THE TREASURES OF THE SOUTH
Puglia is a region in the south of Italy, along the heel of the boot, which contains some of the most beautiful cities and towns of the country. Similar to Greece, a lot of the towns in Puglia are known for it’s abundance of white buildings and transparent blue waters. I have just come back from visiting some of the most gorgeous towns and I thought I would share these with you explaining a bit about them so that if you wish to visit you know about what you are visiting.
Firstly I think it is essential I explain about Trulli considering they are the symbol of this region. Trulli is a word that derives from the latin Turris, meaning dome. They date back to the prehistoric times, housing the prehistoric population. Entirely buit in stone, trulli are a symbol of Italian heritage that has been preserved through thousands of years. The first ever trullo is found in Alberobello, one of Puglia’s well-known towns.
In Alberobello, the majority of the trulli are kept in their original, prehistoric state, meaning that they hold some symbols painted on the dome. These relate to pagan and Christian origins, symbolizing the type of family that lived inside of the trullo. Throughout the years, many meanings have been given to these paintings but what remains certain is that they distinguished different religions such as Jewish and Christian.
When you arrive to Alberobello there is a specific itinerary you can follow which starts on Via Indipendenza, which is the main road. You turn left up Via Monte Nero. You will walk up a little hill surrounded by trulli. The best way to see this place is to just get lost in it’s beauty, walking around and entering the trulli as some have roof terraces which are great for a general view of the town; and others sell some typical, hand made objects such as ceramics and fabrics. Don’t forget to visit Parrocchia Sant’Antonio located on Via Monte Pertica, 18. Built in 1926 and open to the public in 1927, this church follows the typical apulian style of Trulli.
How to get to Alberobello:
Being one of the most important touristic towns of Puglia, there are numerous ways to get to Alberobello. You can either get a flight into Bari-Karol and from there take a bus into the central bus station. This takes approximately half an hour. From the central bus station you take either 1629, 2061 or 2526 to Alberobello Via Cavour. Prices range at approximately 10 euros and it takes three quarters of an hour. Another way is with the train, which you take from the airport into Bari Stazione Centrale. This takes 15 minutes and costs 6 Euros.
From the central station there is a direct train into Alberobello that takes 1.45 Hrs and costs 5 Euros approximately. These unique characteristics have been clearly recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.
Where to eat in Alberobello:
Osteria del Poeta, Via dell’indipendenza 23
Polignano a Mare
Polignano a Mare is one of Italy’s best-known Adriatic gems. I must confess that I actually discovered this place through instagram’s beautiful destinations where the famous hotel “Grotte Palazzese” was advertised. Grotte Palazzese is an incredible restaurant located inside the caves of Polignano. From the restaurant I then went to look up the actual town and decided to go and visit it during my stay in Puglia.
Polignano a mare is located along Italy’s Valle D’Itria coast on the Adriatic Sea. We are not yet completely sure of its historical origins, as there are many interpretations on how this city was founded. The most credible one however is that in the fourth century BC Dionysius the 2nd founded the town due to it’s strategic position to facilitate control over trade. There has also been a big roman influence in the town, which is demonstrated through the remains of certain historic sites such as the bridge on Via Traiana.
Polignano a mare is filled with beautiful monuments that recount the town’s history. For example St. Steven’s church which is the only chapel that has actually survived completely until today. Furthermore nothing beats the crystal coloured waters of the Adriatic Sea and the sandy beaches so make sure you bring your swimsuit and venture towards the beaches of Lama Monachile, San Vito and Torre Incina. Furthermore the town holds an enchanting old town, which you can get lost walking around following in the footsteps of many famous artists and writers who came here for inspiration such as Domenico Modugno, the singer of Nel blu dipinto di blu.
How to get to the Polignano a Mare:
By plane you can take a flight to Bari. From the airport of Bari you take a bus to the train station and from there you can take a direct train direction Brinisi and get off at Polignano a Mare. Otherwise if you are in Rome, Naples, Milan or even Paris you can reach this place by bus. Prices vary and for more information visit their website: https://www.flixbus.it/orari-fermate-autobus/polignano-a-mare
Where to eat in Polignano a Mare:
There are a couple of places I can recommend depending on your budget. For lunch, there is a cute place called Bella Mbriana, located on Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, 22. Here you can order all types of food ranging from pizzas, pastas, fish, salads and something lighter such as smoked salmon carpaccio with pink pepper corns or grilled aubergines with cheese etc.
Another place that looked cute from the outside but I didn’t have time to eat in is called Cactus, and they offered a few speciality dishes. Regarding dinner, we went to Grotta Palazzese which is this breath taking, once in a lifetime restaurant, which is quite pricey but completely worth every cent. On the other hand, if you want to go somewhere less pricey then try trattoria della nonna located on Via Roma, 95. They serve authentic Italian food at a decent price.
Where to Stay in Polignano a Mare:
The bed and breakfast I went to is called Dei Serafini. They have a few rooms scattered around the old town of Polignano a Mare. Location wise it is perfect as you go out of your place and you find yourself already in the heart of the town. Regarding the rooms, they are beautifully decorated in white and blue with gorgeous floor tiles and a balcony overlooking one of the town’s squares. On the top floor there is a terrace with a Jacuzzi and two sun beds, which is the cherry on the cake. (http://www.deiserafini.it/it/home/)
Grotte di Castellana
Visiting the Grotte di Castellana is another thing you must do when coming to Puglia. Although many caves may look the same, each and every one have a long historical past, with different and unique factors that have created the way they look today. The great thing about the caves of Castellana is that they offer two different guided tours, one that lasts 50 minutes and the other that lasts 2 hrs. The only main difference is that in the 2-hour itinerary you have access to the white cave, which is unique to the world and well known for its white alabaster due to pure calcium carbonate.
Puglia used to be completely submerged under water millions and millions of years ago, until the formation of the region due to sandy layers that had slowly formed. Intense precipitations aided the formation of underground caves that have lasted until today. With a height of 500 metres, the Cave extends down 3 kilometres. The first cave you walk into has a height of 60 metres and temperatures reaching 18 degrees and 90% humidity, which is quite a big thing considering outside temperature in the summer reaches 40.
Another beautiful thing about this cave is that there is a variation of colours, such as red and green. Some areas will green, which is moss that has formed due to photosynthesis. The red area however is the infiltration of ferrous minerals (iron). Furthermore the stalactites and stalagmites vary in orange and pink colours depending on the amount of iron that is deposited.
*Photos are not allowed inside
Opening Times: On the following link you will find at what time each tour guide is and in what language. http://www.grottedicastellana.it/orari/
Price: 12 Euros – Short Itinerary & 16 Euros – Long Itinerary. (Students and children up to 14 Euros have a reduced ticket of 10 Euros for the short itinerary and 13 Euros for the long itinerary)
Tour Guide Languages: English, Germa, French and Italian
How to get to the Caves of Castellana:
Bus: From Bari Largo Ciaia you can take a 1.20Hrs bus directly to Castellana Grotte.
Train: From Bari train station you can take a train that varies between 1hr-2hrs for approximately 3 Euros.
Also known as Italy’s Città Bianca (The White City), Ostuni has crossed many historical changes throughout the years. It was under the Roman Empire until 448 AD, when the Ostrogoths occupied them. In the seventh century the Lombards occupied them and later the Saracens and then the Normans. It was only in 1860 that Ostuni finally became part of Italy thanks to Garibaldis unification of Italy. Each of these historical changes can be traced in parts of what we see today.
Ostuni is a beautiful city to come and visit during the day. Start your tour on Piazza della Libertà with the Chiesa di San Francesco. Walk up the cobbled roads of Via Cattedrale admiring the medieval white buildings. Originally, the colour white was used to lighten up the town however in the seventeenth century it became a way to limit the damage of the plague.
Similarly to the city of Santorini in Greece, Ostuni is formed by little narrow streets and flights of steps almost like a labyrinth – but it is so easy to walk around for hours, entering the little artisan shops and discovering parts of italy’s history that have been preserved all this time. Make sure you reach Ostuni’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. Located in Piazza Beato Giovanni Paolo II, this cathedral is a perfect example of fifteenth century gothic architecture. The façade was resotred in the late 1400’s after a big earthquake. The large rose window is a symbol of medieval architecture with the figure of Christ in the centre. The interior of the cathedral however is an example of baroque architecture, with a latin cross structure and a beautifully painted ceiling.
How to get to Ostuni:
You can take a plane into Bari Airport. From here, take a bus that takes you to the train station where you will find frequent trains to ostuni (Direction Brindisi). The train journey takes approximately one hour and tickets cost just over 5 Euros.
Where to eat in Ostuni:
Regarding the food, I can recommend an excellent restaurant located on Via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale, 47 called Osteria del Tempo Perso. This restaurant has a rustic, cave-like style with white stone walls and arches. The plates used by this restaurant are ceramics from Grottaglie, which is a typical Apulian specialty. Furthermore they have numerous delicious dishes to choose from on the menu including a special summer fish based menu. They brought a complementary starter and for my main I chose tuna steak with a salad on the side. It was a delicious meal and you can expect to pay around 15-20 euros per person.
I have been visiting this city since I was about three, but only recently I have started to appreciate the real beauty of it. Martina Franca has been the centre of commerce of Puglia and until the reunification of Italy in the nineteenth century, this town was completely separated from the rest of the region by walls.
Piazza XX Settembre is a beautiful square where you can sit down and drink an aperitivo in the bar just below the archway. The arch, known as the Porta di Santo Stefano is one of the four gates that lead into the old centre of the town. Walking through these gates you will find yourself in Piazza Roma, home to the seventeenth century Palazzo Ducale. The Palazzo Ducale was built in the seventeenth century over the Orsini castle, and now holds the city’s town hall. It is also possible to visit inside the Ex Royal Palace, viewing the old rooms that were once used by the Caracciolo Family. These rooms contain some impressive frescos that have been semi-restored throughout the years. Initally designed by the architect Andrea Carducci, it is also said that the one and only Bernini helped with the project. A beautiful example of Renaissance architecture mixed with some Baroque influences. Furthermore, there is a room dedicated to contemporary art, which is also interesting to see. Free Entry.
Monday-Friday: 9.00-13.00 / 15.00 – 18.00
Saturday-Sunday: 10.00-12.00 / 17.00-19.00
Essential is also to take a walk through the old city, admiring the clean, narrow streets that lead you to Piazza del Plebescito, home to the Basilica di San Martino. Rebuilt in the eighteenth century, the collegiate church is a prime example of rococo style. The interior can be seen as quaint and simple with a gorgeous marbled altar. The façade however presents an intricate decoration with baroque influences.
On the opposite side of the street is a delightful little church, almost hidden with its simplicity. La Chiesa del Monte Purgatorio dates back to 1649, when renaissance architecture was strong. The beautiful thing about this church is that it’s interior has been completely left untouched, leaving the art of hundreds of years intact.
Continue to walk along, admiring the old town centre and stop in one of the bars (I recommend Caffé Tripoli) to have a fresh almond or coffee granita.
How to get to Martina Franca:
Reach Bari airport and take a bus to the train station. From the train station take a train straight into Martina Franca. The train company is different from the others, here you will use Ferrovie del Sud Est and the journey takes approximately 2 hours. Tickets will cost around 6 euros. For more information on the journey check their website here: https://www.fseonline.it/index.aspx
Where to eat in Martina Franca:
Is it normal to eat in the same restaurant 5 evenings in a row? Because that is what I do every time I come here. I guess it is because when you find that perfect restaurant why change? Al Sagittario is the perfect restaurant, probably in my top three favourite restaurants in the world. Firstly they serve the best tasting home-baked bread in the world; secondly they serve a starter which is unbeatable. A range of meatballs, mozzarellas, ricotta with walnuts, baked potatoes, osso buco etc. Furthermore their main meals are also delicious with apulian specialities such as orecchiette alle cime di rapa and fave e cicoria.
Where to stay in Martina Franca:
A couple of places I can recommend is Park Hotel san Michele for it’s central location and excellent service (http://www.parkhotelsanmichele.it/en ) and also masseria Labbruto, a sweet little bed and breakfast with various separate rooms and a large communal garden with a swimming pool. (http://www.motolese.net/labbruto/)
From Bari airport to Bari city centre (railway station) take the Terravision bus. For more information on bus times check the link here: http://www.terravision.eu
From Bari train station to any of the destinations above, use Trenitalia. For more information on tickets and train times check the link here: http://www.trenitalia.com