Of all the romantic destinations in Europe, Italy remains one of the most alluring. The country’s intoxicating mix of architecture, climate and art make it a serious contender for the most beautiful place in the world; when you cap all that good stuff off with seriously attractive citizens and a communal sense of high fashion, you soon realise Italy might just be as close to heaven as we mortals can get. As if all that wasn’t enough to get you over there, Italia also rustles up some of the finest culinary offerings in the world, making it a must-visit destination for foodies from all corners of the globe.

Italy is often referred to as ‘The Boot’ because of its distinctive shape; one of the most rewarding places to explore its culinary dynasty and legacy is the region of Puglia (or Apulia), known as ‘the heel’ (of the aforementioned boot). It’s a thin stretch of land in Italy’s south, surrounded by plenty of coastline and blessed by a near-perfect climate. The dishes on offer down there are wildly creative and diverse, mixing good ol’ Italian rustic with a variety of mouthwatering takes on established classics. Log on to BUCKiTDREAM and see if you can get your stomach rumbling with fellow travelers’ tales of Puglia fine dining, then keep that BUCKiTDREAM planner close at hand as we tell you how to eat your way around ‘the heel’!

Grab a Bite at the Gargano Peninsula This beautiful stretch of coast is one of the most scenics the country has to offer (and that’s saying something, considering Italy is a particularly scenic country). The fields and hills surrounding the Peninsula are responsible for the production of much of Italy’s food, meaning that you’re getting the freshest of the fresh ingredients when you dine in Gargano. The area’s main attraction is its seafood; mussels and clams especially, though any osteria or trattoria you can find will serve up some fresh fish on demand. The region even has its own brand of cooking, known simply as cucina povera (literally ‘peasant cooking’), which essentially means that simple recipes are elevated by the freshness of the ingredients.

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Make a Meal of it at Matera Matera is one of those beautiful towns that looks like it hasn’t changed much in centuries. Constructed almost entirely of pale gold limestone, the city is undergoing a rejuvenation of sorts at the moment and is set to be the 2019 European Capital of Culture. Matera’s cuisine is a product of the same peasant traditions as the Gargano Peninsula so you can be assured of absurdly fresh ingredients that taste like they came from the garden next door (they may well have done). Osteria al Casale is one of the best local restaurants to sample the region’s traditional cuisine; every mouthwatering dish comes served with local aglianico wine.

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Tuck In at Trani Trani is a harbor town and all about that fresh seafood. In fact, it’s quite a challenge to seek out a restaurant in this small, bustling town that won’t serve you something pulled up from the lapping waves nearby. The best place to eat is in the harbor, especially if you can catch an evening sunset. The laid-back Osteria la Perla del Sud fits the brief; located right on the waterfront, it’s one of the best places to sample the region’s renowned seafood offerings.

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Lick Your Lips at Lecce One of the most important cities in Puglia, Lecce is an ancient jewel in the heel’s crown, filled with extravagant baroque architecture that’s lent it the nickname ‘the Florence of the south’. You’re spoilt for choice in Lecce; you can opt for traditional Puglia fare, or go for something more traditionally Italian, like pizza or carbonara. One of the most noteworthy restaurants, and for some, the number one place to eat in Lecce, is Masseria Melcarne, an eatery located on a farm, surrounded by stretches of olive groves. This beautiful restaurant is constructed from traditional Lecce limestone. A good shout for breakfast and sandwiches is Doppiozero, while any wine craving you have should be totally satisfied at La Bottega del Vino.

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Order Up at Ostuni This small coastal town, located in an area known as the Itria Valley, is real old-school Italy. One of the signature dishes of the region is la bombetta pugliese, which consists of grilled or roasted slices of pork wrapped around cheese, usually provolone. Cast San Giacomo will serve you up this local favourite; it’s a restaurant run entirely by grandmothers, giving you that authentic Italian home-cooking feel. On the younger side of things, Lido Bosco Verde is a seaside beach club with some sweet barbecue plates; they’re not the best food you’ll find in the region, but when served up alongside a DJ and a blazing beach sunset, you could do far worse.

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Chow Down at Cisternino Cisternino is also nestled in the heart of the Itria Valley and is famous for a distinctive style of restaurant which blends butchers with barbecues. These serve up that renowned local specialty called la bombetta pugliese, but in a more casual manner; you can ask the butcher to barbecue your chosen goodies while you take a seat outside with a carafe of local wine. The best local pasta dish to try is the spinach-infused Orecchiette con le cime di rapa, and don’t forget to sample the focaccia bread, a light and simple Pugliese specialty that seems to go well with anything.

Puglia is a beautiful region with some exciting culinary delights; if you’re looking for the perfect place to indulge your foodie sensibilities, then you need to favourite look no further than Italy’s romantic heel. This guide is a great place to start, but the food scene in Italy is all about finding favorite places and discovering hidden gems amongst the rural southern hills. Just make sure to share all your adventures on BUCKiTDREAM while you’re down there!