Queen? What queen? I know you are all wondering what this pagan is talking about… Well, it’s quite simple. I’m referring to my aunt. No, she is not Italian much less part of the local royalty but on this post I decided to crown her because I’m writing it and I can because I’m drunk with power. Named Viviana, my aunt is a sexy Latina… Okay, I know it’s weird for me to say that but in Venezuela calling a relative “hot” is a term of endearment and I think the world of my aunt. It’s true, you’ll love her.
Nestled amidst rolling mountains and framed by the emerald waters of the Adriatic sea, Mattinata is a small town in the province of Foggia, southern Italy. What this town lacks in size, it makes up for in tradition, natural beauty and locals’ charisma. Only a two-hour car ride from the touristic city of Bari, Mattinata is the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway.
Fantastic as it may be, it wasn’t the town’s charm what drew me to its shores but my loving aunt, my mother’s sister, who changed the magnificent tepui and waterfalls of Venezuela for the olive groves and forests of a Mediterranean commune, steeped in history and legends.
South American aunts are not just like any other relative; they are an extension of your mother or like my aunt put it: “I’m more than your mum because I’m also your aunt.” It makes sense to us. Just go with it. And like any other mum, she took notice of my emotional and physical state as soon as she saw me.
Cakes happened, auntie.
Or at least I hope that’s what she was referrrinng to. Not true. Given my unfit state being brought to light by cycling with a German girl (refer to the blog post about Pucón), I actually asked my aunt to train me in case the Zombie Apolalypse should fall upon us and also because my aunt is like a personal trainer but free of charge for relatives.
One of the two hillsides Mattinata sits on leads to Monte Saraceno, a mountain by the sea that is home to a necropolis of at least 400 graves. Dating back to the 9th century BC, these tombs were dug in the rocks by Daunians, an Indo-European tribe that inhabited northern Apulia in classical antiquity. From there your eyes are met with glorious views of the town of Mattinata, olive groves, pebble beaches and white cliffs that rise over turquoise waters.
Hiking to the top of this mountain was one of our favourite daily activities in Matttinata. While I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, my aunt waited for me on every corner. Every time I caught up with her, I took a glimpse of her doing squats, jumping jacks, push-ups and crutches like they were a walk in the park.
My aunt’s fitness didn’t impress me as much as it did the whole town, mainly populated by seniors who describe Market Day as a marathon. Since small towns are characterised by their immutability, my aunt’s arrival caused a commotion that shoook the town to its core. Accustomed to gosssiping about locals’ love lives and everyone in general, Mattinatians weren’t sure how to categorise my aunt. While they saw an attractive lady jogging everywhere, they didn’t understand why she did. Whenever a local would spot her either working out on the beach or hiking, the news would spread like fire and by the time my aunt reached home, five locals had asked her about the temperature of the seawater. But that just adds up to the local colour.
My arrival was no exception. From time to time, my aunt would receive a call from one of her friends asking if she wasn’t being too intense on me. When my aunt told them I liked to work out, I could hear the chuckles from the other side of the phone. To prove how fast rumours spread, once my aunt and I were about to miss the bus so we started jogging causing locals to stare at us; some shook threir heads while others murmured: “Look how she is training her niece. Poor girl.”
Even though my aunt is not an attention seeker, she never goes anywhere unnoticed. Given that Mattinata is a small town, everyone seems to know each other and they all appeared to be drawn to my aunt’s natural geniality and friendliness. Walking down the streets, numerous people stopped us to greet us and make conversation every single day. Although they didnt just talk about the weather, they were all unanimous about how tanned my aunt had become. No doubt the beach rumour spread out throrougly. Rumours or not, my aunt causes numerous heads to turn wherever she goes. I wonder if she’s going to give someone a heart attack one of these days. I had to chase people around with a water bottle to keep them at bay, in defence of my aunt’s honour.
Di Mauro Pasticceria
Whether you order cake, coffee, ice cream or all of those, you will always be welcomed with a warm smile at Di Mauro Pasticceria. Both ice cream and cake are homemade by the friendly couple that runs the place. While the husband is an Opera singer, they save their playlist for their son who also sings beautifully. As you sit munching on the little pleasures of life, you’ll also have the opportunity to indulge yourself in enthralling Opera music playing on the radio. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it. They have it on repeat. This is an unmissable opportunity to take in the culture whether you speak Italian or not. Just sit there and watch Italians interact with their charm and contagious joy while getting a sugar rush. But the best of all is that cappuccinos cost €1.40!
What to Eat
As a seatown, Mattinata offers a large range of exquisite fresh seafood, so if you are wondering what to order at a restaurant, I would suggest you try the Frutti di Mari. It’s pasta topped with seafood. This is Italy, thus pasta is a must. The dish is served without sauce and it’s fantantic like that so don’t go ordering parmesan cheese to put on top unless you want the waiter rolling their eyes at you and the Chef cursing your family, your ancestors and your pets. If puttting something extra is a big no-no, don’t even consider ordering ketchup to mix with the Frutti di Mari. They’ll literally kick you out of the restaurant through the back door and leave you a bruised rear. Okay, so they might not get violent with you but just don’t order ketchup… Trust me, I’m your best friend right now. If you are allergic to seafood, there are plenty of delicious pasta options available.
If you happen to visit Mattinata during summer, I would recommend you rent a kayak or book a boat tour along the coast of Garganno (between Mattinata and Vieste). As you cruise the crystalline waters along the rugged coast, a majestic world of white limestone cliffs, striking rock formations and mysterious marble sea caves will open up before your eyes.
For avid cyclers, the 123Km route from Mattinata to Vieste is very popular among both locals and tourists. Apart from the exercise, you’ll be rewarded with fascinating views of the forest and the coast.
The local colour of Mattinata
Doted with beautiful beaches, ancient history and natural beauty, it’s a wonder why Mattinata is not a major touristic destination. The town’s relative anonymity, however, is an advantage for the traveller interested in getting a glimpse into the real Italy, its people and their traditions. There’s nothing more fascinating while travelling than having the oppportuity to soak in the local culture and I was lucky enough to observe the town’s personality up-close. Some of my favourite characters are the old men sitting on my aunt’s doorstep while gossiping about the whole town. They even asked my aunt to put some tables and chairs outside. Unforgettable.