“…Ma tutti i sogni nell’alba svaniscon perché,
quando tramonta, la luna li porta con sé,
Ma io continuo a sognare negli occhi tuoi belli,
che sono blu come un cielo trapunto di stelle…”
Bari acted as my gateway to Apulia, the beautiful region situated in the heel of the boot of Italy. This Summer I went on holiday to Bari for a week with my parents who were celebrating their wedding anniversary. They first met many years ago in Bari. It was love at first sight and I was their most precious gift.
The Old City known as ‘Bari Vecchia’ is amazing with its narrow stone lined streets of fading pastels and white, wrought iron balconies and above all else the scent of clean white sheets blowing in the light breeze. I did nothing but wander, camera in hand, capturing the best of what makes Bari such a beautiful city. It is much more than just the capital of Apulia, also being a busy, important port with connections to Greece, Albania and Croatia. It is a destination off the beaten track offering many things to do and see. The best way to get to Bari is to fly to ‘Bari Karol Wojtyla International Airport’ (also known as ‘Palese Airport’) which is located about 8km (5 miles) northwest of Bari City Centre. Then you can travel to Bari via many different modes of transport details , and you can choose many different types of accommodation on www.booking.com. There is no ‘best’ hotel or ‘best’ district though some districts are better than others and you can decide where to stay at your own discretion. I travelled to Bari by car and my B&B was in the City Centre. Everything I could possibly want was close at hand.
Bari, a Charming City in South Italy
Located on the Adriatic Sea, Bari (population around 300 000) is the second largest city in Southern Italy and has become one of Italy’s main commercial and industrial centres as well being a fascinating historical city in its own right. A large university and a high percentage of young people and migrants makes Bari a lively city as well as it having plenty of attractions for visitors such as lovely beaches, elegant boulevards and a gorgeous nightlife. For those interested in culture, a visit to the opera house, the municipal building or to other monuments and museums in Bari is worthwhile.
Bari is also the place where various cultures came and went due to various invasions and changing governors, the Greeks, Romans, Goths, Lombards, Byzantines, Normans and Crusaders all leaving evidence of having been there. During the Middle Ages, Bari was ruled by Lords such as the Hohenstaufens and the Sforzas of Milan. Bari later suffered damage during World War II. Today Bari is a well connected coastal city, and as a large port has access to many shipping routes having a varied economy that includes the production of textiles as well as agriculture, in particular the production and export of cherries, tomatoes and artichokes. Bari developed industrially in the second half of the twentieth century and now boasts an important trade fair, the largest in southern Italy.
Bari, caressed by the wind and overlooking the sea has a magical atmosphere that is part life, history and tradition. I liked walking around Bari, finding new corners to photograph and watching the fishermen go out to sea in their boats. Bari is an inspiring town where you can find anything you want. So what can you do in Bari? Let me tell you:
- ‘‘Bari Vecchia’ : I explored the Old Town which is nestled around the harbour on a peninsula to the north and contains many beautiful Romanesque -Pugliese structures and churches whilst the wider residential and business area which developed in the 1820’s spreads out from this point into the mainland. Women will like ‘Via Sparano’ and ‘Via Argiro’ which are the best shopping streets In Bari and in general the whole of the Old Town looks and feels as if you have been transported to some time in the past as passing through the narrow streets you will see sweet grandmas rolling pasta, families having dinners and neighbours talking to each other;
- ‘The own of Murattiano’ : The ‘new’ town was built in 1813 during the French occupation of Bari by Joachim Murat. The upper class ‘Murat District’ is the modern city centre whilst ‘Corso Cavour’ or ‘Corso Vittorio Emanuele’ and the streets surrounding them are full of many branded shops, cafes and restaurants. During a guided tour I saw the ‘Basilica of S. Nicholas’ (one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture in Apulia), the ‘Cathedral of S. Sabino’, the ‘Swabian Castle’, the ‘Fortino di Sant’Antonio Abate’, the ‘Piazza del Ferrarese’, the ‘Piazza Mercantile’ and the ‘Old Port’;
- The ‘Nazario Sauro Seafront Promenade’ : Slow down, take a stroll and prepare to absorb the beauty of this ‘Lungomare’. I love the sea so much that I could not get enough of just walking along this picturesque promenade whilst enjoying the sunshine or the light at dusk and the smell of the sea. This endless waterfront begins from the port and runs along the length of the city. The promenade was inaugurated in 1927 and along it you can admire several impressive Liberty style palaces, luxury hotels and the colourful ‘Margherita Theatre‘;
- ‘Petruzzelli Theater’: Close to the Old Town, Petruzzelli Theater is the third largest opera house in Italy after ‘La Scala’ in Milan and the ‘San Carlo Theatre’ in Naples. Until the middle of the 20th century there were ten theatres in Bari , which was well known all around Italy for its artistic and vivid life;
- ‘Spazio Murat’: It’s a modern art space in the ‘Piazza del Ferrarese’, which promotes contemporary art with an emphasis on visual art and on design, the wish of its inventors being to create a space that raises questions and encourages interaction and discussion so making Bari a city of the arts with an international dimension. Each season of culture allows art lovers to explore several exhibitions particularly the ones entitled ‘Made in Puglia’;
- ‘Via delle Orecchiette’: I stumbled across the Italian ladies who made the streets around ‘Arco Alto’ and ‘Arco Basso’ famous (only a few steps away from the imposing ‘Swabian Castle’) by turning flour and water into ‘orechiette’, the typical Apulian pasta. You can watch them go through the entire process of mixing and rolling the dough to hand forming each ear shaped piece of pasta, then placing these on drying racks, all whilst exchanging gossip and smiling for photos. A portion of orecchiette does not cost much , because it is a very simple rustic meal as well as being a very tasty souvenir to bring home!;
- ‘Pane & Pomodoro Beach‘: This is not the most captivating beach in Bari though being only fifteen minutes walk from the city is an ideal option for those who do not want to travel far though want to feel the sand between their toes. The beach was named after a cheap local bread topped with tomato mainly eaten by the less well off during their lunch break by the shore.
Food & Wine in Bari
Bari is very proud of its traditional Southern Italian Cooking based on Seafood, Vegetables, Wheat, Olive Oil and Wine. Puglian Food and Wine are perfect for an unforgettable culinary tour which is a huge part of any local travel experience expecially in Italy.
Bari is a Foodie Paradise because it is a region with Plenty of Sun and with Fertile Soil where Foods are Fresh and Flavoursome. Vineyards produce some Excellent Local Wines including Full Bodied Reds like ‘Negroamaro’, ‘Primitivo’ and ‘Nero di Troia’ and refreshing white and rose wines ideal for Summer lunches. In Italy, Food is Life and Life is Food as Food is inextricably linked to the culture both nationally and regionally and Bari takes its Food Very Seriously! You’ll always be fascinated by the Food in Bari as there is so much to eat and drink during every season and the cuisine tends to be both simple and delicious. There are plenty of fantastic dishes to choose from such as ‘tiella riso, patate e cozze’ which is made from cheap ingredients such as rice, potatoes, mussels, onions, garlic, tomatoes and grated Pecorino cheese. Walking along the cobblestoned streets you will notice that families usually eat lunch and dinner with their windows and doors open, filling the air with joy and sometimes inviting curious passers by in for a bite. Here are some places I recommend for local Dishes and Wines to try:
- ‘La Tana del Polpo, Via Vallisa 50/51’: The food here is so good and fresh. I had a platter of freshly caught fish as well as spaghetti darkened with squid ink and a superb octopus salad with a fresh slice of lemon squeezed over it… Mamma Mia!;
- ‘Khareba Winery, Strada del Carmine, 41’: This is a wine store aimed at promoting and enhancing Georgian Amphora Wine where the owner Orazio Sinigallia can accompany you professionally in your first important step into the fascinating world of wine;
- ‘Mastro Ciccio, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 15’: Once you try their ‘panini’ with their fresh local ingredients you will have a different idea of what a ‘sandwich’ is. There are very rich and tasty ‘panini’ for 5-6 euros and right behind the ‘Piazza del Ferrarese’ ‘Mastro Ciccio’ makes an excellent ‘panzerotto’ a traditional street food which is made of pizza dough filled with mozzarella and tomato fried in hot oil and is considered to be the most popular snack in Apulia.
Beginning your Apulia Road Trip from Bari
‘Castellana Caves’ was known by the locals as ‘Hell’s Gate’, a place where the spirits of the dead were thought to wander. On January 23rd 1938 the speleologist Franco Anelli discovered the existence of numerous caves of Karst formation which had originally been formed by the flow of an underground river. After centuries the effect of the water on the limestone turned the area into an astonishing array of stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are 3km in length and 73m in depth with two possible paths for tourists to follow, a short path of 1km which can be done in an hour or a longer path which is far more interesting. The longer path gives the tourist the chance to appreciate all the beauties of the natural environment and in the two hours it takes to traverse the system you get the chance to appreciate all the beauties of the natural environment. Visitors are encouraged to use their imagination to recognise the shapes of animals and people amongst all the gnarled rocks some of which are floodlit to enhance the wonder of the place.
Alberobello’s “Trulli” became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The town of Alberobello is unique for its “Trulli”. They are dry mortarless stone huts built with conical tops . You see “Trulli” throughout the Itria Valley in Apulia, but the greatest concentration is in Alberobello. The houses are a pleasure on the eye though their nature isn’t clear even today. and their nature isn’t clear even today. Some people say that the houses identify their social class whilst others say that their style serves as a simple embellishment or gives them an esoteric meaning. Plenty of “Trulli” have been converted into guesthouses, so you could try them for a night or two!. Alberobello is one of the most beautiful towns in Southern Italy and going up onto the panoramic open terraces to admire these roofs for me is something magical, like something out of a fairytale. And don’t forget to stop at ‘La Lira’ , a popular and wonderful ‘rosticceria’ for your lunch . It’s a typical Italian fast food shop which prepares and cooks a variety of dishes, both cold and hot, ranging from roasted meats and pasta through to vegetables and salads. The food is delicious. The owner was so nice and he explained me a lot of things about his culinary specialities.
Polignano al Mare
‘Polignano al Mare’ is perched on the white cliffs of a rugged coastline, and it’s the birthplace of Domenico Modugno, the author of “Nel Blu dipinto di blu”, the most pupular Italian song . Flying and singing, Modugno flies up happily to the blue sky and when it is already day all his dreams are taken away by the moon. But he keeps on dreaming in the blue eyes of his woman, as blue as a blue starry sky. Stunningly beautiful, there’s plenty to see, eat and drink while strolling around Polignano al Mare, like I did whilst visiting “Al Buco Preferito Tranquillage” , a lovely restaurant with a breathtaking view. decent prices, great food, excellent service and a good location.
‘Trani’ left a deep trace in my heart and in my mind, and I would love to return, not just once as a tourist, but as if I was visiting old and dear friend. I am not able to define what exactly made me feel connected to this town. Perhaps it is the simple beauty of the Romanesque ‘Seafront Cathedral’, which dominates the townscape, both by day and night, and the square in front of it which becomes a lively meeting place in the evening. Maybe it’s the colorful boats in the port or the perfect lunch I had at ‘Peschef’, a street food restaurant, a street food restaurant, which is the right option for fresh, fast, reasonably priced seafood. The menu is short and centered around local seafood, like tuna and cuttlefish. You can get dishes with fried or raw seafood, all of which are delicious. The restaurant can look crowded at times as it is fairly small thought the line moves fast. The food, the customer service and the view all make for an excellent experience. I sat outside near the water’s edge whilst eating all the different fish dishes that they brought to the table. All the food was fresh and tasty and it is a restaurant I would hlghly recommend visiting.
Matera is one of the most spectacular places you can visit in Italy or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Until the 1950’s Matera was a source of shame in Italy associated with poverty, malaria and high rates of infant mortality, where people lived in caves with no electricity, running water or sewage. Carlo Levi, the famous Italian writer raised awareness of the desperate conditions people were living in and around half of the 30 000 population moved to new homes in the modern part of the city between 1953 and 1968. When visiting Matera be sure to visit ‘‘Sassi di Matera’ (the Old Caves), where people used to live and the ‘Perrone Bakery’ the place to go in ‘Sassi di Matera’ to buy local breads, treats and gifts to bring home. The bakery is only about 15 minutes walk from the main piazza and although located outside the historic city centre is well worth a visit.
Apulia had just as much impact on me during my holiday and I’m already planning to return next summer. Tourism may be growing though as it is not well known as of yet you will find far fewer visitors here than in other parts of the country so you can navigate the streets without encountering tour groups and also benefit from lower prices. Local people will always have time for you and it is their warmth that will stay with you the most. Apulia is becoming a special destination for those who are open to venturing somewhere a little different in Europe, and many travellers are learning that Apulia is a place that they should visit sooner, rather than later.