Brindisi – Gateway to the South

As a child I must have passed through Brindisi numerous times; as a family we used to drive down from Rome and get the car ferry to Greece. At the end of a long drive there was little inclination to explore however – our destination was elsewhere. Since I moved to Puglia, eleven years ago, Brindisi became a place to occasionally leave from, or arrive to on trips back to the U.K.I only really explored Brindisi recently, when I stayed for a weekend researching an article for Easy Jet. I loved it and definitely plan to go back.

Next time I will  visit the Museo Archeologico Francesco Ribezzo, to see the underwater exhibition of the bronzes dredged up from the sea bed at Punta del Serrone as well as the other exhibits – this time my ‘brief’ was food and wine and the general feel of the place, and I didn’t have a spare moment during opening hours for reasons

Roman column

that will become apparent! Another museum I didn’t visit is right on the sea front and houses what was an extensive private collection of archeological finds . There is no need to visit either, though, to get a rich impression of the city’s Roman heritage.

The Appian Way led all the way from Rome to Brindisi and the famous column which marked where the road ended crowns the flight of steps which lead down to the sea front. To see the original capital of the column you need to visit the Palazzo Granafei Nervegna, home to some of the local council offices but also a space hosting travelling exhibitions, a cafe, and some interesting displays. In one room you can view the capital close up and admire the  carving and the figures of Neptune and three other deities (possibly Jupiter, Juno and Minerva though opinions differ). There are ongoing archaeological excavations in the area and, in another room, you can see the foundations of a Roman Domus, or house and fragments of mosaic. In the square outside the Palazzo there are further remains, and the new modern theatre has a glass floor so that you can see the Roman structures beneath.

Neptune on the capital of the Roman column

Just past the theatre, on the  left, I found an artisan centre, with lots of different craftsmen, each occupying one of the rooms leading off the beautiful cloisters. When I visited, many of the rooms were closed, and the occupants told me that little is done to promote the centre, but it is well worth a visit, assuming it is still there. I saw exquisite baby clothes, hand-painted silk scarves, leather goods, jewellery, vintage styled clothes and hand blown glass items – all of very high quality and reasonably priced.

We arrived in Brindisi by train, and it was an easy walk to the historic centre. In the main square, Piazza Duomo, we stopped to admire  the beautiful facade of  the Cathedral and the 13th century portico of the museum, before passing through the archway and down the road that leads to the Roman column and the steps down to the sea front. Our first priority was some breakfast, as, running for our very early train at Lecce, there hadn’t been time even for a cup of coffee. We walked along the sea front and stopped at Bernadini, famous for its hand-made chocolates and sweets, but also serving all the usual Italian breakfast staples. We made our way to the charming courtyard garden at the back and sat in the sunshine enjoying our freshly baked cornetti, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee – bliss! I heartily recommend this place, not just as a breakfast stop, but also as somewhere for an aperitivo or an ice cream to enjoy walking along by the sea. A great place to get presents to take back home if you are flying from Brindisi as well.

After a morning pottering about we headed for La Cantina Ti L’artisti  for lunch. This was recommended by the landlady at our bed and breakfast and has positive reviews on Trip Advisor but, for us, was not a good experience. We may have hit them on a bad day but our Antipasti Misti had the appearance, and taste, of warmed through leftovers and it got worse…. I had told the waitress that I was allergic to crustaceans but, amongst the antipasti dishes, we were served a dish which was a sort of mashed potato, cheese gratin affair. The cheese was quite strong and I didn’t notice it had crab meat in it. I started to feel very ill and called the waitress over who confirmed the crab. I asked her why she had served it, given that she had been told about my allergy. She obviously didn’t know that crab was a crustacean but she bluffed and said she had served it anyway as my companion may have wanted it. I pointed out that the crab was invisible, smothered in potato and she had issued no warning. No apology, no concern. I told her that we needed to cancel our main courses and leave as I was feeling really bad and she started making a fuss and saying that we would have to pay for our main courses anyway as the cook had started preparing them. Anxious to get out before I was violently ill over the other diners I paid and left… Not somewhere I would go back in a hurry…

The rest of the day and evening was, sadly, a write off for me, though Jamie, my son, had an evening stroll which he enjoyed, and feasted on panzerotti bought from the famous Pizzeria Romanelli who have been churning them out since 1949. For those not in the know, panzerotti are like a folded over pizza, stuffed with tomato sauce and mozzarella and deep fried before being handed over with paper wrapped round the lower half – truly yummy and best consumed walking somewhere scenic, though the contents do tend to squirt out all over your clothes if you are not careful. I miss them since I have moved South to the Salento. Here they are known as calzone, hard to find, and not nearly as good.

The next day was bright and sunny and I was sufficiently recovered by mid morning to enjoy visiting the Tempio San Giovanni al Sepolcro. Built by returning crusaders in the 11th century, it is modelled on the temple of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and has traces of frescoes remaining as well as ornately carved stonework. Through an opening cut in the floor you can see the remains of a Roman Domus, over which it was built.

We had a light lunch, sitting looking out to sea and admiring the Aragonese sea fortress, at Da Luigi il Capitano. The food was indifferent, we may have done better to have pasta or fish, but the view was lovely and the white wine was cold… We had a better meal that evening at La Sciabica Antica Osteria, simple but good. From a foodie point of view though the stand out place was Numero Primo – the wine bar owned by the Tenute Rubino winery. The inside is small but sylish, but we had an aperitivo outside in a large  rectangular room made entirely of glass (the panels open in the summer months) looking at the sea. Superb wine and exquisite nibbles chosen to accompany the different wines. I will definitely go back, and post a review here shortly…


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