"A rich calendar of cultural and religious events and fascinating traditions"

The Thinking Traveller

Our top 5 local events

1. Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series - Polignano A Mare

Masseria Giulio | Holiday Apartments Francavilla Fontana, Puglia, swimming pool, garden, Salento, Italian escape, hidden oasis, holiday house, Southern Italy, Red Bull, cliff diving

There are few sporting spectacles as... well.... spectacular as the Red Bull Cliff Diving and the backdrop of the cliff town of Polignano A Mare is one of the most breath-taking venues. 
The divers reach the platforms (some 28 metres above the sea) from the roof terrace of one of the houses standing on the edge of the cliff. How many world championship events involve athletes walking through someone's living room in order to compete???​
From 28 metres up the divers perform some amazing acrobatics before landing feet first into water that is less deep than the width of our pool (around 5.5m). This is not an event for the light-hearted as the multiple World Champion Gary Hunt said "You have to break the water or the water WILL break you." As if "normal" dives were not scary enough to watch - just wait until you see someone take off from a handstand position. And if you are in any doubt whatsoever about the bravery of the competitors - visit the viewing areas near the diving boards and have a look down. Aaggghh!
Spectacular really does not do this event justice! If it is on when you are here then you really should try and go. The best viewing is from one of the myriad of boats bobbing around at the edge of the bay, or from the cliffs on the opposite side of the bay, where there are also several big screens with live commentary explaining what is happening and keeping you up to date with the scores and positions.

The timing of the event changes year by year but the schedule is normally announced by early Spring. However, to mark the 10th Anniversary of the World Series in 2018, the divers were asked to select the venue for the season finale and they selected the Italian town! Since then Polignano seems to have been accepted as the final stop on the calendar in September.

2. Torneo dei Rioni - Oria

Masseria Giulio | Holiday Apartments Francavilla Fontana, Puglia, swimming pool, garden, Salento, Italian escape, hidden oasis, holiday house, Southern Italy, Oria, Torneo dei Rioni

Oria is a beautiful medieval town that is unforgivably overlooked by many guidebooks. However, this is actually probably a very good thing as it means that it has kept a very genuine and authentic feel as a town for locals rather than for tourists. Set on a steep hill the skyline is dominated by the domed cathedral and the impressive castle (although the latter is unfortunately not currently open to the public). The charming square, maze of alleyways, imposing city gates and stunning architecture make it a lovely town to visit for a morning coffee, afternoon stroll (and ice cream!) or evening meal.  Oria has a number of excellent restaurants and a long association with food (the author of the first cook book dedicated to "Mediterranean cuisine" was born in the city).

For the more adventurous, we would also recommend booking a guided tour of the cathedral crypt famous for its mummies (one of the few examples in the world where everyday citizens were preserved rather than just nobles or royalty).
However, the highlight of the Orian calendar is the Torneo dei Rioni held on the second weekend of August every year (although you can hear the bands practising in the evenings from March!).
​The tournament celebrates the wedding of Federico II to Isabella of Brienne in the town in 1225 and sees the four Rioni, or quarters, of the city compete against each other in a series of medieval inspired events. The tournament is preceded the evening before by a huge procession through town by "King Federico II" (usually played by a "famous" Italian actor) and his entire court including; knights on horseback, marching bands, flag throwers, dancing girls, snake charmers, camels and endless courtiers. It is a great event for both adults and children.

3. Cantine Aperte - Italy wide

Masseria Giulio | Holiday Apartments Francavilla Fontana, Puglia, swimming pool, garden, Salento, Italian escape, hidden oasis, holiday house, Southern Italy, wine, barrels
"Open Cellars" is the biggest wine tourism event in Italy where as many as 1,000 wineries who are members of the Italian Wine Tourism Movement open their doors to the public. There are several events during the year (Calici di Stelle in August, Harvest Time in either September or October, San Martino (when the new wines are available) in November and Christmas). However, the main event takes place over the last weekend in May.
It can be notoriously difficult to visit many of the wineries / vineyards in Puglia as they are not really set up to handle tours (especially not in English). Cantine Aperte is a great opportunity to visit some of the very best without having to pre-book.
The general principle is that you turn up to your first winery and buy a commemorative wineglass and glass holder (usually €5 per person) and then you take this with you to as many other vineyards as you fancy for a tasting (or two).
Several of the wineries also offer tours of their vineyards or cellars and several may have special events laid on - music, pizzica dancing, face painting for the kids, etc. Most of the tastings are free - although some wineries may limit the number of tastings allowed, or the range of wines that you can select to taste, or, may charge for tastings of their premium ranges.
For anyone even slightly interested in wine this is a real "must do" event.

4. Carnevale - Putignano

Masseria Giulio | Holiday Apartments Francavilla Fontana, Puglia, swimming pool, garden, Salento, Italian escape, hidden oasis, holiday house, Southern Italy, Carnival, Putignano

Carnevale is huge in Italy with many towns holding big celebrations / parties / events and most schools being closed for at least a day. It is the last chance for Italians to let their hair down before the restrictions of Lent and the more sombre celebrations of Easter*. "A carnevale ogni scherzo vale" (at carnival anything goes) is a popular Italian saying. Although officially it refers to a single day (40 days before Easter), many cities now hold events for many weeks leading up to Carnevale itself. The most famous festivals are in Venice, Viareggio and Cento - the latter of which is linked to Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. One of the biggest events in Puglia is Carnevale di Putignano which dates back to 1394. Nowadays it sees a procession of street entertainers, dance schools, bands and local charities / schools. However, the highlight are the huge, fully mechanised floats many of which are more than 3 storeys tall. Each Carnevale has a different theme and the floats interpret this through political (often very satirical) imagery. The sight of these floats edging their way around town is unforgettable.

*If you are visiting Puglia at Easter, Francavilla Fontana has one of the most well-known Easter processions in Puglia.

5. Cortili / Castili Aperte - Lecce

Masseria Giulio | Holiday Apartments Francavilla Fontana, Puglia, swimming pool, garden, Salento, Italian escape, hidden oasis, holiday house, Southern Italy, open courtyards, Castili Aperte, Lecce
"Open courtyards" provides an incredibly different view of Lecce to the one seen by most visitors. Like many Italian cities, most of the streets in Lecce are lined by residential or commercial buildings with very few gardens / green spaces in evidence. The local Lecce architecture is hugely impressive with the facades made from local stone and intricately engraved in Baroque style. However, behind closed doors many of the buildings have stunning private gardens and courtyards. At the end of May, many of these courtyards are opened to the public. Suddenly the views of Lecce are not dominated by the local stone but by the bright, vibrant, floral displays. Several properties also provide some entertainment, musical recitals, etc for guests to enjoy. Publicity for the event can often be sparse to say the least - the first time we went, we asked for directions / details at Tourist Information in the centre of the city and they were particularly unhelpful because the event was not registered with them. However, arriving at the first courtyard that was involved we found a vast array of information, maps, etc. If you are here for the last weekend in May it is definitely worth taking advantage of this unique insight into Lecce.