When my friends and I arrived in Polignano a Mare for an Italian summer holiday, we found ourselves living the dream in a charming sleepy seaside village where Italians come to holiday - not pale English tourists! Every deli, restaurant and gelataria was surprised to see us.They asked in their best English where we were from and how did we find out about Polignano? This was promptly followed by enthusiasm for us to sample their produce.
The local fruiterer, an elderly Italian man with a smile from ear to ear, would ramble off to us in Italian as he sliced up pieces of fruit and vegetables for us to eat – eagerly awaiting our approval, he’d then throw in a couple of extra pieces with our order. At one restaurant my friends and I were taken into the kitchen to select our dessert – completely off the menu we were presented with a selection of local delicacies. Italians do, indeed, do it better.
When on holiday in a small Italian village, your biggest problem will be figuring out where to buy ice for your daily Aperol Spritz cocktail hour on your roof terrace. With no 7-Elevens to pop into, we soon discovered buying ice isn’t really a thing in Polignano a Mare. Tip: the Italian word for ice is ‘gaucho’ and if you ask a local bar very nicely, they’ll give you a bag to takeaway.
First things first, when travelling to the Puglia region you’re most likely to fly into Bari. Tip: get in and get out. There isn’t a lot worth staying around for in the city. If time permits, take a stroll around the old part of the city, but more impressive facades await further south.
Along the Puglian coast there are several towns you could stay in. Monopoli is more developed but loses that seaside charm that Polignano a Mare does so well. Ostuni is eight kilometres inland from the coast, Lecce is known for its beautiful baroque architecture, Otranto has its seaside charms, and Alberobello is characterised by its unique trulli houses.
No matter where you decide stay, be it a seaside apartment or in a historic city, it’s easy to take day trips between these towns via train. Train travel in Italy is probably the only truly punctual method of transport, plus it’s cheap, clean, and easy to use.
Polignano a Mare
Eat: While it looks impressive, avoid the ‘Ristorante Grotta Palazzese’ – the restaurant built inside the cave is but a classic tourist trap. There are plenty of awesome, cheaper, more authentic local places to dine. Visit the local deli for meats and cheeses and the local bakery for their speciality potato focaccia. Be sure to visit the Super Mago del Gelo gelataria – a classic old-school ice cream parlour with the best ice cream in town. For dinner, head to Osteria di Chicibio for fresh seafood pasta.
Swim: Days in Polignano are spent under a brightly coloured umbrella on the village’s main beach and floating in the calm, turquoise Mediterranean Sea. It’s also worth walking further around the coastline, approximately one kilometre, to another little cove area, where you can hire pedal boats and take them out along the sea and explore the coast from a different angle.
Alberobello is a small sleepy town littered with iconic trulli houses. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s worth strolling around town to admire the unique architecture of the dwellings, stopping off for refreshments in one of the local restaurants. A visit to the village can be done in just a few hours.
Lecce is like something out of a movie set; a stunning Baroque city, you’ll walk around constantly pulling out your camera to capture quintessential Italian scenes. Be wary of arriving at lunchtime, however, as it can be tricky getting a nice meal or doing any shopping. Naturally, in the summer everyone is taking a ‘riposo’ (siesta), so most eateries and shops are closed for lunch.
Ostuni comes highly recommended – the grand white village on a hill is charming. We hitched a ride with a local guy from the train station up the steep hill to reach the city centre, but there is a bus too. The whitewashed walls, detailed facades and friendly locals make this town feel a bit like magic. Sit back and enjoy a nice cold vino overlooking the sunburnt Italian landscape, with the glittering ocean in the distance.