Be inspired to explore Italy with this menu of TV shows, books and traditional flavours from the country's less-visited southeastern region.
What to watch
Bang-on impressions of actor Michael Caine and Batman's vocal range are entertainingly eclectic diversions as Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon explore Liguria, Tuscany, Rome and Amalfi in The Trip to Italy. En route, lots of good food and wine combine with Italian vistas and sweeping coastal drives. Available on YouTube and Academy on Demand. On Netflix, American TV writer Phil Rosenthal explores Venice in Somebody Feed Phil, while Italian-themed highlights of Netflix's Chef's Table series include Michelin star dining at Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana in Modena, the brilliant desserts of Corrado Assenza in the Sicilian hill town of Noto, and Dario Cecchini's mouthwatering macelleria (butchery and barbecue) in Chianti. After a few hours virtually feasting on Italian flavours and composing a foodie hit list for future travels, segue to the surprisingly poignant Luca, available on Disney+, and the latest in Pixar's excellent animated movies. Caution: may contain charmingly retro Vespa scooters.
What to read
Scooters assume a lead role in the very funny Vroom with a View, detailing the varied adventures of Australian travel writer Peter Moore as he steers his 1961 Vespa – dubbed "Sophia" after the iconic Italian actor Sophia Loren - on a meandering road trip from Milan to Rome. Moore's shared Antipodean roots make it ideal for the Kiwi reader. If you're planning on buying up an abandoned house in a Sicilian or Calabrian hill town for one Euro, Italian Life and Italian Neighbours by Tim Parks both offer entertaining insights into what to expect when negotiating a transition to Italian culture. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes is the best-selling memoir that inspired countless mid-life crisis moves to northern Italy, while the best of recent Italian cookery books is Adriatico by Paola Bacchia, published in 2018, and a flavour-packed tribute to the cuisine of Italy's less-visited Adriatic coast across the water from Croatia, Albania and Greece.
What to eat
Traditionally harnessing a limited range of ingredients in an inventive way, Italy's cucina povera (literally "poor cooking") is well-represented in regions of southeastern Italy including Puglia, Basilicata, and Salento at the tip of Italy's heel. Classic cucina povera dishes include orecchiette pasta served with seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs, while highlights of seafood markets in coastal Puglian cities like Bari and Brindisi include fresh oysters and tuna carpaccio. An afternoon baking fresh focaccia or Bari's deep-fried panzerotti filled with tomato and oozing mozzarella is a worthwhile challenge for anyone who's been a member of Team Sourdough across lockdown. Once lockdown is over, visit Puglia Ristorante Italiano in the Auckland suburb of Kingsland for authentic orecchiette served with anchovies, broccoli and chilli, and learn how to prepare the traditional dish by signing up for a pasta-making workshop with owner Cosimo Mazza.
What to drink
Aperol Spritz cocktails are a recommended adjunct to an aperitivo session of tasty Italian snacks, and it's also possible to recreate the classic Italian sundowner with a Kiwi spin by using Hasting Distillers' L'Opera Bitter Orange Aperitif. The Hawke's Bay-produced spirit also makes a great Negroni cocktail. Wines from the underrated Puglia and Salento wine-making regions include verdeca, a crisp, easy-drinking white varietal, and robust red wines made from primitivo grapes. Glengarry Wines and Fine Wine Delivery both have a good range. To channel a warm summer's morning in the Puglian city of Lecce, prepare a caffe Leccese, iced coffee made with almond milk.
Where to visit in the future
Following its tenure as a European Capital of Culture in 2019, Basilicata's Matera is an increasingly popular destination, and the city's unique, centuries-old landscape of whitewashed sassi (cave houses) is also set to be showcased in the new James Bond film, No Time to Die.
Looking ahead to future travels, start planning a DIY road trip in a Fiat 500 around southeastern Italy. Local bars to drop into for a caffe or Negroni include Cinecitta Bar in the hill town of Bernalda near Matera – owned by Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola – or Farmacia Balboa in Tricase. From the bar co-owned by Dame Helen Mirren and her filmmaker husband Taylor Hackford, it's then just 20km on meandering coastal roads to Santa Maria di Leuca on the wild and windswept extreme tip of Italy's heel.