I decided to visit my brother in Puglia - Italy's rather unspoilt southern region. My plan was a little impulsive, with a view of creating a memorable roadtrip to discover some of the hidden areas it has to offer. Whilst I have spent a great deal of time exploring the lakes, rolling countryside and mountainous regions of Italy to tick off tourist spots and passes, the south was particularly unknown to me. I had pretty low expectations, but was soon surprised.
First up, the car. I decided I would embrace the Italian culture by renting a fiat 500. Given the weather expectations, I also opted for the nippy Convertible so I could catch a few rays, soak up the atmosphere when driving and continue my "hairdresser" reputation when it comes to cars.
The car was possibly the slowest thing with four wheels that I've driven, but offered great fun on the coastal roads with the roof down. Plenty of space to chuck beach towel and camera equipment, plus small enough to manoeuvre around the extremely narrow historic town roads. I'd would have loved to drive something with a bit more drama, but the 500c delivered a fairly fun experience for what I needed.
The roads are fairly well kept, with many swooping around the coast with no barriers to obstruct the views. This was a massive plus, as on previous roadtrips I found the driving sometimes less visually impressive by the safety barriers being very high and obscuring the views.
Puglia is extremely quiet with barely any tourists in comparison to the other regions I've visited in Italy. There are plenty of amazing sights along the way, with spots to park up and untouched beaches to enjoy. My favourite spot was a natural pool that had formed inland slightly, with warm waters for cliff diving action. Again, a quick parking spot with the 500c left us metres from joining in with the fun.
Highlights for me were Lecce, Bari and Polignano A Mare. Each offering historic buildings, amazing food and wine, clear waters and great finds along the way. Even the most expensive restaurants with locally caught seafood wouldn't break the bank, so it's bizarre not to be surrounded with tourists. We stayed in a B&B that we found in Lecce last minute and for the price of a motorway Premier Inn we had a newly renovated private apartment with parking and a rooftop Jacuzzi which featured beautiful views at dusk.
I enjoyed the 500c possibly due to the weather - but I certainly won't be driving anything as slow as that again. The sheer desire to have a roaring V8 would have been fantastic, but some of the roads it would have been wasted on due to the narrow and slow corners. I did enjoy some of the motorbikes that past us, plus the occasional jokes about whether the car suited me...
Despite the rather shockingly slow car, the memories and seafood were so good that I am planning a return trip next year.