Australian fashion stylist and influencer, Sheree Commerford, is better known by her Instagram handle @captainandthegypsykid – which has over 82,000 followers. Her feed is almost as good as a holiday, full of beautiful images of Commerford (and her enviably voluminous blonde hair) with her kids, Sugar and Captain. Through the expert lense of Sam Elsom, Commerford’s photographer-designer husband, the family explores exotic locations with incredible colour palettes in light that has been timed just right.
Recently the family went to the holiday hotspot of Puglia, with The Thinking Traveller, located in the ‘heel of the Italian boot’, where they spent most of their time in the Salento region down south. “We fell in love with it for the many small towns scattered throughout the countryside, the incredible rocky coastline brimming with old-school lidos [public swimming pools or beaches], and insanely beautiful grottos,” says Commerford. Salento is largely off the beaten tourist track, meaning it’s less busy that other parts of this popular destination. “Things move slower,” says Commerford. “Time is not important. It is the perfect pace for family travel.”
Scroll down for Commerford’s tips on what to bring, where to eat, where to stay and what to do when exploring this special part of the world with kids.
WHAT TO BRING
Get the kids excited about learning Italian with a language app. We used Duolingo, but there are so many – find one that suits your child. Both Sugar and Captain loved any opportunity to speak Italian and it was amazing how quickly they picked it up. Sugar was way more fluent then me and had the added cute factor, so any mispronunciation was just adorable versus me which was just slightly embarrassing. You will learn at the same time, so it’s a win-win.
Water bottles with built-in filters
Drinking the Puglia tap water isn’t recommended and not all accommodation has filters, so pack water bottles with built-in filters to keep everyone hydrated and minimise single plastic use.
Not the most stylish things in the world – and even less fashionable if you purchase them from a local vendor! Definitely invest in them for the kids anyway. If I did it again I’d buy some good quality ones in Australia and take them over.
There is nothing better than music to make you connect to a place, and to each other. Some of our best memories from the Puglia trip are driving and singing all together. We put together our family favourites, mostly chosen by the kids. You can listen to our Puglia Playlist on Spotify.
We get the kids a new notepad whenever we go somewhere. They can use it however they want to record the trip. Writing a story, drawing, jokes, notes, games, whatever. It is a great way to capture a moment in time and it keeps up their education while entertaining them. In Puglia Sugar and Captain would take them out for the day, to the beach or wherever we would go, and they sketched whatever they could see.
WHERE TO EAT
As a family we loved two very different restaurants in this part of Salento, but in saying that, you can stop in pretty much any small village, pick a random pizzeria, and eat the best pizza of your life for between $10 and $15 – which we did often. Not to mention the gelato!
Masseria Le Stanzie
Le Stanzie is a typical Apulia farmhouse located in Supersano, the heart of Salento, and is one of the oldest rural buildings in the region. The farm dates back to the early 1500s and has been kept very much in its original condition. Here the kids can wander the kitchen and the garden, seeing the animals and where all the produce is grown. You could taste the difference in the food; all freshly grown and made on the property from scratch. You eat only what is in season and there is no menu, just delicious food typical to the area. The Thinking Traveller organised for us to do a history tour of the farmhouse, which the kids loved. They had a million questions about the people that made the cheese in the dark, mouldy underground room, the men who made the olive oil for illumination down in the basement, and the animals so valuable that they lived inside during the cold winter months sharing a room with the family who lived there. Definitely book as they only prepare enough food for those that do. Visit: lestanzie.com
Ristorante Lo Scalo
This is a win for every member of the family. If you head to Marina of Novaglie, a charming fishing inlet which over the years has become a chic beach hang, you will find the legendary restaurant Lo Scalo. Perched on the rocks it overlooks the most intense blue sea, small inlets and rocky cliffs making it a true Italia summer destination. The best thing about Lo Scalo is that the kids have freedom to run around, swim and explore while you enjoy lobster pasta or an Aperol while keeping an eye on them. We would eat and swim, swim and eat, leaving our table to dive into the crystal clear waters and then go back again for more. The kids loved this place for the independence they had and the excellent gelato. The restaurant also has a lido out front which makes for a great day. Visit: ristoranteloscalo.it/en/
WHERE TO STAY
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Villa rental company, The Thinking Traveller, booked Il Tabacchificio for us – a restored dusty pink tobacco factory from the early 1900s near the small country town of Diso (bathroom pictured above). About 10-15 minutes from the coast and located in the middle of an olive grove, the house was luxurious but also down-to-earth. Our neighbours were a friendly shepherd and his sheep – at night the only noises were the sheep bells tinkling in the distance. It really felt like we lived there and we noticed how safe the area was, how protective the locals were of children. The kids still talk about it; the pool, the cinema room, exploring the sprawling grounds, playing and riding bikes. We could experience the region’s best offerings from coast to country – all the things we wanted to do were never more than a 40-minute drive. Visit: thethinkingtraveller.com
WHAT TO DO
Rent snorkelling equipment in Santa Cesarea Terme
The Thinking Traveller recommended a small dive shop in the town of Santa Cesarea Terme. I instantly liked the owner, who chatted while she fitted us with wetsuits, goggles and flippers. We loved this as a family adventure as it was something everyone could confidently and easily do. It was a magical way to really experience the stunning waters of Salento and learn about the aquatic life of the Mediterranean. The locals are very passionate about their local marine environment, regularly organising local events and clean ups.
Swim at Bagno Marino Archi
A 1950s-era beach lido where an entire day should be spent, if not two. It is nature’s dreamiest water park, so authentic Italia it feels like a film set. Besides the kids swimming, diving, rock climbing and generally being in utopia, the icing on the cake is the restaurant. Worth a visit for the view alone, it dishes up proper Italian pizza (margarita for the kids, Buffalina for the parents). Lounge in your cozzie on the edge of the aqua Mediterranean Sea, sipping an Aperol Spritz under an umbrella – everything is sun-kissed and sea-salted. Pretty damn hard to beat. Just make sure you call and book your lounge and umbrella ahead of time during peak season (July/August). It’ll cost you around $30 to rent two for the day. Visit: bagnomarinoarchi.it
Hire a Pedallo in Castro
Pedallos are cute pedal-operated boats – they are also an Italian seaside tradition. Hiring one is a must for families when visiting the seaside in any part of Italy. In this region we headed to the town of Castro, which is a rambling mix of whitewash and pastel buildings that hug the coastline looking out to the island of Corfu. The jewel in the town’s crown is Castro Marina – this is where you will find a retro array of pedallos to rent for around $30 per hour. Our favourite was the one with the slippery dip.
Read the Captain and the Gypsy Kid Puglia Travel Guide: captainandthegypsykid.com/puglia-travel-guide
Visit: The Thinking Traveller