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Introducing Southern Italy

At the beginning of this year I promised an update on Southern Italy. I had meant to go there in the spring, but was too busy to fit in the trip, so it was only last week that I boarded a flight for Bari.

The airport is rather busy, and was filled with Italians welcoming back their compatriots who had strayed overseas. There were fat mamas squealing with delight; various ladies hopping up and down, and waving furiously; and of course the usual hugs, kisses, and serious amounts of happy shouting. Yes, this is Italy, land of noise and confusion.

Things soon calmed down and I went to pick up my hire car. That's when the trouble started. I'd paid for a car, and I'd paid for an insurance to cover excluded matters on the car hire policy, but the blighter behind the desk insisted he wanted more money off me, and despite the fact that I'd paid for both the car hire and the insurance using a debit card, he was adamant that he wanted me to pay something else using a credit card.

It's nothing short of a ripoff. I refused to play ball, and instead hired a car from a different firm, and stopped the first company's money by phoning the fraud department of my bank, and reversing the transaction. What these companies are doing is illegal. You pay for a service and then they wont give it to you without more money. It's blackmail.

The next thing I discovered is that even using a Google map, which ought to be reasonably up to date, the journey from the airport to the hotel was a nightmare. The roads have different numbers, and go in different directions to what is advertised, and the signposts are not a lot of help. We finally made it to our beds four hours after arriving.

Unfortunately there wasn't much improvement in the morning, as I walked onto the balcony into a steady drizzle.

However, at every turn there was someone to help us, even un-asked. The one thing I have found all across this area of Italy, which is called Salento, is that the locals are charming, and helpful. However, and this is important, they dont generally speak any English. The hotel receptionist will speak English, but dont expect anyone else to. So if you are intending to buy property here then the first thing you will have to do is learn at least some basic Italian or you will be in big trouble.

The second thing to note is that your average Salento house is a concrete box set amongst other concrete boxes, and they look decidedly tatty. Bari and Brindisi are big noisy commercial cities. They lack charm. However, they each are served by low cost airlines from the UK.

The other thing we noticed was the high prices. A standard meal seems to cost anywhere between 20-25 euros. They advertise a cheap meal of the day at 15-17 euros, which is twice what we are paying in Spain.

The food hereabouts is based on bread and pizza. The bakeries make a whole range of breads containing nuts, seeds, and vegetables. They even make some ghastly stuff that has the consistency of concrete, and if you see a bowl of water on the food table, it's there for you to drop this stuff in so as to soften it.

The coastline around these cities is littered with sandy beaches, but once again, they lack charm. The land is flat along the coast and inland for some miles, and that gives the whole area a rather boring feel. So I was wondering what the attraction is about this part of the world. Clearly it is not an international tourist zone, which is odd, as the weather is certainly good. It improved immensely as the weekend came round. I understand the weather is much the same as that in the Algarve, which means summer has another six weeks to run.

Unfortunately, when we stopped at a hotel down the coast we were told the summer season lasts only three months, and ends with august. Here we are in mid september, the weather is not bad, but the tourist season is clearly over. To push the point home, we are the only guests at this hotel. That means any idea of buying a property here to rent out during the high season is probably not a good idea.

It is clear that the country is in recession, and folk are not happy with the way things are. There are strikes, and general discontent everywhere, so there is an air of uncertainty. It also seems as though rather a lot of businesses are closing down, or have already closed. I must admit I expected tourism to be flourishing, but that is not the case. This part of the world seems to have a short season, just three months.

In short, things are not looking particularly good at the moment, and I can see why prices of property in this part of the world are low. There are tourist properties up in the hills inland from the main cities, and there are many ruins for sale at very good prices. However, you have to be keen on settling in to the Italian way of life, which means learning Italian, and forgetting about any ex-pat community. Obviously there are ex-pats around, but not many.

This area is at least easy to get to from the UK. Several airlines fly here, either to Bari or Brindisi, so your average flight cost is likely to be around £50 a trip.

One further thing; if you can get used to the signs you will find the roads quite good. You have your average country roads which are in poor condition, and often rather narrow, but servicable. Next up are the superstradas, which are usually dual carriageway, and free. Then there are the autostradas, which are paid motorways (altho not all have tolls).

The prime place in this part of the world in my opinion is the area around Lecce, but I will deal with that in the next installment.


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