A Walk Through Bari and Polignano a Mare, Italy
Updated On: November 27, 2023
Bring your favourite wine and stroll the streets, and when you come across buskers or a street band, make a stop and listen to local music because you are in Bari. Because you are in Italy.
Italy, with its rich history, stunning landscapes, and delectable cuisine, has long been a favourite destination for travellers worldwide. While iconic cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice often steal the spotlight, countless hidden gems await discovery. Two such gems are Bari and Polignano a Mare, two charming towns in the southern region of Apulia (Puglia in Italian). This article delves into the beauty, culture, and unique experiences that await you in Bari and Polignano a Mare.
Choosing the Ideal Season: When to Explore Bari and Polignano a Mare, Italy
The best time to visit Bari and Polignano a Mare, Italy, largely depends on your preferences and the type of experience you seek. The most popular time to explore these charming destinations is late spring (May to June) and early autumn (September to October). The weather is pleasantly warm during these months, and the tourist crowds are more manageable than in the peak summer season.
Enjoy comfortable temperatures for sightseeing, dining al fresco, and relaxing on the beaches. Suppose you prefer a quieter experience and are willing to trade slightly cooler temperatures. In that case, the winter months (November to February) can also be an excellent time to visit, as you’ll have the towns primarily to yourself, and accommodations may be more affordable. However, remember that some beach-related activities may be limited during this period. Ultimately, the best time to visit Bari and Polignano a Mare depends on your preferences, whether you are seeking a bustling summer atmosphere or a quieter, more intimate experience.
Bari: A Gateway to Apulia
Bari, the capital of Apulia, is often the first entry point for visitors exploring the region. Situated on the Adriatic Sea, this vibrant coastal city has a history that stretches back to ancient times. As you step foot in Bari, you’ll find a blend of tradition and modernity, making it a captivating destination.
Historical and Cultural Heritage of Bari
One of the first things to capture your attention in Bari is its historic old town, “Bari Vecchia.” This maze of narrow, winding streets is a treasure trove of medieval architecture and historic landmarks. The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, a stunning Romanesque church, is a highlight. It houses the relics of Saint Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, and is a place of pilgrimage for many.
Another must-visit in Bari Vecchia is the Swabian Castle, a fortress built in the 12th century. It has served various purposes over the centuries, including as a residence for royalty and as a prison. Today, it hosts exhibitions and events, offering visitors a glimpse into the city’s history.
Bari is renowned for its mouthwatering cuisine, showcasing the Apulian region’s flavours. Seafood lovers will be in paradise here, as the city’s location on the Adriatic ensures a constant supply of fresh seafood. Don’t miss trying the “orecchiette,” a pasta shaped like small ears, often served with a tomato and seafood sauce.
The city is also famous for its “panzerotto,” a deep-fried turnover filled with mozzarella and tomato. For dessert, savour the traditional “pasticciotto,” a sweet pastry filled with custard or chocolate.
Exploring the local traditions and customs in Bari can be a fascinating experience. One unique tradition is the “orecchiette ladies”, who can be found in Bari Vecchia, handcrafting pasta on the streets. They have been doing this for generations, symbolising the city’s culinary heritage.
Additionally, Bari hosts various festivals and events throughout the year. The Festa di San Nicola, celebrated on 7 May and 6 December, is a grand religious procession honouring the city’s patron saint. The Feast of Saint Nicholas is a significant event that draws pilgrims and tourists alike.
Bari’s Seaside Beauty
Bari boasts a picturesque coastline that is perfect for strolls and relaxation. The Lungomare Nazario Sauro, a promenade along the sea, offers stunning views of the Adriatic and is ideal for a sunset walk. You’ll also find small beaches in the city, such as Pane e Pomodoro Beach, where you can dip in the crystal-clear waters.
Polignano a Mare: Cliffside Elegance
Located just a short drive south of Bari, Polignano a Mare is a breathtaking coastal town that captivates visitors with its dramatic cliffside views, crystal-clear waters, and charming old town.
Polignano a Mare’s most striking feature is its dramatic coastline, characterized by rugged cliffs and hidden coves. The old town perches precariously on the cliffs, offering panoramic vistas that are nothing short of spectacular. The white-washed buildings, narrow alleyways, and flowers spilling over balconies create a postcard-perfect setting.
One of the town’s most famous spots is the Grotta Palazzese, a cave restaurant nestled within a cave in the cliffs. Dining here is a surreal experience, with the sound of the waves below and the open sky above, making it one of the most romantic settings in Italy.
Polignano a Mare boasts several beautiful beaches where you can soak up the sun and swim in the clear waters of the Adriatic Sea. Lama Monachile Beach, often called Cala Porto, is the most famous and is nestled between two cliffs. The turquoise waters and the view of the town above create a picturesque backdrop for your beach day.
For a more secluded experience, explore the hidden coves and small beaches along the coastline. Many of these can be accessed by stairs carved into the cliffs, providing an adventure like no other.
Historical and Artistic Treasures
While Polignano a Mare is primarily known for its natural beauty, it also has some cultural gems to discover. In the old town, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta is a small but elegant church with beautiful frescoes and a peaceful atmosphere.
For contemporary art enthusiasts, the Pino Pascali Foundation Museum showcases the works of the renowned Apulian artist Pino Pascali. The museum is housed in a former industrial building and hosts a collection of sculptures, paintings, and installations that offer a unique perspective on art.
Polignano a Mare is no stranger to Apulia’s culinary delights. Seafood features prominently in the local cuisine, with dishes like “Riso, patate e cozze” (rice, potatoes, and mussels) and “frittura di paranza” (a mixed seafood fry) being popular choices.
Be sure to try “gelato di noci,” a traditional walnut ice cream that’s a local speciality. It’s made using locally grown walnuts and is a delightful treat on a hot summer day.
Events and Festivals
Polignano a Mare hosts various events and festivals throughout the year. One of the most anticipated events is the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, which takes place annually. Professional divers worldwide gather here to showcase their skills by leaping off the town’s cliffs into the crystal-clear waters below.
The Cala Lupo Music Festival is another highlight, featuring live music performances in the scenic setting of Cala Porto Beach. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy music and the breathtaking landscape simultaneously.
Exploring Nearby Treasures: Attractions Surrounding Bari and Polignano a Mare
Bari and Polignano a Mare are indeed delightful destinations in their own right, but the surrounding region of Apulia (Puglia) is equally rich in attractions and experiences. Here are some nearby attractions that are well worth exploring:
- Alberobello: This UNESCO World Heritage-listed town is famous for its unique trulli houses distinctive cone-shaped dwellings made of local stone. Walking through the charming streets of Alberobello feels like stepping into a fairytale village, and you can even stay in trulli accommodations for an authentic experience.
- Matera: Just a short drive from Bari, Matera is another UNESCO World Heritage site known for its ancient cave dwellings, or “Sassi.” These cave homes date back thousands of years and have been transformed into hotels, restaurants, and museums. The haunting beauty of Matera’s ancient architecture is a must-see.
- Ostuni: Often referred to as the “White City” due to its whitewashed buildings, Ostuni is a picturesque hilltop town that offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside and the Adriatic Sea. Stroll through its labyrinthine streets, visit the cathedral, and savour Apulian cuisine at one of its charming restaurants.
- Castellana Grotte: If you’re intrigued by underground wonders, don’t miss the Castellana Grotte, a cave and caverns with intricate stalactites and stalagmite formations. The guided tours here provide a fascinating journey beneath the Earth’s surface.
- Lecce: Known as the “Florence of the South,” Lecce is renowned for its exquisite Baroque architecture. The city has intricate facades, grand churches, and ornate palaces. The historic centre is a treasure trove of artistic and architectural marvels.
- Gargano Peninsula: For nature enthusiasts, the Gargano Peninsula is a paradise waiting to be explored. This rugged promontory features lush forests, sandy beaches, and the Umbra Forest, a protected natural reserve. You can also visit the charming coastal towns of Vieste and Peschici.
- Taranto: This coastal city is steeped in history and offers a glimpse into ancient Italy. The Taranto National Archaeological Museum houses an impressive collection of artefacts from the region’s past, including the famous gold of Taranto.
- Martina Franca: Known for its well-preserved historic centre, Martina Franca is a town of elegant Baroque architecture, charming piazzas, and narrow winding streets. It’s also famous for its summer opera festival, the Festival della Valle d’Itria, held in the Baroque-era Palazzo Ducale.
- Trani: Located on the Adriatic coast, Trani is celebrated for its stunning Romanesque cathedral, which overlooks the sea. The picturesque harbour and medieval old town are ideal for leisurely walks and seafood dining.
- The Itria Valley: This picturesque valley is dotted with charming villages like Cisternino and Locorotondo, known for their whitewashed buildings, charming alleyways, and excellent local cuisine. It’s a region perfect for exploring at a leisurely pace.
These nearby attractions complement the allure of Bari and Polignano a Mare, offering a diverse range of experiences from history and culture to nature and cuisine. Whether you choose to explore one or all of these destinations, you’re sure to be captivated by the beauty and richness of Apulia.
Bari and Polignano a Mare, though relatively lesser-known compared to some of Italy’s more famous cities, offer travellers a unique and enchanting experience. Bari welcomes you with its rich history, delectable cuisine, and captivating traditions, while Polignano a Mare enchants you with its stunning cliffs, hidden beaches, and picturesque old town.
Whether you’re interested in exploring historical sites, indulging in mouthwatering Italian dishes, or simply basking in the natural beauty of the Adriatic coast, these two gems in Apulia have something to offer every traveller. So, the next time you plan a trip to Italy, include Bari and Polignano a Mare in your itinerary to discover the hidden treasures of Southern Italy.