Monopoli, Puglia 70043, Italy. I punched this into google maps, full tank of gas and sunshine creeping above the hills in front of us. It was July 2017, peak of summer and we set off for a 4 hour road trip from one Italian coastline to the other. Tina (Leah’s mum), Leah and I were ready for our next adventure.
Leaving Positano, we were sad but excited to be heading away from the tourist crazy but beautiful Amalfi Coast. We lived the highlife for a few days but were now headed into unknown territory. Leah booked this new location on a whim, not knowing a god damn thing about Puglia (Apulia), other than a few images she’d found on Pinterest, none of us knew what the hell to expect…this is always the coolest part of travelling.
I have to say first up, this Southern part of Italy is best travelled by car because there are so many little villages, seaside cities and places to visit. Hiring a car at one of the two airports (Bari or Brindisi) would be the easiest way to get around this. Like I mentioned above, we hired ours in Naples and drove across the mainland of Italy from one side to the other, so this is a scenic and fun road trip too.
In the Puglia region, day trips are your new best friend. There are so many quiet villages and hidden gems to check out, but first lets talk about where we stayed for our 3 days…the small seaside village of Monopoli.
UPON FIRST ARRIVAL IN MONOPOLI
We finally arrived around 2pm. Driving down streets skinnier than models on a catwalk, we eventually found our Airbnb for the next few days. For some reason life seemed on hold in Monopoli at 2pm on a Friday…We knew it was bang on siesta, but still there was just no one around. Literally not one person in sight.
The streets were such tiny wee alleys which meant trying to find our Airbnb was a bit of a laugh I have to say. Leah took us on a loop around the whole village a good 3 times before we arrived at our place. I also performed a few 100 point turns I think. Anyway…already the vibes felt different to that of Positano. The emptyness was the first indication, but something else too…more authentic perhaps? Not yet found by the masses of tourists?
At long last we finally managed to check into our Airbnb (it was still being cleaned when we first arrived and the poor host didn’t speak English so was a long & entertaining process for all of us), but once settled, we dropped our bags and set off for a quick walk around the village.
The village was small for sure, but extremely picturesque. We found the main square, cafes, restaurants and little stores fairly quickly and although there were a few more people roaming around, it was still pretty empty. After Positano, this was seriously the polar opposite. If you’re all about less tourists or places off the beaten path – Monopoli, Puglia is the place to be.
We spent 3 days here in Monopoli and after 3 days the area felt like a real slice of Italian culture. If you fancy a few nights in the Puglia region, follow this short and sharp guide for what to expect.
WHAT TO DO IN MONOPOLI:
Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi – This is the main square of restaurants and bars that comes to life around 6pm. Eat, drink and shop till you drop. With the amount of shops Leah and Tina checked out, it’s safe to say there’s lots around. We very quickly realised that in this part of Italy, English is hardly spoken…so attempting to converse with the locals was a highlight for sure.
Check out the fishing village – Just around the corner from the Piazza, boats stack up in the marina side by side and the boardwalk takes you right round the edge. Great way to walk off all that pizza, pasta and gelato, plus it was fun watching the old Italian men, dirty white singlets on, pot belly hanging over their jeans, fishing in the water. Talk about iconic. There are also boat excursions from here which we didn’t do but apparently they’re a must! Think we were a little over boat trips after the few in Sorrento and Positano.
Visit the local beaches – Along the coast you will find tons of places to pitch up for the day “European style” and by that I mean: lounger, umbrellas, perched on top of some rocks. We spent a day at ‘Spiaggia di Porto Verde’ and our local bay was ‘Cala Port Vecchia’, just a 2 minute walk from the main square and our accom.
Hire a scooter or bicycle – With the company Way To Move, you can hire a scooter or bike for a day or two. They even have scooter tours of Monopoli which would be fun if you’ve got the time.
DAY TRIPS WORTH VENTURING TO:
UNESCO world heritage site Alberobello – Home to the famous “Trulli” houses, this little Italian village is one of the main reasons we ventured to this region of Italy. The amazing little rounded structures with cone shaped roofs are made out of limestone and date back to the 14th century. Closest thing I’ve ever felt to being in some sort of fantasy or fairytale world, Leah and Tina couldn’t contain their excitement running through the streets and into the little houses. Even in 35degree heat this place cannot be missed on your southern Italian adventures.
Polignano a Mare – A beautiful village near both Monopoli and Bari, this town is built right on top of some pretty dodgy looking cliffs above the Adriatic Sea. It has a few popular beaches and inlets which are of course jam packed with people. Polignano a Mare is home to the famous cave restaurant mentioned below too ‘Grotto Palazzese’.
Bari – Bari is the largest city in the area and a good place to base yourselves from if you’re not wanting to stay in some of the smaller villages. We only travelled to Bari for half a day before flying out to Florence but from what we saw it looked epic with pebbled beaches and tons of caves to swim in.
Ostuni – A city washed in white sat atop a hill, half way between Monopoli and Brindisi. The “Old Town” is still fortified and most of the streets, buildings and architecture are all painted white. We had a flat tire while on our way back from Alberobello so didn’t get the chance to visit here.
Brindisi – Similar vibe to Bari, this is another large city of the Puglia region and a good place to base yourselves. Flights all over Europe fly you here too.
Grotta della Poesia – If you’re heading further south, an hour and a half drive from Brindisi, in the small town of Roca, you can visit a pretty insane looking grotto. A 100 foot wide sinkhole at the edge of the sea, this place is literally a natural swimming pool at the waters edge. If any of you ever get here please send us some pics we’d love to see!!!
WHERE TO EAT:
As usual, when near the beach, seafood is the only real thing us Kiwis eat. Seafood, seafood, seafood and boy the seafood in Puglia was as fresh as it comes. Here’s a list of the best places around:
Restaurant Grotto Palazzese (15min from Monopoli in Polignano a Mare) – The famous Cave Restaurant in Italy, this ones a must. Leah booked us in but being the travel bum I am, I had no long pants or shoes (only shorts and jandals) so they wouldn’t let us in. This was obviously a huge let down but the restaurant is formal and rules are rules. Take note for the future people!
La Locanda Dei Mercanti – Honestly the friendliest staff we’ve come accross in Italy. I think we ate most of the Italian ocean at this small restaurant in Monopoli.
Komera, Cucina Nostra – Modern and maybe a little more fine dining, with staff who were super entertained and patient with our terrible and I mean TERRIBLE Italian 😂 Once again more seafood, Leah got the squid ink linguini, Tina and I for the fresh seafood platters.
Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi – The main square has heaps of places to choose from so get involved! Fill yourself up with pizza, pasta and gelato.
WHERE TO STAY:
Airbnb in Monopoli – We stayed in an Airbnb right above the fishing port, I even thought about jumping from our deck into the water. The place we stayed in isn’t actually listed on Airbnb anymore but there’s tons of others to choose from.
Any of the cities mentioned above on Booking.com – So many options in the Puglia region, whatever the buzz you’ll find the perfect fit.
So…after spending three nights in Monopoli, we found it was definitely a different experience but a good one at that. I’d say it was for sure one of the most authentic places we’ve ever travelled to, where English was hardly spoken, locals were everywhere and no western tourist in sight. The days were long and slow, the sunsets epic, the food insane and with lots to see and do nearby.
If you find yourself in the region, hit us up for more advice but hopefully this will get you started. Enjoy people 🇮🇹
Bryn | FREE & ADDICTED
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