Ask Lonely Planet: Sun-drenched scene fires imagination

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Polignano a Mare is in a dramatic location above a pounding surf. Photo / Getty Images
Polignano a Mare is in a dramatic location above a pounding surf. Photo / Getty Images

Our book club has recently read Recipe for Life, which is set in a seaside village in Italy. The book has inspired us to plan a book club holiday there. There will be about eight of us, aged mid- to late-30s. We hope to plan a trip that gives us a taste of authentic Italian food, wine and people. Any recommendations would be appreciated.
- Monique Etherington

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

The coastal village of Triento may be a figment of author Nicky Pellegrino's imagination, but the rustic cuisine and sun-drenched landscapes - inspiration for her book - are alive and kicking in southern Italy's Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria regions.

In a land where the cuisine is all-important, Puglia's cucina povera (literally translated as "cooking of the poor") is legendary. Its table is laden with olive oil, grapes, tomatoes, eggplants, artichokes, peppers, salami, mushrooms, olives and fresh seafood.

Although boasting some of Italy's best food and wines, it's rare to hear a foreign voice in some places - the cat's still not quite out of the bag. In July and August the region becomes one huge party, with sagre (festivals, usually involving food), concerts and events, and thousands of Italian tourists heading down here for their annual break.

Puglia highlights include Polignano a Mare, with its dramatic location above the pounding surf, and Locorotondo with its picturesque and whisper-quiet centro storico (historic centre).

Neighbouring Basilicata is attracting an increasing trickle of tourists drawn by the region's otherworldly landscape of mountain ranges, dark forested valleys and villages so melded with the rockfaces that they seem to have grown there.

Maratea, Pellegrino's "Italian secret", is one of the country's most chic seaside towns but the inland town of Matera is arguably Basilicata's star attraction. Explore the tangled alleyways of this ancient cave city, admire frescoes in its rock churches and sleep in millennia-old sassi (former cave dwellings).

The town's Ristorante Il Cantuccio and Baccanti are fine places to sample simple and delicious local dishes.

To indulge in southern Italy's authentic delights, hire cars and embark on a tour of all three regions. Lonely Planet's Italy guide includes a 650km tour starting on the Adriatic Coast at the attractive white-washed town of Vieste and finishing on the short but sweet Tyrrhenian Coast that resembles a mini Amalfi. The Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria chapter of the guidebook can be downloaded from Shop.lonelyplanet.com. Forza e coraggio (strength and courage to you)!

I am interested in walking England's South West Coast Path in June 2013 over two months. The trail is about 1013km, so I want to travel about 32km a day. Is there information on youth hostels, B&Bs or other accommodation on the route that can be obtained?
- Chris Vernon

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

The South West Coast Path forms part of the National Trail network that stretches for more than 4000km around England and Wales. Starting at Minehead on the edge of Exmoor, the Coast Path wends its way along the Somerset, Devon and Cornwall coasts before culminating at Poole Harbour in Dorset.

Most people choose to walk sections over a series of trips, but hardy folk do complete the 1014km in one go, as evidenced by the Path's Hall of Fame on Southwestcoastpath.com.

This achievement entitles walkers to a badge to sew on to their rucksacks but the real rewards are along the way, including World Heritage sites, classic English countryside and striking seascapes.

A favourite stretch of ours is Dorset's crumbling Jurassic Coast, which reveals 185 million years of geology in just 150km. On average people take about 56 days to complete the walk, so you could halve your aim of 32km a day or enjoy some rest days.

There are plenty of places to stay en route, with many of them on Southwestcoastpath.com. The South West Coast Path Association publishes an annual guide with full route descriptions, itineraries and a comprehensive accommodation guide. If you want to travel light, a handy bag-delivery service is available through Luggage Transfers, which also specialises in short-stay walkers' accommodation. They'll also taxi you around should you decide to skip a section that isn't served easily by public transport.

- NZ Herald

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