SALENTO, U’ SOLE, U’ MARE, U’ VENTU…! THE JAMAICA OF ITALY!

Last year i played a gig with Filippo, a percussionist i occasionaly work with:in that occasion he’s asked me if i ever thought of playing music on the streets of Salento, Italy. I said “no..!”..So we planned a 3 weeks tour down there in September: these are some photos from this beautiful experience in one of the most amazing regions of my country.

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We left Vicenza, my hometown in the North east of Italy in the early morning. We drove a car packed to the limit: i don’t think i’ve ever seen so much gear stuffed in a vehicle! I love driving, so once we hit the A14, i managed to keep going for about 9 houyrs, until we reached the center of Puglia. It rained very hard, so i let Filippo drive us home as he knew the area much better than i do.

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Thank God, the next day the weather was already improved: a breezy clear day of September was ahead of us. I could explore the surroundings: we stayed in the countryside, few miles from the coast, where an old lovely lady rents some basic rooms in the middle of the olive trees plantation.

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Filippo took the instruments off the roof of the vanand made the most of the strong sun to dry the congas after all the rain!

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The fico d’India, it’s a very common fruit down here. The other place where it’s so popular might be Mexico: infact some of the sceneries and sunsets reminded me of the American desert…

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The next day we went to the beach. We drove 10 minutes and reached a very secluded location where not so many people go.Italians love their comfort on holidays, so we alway look for wild areas like this one.

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Looking backtowards the inland part of Puglia, the weather nearly quite stormy nearly every afternoon, but on the other side, the ionic coast, for some reason we have always been blessed with lovely clear blue sky and the right wind so that the water could be nice and transparent!

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I could finally enjoy some relax on the beach without having to fly thousands of miles as i normally do! I realized it’s been ages since i’ve eaten some proper peaches: they were delicious and brought up so many childhood memories!

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Every day, after having spent the whole morning on the beach, we would stoip to the local grocer on the way back toi our village and picking up fresh products it was a real pleasure for the senses. Very honest prices and great quality make this destination a must go for all Italian food lovers!
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Salento is the land of olives and olive oil, tomatoes, aubergines, artichokes, watermelons and all the classic summer vegetables that make Southern Italian cuisine so famous worldwide. Less is more and the combinations between these fresh products are endless.

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Our rooms were basic but fitted with a small kitchen (old school gas cilinders) and a fridge, so most of the times we would prepare our meals during the hottest hours of the early afternoons. Nothing feels better than a rustic snack after few hours of swimming and lazying under the sun. In this case i enjoyed the local savoury cookies called taralli, accompanied by sundried tomatoes, 2 types of olives, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil, seasoned with local extravirgin olive oil!

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We also discovered a small shop selling handmade crema di carciofi (artichoke cream), perfect with some baby ciabattas with black olives! Buon appetito!

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We really loved busking in Gallipoli, a beautiful old walled town always busy with turists and friendly locals. We set up in front of the main church for about 4 nights in a row and everynight it’s been a success. People asked us to come back next year so i definitely think we will!

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We pulled a very nice crowd, especially thanks to FIlippo who plays the brasilian pandeiro a tambourine which is very similar to a local instrument. I guess people were attracted by the mix of our 2 sounds.

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One night we also had a very young special guest. This 10 years old kid was playing some great tunes,especially traditional folk songs from South Italy. In only half an hour slot he made a good hat as well!

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It’s been a great way to learn new songs and arrangements, get into Afrocuban and Brazilian music and finally witness that in every place we go music nbever fails to bring joy and happiness.

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As any real musician we were often going to bed pretty late at night but the gorgeous weather and the coffe addiction always managed to get us up quite early. We are creatures of habit so after a few days we already had our favourite spots for iced espresso with almond milk and a secret spot away from the touristy beach where we could enjoy the amazing sea of Salento.

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Sometimes i get very hungry after few hours on the seaside. Thank God just near the beach we were staying a little cafe would serve some amazing traditional food in a very simple environement.

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I don’t mind a bit of savoury in the late morning so here’s a classic example of Southern Italy brunch: baby buffalo mozzarellas with friggitielli (whole green chillies braised in olive oil) and iced almond milk!

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After 4 nights of street performing in Gallipoli all my cd’s were gone. Despite the empty box we decided to carry on and we tried Lecce, a fantastic city very well knows for its stunning Barouque city centre.

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Of course we weren’t the only musicians trying to make some money and the majority of visitors were locals so we didn’t do as well as in Gallipoli but the amazing surroundings were worth the effort.

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We set up in a couple of spots in the main shopping road, not too far from a very good street restaurant!

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In Italy we say that if there is a good sunset at night there will surely be a good weather the next day so one day we decided to drive a bit up north and reached Porto Selvaggio, a fantastic beach which is part of a national park and protected area.
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The water is one of the clearest but also very cold as from the bay a stream of cold sweet water goes into the sea.

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An old castle lies on top of the hill overlooking the bay: on a clear day one can see all the surrounding coastal villages and of course enjoy a great sunset.

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WHile we stopped in a general store to get some food and drinks i found a tremendous offer: an original 1977 Topolino (the Italian Mickey Mouse comic) for only a couple of Euros. It was great to smell the old pages almost turned to yellow and see some very old adverts that i almost forgotten about over these 3 decades!

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Towards the late afternoon weather was getting a bit stormy so we went back to our place in order to get ready for another busking session down south.

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One night we tried to busk in Otranto, on the east coast of Puglia. It’s a very fine town very famous with tourists and we managed to set up in the main square just near a big restaurant with patio. Every song was followed by a round of applauses and we got many 5 euros notes from the generous tipping customers. Apparently buskers do need a permit to perform here but we never had any problem.
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After every session it was great to go back to our little place in the countryside. It’s been great to be a tourist in my own country. We could enjoy the ospitality, the great food and gorgeous landscapes and i can’t wait to be back next summer!

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