Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

July in The Mezzogiorno – 3 weeks in Southern Italy: Amalfi Coast & Puglia

July in The Mezzogiorno – 3 weeks in Southern Italy: Amalfi Coast & Puglia

Old Sep 19th, 2014, 12:23 PM
  #61  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,917
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Monday, July 21 Alberobello, Locorotundo, Martina Franca, and trulli hunting in the Valle d’Itria

We wanted to get an early start to beat the supposed masses of tour groups in the trulli zone of Alberobello. We got there at 9am, easily drove into the ‘centro’ and parked on the main street, right in front of the main ‘trulli zone’ (Rione Monti). Didn’t see any free parking, but there were plenty of blue spaces left (2€ hr). We also passed a few parking lots as we drove in. The shops were just opening up, so in fact, we walked up several streets with no tourist tat outside or people at all.

The trulli, limestone dwellings found in this region of Puglia, are small drywall (mortarless) buildings with domed or conical roofs built up of corbelled limestone slabs. The trulli are made of limestone boulders collected from neighboring fields. It’s a prehistoric building technique, and there is some evidence that some may have been in the area many centuries ago, but the majority were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are trulli in the countryside and neighboring towns, but the greatest concentration is in Alberobello, and while they are kind of ‘cute’ individually, it’s the grouping of so many right next to each other that makes for such a unique sight. There are similar buildings in other parts of the world but the question as to why there are so many here doesn’t seem to have a definite answer. There is a story that the roofs, not having any mortar, can be easily dismantled and thus were built this way so that they could be taken apart when the tax collector was coming and render them un-taxable.

The trulli are a UNESCO World Heritage site, not because they are ‘cute’ but because they are “an exceptional example of vernacular architecture. It is one of the best preserved and most homogeneous urban areas of this type in Europe. Its special features, and the fact that the buildings are still occupied, make it unique. It also represents a remarkable survival of prehistoric building techniques”.

We wandered around several streets, went into a few shops – mostly in order to see the inside of the trullo, there was very little worth buying (got a couple of mini trulli to hang on the travel xmas tree). The girl we bought them from was very nice, explaining how there were really three rooms in the medium sized trullo, one would have been the kitchen, one the bedroom and one the ‘living space’. I was struck by the similarity between the interior of a trullo and a sassi. She said the floor, ceiling and walls were all original. There was one shop with a stone artist making miniature trulli – it was interesting to watch him work, they said (I think, it was mostly in Italian) the technique he used was the same as was used to build the actual trulli, only on miniature level). We also found the trulli church, but somehow missed the museum. This main trulli zone (Rione Monti) has over 1000 trulli.

We also explored the Aja Piccola quarter across the main street. It’s smaller, only about 500 trulli but no shops or tourists at all, it seems to be all actual living quarters. There is of course, also a ‘regular’ town with ‘normal’ buildings. Population of Alberobello is about 11,000

Based on several trip reports we weren’t sure how long we’d want to spend in Alberobello so we paid for 1½ hour of parking and that turned out to be just right. We considered buying additional time and looking for the museum but by then (10:30) the tour groups were arriving so we decided to leave. But I do think Alberobello deserves at least an hour or so. I am also VERY glad we got up early and got there before the hoards of tour groups. That place is way to small to be able to absorb several buses of people so I can see how it could be very unpleasant. As we were driving out of town we saw three buses pulling into the bus lot. Later in the day, around 3pm we drove past Alberobello again on our way back to Polignano and we passed five buses headed into town in the space of about 10 minutes.

Locorotundo – About a fifteen minute drive from Alberobello (not counting stopping to take photos of trulli in the fields). Very impressive profile as you approach the town. The name Locorotundo means ‘round place’ and it is. There are a series of concentric circular streets winding up to the top of the small hill on which the town sits. It’s a very pretty, clean, affluent looking, laid back kind of town with windy streets mostly filled with white buildings. A lime wash like paint is used to keep the houses clean and disease free, and has the advantage of making the entire town blindingly bright. There are a good number of baroque balconies and doorways. And there are numerous buildings, tall, narrow and rectangular with triangular gables that almost look like they belong in Belgium. They are called cummerse. In Locorotundo, as well as the next town we visited, Martina Franca, there is apparently a balcony flower exhibit or contest. Many are beautifully decorated.
At one end of town there’s a large park like terrace with nice views of the valley below.

We followed signs for centro and as we got close (you can usually ‘feel’ when you are getting close, being careful always not to turn down any street with a red circle signed meaning ZLT) we parked in an area of blue lines. But this time we needed to buy scratch cards from a store (fish market) nearby to pay for the parking (no easy to use biglietto machine).

We spent about an hour or a bit more wandering around, then stopped at a gelateria on the main piazza (named, as with almost every town we’ve visited, Vittorio Emanuele) for some gelato.

Martina Franca – less than fifteen minutes from Locorotundo. A larger town (population about 50,000) with a fair amount of ugly sprawl. A little more confusing as to where the historic center was but we eventually found some free parking in the vicinity of where we thought it was and turned out to be right around the corner from the main gate. Once inside it was really lovely, lots of baroque buildings and churches and several piazza’s. The first one Piazza Roma was not that charming but a few steps away Piazza Plebiscito is gorgeous with a large baroque basilica and a beautiful clock tower. For the first hour most of the shops were still open, I was almost out of my Sorrento Limoncello almonds so was glad to know I could replenish my supply. Then the ‘siesta’ began and everything shut up tight. Makes for nice wandering, I like almost deserted streets in old stone towns, and we weren’t interested in shopping anyway. But in this town it did mean there wasn’t much choice in lunch options. (Back through the main gate there was a Donor Kebab joint open and I like kebabs – the sandwiches were huge, good and very cheap).

On our way back to Polignano we went ‘trulli’ hunting, which meant I made G stop the car about ten times to take photos of trulli, stone walls, olive groves, hayfields and vineyards. There are a good number of old trulli, natural stone with no whitewash, set amongst olive groves or fruit trees. There are also a lot of trulli which are either newly built, or renovated and incorporated into modern homes. There was even a farm where several trulli together seemed to form the center of a barn.

All in all, the three towns took us from about 8:30 to 15:00.
We went back out into Polignano around 7pm, and it was spitting rain. Parking lots filling up but the further out one still empty. We choose a restaurant on the main street just outside the walls – it had candles, linen tablecloths, looked “nicer”. It was more expensive (but still cheap compared to most other parts of Italy) but just goes to show you don’t always get what you pay for cause it wasn’t as good as the first two nights. I had spaghetti with shrimp and asparagus and there were literally 3 tiny shrimp and about half a stalk of asparagus. It was tasty but nothing special. It rained fairly hard but we stayed dry under the (sun) awning. It stopped just as we were finishing.
isabel is offline  
Old Sep 21st, 2014, 03:31 AM
  #62  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,917
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Tuesday, July 22 Our Last Day in Puglia - Trani & Conversano

Woke to sunshine, but there were some clouds around. So we headed to Trani right after breakfast in order to beat the predicted afternoon thunderstorms. (I CANNOT believe we are planning our days around rain and choosing restaurants based on if the sun awnings look like they’ll keep us dry!!)
We left at 8:15 and were parked in Trani by 9:30 (and there was quite a bit of traffic going around Bari, but no problems finding Trani, it’s centro, or parking. We parked in what looked like an apartment house/grocery store lot across the street from the sea. Free. It was a five minute walk to the actual harbor where there were tons more spaces, both white and blue lined.

The harbor in Trani is lovely – really nice size, full of boats of all kinds – tiny fishing row boats, big metal fishing boats (quite rusty some of them), and pleasure boats/sail boats. On one side is a lovely shady park with promenade along the water (decent public WC), and one side of the long jetty. Going inland around the harbor are restaurants/cafes on the street side and a promenade on the harbor side. Great boat watching. All along fisherman are set up under tarps selling fish of all kinds: shrimp, octopus, salmon, lots of various size fish. And at the other end is the cathedral with another long jetty stretching out. Great views back to the cathedral and town. People sunbathing and swimming off the rocks. All quite newly renovated and nice.

The cathedral is amazing! A stunning, pinkish-white 11th century cathedral, considered one of the finest in Puglia. It’s built on a spit of land jutting into the sea at the edge of the old town. It’s Norman/Romanesque and very austere with no frilly baroque decorations to mess it up (obviously my preferred architectural style is Romanesque). It’s huge, right on the water, and has an even taller bell tower attached by an archway. Just gorgeous. The huge bronze doors were closed, as were smaller side doors, but we eventually figured out you enter through a lower door to what appears to be the basement. We almost missed it, thinking the church was closed. I generally like the outside of churches more than the inside so I probably would not have exerted much effort to get inside. But I’m so glad we noticed the entrance. The church is actually three churches, one above the next. The lowest floor is beautiful, full of columns and arches and yellow light pouring through windows. The middle level is the smallest and darkest but has some nice frescoes. The upper level, by far the largest, is very tall and quite light.

Just past the cathedral is the 13th century castle, obviously recently renovated. But it’s pretty small and plain and based on fodorite trip reports we decided not to bother going inside.

Instead we wandered the maze of streets. The streets are narrow, but a bit wider than the tiny ones in the smaller villages in Puglia – these are just big enough for a car, and lined with larger buildings, mostly stone. It’s clearly a working town (as opposed to some of the villages which seem to have a lot of ‘second homes/vacation homes’).

We had lunch at one of the cafes along the water – just panini and drinks but the setting was great. But there was clearly a storm brewing –waves were crashing against the jetties whereas earlier it had been totally calm – and the sky was getting very dark. We made it back to the car and out of town just as the skies opened up. It rained so hard it felt like we were in a car wash. Many cars were pulled over, we just crept along slowly till it let up.

After a couple hours siesta in the hotel it was cloudy but not raining so we decided to go have a look at Conversano as it is only 4 miles from Polignano, right on the road the hotel is on. We were there in about 10 minutes, saw the castle from the first round-a-bout, and found a parking space right away.
Conversano is a really nice little town with a better than average for this area castle. The town is more affluent (based on the shops and the people we saw) than many of the others, we figure it’s a commuter town for Bari (less than half an hour away). From the main piazza in front of the castle you can see the Adriatic. The main church is kind of plain on one side but really nice on the back (inside wasn’t bad either). The castle isn’t open for touring, it seems to house offices, but you can walk into the small courtyard. There’s the usual windy stone streets and lanes. Given that it was 6-7pm on a rainy Tuesday it was pretty quiet. In fact most of the restaurants we saw showed no sign of opening up, other than a few gelaterias and some bars.

Conversano is definitely worth an hour or so, especially given how easy it is to get to/park in/ walk around.

By the time we got to Polignano it was starting to drizzle. We planned on eating at the pizza place on the main piazza (Bella Mbriana) and arrived at 7:15, just as they were opening up. I had a white pizza with spicy sausage and mushrooms and it was fabulous. If I had had that the first night we might not have tried anywhere else all four nights. It started raining pretty hard during dinner but the awnings did the job (I cannot believe how many nights it has rained during dinner on a July trip to southern Italy!!! ) We are getting so we scope out the awnings (which are all designed for shade protection from the sun, not from rain) to see if they will likely leak on us. ) Unfortunately, our plans for strolling around town and eating gelato for our last evening in Pulia were rained out.
isabel is offline  
Old Sep 25th, 2014, 01:05 PM
  #63  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,917
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Some final thoughts

Driving in Southern Italy
I guess I would sum it up as “pretty crazy but not as bad as you’ve probably heard”. Unpredictable, and aggressive, is what it is. The majority of Italian drivers are relatively ‘normal’, they certainly pass (as in any area where you are not familiar with the territory you drive slower than the locals) but are reasonably safe about it. Some though do ride right up your ass and some pass in places it clearly isn’t safe. We were even passed when we pulled over to get out of the way of an ambulance heading towards us with lights flashing and sirens blaring! Speed limits are kind of ridiculous. Many places they are 30 or 50km an hour and people are all going 80 or more (and 80 seems more reasonable for the conditions). Then there’s the ‘invisible third lane’ – on a two lane road lots of people drive down the center between the two lanes. Mostly motorcycles, but cars too. We saw many cars running red lights, and stop signs really are just ‘advice’ around here. If you stop at a stop sign, the guy behind you will go around you and right through it. But overall driving in Puglia was nowhere near as scary as all the blogs/books made it sound. You just need to be very alert and drive defensively. We did notice that virtually EVERY town had TLZs.

The E55 – from Leece up past Bari, the main highway in Puglia, is a divided four lane limited access highway and goes around towns and is very easy to drive on. Most of the places we went were off it a few miles but since our hotel was right at the Polignano exit we took the highway to the exits for the various places we were going. A bit of a traffic jam on Sunday morning around 9 am with people trying to exit to the beach towns. All the secondary roads were good two lane roads. Route numbers are not very common or logical and change frequently, but signs to towns were plentiful and easy to follow.

The only place where we saw LOTS of traffic was around Sorrento. We didn't drive during our time there, just got the car as we were leaving to drive to Paestum. But traffic in that region was noticeably heavier than in Puglia.

Tourism in Southern Italy

Overall there was a very noticeable lack of tourists in Puglia compared to other parts of Italy and 98% of the tourists that were here were Italian. We almost never over heard English being spoken (and rarely German or some other Germanic language) and most of the people working in restaurants, hotels and shops spoke only enough English to communicate the necessary information, not really to have any kind of conversation. But everyone was very friendly and accommodating. The first 8 days I noticed a total of 3 cars with non-Italian license plates (all Swiss), on the 9th there were 4 cars in the tiny Polignano lot from other countries (France, Austria, Poland and Switzerland).

Of course in the Sorrento/Amalfi Coast area there were far more international tourists and English much more widely spoken. But even in that area, except for the business that specifically cater to tourists, Southern Italy is a bit more 'interesting' than northern areas.

For travelers who are inexperienced, or not really comfortable I can see how southern Italy is more of a ‘culture shock’ experience than some other places in Europe. We think A&A felt this way. Things like: trains running late, platforms not being announced till minutes before the train leaves, trains (and especially WCs) dirty, more trash around, local trains crowded and not air conditioned, Gypsys playing bad music on trains and in towns, lack of English being spoken, having to pay to use the WCs.

Overall we really enjoyed every where we went and will hopefully be back. Having said that though, I can't say I loved it any more than other regions of Italy. Truthfully, if I had to choose one area, it probably would not be Puglia. But that doesn't mean we didn't love it, and as I said, plan to go back.
isabel is offline  
Old Sep 25th, 2014, 02:00 PM
  #64  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 53,870
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
isabel - thank you for that thoughtful conclusion to your trip report. i have yet to venture much further south than Sorrento, which as you say is far more accessible to tourists than Puglia etc.

I have to say that some of what you said about the driving made me laugh - we just came back from Germany and lots of your comments are applicable there - scary overtaking, mad speeds on the Autobahn, and having to pay for toilets, some of which were not all that clean.

Yes, really.
annhig is offline  
Old Sep 26th, 2014, 04:17 AM
  #65  
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 415
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you for filing such an interesting and detailed report; your honest summary of Puglia gives those considering exploring the area food for thought, not in a negative way I hasten to add.
Sounds like a place that separates the traveller from the tourist......
SeeDee is offline  
Old Sep 26th, 2014, 03:08 PM
  #66  
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 33,970
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
>>>Then there’s the ‘invisible third lane’ – on a two lane road lots of people drive down the center between the two lanes.
kybourbon is online now  
Old Sep 26th, 2014, 11:01 PM
  #67  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 9,840
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you for taking time to write such and interesting report. I really enjoyed it.
Sassafrass is offline  
Old Oct 9th, 2014, 04:44 PM
  #68  
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 4,458
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Just re-read this as we leave for the South in 6 days. Thanks for the insights.
tedgale is offline  
Old Nov 11th, 2014, 02:34 PM
  #69  
 
Join Date: Sep 2014
Posts: 9
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for taking the time to post about your trip, a great read and some good information for our trip next May.
Kmd01 is offline  
Old Nov 12th, 2014, 04:48 AM
  #70  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,917
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Glad you all found it useful.

tedgale - can't wait to read your trip report

Kmd01 - hope you have a great trip
isabel is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2014, 01:43 AM
  #71  
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 4,458
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Isabel: I am re reading this after our return. Your impressions and assessments seem more vivid now that I've seen those same sights and had those same experiences (esp the wacky driving practices). I can confirm you got things right. I can't start a trip report just yet - we're leaving the country again in w weeks and my hands are full. But once we get settled in our US winter refuge (Savannah GA, far from Canadian snow) I'll get started. I'd like your permission to quote you, where I thought your description was quite apt and I could do no better than to repeat it.
tedgale is offline  
Old Nov 15th, 2014, 01:44 AM
  #72  
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 4,458
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
That should read "2 weeks"
tedgale is offline  
Old Dec 10th, 2014, 12:25 PM
  #73  
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 2,012
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks, Isabel, for a most informative report. It will help us plan what I hope will be our Puglia trip next year!

Tedgale: I will also wait for your report, hope you are safely in Savannah!
taconictraveler is offline  
Old Jan 19th, 2015, 11:39 PM
  #74  
 
Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 90
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Bookmarking
Indogirl1 is offline  
Old Jan 20th, 2015, 03:07 AM
  #75  
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 1,069
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Bookmarking
tdk320n is offline  
Old Mar 28th, 2015, 12:13 PM
  #76  
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 219
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you! So good.
JustineA is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
progol
Europe
60
Apr 7th, 2017 10:31 AM
nnolen
Europe
37
Nov 18th, 2014 09:12 AM
sarge56
Europe
36
Aug 15th, 2013 11:58 PM
Leslie_S
Europe
27
Apr 23rd, 2010 02:50 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information