Christmas is one of the loveliest times of the year in the Valle D’Itria. Across the region, a variety of initiatives attract residents and visitors alike to experience the magical atmosphere of Christmas through innovative installations or reliving traditions inherited from the past. Christmas is a time for some of our most important festivals, when people throw themselves into recreating traditions handed down from generation to generation, including culinary traditions, which of course occupy a prominent place.
Christmas in the Valle D’Itria has also brought many innovations. In the historic centre of Martina Franca, for example, you can visit Father Christmas’s Village, a Christmas market with wooden chalets, an ice rink and a mini train. In Cisternino, you can take part in workshops for adults and children, visit markets or admire presepi and installations.
The most surprising initiative you can discover during the holiday season in Puglia and Valle d’Itria is held in Alberobello as part of the Alberobello Light Festival. The Alberobello Light Festival involves the projection of images and animations to create fantastical shapes on the trulli against a musical background. This wonderful idea provides an opportunity to see the trulli in a different light, putting Alberobello at the cutting-edge alongside other famous European cities.
All Towns and villages in Salento bathed in stunning light displays all come alive. Festive Christmas markets pop up in piazze, full of treats and traditions unique to the region and the season. Vivid nativity scenes are constructed with loving care, while families and friends gather for bountiful feasts of recipes perfected over centuries.
Lecce is wonderful at any time of the year, but it’s especially atmospheric at Christmas time. The city centre, still warm enough for outdoor festivities, is decorated in lights and buzzes with an artisan market, the Fiera dei Pupi, celebrating local artistic traditions, most importantly the presepi salentini, Papier Mache nativity scenes.
The Christmas season is particularly rich in delicious tastes and smells. The Italian Christmas dining experience is not limited to lunch on the 25th. The feasting begins on the eve of the 24th and continues for three days.
Christmas day finds most Puglians seated around the table with loved ones ready to dig into a multi-course meal that will usually go on for hours and hours. A variety of “frutti di mare,” raw molluscs fished fresh from the Adriatic Sea, are often served as a delicious starter.
The pasta course is usually something filling and rich like a lasagna. The main course is typically lamb. Favourite dishes include baked lamb with “lambascioni” (a small and bitter onion that only grows in the wild), or “cuturidd’,” spiced lamb and vegetables cooked for hours in a special terracotta pot.
Just when you thought you couldn’t eat another bite…it’s time for dessert. There is quite a selection of sweets in the Puglian tradition. “Cartellate” are the most typical Christmas sweet. They are made of fried dough rolled out in long strips and then swirled into the form of roses which are dipped in either honey or mulled wine. “Pettole” are small rounds of dough, first fried and then sprinkled with powdered sugar. “Porcedduzzi,” known as the poor man’s nougat, are small balls of dough mixed with chopped almonds and honey.
But if you don’t fancy travelling over Christmas time and you are planning your summer trip now, think again!!! The off-season, October through April, is the time to go. The weather is beautiful with blue skies, very warm sunshine and plenty to see, do and most of all Eat! If you are a food lover like I am, you will love this wonderful region. In winter, no one goes hungry in Puglia. It’s not just that prices are lower and restaurants are quieter — the food is actually better, fish is fresher and in general the Pugliese eat better in the winter.
Yes, it’s too cold to swim, but the food is tastier, the shops are emptier and the prices are lower. And the fact that people can’t go to the beach encourages exploration of the area’s inland charms. It’s like discovering an entirely new Puglia populated just by Italians.
In the winter Puglia feels totally undiscovered and full of surprises!! A Place anyone will fall in love with!!