As part of our Italian research tour this summer, we drove down to Puglia (Apulia for anglophones, but why call things by the wrong name?) to celebrate the wedding of a friend and experience some of the picturesque heel of Italy’s boot and enjoy the coastal experience of this mini peninsula off the southeast corner of the Italian peninsula.

Family tradition and food culture are at the center of the way of life in Puglia. Our farm stay in Tuglie was like hanging out with long-lost cousins, eating (too many) traditional, home-cooked pastries for breakfast, lounging in the pool, making friends with Maria the skinny-mini-cat and tasting the liqueurs made on the farm.

Dropping down to the southernmost point of Puglia where the Ionic meets the Adriatic, we did a sea excursion in Santa Maria di Leuca in which we had the chance to jump off the boat and swim into various caves carved into the cliffs by the ocean. Our favorite was the one in which we discovered a mini-beach for two, where the sandy sea floor rose above the water level inside the cave, providing a place to lie down and relax before swimming back to the boat. Our skipper took us out to see the sunset at the end of the tour, after which we cruised back into the port, content to have added these experiences to our palette of aesthetically inspiring visions of nature.

Coming back up the heel from Leuca, we passed through the stunning city of Lecce, stopping to appreciate its beautiful architecture and sculpture, and then got back on the road to reach Ostuni, where we stayed the night. Ostuni is a picturesque, white city with great views in which we wished we had had the time to stay longer. The old city center, with its characteristic whitewashed stone architecture, offered an experience of small businesses and locales, geared toward tourism but with a southern Italy quaintness and hospitality that is hard to recreate elsewhere. The Pugliesi enjoy their evening meal after 9pm and wander the streets until late, which is perfect for the tourist who likes the nocturnal hours and wants to wander after dark.

Our final stop in Puglia before moving on to a stop in Basilicata was Alberobello, known for its hutlike structures called “Trulli,” little smurf-houses with unique cylindrical walls and a conical roof that culminates in an ornate symbol at its pinnacle. The hospitable Italians gave the experience meaning, but it was one of those places that feels more like a tourist attraction than an authentic experience.

Puglia is a region that stimulates all of your senses and that is populated with incredibly hospitable inhabitants. Travelers who appreciate beautiful coastlines, traditional delicacies and a culture that is seldom in a hurry will appreciate this lovely southeastern corner of Italy.