Summertime! The time for relaxing weekends, casual entertaining and more time spent with the ones you love! As we have 4 children, and this is the last year that all of them are still in school, the summertime is always a time to pause! Generally, we take some time off to go to the family cottage for some R&R… this means board game nights, swimming in the lake, skipping rocks, watching family favorite movies, casual BBQ’s and visiting with friends. Well, this year was different! We decided it was time to take our kids back to Italy, a country we called home for 30 months, back in the late 1990’s. I have been back to Italy numerous times for my work and tours but this was an opportunity to share all my recently discovered favorite places with my family…! We lived in a Suburb of Milan, in a Northern Region, from April 1997 to September 1999 and we traveled mostly to nearby regions by car. We did venture to Calabria & Sicily (pictured) to visit family one time but most of our time was spent in the North. As my work takes me to the South of Italy we decided that this would be a great place to holiday this year. It is no secret that I absolutely love the South of Italy, especially Puglia and Calabria! After a few days stop in Barcelona with friends, we arrived in Bari in late June… after a delayed flight and a mixup with our rental vehicle, it was very late in the evening on our arrival. It was so late in fact that the only place open for a very late dinner was, you guessed it… McDonald’s! The funny thing is though we were traveling with 6 young persons aged 15-25 years… (and hungry all the time!) not one of them expressed how famished they actually were until we came across the third sign for the third Mcdonalds along our 1.5-hour drive! It would have made for a very comical reality TV show… 8 famished Canadians arriving at an Italian McDonald’s at 1 am, lead by an Italian Cooking School owner! The staff even commented when we told them our story… “you know there is a McDonald’s beside the airport you arrived in, right?” I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was hoping for something a little different for our first meal after our arrival…. We started our Puglia holiday in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Alberobello with tours of nearby Matera (also a UNESCO site,  although located in the nearby region of Basilicata), Locorotondo, Martina Franca and Monopoli. 2 of the days were touring by bike with my long time Italian colleague and guide! Her father even joined us on one of the bike days… The back roads of rural Puglia will always have a special place in my heart and experiencing them on 2 wheels with stops along the way for fresh figs by the roadside, nothing short of spectacular! We then ventured down to Il Salento, the Southernmost region of Puglia… now, this was something I had never experienced before, the seaside towns and beaches of Puglia during beach season!  This is a whole other side of Puglia. The beaches could rival any Carribean beach I have been to… clear blue water, soft sand beaches and steps away to the first-class cuisine we can expect from Southern Italy! No beach shacks here with greasy spoons! Beach days were mixed with exploring Otranto, Gallipoli, and Lecce … experiencing the local cuisine and wines along the way. I also enjoyed living like a local … shopping at markets and whipping up Pugliese specialties for my family!  I found a new side of this place I have adored for so long and I got to experience it with my family which made it extra special! As I only include experiences that I have personally experienced on my tours, stay tuned for some of these new exciting experiences on our longest running, Taste of Puglia Tour with Natalina! Details coming soon…here! I hope you are enjoying your summer with the ones you love and I hope to show you “my kind of Italy, off the beaten path” someday too! Ciao for now, Natalina

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