Wait! Don’t start yet! Put some –appropriate- music on first!
The scenic Puglia in southern Italy was added recently to my travel bucket list when some enchanting pictures of places with fairy domes and picturesque houses perched on the rocks have come to my notice. How is it possible, to have such beautiful places so close to Greece, and have no idea about them? That’s it. The trip was organized for the end of September. The only thing I had to do was to reserve my plane tickets from Athens to Bari and then the road trip would take its course.
A small dose of summer for some days yet and great anticipation to discover places that until recently I didn’t know even existed. My company for this trip was my friend Silia, another fan of Italy (aka the triptych pasta, pizza, gelato). However, I arrived in Italy two days earlier and chose to stay in Monopoli. Two days with myself, my book, my camera, and endless walks. I gave myself two very enjoyable days until the official road trip started for good!
Distance by train from Bari (Centrale) –> Polignano a Mare: 27 minutes / Cost: from 2.40 € / Frequency: Every 30 minutes.
FIRST STOP: POLIGNANO A MARE
Polignano a Mare is the blue diamond of Puglia. It looks like it was born into the waves. Perched on a limestone rock of 20 meters high, over the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, it traveled us back to summer.
After our check-in at the Giovi Relais hotel and a stop for an octopus sandwich with burrata (#nomnom) at Via Roma, we stumbled across its alleys. The tiny old town we faced from Porta Vecchia, the charming white cobbled streets (the ones that inspired the song “Volare”), the old churches, the picturesque balconies with flowering pots, and the café-filled with people on the terraces, led us, without realizing it, to one of the three panoramic verandas with stunning views of the Adriatic.
We arrived in Polignano on Sunday, the day of Redbull’s established cliff diving event, the sun shone, and the much-photographed Cala Porto with the Roman-era bridge was the busiest I’ve ever seen. And from there I could stare at the clear waters of the sea. A blue diamond you wanted to take with you.
If sometimes you walk the streets of Polignano a Mare and suddenly start to sing “Volare oh, oh / Cantare oh, oh, oh / Nel blu dipinto di blu / Felice di stare lassù”, it’s perfectly natural. This place is the homeland of the great Domenico Modugno, creator of the song Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu). Later that day, we had dinner at the Grotta Ardito restaurant. Delicious fresh fish and tasty seafood. If you find the table on the balcony available, you will also enjoy magnificent sea views.
Distance by train from Polignano a Mare –> Monopoli: 5 minutes / Cost: from 1 € / Frequency: Every 30 minutes.
Second Stop: MONOPOLI
Shortly after the midday of the following day, we arrived in Monopoli. To be more accurate I came back. I thought I had seen everything during my solo stay, but the place gave us some glimpsed experiences. For instance, we bumped into a group of people filming a musical on Cala Porta Vecchia beach, a greengrocer share a few slices of melon with us, out in the fresh air on the street, and an elderly craftsman led us to his tiny workshop filled with photos, where for decades he used to repair shoes and an old man with his guitar started singing a song for me featuring my name “Viva Pauline, welcome to Monopoli!” (he will do the same for you as soon as you tell him your name).
If I had to summarize Monopoli in two phrases, the first one would be a charming labyrinth of narrow streets filled with flower pots and the second would be for the chattering locals, discussing from one balcony to another. Monopoli reminds me of the good old days of Greece, where the neighborhood gathered on the street with their chairs to chat. And if this little town was a sound, it would definitely be cutlery and dishes that are constantly being heard. It looks like this city is eating all the time. You walk its alleys and you get smells of homemade Italian cuisine every minute of the day.
Monopoli is an ancient, small town with beautiful Baroque-style rural architecture that exudes a Greek aura thanks to the many white buildings around the historic center. But most importantly, it is this city that makes you feel like you are part of this neighborhood, this Italian family who laughs loudly around the dinner table with delicious food and a mood to talk with anyone on the street.
If you want to stay in a cosmopolitan hotel in Monopoli, then check the beautiful “the Don Ferrante”.
Distance by train from Monopoli –> Ostuni: Approximately 20-29 minutes / Cost: from 2.50 € / Frequency: Every 1 hour approx.
THIRD STOP: OSTUNI
Ahead of us lied Valle d ‘Itria, an “ocean” of olive trees, as our driver drove us to picturesque Ostuni, which we recognized from afar. A white city perched on a hill with walls does not easily pass unnoticed. We wandered through the labyrinth of paved alleys for hours, observing the picturesque arches, the green and blue doors, the baroque churches, the cacti, and the palazzi of historic families of the place. A charming city with a historic breeze overlooking the Adriatic Sea. If you arrive at Ostuni and you are hungry, check the restaurant Tito Schipa. If you’re looking for romance then check the Taverna Della Gelosia that we accidentally discovered during our walk.
In Ostuni, we had the chance to stay in a fairy-tale Masseria with conical domes, the Masseria Grieco. A Masseria is a fortified farmhouse or country house, usually found in Puglia, surrounded by meadows, olive groves, and pastures. They were used by the landowners as crop stores or for the production of wine or cheese from the 16th to the 18th century and were inhabited during the summer months. Today, many Masserias have become boutique hotels, and staying in some of them is a real experience, though I would say that eating there is another great experience as they cook with traditional products that they produce.
The word “Masseria” derives from the Italian word “masserizie”, which means household furniture, food warehouses, or objects.
Distance by train from Ostuni –> Alberobello (Fasano): Approximately 10-14 minutes / Cost: from 1,40 € / Frequency: 12 trains a day.
Fourth Stop: ALBEROBELLO
Alberobello was the place I was looking forward to seeing and you can easily understand why. A small town of 10,000 inhabitants, with picturesque white houses and conical domes, is not difficult to transfer us to a medieval fairy-tale of the most imaginative childhood creativity or, more simply, my favorite Smurfs’ village. But the fairy-tale Alberobello is actually real. The history of these special houses is linked to the decree of the Kingdom of Naples in the fifteenth century. Peasants built their houses and dwellings without mortar so that, in case of royal inspection, the structures could quickly and easily be taken down and the tax bill would remain low.
The Trulli of Alberobello have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996.
You’ll find the in two areas, one called Rione Monti, with 1,000 trulli and many gift shops, and the other, the quietest, is Rione Aia Piccola, with 500 trulli and a more authentic aura.
We checked in a beautiful boutique hotel, the Palazzo Scotto, a historic mansion with domes, in the Rione Aia Piccola district, where we had the best host, Valerio. That first night, walking through the alleys, among the trulli, we were not sure whether we were dreaming or all we experience is, in fact, reality. Until we realized it, we had reached our destination. Another trullo, Trattoria Terra Madre. There the concept is very simple: sowing, cultivating, harvesting, and only biological materials. To eat in a trullo is by itself an experience but tasting their organic dishes, is certainly another one.
Many of the Trulli have protective symbols painted on their roofs, either to avoid evil or to attract the good. In fact, in a tourist shop, there were leaflets with explanations of the symbols in many languages. Most symbols are planetary and zodiac, but there are also primitive symbols such as the tree-shaped cross that connects the three worlds, Uranus, Earth, and Hades (underworld), but also Christian ones, such as the trident symbolizing the Holy Trinity.
Alberobello is a miracle! It’s absolutely worth experiencing. However, it does not cease to be very touristic, so I would suggest that you start your walk early enough in the morning to get a taste before the hordes of tourists arrive or later in the afternoon when the majority would have departed.
Distance by train from Alberobello (Fasano) -> Locorotondo: Approximately 10 minutes / Cost: from 1 € / Frequency: every hour.
FIFTH STOP: LOCOROTONDO
This enchanting Italian road trip was completed in Locorotondo, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, as it’s called “Borghi più Belli d’Italia”. For a few hours, we just got wonderfully lost in the picturesque alleys. Without tourist attractions (and tourist crowds), Locorotondo is an attraction of its own. Perched on a hill with a labyrinth of whitewashed alleys, baroque arches, and vintage facades, it challenges you to become what the French call “flaneur,” wandering in the city without a specific purpose, simply by impressing in your memory what excites your interest. Our visit to Locorotondo was completed with a delicious dinner in the restaurant Bina Ristorante di Puglia.
I would like to thank our amazing chauffer Pasquale who drove us to the unique paths of Puglia.
All photos by me
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Disclaimer: The road trip in Puglia was organized by ENIT Italia, Italy’s Official Tourism Board, in collaboration with the Region of Puglia and the travel agency Losurdo Viaggi. For my airline tickets with Aegean Airlines, I collaborated with Airshop.gr. What I am writing is my personal opinion, based on my experience, as always.