We consider Cisternino to be our local town. Its historic centre is characterised by narrow, high sided, white washed cool streets constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries. The heart of the old town is La Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle. Cisternino sits atop a hill some 392 meters above sea level. The town has several community squares - one of which has a children’s play area - built on the edge of the hill allowing for spectacular panoramic views across the upper plains, just follow the brown signs for “Belvedere”. Places of particular interest within Cisternino include the towerof Palazzo Amati, the Churchof St Quiricoand the Sanctuary of St Maria d’ibernia.
Cisternino offers a multitude of coffee shops and bars some serving the most delicious icecreams and homemade almond biscuits. There is a good choice of restaurants and trattorias within the town which accommodate all tastes and budgets. There are several bakeries (selling freshly baked breads, cakes and stuffed foccacias), fishmongers, a cheese shop, butchers, wine shop... in fact, everything you could need. There is also a vibrant market every Monday morning selling everything you can imagine from fresh local foodstuffs to clothing to plants.
Cisternino has several small but well stocked supermarkets. The one we tend to use is “Olive”, a small supermarket which sells most things and has a meat counter and a deli/cheese counter. The deli/cheese section serves very good prepared antipasta and is staffed by a friendly chap called Marco.
Just 15 minutes by car from Villa Vesta we particularly enjoy the Centro Storico of Ostuni. This little town set in the hills of Murgia offers spectacular views over the Adriatic coatline. Its’ narrow cobblestone streets, some no more than arched stairways between the houses, are lined with various antique shops, trattorias and bars. Known as “La Citta Bianca” the white walls dazzle in sun and doorways blossom with colourful and exotic flowers. The 15th-century Gothic cathedral with distinctive cupolas, covered in green, yellow and white slate tiles, only adds to the feeling that you have literally stepped back in time. Italians say that when viewed from a distance, Ostuni resembles a large tiered wedding cake - the wonderful and creative imagination of the Italians! Excellent restaurants and a great supermarket (City Per).
Alberobello is without doubt one of the most fascinating places to discover in Puglia and is known as the Capital of the Trulli. The trullo (singular) is unique to Pugliaand is a building with a conical roof traditionally made without mortar. Hundreds of them huddle together in an almost purposeful disarray to create the ‘fairy tale’ town. It’s spectacular and there’s nothing like it in the world, in fact Alberobello has special status internationally - designated a UNESCO world heritage site.
Some of the trulli are now used as shops, restaurants, and lodging but many are still inhabited by locals, who are very friendly to visitors. As a world heritage site, Alberobello is a tourist attraction, but it is not overrun by tourists.
Monopoli is quickly becoming one of our favourite towns. Ignore the industrialised suburbs and head straight for the "Centro Storico". A superb Cathederal, fantastic castle, intersting churches and great places to eat along with a small beach accessable from the sea wall.
A typical quaint town based around a central square. For those with children there is a Zoo Safari which friends tell us is worth a visit. Fasano also has "live" nativity scenes at Christmas!
On the hill opposite Locorotondo, the bigger town of ‘Martina’ (as it’s known to its’ locals), offers beautiful architecture with its Baroque style buildings, Villas and mansions. The elegant streets are lined with boutiques to quell any fashion guru’s hunger with an abundance of handmade shoes, popular named clothes and bags galore. Antique shops, flowers, perfume, furniture, watches, sunglasses and much more to make it worth an evenings shop. The main Piazza is a beautiful place to relax, enjoy icecream and watch the locals gather to wile the moments away. Each year it boasts one of Italy’s most prestigious Opera festivals drawing visitors from all parts of the world.
Sitting high over the Valle D’Itria with a wonderful view looking over Alberobello and Martina Franca, this picturesque town seems to be made up of brilliant white marble, shining down as you arrive at its feet. The beautiful whitewashed interconnected buildings and streets are built in a circular pattern (hence ‘tondo’ - meaning round) on top of a hill and surround the church of Madonna Della Greca in the towns’ core.
As you round each corner there are huge beautifully carved wooden doors that open up to little courtyards and marble steps leading to the individual apartments, their balconies flowing with flowers. The spectacular firework display ending the towns’ festival is not to be missed. Starting at midnight, three huge displays span over an hour. Find a spot and enjoy some wine, olives, roasted nuts and mozzarella with all the locals to really experience a true Italian feel.
Polignano Al Mare
Slightly further afield and a favourite for young Italian lovers on their first dates, the romantic Polignano is built upon the cliffs of the Apulian shores overlooking the Adriatic ocean. It’s perfect for al fresco dining with wandering alleys and stylish tucked away restaurants and bars. An atmospheric dining experience takes you to the restaurant within the caves themselves. As with all of Puglia you are never far away from an impressive history. Within the wandering narrow streets and piazzas you’ll discover the Church of Matrice dell Assunta, which boasts a renaissance portal.
Well worth the drive towards the tip of the heel, the Citta D’Arte (the city of art) is famous throughout Italy for its Baroque architecture, carved from the soft local stone. The open markets filled with a bounty of fresh produce offer a colourful surrounding within the peaceful piazzas.
Elegantly awash with extremely ornate barocco leccese, covering entire surfaces of Churches and buildings, Lecce has more than earned its’ self adopted kickname ‘The Florence of the South’.
UNESCO World Heritage Site and European Capital of Culture 2019
Whilst staying at Villa Vesta, why not take the opportunity to visit Matera? It is a bit of a drive through the beautiful Puglian countryside (it took us about an hour and 15 mins) but it is definitely worth it. The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is "the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem". Located in the region of Basilicata the site comprises a complex of houses, churches, monasteries and hermitages built into the natural caves. Once the "shame of Italy" Matera will be one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2019.