We’ve been hiking for several hours down scraggly and water-parched dry earth in Southern Italy past vineyards. It is day five of the exodus and everyone is hot and bothered. Then we see the round cream-colored city on the hill: Locorotondo. I’m not sure what it is most famous for—the fact that it boasts four Os in its name or that it’s known as Puglia’s prettiest town.
But picture if you will this Italian town. A gentle circling road leads you toward the town’s highest point where the countryside (Valle d’Itria) rolls out below. Brown-patched lawns, broad-branched olive trees, and expansive vineyards nestle below. A highway snakes slowly across the flat region. I see many ancient cone-shaped Trulli homes. This is the panoramic view from the town’s hilltop.
But I am parched. I need shade. And then like an apparition in the desert appears an outdoor Italian bar. There are six chairs available to pull together at a table for our walking group. We are on a mission to order an Aperol spritzer, popularized now as Italy’s summertime drink thanks to Campari’s massive advertising campaign—“Taste the Sunset.” While I can’t stand the bitter taste of Negroni in my mouth, I love the combination of Aperol, Italian Prosecco, and soda water, served with a slice of orange angled on the side of my cocktail glass.
As we drink our water and sip our cocktail, I listen to the buzz of voices all around us—English, German, Spanish, French, and of course the waitress’ rapid fire Italian. It feels so good to slip my feet out of my hiking boots and stop walking.
The town is famous for its circular structure which resulted in its name as rotondo (round place). The distinctive shape is even memorialized on the wine label for Antico Locorotondo.
Locorotondo is situated in Apulia, a gastronomic region in Southern Italy famous for its simple peasant foods known as cucina povera. These simple peasant recipes feature roasted vegetables, hearty grains, pastas, and of course olive oil. The nutty earthy flavor of grano arso which is made from burnt wheat is a key ingredient of Puglia’s distinctive local bread and pastas.
Fortified by my libation, I am now ready to explore this hilltop town. I discover the best strategy is simply to get lost in the alleys. Since everything eventually circles back to its historic center, I choose a random side street. I see such lovely impressionistic street art—a bouquet of red geraniums tossed in the air, the vibrant green tendrils and vines floating on the wall, shadowed by pale green leaves. The artist’s canvas is the simple creamy-white wall.
I wander in a little store to examine lace for sale. Soon I turn a corner to find several side-by-side restaurants with outdoor seating in the shade. I wish I could remain to eat dinner.
I also need to glance up a lot because many homes boast balconies with ornate ironwork. I watch an elderly woman hanging her laundry to dry. Somehow seeing the brightly colored clothing bathing in the sun makes me happy, reminding me of my own mother hanging out our family’s laundry to dry on the clothing line. I snap a mental picture to store away this memory.
The jewel of Locorotondo is Chiesa Madre San Giorgio which is dedicated to St. George who slays the dragon. You can easily lose yourself for over an hour in this Baroque church. There are lovely statues of saints and an unusual crypt with relics.
I also visited the Chiesa della Madonna della Greca. Small in size and painted cream-colored, it is an intimate church that honors the Virgin Mary. I marveled at the paintings of the Madonna and Child. I could have meditated for hours in the quiet cave-like chapel.
My visit ends in the town square. There is a shop dedicated to selling chiefly all-white garments. I wince at the price tag. The line is spilling out the door of the gelato store. I am bathing in the scent of the flowers bursting in blooms in the window boxes and plant containers that line the steep steps of one home. This town’s charms drives me loco.