Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.
Today I’m happy to introduce you to Paul Cappelli, a walker, chef, and co-owner of Villa Cappelli here to tell us all about Tarlizzi – a southern countryside haven of la dolce vita.
First, tell us about you.
I have lived here for two years full-time now, but we have been back and forth for about half the year for 10 years before that. I was born in Pisa, moved to Boston when I was seven, and lived in New York City for over 25 years before moving back to Italy. Our place, Villa Cappelli, sits on the ancient Appian Way, and we now hosts guests from all over the world and love introducing them to the life and culture here.
In my free time, I love to take long walks in the neighboring fields looking for ancient artifacts. Newly plowed fields can hold all sorts of wonders around here, from ancient pottery to loom weights that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. I also enjoy cooking and entertaining when I’m not working.
If someone is visiting Terlizzi for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
Terlizzi has wonderful restaurants that serve excellent food at VERY reasonable prices. It is an ancient town with a Norman and Swabian past. The clock tower dates to the 12th century and the church of Santa Maria di Cesano was built in 1055 A.D. We’ve been told it is the largest backlit clock in Europe, after Big Ben.
Outside Terlizzi, make sure to visit our beautiful coasts and coastal towns, the Mugria area (a beautiful national park with charming ancient towns) and some of the simple, local farming towns, each with their own charm and personality.
What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?
Terlizzi and the surrounding towns really are central to a ton of sites in the area, so you won’t be in a car your entire trip, but actually out experiencing and enjoying Italy.
If you prefer something on the coast, we’d recommend Giovinazzo. It’s a small fishing village with an amazing hotel and wonderful B&B. The town itself is beyond charming.
Terlizzi is a small town that will literally let you experience the true Italian lifestyle, so it is perfect for travelers looking for something off the typical tourist path.
Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
Castel Del Monte: built by Frederick II, the Swabian king and Holy Roman Emperor, it is a mystical edifice with a 360-degree view of northern Puglia—from the Murge all the way to the Gargano peninsula.
The town of Polignano a Mare is a sight to behold, atop a rocky promontory that juts into the sea. On your way, you can stop by Bari, the capital of Puglia, which boasts the remains of St. Nicholas (yes, Santa Claus) among many other gems.
Take a ride through La Murgia, with its beautiful fields of grain and trulli covering the countryside, to visit Gravina, which features a large ravine with some spectacular views and an ancient Roman bridge that is right out of a postcard.
Just 12 kilometers away, on the Adriatic, Giovinazzo is a jewel of a town. It features the most romantic tiny fishing port and some spectacular Medieval architecture.
Walk the winding ancient streets of Matera, so well-preserved that it has been used as a movie set for films like Passion of the Christ. Matera features homes, restaurants, and hotels built out from caves in the soft tufa rock. Many of the cave homes were inhabited until the 1950s.
Mount Garagnone: these ruins of a feudal castle are nothing short of majestic, sitting atop a hill overlooking some amazing views. You might need very specific directions or a guide to help you find it (it is very off the beaten path) and there is a steep hike to the top, but it’s totally worth it.
Trani’s beautiful cathedral sits right on the water in this quaint costal town. Wander through the port and enjoy the views. Be a little wary of all the restaurants right on the water, as they tend to overcharge for a meal. You might find something a little more authentic, less touristy, and cheaper a few blocks in from the port.
The Battle of Cannae is a major battle of the Second Punic War and its site is well worth a visit. It took place on August 2, 216 B.C. in Pulia. The army of Carthage under Hannibal decisively defeated a larger army of the Roman Republic. It is regarded as the worst defeat in Roman history.
And that’s just the beginning. Many visitors come to find the towns where their ancestors came from, take culinary tours, or go on a bicycling tour or adventure tour (from hiking and hot air balloon rides to spelunking and boating).
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?
Try orecchiette alle cime di rapa (homemade pasta with garlic broccoli sauce), puree di fave e cicoria (fava bean puree with wilted wild greens), focaccia (a flat, oven-baked bread that is usually topped with tomatoes, onions, herbs, and the like), riso, patate, e cozze (rice, potatoes, and mussels), fresh seafood (since it is so fresh in the coastal towns, a lot of it can be and is eaten raw…even mussels, sea urchins, and sardines), grilled meat (Terlizzi is actually known for its butchers), fresh mozzarella, stracciatella, and burrata cheeses, and caprese salad (mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil with fresh cheese and super sweet Puglia tomatoes—this is to die for).
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?
I Tigli, located at Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi 21, is a great place to sit outside and enjoy watching all the locals pass by. All the food is good. Ask for a sampling and they will bring you small plates of lots of local dishes, including lots of seafood, for the whole table to try. If you are still hungry after that, their pizza is also very good.
La Lupa, located at Largo La Ginestra 12, is in an old olive mill in Terlizzi, You can’t go too wrong with the grilled meats here and the atmosphere is beautiful.
Da Marchino, located at Parma Via Riccio 43, is, by far, our favorite pizza place in Terlizzi. It’s a bit of a local dive, but every thing on the menu is great. Ask for a few sample antipasto plates, especially the grilled octopus, before diving into their delicious pizza.
Adriatica, located right on the water between Giovinazzo and Molfeta, serves excellent seafood. Plus, the view is great.
Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Do not ask for extra virgin olive oil and balsamic to dip your bread in. That is a very American thing. No Italian does that.
Do not ask for any kind of salad dressing besides oil and vinegar or American Italian meals like spaghetti with meatballs, chicken parmesan, or fettuccine alfredo. They really don’t even exist.
Try and speak at least a little Italian. Very few people in the area speak another language and even less speak English. Be prepared to use some sign language, be patient, and have fun with it. Everyone will be more than willing to help you and/or try to understand, as they are always excited to have visitors from another area.
Do not drink cappuccino in the afternoons or after a big meal. Italians feel the heavy milk is not good for digestion after eating. And do not order a coffee and expect an American-style cup of coffee. You will get a small espresso. Also, there is no to-go food in Italy. You drink your coffee at the bar and you never see anyone walking around with coke or water bottle.
If driving, use the left lane only to pass. Italians drive very fast in Italy. If you stay in the right lane and only use the left for passing, you will be fine.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Take the passeggiare (stroll) at night with the locals. They close the old part of town to traffic from 7 to 10 p.m. every night so locals can stroll freely through the street and visit with friends and neighbors.
Why should people make sure to visit Terlizzi?
This is authentic Italy. While you might see a few other tourists at some of the major sites, you could easily go all day without seeing a single other foreigner. Here, you get to experience what it is truly like to live la dolce vita. Relax. Soak up the great life.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?
A better question would be where is there not a good place? We love Castel Del Monte for a 360-degree view of the countryside, pretty much anywhere in Terlizzi for quaint Italian village scenes, Polignano a Mare for amazing views of the sea and cliffs, Gravina for its ravine, caves, and ancient Roman bridge, Giovinazzo for fishing shots, Matera for ancient scenery, and Mount Garagnone for a top-of-the-world experience.
Anything else you want us to know?
Terlizzi and Puglia are undiscovered parts of Italy. You will not fight crowds for a seat in a restaurant or stand in line for hours to see any site. You will have to rent a car to get around and not a lot of the locals speak English—but that is the joy and adventure of it all. This is where you can truly understand what it means to live like an Italian. This is where you come to live la dolce vita.