Finding a place to live under the sun: exploring Puglia

Our trip to Puglia has come to an end and it’s been fantastic. We have visited so many places that the 17 days felt like more than a month. I have drawn you a simple little map to show you where we’ve been exactly and how we got there. We started in Bari (and skipped it, we’ve been there before) and went to Foggia right away.

The map of our 2018 Puglia trip. To Bari by plane and then by car, bus, train and bicycle / illustration by Annemarie Gorissen
The map of our 2018 Puglia trip. To Bari by plane and then by car, bus, train and bicycle / illustration by Annemarie Gorissen

If you have been following me on Instagram or Facebook you may have seen some of the photos already. If not, I’ll give you something to feast your eyes on.

Since we have decided we want to move to Italy in the not-so-far future, we still have a lot of narrowing down to do. From country to region to city to area to house. We’ve traveled Italy several times – for over 6 weeks in 2016 – so we have a global idea what the different parts look and feel like. The main two regions we’re focussing on are Tuscany and Puglia. And Puglia being on top of that list, since it’s less touristy, slower paced, more quiet and less expensive. With this trip the narrowing-down-expedition has started and the main question is have we found the perfect spot… Perfect? No. Fantastic? Yes. Explorations will continue, but we have one on the top of our list. I’ve been keeping track of the pros and cons of each place. I will compare the top 2 for now and come back to the rest of our trip later.

I kept a journal (especially in the beginning) keeping track of where we've been and what we've been up to
I kept a visual journal (especially in the beginning) keeping track of where we’ve been and what we’ve been up to / photo and illustration by Annemarie Gorissen

We started out in Vieste with high expectations. On paper it has everything we are looking for: a cute little centro storico with narrow streets and white houses. The way it is located on a peninsula makes for a picture perfect town, with broad beaches on both sides. Right behind it is Parco Nazionale del Gargano, with its ancient Foresta Umbra, a nature reserve that is perfect for trekking and cycling. If that isn’t enough, there’s also the Tremiti Archipelago nearby: 6 little islands that are a pristine paradise with crystal clear water and a perfect diving spot.

I’ve seen more olive trees in that one day than I had my whole life.

We took a train from Bari airport to Foggia and took the bus to Vieste from there (we were a little too early in the season for the direct bus from Bari to Vieste). About 3 hours later – with amazing views of the coastline of Gargano – we arrived in Vieste. As in nearly every cute little town we’ve been, the newer part of town is nothing to get too excited about. But that’s okay. The historical centre however was as cute as I had imagined. And a lot emptier. I could not stop taking photographs of the streets, the ocean views, the small alleyways. A few restaurants opened a little later in the evening, but still there wasn’t too much life going on. I can imagine high season would be crowded.

Centro storico of Vieste, Puglia
Centro storico of Vieste / photo by Annemarie Gorissen
Centro Storico of Vieste
Centro storico of Vieste / photo by Annemarie Gorissen
Centro storico of Vieste
Centro storico of Vieste, with a pink balloon / photo by Annemarie Gorissen

Next day: Gargano Park. Renting a car or a scooter in low season wasn’t as easy as expected (non-existing and closed shops), so we ended up walking. The park is over 120.000 hectares big, so obviously we didn’t get that far, but it was a beautiful – and long – walk anyway. I’ve seen more olive trees in that one day than I had my whole life. With sore feet and a dry throat we convinced the owner of a closing beach bar to serve us a last minute beer. The Tremiti islands didn’t fit into our schedule (low season meant no direct or regular ferries), but we figured we’d visit them some other time anyway.

Big old olive trees in yellow flower beds, Vieste, Gargano
Big old olive trees in yellow flower beds, Vieste, Gargano / photo by Annemarie Gorissen
Pizzomunno, the white rock on the beach of Vieste
Pizzomunno, the white rock on the beach of Vieste / photo by Annemarie Gorissen

The overall feeling of Vieste was quite good, the main big issue being that it’s quite hard to reach (-). It’ll take at least 3 hours by bus from Bari airport. If we needed to pick someone up there we’d be driving for 6 hours… The beaches are close to the old town (+), although not as paradisiacal as I hoped (-). But maybe that’s not fair to say because it was just not so sunny those first few days. The old town is gorgeous (+) with no traffic (+), although really quiet in low season. A National Park as your backyard (+). Yes please. Outside of the old town there’s a lot of touristy, crappy buildings and campings (-). A little further down – like 10 minutes by car – the cliffs, the sea and the beaches are impressive (+) and all yours in low season (+).

A National Park as your backyard (+). Yes please.

The next town we visited was Monopoli. With little to no expectations we arrived at the train station and worked our way through the newer town towards the old city centre. The moment we entered the centro storico we were both immediately charmed by Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, a small picturesque square bathing in the late afternoon sun. Here we did not only have the best gelato so far (Gelateria il Capriccio – fig and almond, ginger and lemon…can I have another one?), but also a monstrous cheese platter with well filled glasses of red wine later that evening at the lovely Vini & Panini.

Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Monopoli
Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Monopoli / photo by Annemarie Gorissen
Centro Storico of Monopoli
Centro storico of Monopoli / photo by Annemarie Gorissen
Monopoli has over 20 churches in its small centro storico. This is the cathedral
Monopoli has over 20 churches in its small centro storico. This is the cathedral / photo by Annemarie Gorissen

So in the food department we were pretty satisfied. The little white town with narrow streets, the old cathedral (and about 20 other churches!), fortified seafront walls, the small blue fishing boats in the port where the fishermen were untangling their nets, the castello… I loved every corner of it. It’s still a working fishing village and even though there are many fancy B&B’s on the seaside of the town, it has managed to keep its small town charm. It feels real and alive (+). Saturday night was crazy busy around the piazza, but it seemed to be almost only locals (+) coming out for a stroll and celebrating the weekend.

Monopoli is still a working fishing village that has managed to keep its small town charm. It feels real and alive.

In comparison to Vieste, Monopoli has a more diverse offer of restaurants and wine bars (+). From a very fancy one with a beautiful modern interior (Komera, we’re keeping that one in mind for a special occasion) to your all Italian Osteria. The maze of streets, although flat, is no less charming than in Vieste. We Dutchies can appreciate some flat cycling ground… The town beach is tiny (-) and the sun was gone there in the late afternoon (-), but to make up for it a couple kilometers south we found long sandy beaches with crystal clear water (+).

Blue waters with Monopoli in the background
Blue waters with Monopoli in the background – and M in the foreground / photo by Annemarie Gorissen

We rented a bike, rode up to Polignano a Mare (lovely to visit, not to live in…) and then down all the way to Capitolo and explored the green rural area (+) and the beaches south of Monopoli (+). And it’s only a direct train ride of about 45 minutes from Bari. Big plus!

So there you have it. Monopoli is on the top of our list. Nothing is set in stone and we’ve got more exploring to do. But I’ve got a bit of a crush on this town…

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