in the boot of his car. Maybe we’re being treated to spring water, or his house is off the mains? Topped up again we headed off, promptly getting stuck around the corner. Following the main road out of town, we found ourselves on a rapidly-narrowing road, one side packed with cars and of course the obligatory one ‘parked’ with just the front wheels in anything like what most people would consider to be the parking area, creating a long bottleneck. We’ve learned that English Rules don’t work here when it comes to driving. Sitting at such a bottleneck waiting for the steady stream of traffic on the other side to halt some distance away and let you through is akin to waiting for Godot.
Into what seemed an idiotic dance of daftness Dave launched himself, local cars flinching and reversing or shuffling sideways as we forced our way through. Once more in contravention of English Rules, no-one gets upset. There are no vulgar gestures, screwed-up faces, no-one coming at Dave’s face with a tyre iron. Everyone just deals with the jam, it’s just life. Driving here perplexes me. I’d like to claim it doesn’t stress us out, which is doesn’t while we’re dealing with it, but afterwards and when we eye up new roads, it does.
Which perhaps explains why we drove straight past Martina Franca. We’re into the Murge area of Puglia now. It’s quite gorgeous. Puglia produces an astounding amount of olives, and we could see where they come from as we drove back streets through mile after mile of them, taller than elsewhere we’ve seen them in the Med and even Northern Italy. Maybe they use retired campanologists to collect from the higher branches? In among the trees and fields stand the famous trulli. Round dry stone dwellings dotted around, sometimes clustered up against each other, these were the houses of old. The theory goes that feudal lords insisted they were built without mortar as central taxation was based on the number of properties, and the lord could insist the locals pull down their houses upon getting wind of a visit from the tax inspector. Sounds like a tourist invention to me, but who cares, they’re lovely and there are flipping thousands of ’em, we drove through ten miles of countryside full of them. If you fancy joining the race to renovate one, you can pick one up with a package of land from €30,000 upwards, Budget triple that for one that’s been done up (they’re UNESCO protected, you can’t bodge the job).
Yeah, Martina Franca. Following our Sat Nav, she first requested we drive up a ‘no lorries’ road and nope, we’re not a lorry, but my nerves weren’t up for the challenge. Second chance: up a road which started with a flight of stone steps. Right-o then, next town, Locorotondo. It’s got C&C and Rose written next to it on our map, previous motorhome folks who’d visited, but we weren’t sure we could stay. The town appeared on another hill just a few km away, all whitewashed and shiny as we drove in with a small degree of trepidation. Spotting a parking sign with a piccy of a motorhome on it we both relaxed, a bit, until we found the square here and slotted Dave in among the trees.
Lilliput Lane in the title refers to a range of tiny pot houses and other buildings you used to be able to buy, not sure if you still can. For far too many years this range of pottery provided me with a total no-thought option of what to buy my poor mother for birthdays and Christmas, the house was full of ’em. I raise the point here as Locorotondo (so named as the town’s round) reminds me of them. It’s all smooth whitewashed meandering walls, flying arches, stone steps half-full of plant pots and flowers. It’s just beautiful and, despite the honking of horns announcing a rush of unable-to-park locals to get into the cathedral for evening mass, it’s a great chill-out zone. I really love it. My powers of description are, as usual, poor. A few photos (all right, a load of them) to try and convey the essence of the place:
April 1st is knocking, and with it Greece. Up until yesterday it was all about the Greece for me, Italy was (with regret) behind us, the Rough Guide to Greece in front. I’m in a different mind now though, these towns are stunning, completely bucking the trend of the down-at-heel southern Italy we’ve become used to and very welcoming for us motorhomes (when we can squeeze in). Perhaps we’ll stay a few more days?