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36 Hours in Puglia

‘If your doctor has ever told you about the healing power of wine, head to the heel.” wise words from a NY post article about a region that I now adore, Puglia.  And believe me, there is a lot to love about this place. Since I’ve arrived in Italy in 2007 , the one thing that was on my list of must-do’s was sleeping in one of Puglia’s trademark trulli and eating my way through this dynamic region. Coincidentally this was also suggested as ‘must do’ in 2014 by the National Geographic so it seems I was in good company. Puglia has long been touted as ‘the new Tuscany’ as more and more people are flocking here to discover what Italians have been to talking about – namely an oasis of food, great beaches and charming towns.

My dream came true when my boyfriend surprised me for my 30th (ouch am I really in a new decade?) birthday this year with a trip to la bella Puglia. We arrived at the airport Friday evening and he kept up the charade until the very end, right before boarding. As I hungrily searched the cities on the departure board, the options were Puglia, Paris or Sicily, all of which would have been fine by me. However, when I finally learned that Bari was our destination, I could have hugged everyone in the airport. My Frenchy-turned-Florentine is certainly a keeper.

Upon touching down in Bari, which surprisingly has a pretty great airport, we hopped in our rental car {a modern Fiat 500 – score!} and off we were in the dark night, still no inkling of where we could be possibly going. The center of cool Bari? Otranto? About an hour later we finally pulled into our destination, the dark night didn’t succeed in hiding the trademark cone shape of the trulli (buildings with a conical roof made without mortar,  a prehistoric building technique, that almost look like they could be the homes of Smurfs). After parking we greeted the owner of the trullo where we would be staying, he  kindly opened the door while still putting his pants back on, charming! Our particular trullo was located in the UNESCO heritage site town of Alberobello, where you can see the eye-catching trulli as far as the eye can see.

Our hideaway for the weekend was more than I could have possibly imagined, modern inside and complete with a four-post romantic bed under the main ‘cone’ with a little area featuring a kitchenette, bathroom and two terraces. This place was called a ‘romantic’ trullo for a reason.

pugliablogMy idea of paradise!

Day 1: Exploring the Itria Valley

9am: Choosing to wake up when we felt like it, a perk to this trullo was that our B&B owners brought breakfast directly to us, in one of the terraces. Not just any breakfast – this was a feast! Coffee any way we wanted, juice,  fruit, pastries, local products like panzerotti  (friend dough filled with cheese, ham & tomato –  amazing!) and  Tondo Liscia Manduria (a cucumber melon type fruit).

pugliablog210:30am: After filling up and ready to go, our first goal was to explore where we were staying, charming Alberobello. These dwellings number over 1,500 in this area alone. Rumor has it than the reason for their existence was due to the fact they could be dissembled quickly, specifically built to avoid taxation from the Kingdom of Naples. I wonder if this would work in Florence to avoid the infamous IMU tax? 😉

pugliablog3We started off on the slopes of Rione Monti, where numerous souvenir shops in trulli have made their home, shop owners often welcome you as you walk the streets. The best thing to do here is just wander and take in this amazing place on foot, we were surprised there weren’t more tourists milling about. Make sure to stop by the Aia Piccola, a more residential area where you can also check out some impressive panoramas of Alberobello.

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Pretty sure this car is bigger than the trullo itself

11:30am: Next stop was Locorotondo, one of most beautiful villages in Italy. This charming town has been around since ancient times, characteristic for pretty white streets in pristine condition.

locorotondo

The kind of town you want to get lost in

Also worth a visit is the Church of “St. George the Martyr”, constructed between 1769 and 1821 and home to one of the most stunning church ceilings I have ever seen in Italy.

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While we didn’t make this our stop for lunch, I have heard nothing but amazing things about their traditional pasta with pecorino cheese cooked in a turkey broth and locally made Locorotondo DOC wine.

Midday: Noon, While it was hard to leave Locorontodo, we only had 36 hours so next on our list was Polignano a Mare, ‘Pearl of the Adriatic sea’, a very true assessment.  The historical center is small and charming and you really can’t believe how gorgeous the water is. Polignano’s stunning beach surrounded by cliff faces that would make even make Leonardo di Caprio drool.

polignano polignano2

Even Mark Twain has left his ‘mark’ 😉

1pm: Polignano a Mare is also where we decided to break for lunch, and my oh my what a lunch this was. We basically ate Polignano a Mare out of seafood, the antipasto for two resembled a kings meal with fresh fish as the main protagonist. A creamy stracchino cheese, grilled octopus, crispy small fried fishes, tuna carpaccio, we both indulged in seafood pasta even if the appetizer was more than enough for two – all washed down with locally produced Rose wine. I can’t express how good this meal was.

foodieI should mention that Polignano a Mare is home to the famous pinterest photo of a restaurant in a cave, Ristorante Grotta Palazzese, which is stunning but not the place you want to go for good service or food (a shame). Instead head to Antiche Mura, Via Roma, 11, which has great service and even better food! Something that stuck with me was that all of the restaurants we visited in Puglia had outstanding service, I felt as if the waiters actually cared about how much we loved the food, something you don’t always find in Florence.

3:30pm, After a pretty busy morning, a beach stop was in order so we stopped at one of a nearby lido, Santo Stefano (private beach club) for a few hours of rest and relaxation before heading back to Alberobello to freshen up before dinner. There are a variety of great beaches (many private and not too cheap) in the area. Nico did the choosing and I have to say, I was more than willing to take the backseat on vacation planning, especially if it meant I could relax with a spritz and a good read.

beach beach2

9:oopm, Of course after a long day, once you’ve showered and gotten fancy – where to go for dinner? My birthday was actually on Sunday, July the 13th but this night was the official celebration since we had a plane to catch the next day. Nico took me to the town of Monopoli, err yes like the board game. The restaurant was on the water, the lovely Porto Giardino. The biggest surprise was that we had a private table for two on a tiny balcony next to a private beach. Hats off, Frenchy, hats off!

Day 2: Ostuni and more!

9:30 am, a last breakfast at the trullo (which was extremely hard to leave) and we were off to Ostuni, ‘the white city’ a panoramic paradise over the plateau of Murgia. Once inhabited by indigenous tribes 600 years before Christ, the lime-washed white buildings define Ostuni, also an anti-plague measure. This place feels so much like Greece, tiny streets and steps line the labyrinth that is the town center.

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After wandering Ostuni, we also ran into a Sunday antique market that had us hunting for pumi, a traditional bud-shaped porcelain typical from the area.

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The Ostuni Antique market is every second Sunday

1:30pm: Already feeling a bit peckish, we decided to take the advice of Browsing Italy and stop by Cisternino, yet another gem in Puglia. White-washed and delightful, we hit a bit of rain while there which meant we spent most of our time there ducking for cover.

coisternino

Sunday is not the best day to visit Cisternino

While here the trend is stopping by a  local butchers to have your chosen meat grilled on-site, being that it was Sunday, all of these sorts of places were closed. Luckily we found a local place that despite being very ‘spartan’ in appearance, Al Vecchio Fornello, served a very delicious traditional Broad bean purée with wild chicory (fave e cicorie selvatiche) and local other favorites.

fave

3:30pm: Despite the weather being not so fabulous, we took a chance and headed to a very famous Lido (beach club) recommended by our friend Sabino from Puglia. Lido Ottagano is as amazing as they get, just picture half-rock/sand beach glory with crystal clear waters and they even had a sunscreen booth! Unfortunately for us we didn’t get to enjoy this amazing place because of the rain but I was happy we stopped by even just to gaze at its glory.

ottagano4:45pm: Since we had a plane to catch later that night, visiting the city of Bari seemed like the best solution for our rainy-day blues. Less of a tourist destination than other areas of Puglia, this port city is the capital of the region. While I wouldn’t have called it my favorite city, we really enjoyed walking through the Vecchia Bari (old city) and made sure to stop by the eleventh-century Romanesque Basilica di San Nicola (Santa’s namesake!), built-in 1087. One surprising thing we noticed was all of the Russian tourists there to visit the relics of Saint Nicholas, apparently this is a major stop for religious pilgrims from Eastern Europe.

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Walking along the port! Bari, Puglia’s Capital

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Wandering in Bari Vecchia (the old town) where time seems to have stopped

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My Nico and San Nicola mimicking Japanese tourists taking selfies

7pm: Before heading to the airport we decided to make one last stop at Bisceglie in order to take in one last Puglian sunset. While I admit that first stepping out of the car in this tiny port town was a bit jarring due to what felt almost like aggressive staring, ultimately I was happy we came. It does have some important archaeological sites such as the Dolmen of Chianca (rumored to have been used for, GULP, sacrifices) and Swabian castle. What struck me the most about this place was the majestic port, so many bobbing boats and a light coming from the sky that you just can’t make up nor photoshop.

brescieeee

My last memory of Puglia

8:30pm, Bari airport. We headed home on the last night of the World Cup Finals and it was sort of amazing to watch everyone in the airport glued to each television screen, almost wanting their flight to be delayed to see the end of the game. This was without a doubt the best birthday I ever had, not just because I was able to discover an entirely new area of Italy, but also because I was able to do it with the man I adore. Alas Puglia, you will be missed!


Details

Getting There: From Florence we took Vuehling, a low cost airline which has some pretty fabulous prices direct to Bari. Around 30-40 euros roundtrip & you don’t have to go to Pisa, #winning

Accommodation: 

  • B&B “Romantic Trulli” di Vito Matarrese
    Via Monte San Michele, 70 – 70011 Alberobello (BA) – Puglia – Italy
    Tel. +39 080 4325427, website.  €55 per person a night (including breakfast)

Restaurants mentioned: 

  • Ristorante Antiche Mura,  Via Roma, 11, 70044 Polignano A Mare Bari. Website . Around 25-30 euros pp (with wine)
  • Ristorante Porto Giardino,  Contrada Lamandia, 15, 70043 Monopoli Bari
    080 690 2917. Website. Around 35-40 euros pp (with wine)
  • Al Vecchio Fornello, Via Basiliani 18, Cisternino, Italy.

Private Beach Clubs mentioned: 

  • Lido Santo Stefano, Viale Aldo Moro 192, 70043 MONOPOLI (Bari) ITALY. 12 euros entrance + more for umbrella & chairs. Website
  • Lido Ottagono, Localita’ Case Bianche | Strada Provinciale 90, 72015 Savelletri, Fasano, Italy
    +39 331 503 8129, email lidoottagono@libero.it, website

Other resources: 

Check out this special ‘Show & Tell’ featuring several photos from this trip on the great blog, Browsing Italy, also I really enjoyed this post about Italy’s boot.

I really enjoyed this article about Puglia via Swide Magazine with only further increased my desire to revisit this region when I have a little more time to spare!

A plethora of Puglia-related news, features & tips can be found on Italy Magazine.

While I am not fluent in Dutch, this blog post by Blog Ciao Tutti was a great resource for discovering Bari, just use google translate in your browser to read :).

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23 Comment

  1. Reply
    Marcello
    10.08.2014 at 16:24

    What a disappointment to know that that famous restaurant in the grotto is not so great food wise. It was def in my to do list of Puglia 🙁 How have you come to know about its poor service/food?

    As for Ostuni, the resemblance with Greek towns is not casual, of course. Greece is just on the other side of the strait of Otranto and in the tip of Puglia, Salento, they even speak a greek dialect ( they even use the greek alphabet, I heard).

    Was is expensive to rent a trullo?

    Great pics, anyway!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2014 at 16:54

      Hello Marcello! A few of my friends went to the restaurant and said that food and service wise it was absolutely lacking, which doesn’t surprise me because of it’s fame. It is absolutely beautiful though so if you decide to go for the view, I wouldn’t blame you! That’s interesting about Ostuni, thanks for sharing! I had a feeling it wasn’t coincidental also I figured the white-washed walls had a very practical meaning, being such a hot climate. As for renting a trullo, our’s cost around 55 euros per person, per night (and it was really nice!). I wish you all the best of luck on your visit, you will adore it!

      1. Reply
        Marcello
        11.08.2014 at 1:13

        I will visit Puglia for sure , especially after hearing so many raving reviews! Plus, language wise, Puglia is so interesting. Where else can you see people speak Italian, Greek, Albanian and French/Provençal?

        1. Reply
          GirlInFlorence
          11.08.2014 at 10:34

          That’s what makes Italy so dynamic, a plethora of influences from North to South, if you do go to Puglia you have to let me know what you thought of it!

  2. Reply
    Robin
    10.08.2014 at 17:26

    Happy Birthday! Don’t worry about being in a new decade: you’re now only 2o years from being 50, which is –in my opinion– the BEST decade….so far!
    What a lovely way to celebrate your birthday! Nico is absolutely a keeper!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2014 at 23:14

      Thanks so much Robin, I really like the way you think. You might be onto something ;-). I agree with you about Nico, he really is a keeper and I am one lucky girl!

  3. Reply
    Jenna
    10.08.2014 at 17:34

    I’ve been curious about Puglia and love your photos and tips. Definitely on my wish list for my next visit to Italy!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2014 at 23:14

      Hey Jenna! It does hold a certain amount of mystery about it, I felt the same way. I think you of all people would really appreciate it. Wonderful different foods (and fruits) and tons to discover!

  4. Reply
    Tony Staffaroni
    10.08.2014 at 19:43

    Happy belated birthday and thanks for the great post! Now I know a trip to Puglia is a must!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      10.08.2014 at 23:13

      Thank you Tony and for enjoying the post, it really is a must, in fact I’m aiming for more like 200 hours next time I’m there 😉

  5. Reply
    Gil
    11.08.2014 at 0:36

    Happy belated birthday! Glad to hear that you had such a great time. We had a visit to Puglia on our itinerary twice and scratched it both times as we were having too much fun around Naples.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      11.08.2014 at 10:35

      Thank you so much Gil! Sometime you gotta go with your gut and you will make it back to Puglia, I’d love to know more about your adventures in Naples!

  6. Reply
    Gina
    12.08.2014 at 1:44

    It’s a dream to go.. I am hoping this month.. One question if I may?… If you had were without a car and had to choose one place to remain for 4 days or so, where in Puglia would you go? Grazie!!!*

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      12.08.2014 at 10:04

      Hello Gina, that’s a good question. I know you can take the train from Bari to Alberobello which means you still can make it your home base (I am biased but I LOVED sleeping there) and likely get around by train though I know that public transportation in the south can be a little more daunting, I’m assuming the train is just fine though. I am not sure how you can visit Ostuni or some of the other cities but I am sure you can find the info online :). I wish you all the best of luck

  7. Reply
    Travel & Lust
    18.10.2016 at 20:28

    Top read! We went for the first time earlier this year and will definitely be going back next year.

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      19.10.2016 at 9:28

      Thank you! I am so in love with Puglia and it really is one of the best places to visit in Italy

  8. Reply
    Teresa
    03.01.2017 at 22:41

    Ciao! I will be visiting distant family in Puglia in July and then traveling to Florence. What do you think is the best way to get from Bari to Tuscany do you think? I’m looking at the train via Bologna. Thank you for your input!

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      04.01.2017 at 10:29

      I would forego the train and book a flight from Bari or Brindisi to Florence (I’m pretty sure that Vuehling offers some great options). So much easier!

  9. Reply
    Teresa
    04.01.2017 at 21:54

    Thank you! I checked Vuehling and it seems they don’t fly direct anymore from Bari to Florence. In fact, I can’t find any airlines that fly direct. I’d have to connect in Rome. I may drive or train and do a day in Bologna or Assisi on the way… Thanks, again!

  10. Reply
    Teresa
    04.01.2017 at 21:55

    However, Ryanair has flights from Bari to Bologna. That could be the call…

    1. Reply
      GirlInFlorence
      05.01.2017 at 10:14

      That is totally doable! Bologna is a quick 35 minute train ride and I’m sure that would be much more comfortable than a long train ride

  11. Reply
    Teresa
    05.01.2017 at 16:11

    Perfect! Thanks so much for your feed-back! I enjoy your page very much and will continue to follow it especially before my next visit to Florence in July!

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