We have been based just outside San Vito dei Normanni for the past month looking after two cats Moly and Socks. Adu has also kept the pool in sparkling good condition and mowed the front lawn twice. The back garden (shown below) grows naturally along with the olive trees. San Vito is 20km from Brindisi port with a population according to Wikipedia of 19 947. This means it falls in the 7% tax break scheme. This scheme gives retirees a 7% flat tax on becoming resident in most parts of Southern Italy and in some other areas. The scheme only works for towns with a population less than 20 000.
The town itself is surrounded by olive groves. Southern Italy has over 60 million olive trees. This means more than one olive tree for each resident of Italy. Sadly, the Puglia region has been devastated in recent years by a plant disease called Xylella. This has affected over one-third of olive trees in Italy. Italy produces more than 12% of the world’s olive oil. You can read more about Xylella here. When one considers that many family’s yearly wealth is from their olive harvest, the effect has been terrible for the Puglia region.
The photos below show trees that we saw that were starting to be effected.
The town of San Vito
We found San Vito to be less pretty than some of the beautiful nearby Puglian towns. There was a rather unkempt feel about it. But it is a functioning town with several large grocery stores including a Lidl. We visited the post office twice to post a birthday card to the UK and two postcards to South Africa. It’s a very orderly affair where you get a ticket on entering. But we did create confusion with our request to post to South Africa. Very little English was spoken. Most of the people seemed to be in the queue to pay bills.
We also noticed this Amazon collection station at Penny, the smaller grocery store.
Most of the streets are lined with adjoining shops. Interestingly the shops then extend back without a huge frontage so it’s very different to a typical shop where you can easily see goods of the store. I imagine if you needed something unusual you would find it by asking a local. The shops are all shuttered closed in the heat of the day. Many shops also have a sort of blind (perhaps to keep away insects). There were also two large Chinese Makro type shops on the outskirts of San Vito.
The idea of a separate bakery, butcher, fishmonger seems to be common.
We didn’t come across a weekly or daily vegetable market, (like one expects to in Italy) but there were some vegetable stands set up on the road and we saw people setting up small stands on the road selling broccoli and spinach. Even without buying from these places, we found the fruit and vegetables to be amazingly fresh and colourful.
This store always caught my eye as we drove past with pork and wine on offer.
We have noticed a lot of abandoned houses throughout Puglia. These may be small squares of a house, or a full house or even a farm. Some have been abandoned as the Xylella devastation hit. Others were the holiday home and as a family started to travel more they became more disused. Some abandoned houses are then vandalised. Some properties are then bought for a song, but need huge renovations.
Roads and pavements
Lots of patching has been done to the roads. There are few potholes but they are uneven.
The pavements are also narrow and very uneven, especially in the smaller towns. This was made very obvious when we saw a person being pushed down the street (not on the pavement) in a wheelchair. At the same time the traffic was very good in avoiding or waiting for the wheelchair. I contrast this to the UK where we saw many people easily making their way down pavements on mobility scooters.
There are not as many dustbins all over the town of San Vito as we have seen in other countries. But there is a neat, organised recycling centre. You separate bio, glass, cardboard, and then other. Supposedly you can get your dustbin picked up off the road but it’s erratic so the homeowners asked us to do this. Interestingly they don’t check your address (we have had to prove, or are asked where we are staying in other countries).
Lidl had an incredible range of vegetables, cheese, cold meats and fresh pastas. We loved the freshness of ingredients and food in Italy. You can read more about our thoughts on Italian food here.
Each town has several chiesas or churches. In San Vito there is also the beautiful Basilica di Santa Maria della Vittoria. It also has a Baroque type feel, typical of the area. We noticed large groups of people (especially older men) clustered around the church in groups chatting around 6pm. I think this would have been after their daily church visit.
I have visited many churches in our travels and I noticed more people inside the churches in Italy than in other countries. I also saw this very old Nonna making her way to church and then this person came along to help her.
Driving and parking
We found that one has to drive in a more pushy manner. It can take a while to get across a street, but once you take the gap others will always let you in. Parking like in so many places in Europe is tough to find. But there doesn’t seem to be as much payment for parking.
On highways there can be cameras monitoring speed but there is always a sign warning you of this before you get to it. We didn’t come across any tolls. We did about 1000km in our month in Italy. We found that drivers used the speed limit very much as a guideline, not the law. We didn’t see any accidents and most cars are not dented.
Traffic lights have a countdown feature where it counts down on the side before it changes from green to red.
To get to San Vito we had to travel from Brindisi to Bari. We took the train from Brindisi to Bari Central. There were two types of tickets, one slower costing 9.90 Euro each and taking 70 minutes, the other costing 19 Euro each and taking 50 minutes with fewer stops. We took the longer and cheaper one. It is a very pretty trip along many coastal towns. I took this photo on our last day in Italy from the train.
Interestingly you have to authenticate your ticket at the platform before getting on the train. There are little authentication booths all over. Otherwise, you can be fined by the ticket conductor.
We then took another train from Bari airport to Bari Central. This cost 5.10 Euro each and was about five stops. Both trains are far less frequent on Sundays.
Long shutdown over lunch
We found that restaurants were only open for lunch in France from 12-2pm. Many shops also closed for two hours at lunchtime. In Italy, it seems many restaurants and shops are closed longer from 1pm until 430pm or 5pm. But then shops are often open until 9pm at night (including the post office). This is the square or piazza of San Vito at 2pm and at 5pm.
We found that there was less English than we expected, but people were always friendly. People tried to help. We really wanted to watch three European rugby matches that South Africa was playing in as part of their Autumn tour. One of the matches was in fact against Italy. The first match was against Ireland. The television at the house didn’t have access to a wide range of sports channels. So, we looked for a list of pubs or bars in San Vito. We set off on a Saturday evening to Old Porter an Irish pub that surely would be showing the SA-Ireland game? No luck.
We spoke to the owner of the pub who suggested two other nearby possible places but said he didn’t think we would find a solution. He said it is not the norm for bars to have televisions in them. Sport is watched with family and neighbours in a house, along with pizza! We found no solution and ended up returning to Old Porter for a drink. We even could not watch the SA-Italy match this past weekend. I wonder if Portugal will be different?
Dressed to go out
We noticed that locals very definitely dress up, especially ladies. I don’t think I could ever walk on heels like that.
Our weather has been great. This is the South of Italy so perhaps autumn is the best time to visit as there is not the 40/45 degree heat of summer. But even so, we are nearly in December and we have often been in t-shirts in the day. We have had some big storms with large amounts of rain. But generally, it has been clear and beautiful the next day. We have also been surprised to twice see huge flocks of birds flying past, perhaps swallows returning South?
We bought a SIM card on the Tim network for the month. It costs 8.88 Euro per month but the first month costs 25 Euro as there is a hefty initialisation fee. Sadly, Tim doesn’t work in Portugal. So far, we have bought German, Albanian, UK, Slovenian and Italian SIM cards. We did not find the data or television signal to be that stable. There were periods, especially in the evening when they were very erratic.
Clusters of men together
We saw this especially after the church service each evening. But we also saw men having an espresso or two in the morning. Together! Friends seemed to gather and chat, and generally it was groups of men.
Nearby tourist attractions
There are many things to see nearby. I have written about these in separate posts. Lecce is a Baroque masterpiece of a town.
Locorontondo was our favourite. We also loved a smaller town Ceglie Messapica. The white city of Ostuni and the lovely coastal cliffs of Polignano a Mare are also worth visiting. Finally the Poetry cave (especially on a clear day) on the way down to Otranto is stunning.
Whilst we have been here we watched a lovely series on Netflix called From Scratch based on a true story. It is set in America, Sicily and Florence and was very enjoyable. Somehow it was special watching it while we were actually in Italy.
I have always wanted to visit Italy and have looked for a housesit here for a long time. There are not many and they go very quickly. We have really enjoyed exploring Puglia and are even more eager to explore other parts of Central and Northern Italy.