Three Things I Like About: Matino.

Kicking off the ‘Three Things I Like About’ series with a town in Southern Puglia very close to my heart: Matino.

Located forty minutes southwest of Lecce in the Basso Salento, Matino hugs the side of a hill facing the Ionian Sea. Even with the fervour for all things Pugliese, the town remains relatively unknown. You wouldn’t, for example, go out of you way to visit Matino the way you might Galatina, Otranto or Nardò. But for the few of us who have heard its call – expats restoring homes in the centro storico, travellers exploring Salento and of course, the Matinese – therein lies the charm. Even at the height of ferragosto, the middle of August when 70 million Italians hit beach regions like Puglia all at once, Matino remains immune to the frenzy: relaxed, lovely and authentic. I’m not sure if I found the town or if the town found me but I am now the proud owner of half a rambling old house (La Dimora di Jason) just a few doors from Piazza San Giorgio. So while there are so many things I have come to love about Matino, here are a few favourites.

 

1.  An 18th-century Stable.

Back in feudal times, Palazzo Marchesale del Tufo was the glue that held Matino together. Even today its austere facade plays backdrop to concerts and festivals throughout the year, flanking as it does one end of Piazza San Giorgio. Built c.1500 over the ruins of a 13th-century fortress, the structure was enlarged and embellished after Guiseppe del Tufo went from baron to marquis in 1644. As the family was horse mad, this included an elaborately frescoed stable sometime after 1711. Lined with cherubs and all manner of domestic and exotic animals – even the odd bishop – the long and vaulted main room also features a row of niched mangers, where the del Tufo clan’s much loved horses took their feed. Back in the day, each was marked with the name of a particular horse in large and proud letters beneath a conch. Only one remains –Velocipede – although the rest of the frescoes are more or less in tact. Be warned that opening hours are erratic: before Covid, the stable was open to the public three mornings a week but since then you have to talk your way in. Believe me though, it’s worth it.

Three Things About Matino

2. Approaching Punta della Suina

Baia Verde stretches south of Gallipoli and takes its name – Green Bay – from the turquoise-green hue of the water. It’s around eight kilometres long, a mix of white sand, rocky outcrops, dunes and vegetation, with a series of pay-to-play lidos interspersed with stretches of free beach. Lidos in general are a contentious subject. Italians seem to love them, Brits and other Europeans not so much. If I do choose to spend the day at a lido, though, my favourite is the one closest to Matino: Punta della Suina, located toward the southern end of Baia Verde. Its super relaxed, the food and music is good, the swimming divine and it seems to be less expensive than many others. (For non-lido lovers, there is also a wonderful free beach just a few metres to the south.) But my absolute favourite thing is the approach from the carpark to the beach through a miniature pine forest, dark and shady with pine needles crunching underfoot, crystalline water visible like an oasis through thin and twisted trunks.

3. Foscolo

Foscolo occupies a pretty 19th-century building, nestled into the corner of an alley heavy with bougainvillea. Restaurant, cocktail bar and gallery rolled into one, its interior feels more Milan than Salento, a swank mashup of pop, midcentury and baroque leading up to a roof terrace, low-lit and romantic with views of the palazzo in one direction and the Ionian Sea in another. A sophisticated menu follows the course of the seasons, focussed on Puglian produce – tuna and gamberi viola fresh from the waters of nearby Gallipoli, wild fennel foraged by the sea – but looking to the north, all the way up to and beyond the alps. A favourite last summer was the spaghetti with mullet ragu; a couple of autumns earlier it was the porcini risotto washed down with a full-bodied local red. The ground-floor bar does a mean cocktail, from the signature, gin-based Foscolo to Bond-worthy martinis, served in three vaulted rooms or at small tables spilling out into the cobbled alley, where you’re sure to make new friends.

Three Things About Matino