I once had the good luck to interview J. R. R. Tolkien, the Oxford don whose fantasy epic The Lord Of The Rings has been read by millions. Until now I had thought its cast of wizards, elves, humanoid trees - and especially the cheerful, hairy-footed little people called Hobbits - were products of Tolkien's imagination. But here in Puglia, southeast Italy, I realise my mistake.
The official name of the town I'm visiting is Alberobello, or 'beautiful tree', but it's a Hobbit metropolis such as Bilbo Baggins and Frodo never dreamed. Everywhere I look are winding lanes of identical small, round, whitewashed houses with low timbered doorways and conical tiled roofs decorated with mysterious-looking symbols and hieroglyphics.