Rome and Puglia Travelogue

Another pizza tonight? Why not.

Rome and Puglia Travelogue

It's so hard to sit down and write about traveling to Italy before lunch.

As you probably guessed, every other photo is food—I'm a bread baker and pizza maker, after all—and just one look at pizza, gelato, or bread sends me spiraling into reminiscing about all the aromas, flavors, and overindulgence.

But our recent trip to Italy was more than about food.

For me, it had been over 10 years with a cookbook written, a pandemic slogged through, and two kids added to the pack since I last visited family throughout Italy. A lot can happen in a decade, of course, but sometimes you don't realize it until you stop and look. It's also quite a thing to see cousins who were babies but are now practically off to college.

Our trip to Italy was the first with our kids (7 and 9 years old), and it introduced them to a whole side of the family they had only heard about. They can now put faces to names.

But there's just something magical about the country as a whole, and I touched on this in my France + Italy travelogue last year after I traveled through northern Italy—the entire place is a perfect blend of history, culinary excellence, and sprezzatura.

Italy Itinerary

The trip started with a stint in Rome for 4 days, then on to Puglia (southern Italy area) for over a week. We decided to split the trip to give the kids (and ourselves) time to explore The Eternal City and to take a break after the long flight.

It proved to be a good move, both because the kids did need a bit of a break and I got to eat all the pizza.

In both spots we stayed in AirBnB's. When traveling with young kids, having access to a washing machine in an emergency is key. But also, there's a certain charm in staying like a local, like heading to the market down the street to pickup easy breakfast you can cook in the kitchen.

Trust me, I didn't skip the morning cappuccino, but it is nice having eggs + toast for brekkie when you need a break from a cornetto (a rare event, I must admit).

Me at an art installation near the Spanish Steps.

What To Do In Rome

The energy and dynamism of Rome are palpable from the moment you arrive. Thousand-year-old monuments juxtapose modern buildings, and bustling crowds weave through the streets (and sometimes on the streets) following umbrellas and flashy signs on long poles.

Instead of a hotel, we stayed at an AirBnB quite close to the Vatican, which turned out to be a rather dangerous situation, indeed.

Near the Vatican there are many tourist trap places to eat, but if you dig a bit and walk a little outside the crowds, lots of amazing food is to be found. One of the reasons I stayed in the area, besides easy access to one of our stops, was to be near a place I had high (read: at the top) of my to-visit list: Bonci Pizza.

Bonci Pizza

The front of Bonci where I ate pizza after pizza after pizza.

I've known about Bonci for ages and even developed my own sourdough pizza al taglio recipe to try and get close to it. I have to say, having finally had it in person, it's quite the addictive and perfect snack, isn't it?

I say snack loosely because each day, I filled a box that easily satisfied an entire meal. But the key is—and this is important—after eating many slices, you never feel stuffed like you went too far. Even the slices with what looks like lots of potatoes, they're ultra-thin, and it all just works.

The long-fermented dough, tight balancing act of topping each piece just enough, and the mix of veggies and tomato makes this all possible.

It's just one of my many to-go boxes from Bonci, featuring the focaccia, rossa, patate (potato), and zucchini. All amazing.

Each slice has a different "impression" to make, and while I'm sure most of them use the same dough as the base, they read very different slice to slice.

The crust is thin and crispy, and the toppings are crafted with precision and creativity. But there's obviously a clear focus on the quality of the flour, fermentation, and dedication to the process.

The folks working behind the counter got to know me over the course of the next four days, greeting me with a "hey you're that baker!" every time I came in.

I tried just about everything on offer there, and my favorite was easily the Rossa, a simple square with just tomato sauce and spices. But also, the focaccia with tomato was a standout, the texture was chewy and the slice thick, it was soft and obviously made with a little whole grain (or high extraction) flour.

Just lovely.

I felt very much like the Roman, stopping in after work to grab my box and eat a slice as I strolled "home." I mean, that's a life I wouldn't mind living.

Pastasciutta and Osteria I'l Matto


A bit on the touristy side, perhaps, but this pasta spot really, well, hit the spot. It's mostly a walk up restaurant where you can grab several varieties of pasta to go. I opted for the cacio e pepe and it was a wonderful bowl of pasta.

I'd definitely recommend this as a quick afternoon lunch after the Vatican.

Osteria I'l Matto

We randomly found this place and I'm so glad we did. It's a bit out of the hustle of the tourist spots, which is exactly why I wanted to go. I turns out, the pasta all'Amatriciana was one of the best plates I had on the entire trip.

It's a very simple dish, but it hits all the right notes: a little spiciness from the guanciale, savoriness from the pecorino, and a hit of umami from the pecorino. It's the kind of focused pasta you expect—and crave—when in Italy.

That said, they do need to work a bit on their bread (I'm picky when it comes to bread, as you can imagine).

Love Croissants

The best pastry I had while in Rome was at Love, without a doubt. Their croissants—both plain and chocolate—were just what I was looking for (when I wasn't in the mood for an Italian cornetto, of course).

The pastry at Love—the best I had in Rome.

It's best to get there a little early before they open. I could see the line building behind me right as I entered. I wish I had time to get a coffee because they had offerings beyond cappuccino, and a flat white would have been a fun thing to order in Italy.

Gelato in Rome

If you've ever seen my travel posts on Instagram, you know there's gonna be ice cream. The funny thing is, I never eat it at home—it's all the same—but when I travel... I go just to the point of overboard. And when in Italy, I blaze past overboard into "Dad, another gelato, really?"

There are simply too many good places in Italy to even make a dent. If I lived in the country, it would be devastating for my wardrobe. But since travel has a clear boundary—a definite ending where I know the gelato consumption will end—I can safely say, "Okay, one more scoop," with wild abandon.

Off the beaten path and one of my favorite gelatos in Rome.

Below is the short list of spots I visited. It's just too hard to scribble down every place every time since I was eating it at every opportunity, but these are the memorable ones.

  1. Iamotti. I liked this place, and it wasn't overcrowded with tourists.
  2. Cremilla. It was near touristy areas and, frankly, a bit of a letdown. It was quite "icey" and lacking depth of flavor.
  3. Venchi. This classy and old institution was tasty. They have a specialty gelato with chocolate in the cup that melts as you eat, but I opted for a cone (I wanted to focus on the ice cream!). I quite liked this place, though it's on a touristy street.
  4. Giolitti. It is a very old-school gelateria, and you feel it when you walk in the door. I went to two locations, one out of the way from the tourist center, and I highly recommend seeking out that spot (a photo of the entrance is above). They are both good, but the touristy one will undoubtedly have a massive queue. I particularly liked the pistachio and stracciatella combination, with a dollop of panna on top.

Rome Sights

There's so much to see in Rome you'd need a year to cover it all. We picked a few we thought the kids (and ourselves) would enjoy, limiting ourselves mostly to one of these per day:

  1. The Colosseum and Roman Forum
  2. The Vatican Museum
  3. Castel Sant'Angelo
  4. The Pantheon
  5. The Fountain of Trevi
  6. The Lego Store

Seeing The Colosseum and Roman Forum

Gosh, these spots are so crowded. The last time I was here, I came during the off-season, and it was practically empty. Quite the contrast!

I highly recommend booking a private tour of the Colosseum, even if you leave your tour group and wander on your own. This way, you bypass the queue to enter—which could be a multi-hour wait. We booked our tours through Viator, which was informative and fun, if a bit rushed.

The Vatican Museum

I would have loved to spend more time here. Sadly, the kids couldn't be bothered.

We knew it was a risk booking this and going here, it's a very long tour and mostly paintings and sculptures. We did our best to set the stage (big breakfast, first thing of the day, bathrooms visited,...), but sadly, the kids couldn't make it. About halfway through, and they just about had it, it was too long and not engaging enough for their age.

A picture of a picture at the Vatican Museum.

We'll be back!

Castel Sant'Angelo

A fun place to wander through and one I have never visited despite my many trips to Rome. It's in the center of everything, and you see it as you wander just about anywhere, but going inside is fun.

The kids enjoyed it, seeing old cannon balls, broken doors, hidden rooms and the history of a castle kept them engaged.

The Pantheon

This is my favorite site in Rome. Yes, it's just another temple/church to some, but the symmetry (and subtle design decisions to reinforce the idea), attention to detail, scale, and overall sense of grandeur are crushing. It makes you think, how the heck did they build this thing so long ago?

We didn't have tickets to enter; we just queued up and waited, and it wasn't terribly long to do so.

The Fountain of Trevi

I've always loved the fountain. So much energy in every inch of the place, both in the fountain itself and the throngs of people sitting and smooshing their way to throw a coin or take a selfie.

Though, for me, this is a quick visit. Walk into the area, scope out the fountain, soak it in a bit, then ditch the crowds and head out to get your next gelato.

The Lego Store

We did this one just for the kids (okay, I kind of like Legos, too). It's always fun to stroll through to see what crazy kit is next for sale—the Colosseum set is quite incredible. The store is on a shopping street with many other options, too, so you can shop in this area if you're into it.

After Rome, we hopped on a short 1 hour ITA flight south to Brindisi airport.

A shot of Ostuni—the white city—from a nearby walking path.


Flying into Brindisi airport is incredibly easy. It's one of those small airports you learn to love: get off the plane, grab your bag immediately upon entering the airport, and you're on your way.

We rented a car while down south, and it's pretty much mandatory here. I'd never drive in Rome, but out in the country, you need a car to get to and from the cities and, perhaps most importantly, the beach.

Puglia Lodging

We stayed in an AirBnB—"The Seven Cones"—out in the countryside near Ostuni. It was a beautiful property set in an ancient trullo, and it was my first time visiting this part of Italy without staying at a family's place. Being a little removed was nice, but we had to drive about 20 minutes from the countryside to Ceglie Messapica, where most of my family lives.

I have to say, the little drive was rather nice. I mean, the scenery is beautiful, of course, but white-knuckling it through the stone-lined single-lane streets, honking and waving to the locals really grounds you in Puglia. It could have only been better if I was in a Fiat Panda.

This location was a good central base for venturing out on day trips with the car.

Since we stayed so close to Ostuni, we drove into the town many times for groceries and meals and to walk the streets and see the sights. It's a beautiful city, and there are a few great spots for food (and more, I'm sure):

  • Pastasciutta. Different from the spot in Rome, this place had a lovely outdoor patio and—brace for it—salad on the menu! Oh gosh, if you've traveled to Italy, you know how valuable a good salad can be. I ordered one for myself and a plate of the pasta cime di rapa (broccoli rabe). Delicious.
  • Cremeria Alla Scala. This spot is literally right on the steps in the main town, next to Pastasciutta—hence its name. Usually, I wouldn't have high hopes for a spot like this in the town center, but boy, was this a treat. I highly recommend the stracciatella here.

Places to Visit in Puglia

There are so many, but these are the ones we visited, all within relatively short driving distances and can be done in a single day trip from Ostuni.

  1. Ceglie Messapica
  2. Polignano a Mare
  3. Torre Sant' Angela and Lecce
  4. Alberobello
  5. Grottaglie
  6. Grotte di Castellana

Ceglie Messapica

Most of my family lives in Ceglie, a beautiful, sleepy little town in Puglia. It has a central street with many food places, and if you really want to see what Italy is like in the summer—laid back and calm—this is a great place to walk through. I wouldn't say there are many sights to see, but there are a few famous restaurants such as Cibus.

I highly recommend visiting Forno San Lorenzo in Ceglie for the best focaccia in all of Puglia, in my humble opinion 🙂

Polignano a Mare

This town is just beautiful, and the beaches here are world-class. It can get quite busy, so I'd definitely recommend heading here early in the summer season and on a weekday.

We took a 1-hour boat tour booked with Viator, and it was a treat to see the caves in the area and the city from the water.

If you are in search of swimming, skip the touristy beach right in the city, and visit one of the many a little outside. We somehow stumbled on a private beach near Cala San Giovanni, and after a small entrance fee, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The water is completely clear and the provided beach chairs and drink service were wonderful.

A Day Trip to Torre Sant’Angela and Lecce

This was my first trip to Torre Sant'Angela. It's very much a sleepy spot with some of the bluest, clearest, and cleanest water I've ever seen. You can bring your swimming suits and dip, but it's only for strong swimmers.

The food in this area is rather sparse. A few restaurants serve pizza and other small plates, but I would bring a lunch and plan to visit Lecce on the way home instead.

Speaking of Lecce, I had one of the best gelatos of the entire trip at Martinucci Laboratory. It's a super classy spot right in the plaza, and you absolutely must try the pistachio with panna.


I've come here many times in the past, and they've done quite a bit over the years to only make it nicer. It's a very touristy spot, but if you want to see a striking collection of trulli (the cone-shaped buildings indicative of the area), this is the place to do it.

I'd avoid the gelato and food spots in this area and instead, walk up the steps into the nearby town and find a spot there.


If you're into ceramics, Grottaglie is the place for you (and I echo everything Emiko Davies says here). Several studios and workshops with world-famous ceramicists throwing some incredible shapes. There isn't too much else going on here, but you could easily spend hours walking through these large shops.

The challenge with a beautiful place like this is that you will inevitably find something you like and then realize you can't safely ship it home. A savvy businessperson might open a shipping store nearby or at least a shop selling luggage because you'll want to buy a bag to carry something with you.

Grotte di Castellana

An extensive cave system near Bari that's pretty magnificent to see. The caves are massive, and the 30 min to 1 hour tours take you all the way through and provide quite the history of the place and its discovery.

My parents took us on a tour of these caves when we were kids, so it was very gratifying to take my young kids to do the very same thing.

Come With Me To Italy

In September 2024, I'll lead a group of fine folks through Puglia and Naples (I've never been!) with TASTE. The trip is already sold out, but we're planning two (!) more for 2025.

If you're interested in joining, sign up to be notified when more info comes out.

Most photos in this post were shot with my Leica M11 and 35mm Summicron.