Puglia has become one of the hottest regions to visit in Italy in recent years, with good reason. Both novice and seasoned travellers are heading to the country’s southeast to explore the coastal towns that cling to its craggy cliffs. Like much of Italy, a visit to Puglia is like waking up in a dream; rich in history, wrapped in Adriatic blue waters, serving up mouthwatering local cuisine and offering visitors a slower pace than the traditional tourist stomping grounds over on the busy west coast. I discovered some of the many unique things to do in Monopoli Puglia – where postcard moments are set against spectacular backdrops, in a place like no other in Italy.
How to Get to Monopoli Puglia
Puglia is located in Southern Italy and is surrounded by water; bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Otranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. It is located in the heel of the boot and the capital city is Bari. When it comes to how to get to Puglia, there are multiple ways of arriving with ease.
Flights to Puglia. There are actually four airports in Apulia, the two major airports being Bari Palese Airport in the city of Bari and Brindisi Casale Airport in Brindisi which serves the entire area of Salento. I flew directly from Paris into Brindisi and then made my way by airport transfer to Monopoli which was just shy of an easy hour drive. Search flight deals with Skyscanner.
Trains to Puglia. If you are arriving domestically you can find a Rome to Bari train (or other major tourist spots) easily. Then change to a regional train from Bari to Monopoli, which takes about 40 minutes. Search European Rail for train tickets.
Drive to Puglia. Monopoli is a short 25-mile drive south of Bari, just south of Polignano a Mare and close to Alberobello – which makes it super easy to combine these trips for a Puglia road trip.
Explore Monopoli with Locals
My home for the week was Monopoli Puglia. Best known for the Baroque Monopoli Cathedral with its tall bell tower, it is a small town with a beautiful legend of faith. My hosts, Apulia – La Finestra Sul Mare are based here. They offer full-service accommodation, local, authentic activities and adventures, and hands-on expertise, while you visit.
Where to Stay in Monopoli
I stayed like a local in Monopoli thanks to my hosts who offer several local apartment stays. Choose between the Apartment Via Barbacana, which can accommodate up to six guests, the Dimora Porto Canale perfect for four guests, or the Porto Canale a sweet spot for a couple to stay.
Each central Monopoli apartment is fully furnished and can be rented by the day while you visit. The biggest benefit, of course, is the no-hassle location, and the feel is much more authentic than staying in a hotel in Monopoli.
I felt very at home in the Apartment Via Barbacana with its cozy stone walls, narrow staircase, windows with picturesque views of the town and rooftop terrace with a view of the bell tower. The entire apartment is thoughtfully decorated with local treasures, and the location could not be better for exploring Monopoli and beyond.
Things to Do in Monopoli
Start at the Monopoli Port
We began with a guided tour of the old fishing village that is in the centre of Puglia. Rich with history I learned about the legendary Madonna della Madia, the Virgin painted on a byzantine icon which according to the legend was tied to a raft that washed up on the shore of Monopoli on the night of December 16, 1117.
It just so happened to have the exact amount of wood needed to finish the repair of the cathedral roof. The town of Monopoli Puglia is a charming port town built almost entirely out of white stone and dotted with other white-washed buildings of a similar façade which contrasts beautifully with the spotless Italian blue skies.
There were a few highlights on my tour which you must see when you visit Monopoli, the Cathedral (nestled in the middle of many other churches which seem to be around every corner and on every street in Monopoli). Construction of the Basilica Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia began in 1107. The roof was finished after the legendary raft was discovered in 1117. The Baroque cathedral now sits in the exact same spot as the original cathedral that was built in 1772.
You can also still find a piece of wood from the original raft in the front of the church along with the story of the legend and a beautiful altar of the Madonna that this town worships.
Take in the View at the Porta Vecchia
The second spot high on my list is the Porta Vecchia, this scenic old harbour is full of traditional and iconic blue and red boats known as gozzo and you cannot take a bad photograph here. It is a famed Puglia viewpoint, serving up an iconic scene of Monopoli.
It is from these gozzo that you can see local fisherman fishing daily, and from where the most delicious locally caught octopus and other local fish come from and are served in town daily. I watched the catch of one day arriving in awe while I visited, the sea is abundant and the locals reap the benefits – be sure to taste the local fish when you visit.
Visit Polignano a Mare by Boat
It was also from this port that I jumped on a boat for the boat tour between Monopoli and Polignano a Mare to see the coast and surroundings from the water. It was a spectacular afternoon and sunset and I highly recommend it. The boat is chartered especially for the tour and slips along the coast for a different perspective of the coastline. We enjoyed an aperitif by sunset on our way back to Monopoli and my camera was full of postcard-worthy photos.
Take a Monopoli Bike Tour
We chose from four different Monopoli bike tours, catering to all fitness levels. Each tour includes a fitted mountain bike, helmet, water and guide for the day along with stops that include feasting and absorbing an authentic experience.
Our found myself winding my way through grotto churches, fortified large farms and thousand-old olive trees – it was an absolute dream. The tour lasted just shy of five hours and was an easy 18-kilometre ride.
The stops included Porto Ghiacciolo, the picturesque beach near Saint Stephen castle (an iconic part of the Monopoli coastline), churches, old olive mills which have been thoughtfully excavated and refurbished, XIII century authentic farms and my very favorite: a ride straight through an orchard of more than two thousand olive trees, some dating more than one thousand years old.
Visit the Iconic Trullo Houses
Just a short distance from Monopoli we found ourselves exploring the “Grotta del Trullo” in Putignano and the iconic trullo houses of Aberobello. The bell-shaped cave, discovered in 1931, is a fascinating adventure to explore. Our guide took us below the earth deep into the cave and shared how it was created. Afterwards, we wandered the historic area of Aberobello, which included a visit to Trullo Sovrano, the only two-floor trullo house built. These unique houses, built by dry stones with typical conical roofs are on the UNESCO list of heritages.
Go Olive Oil Tasting
You shouldn’t leave any area of Puglia without tasting the olive oil, and if you can find yourself at an old olive mill tasting it from a maker, even better. Our private tour of both old and new mills was a delicious way to gain an appreciation for this area, the olives and the oil that comes from it.
Every mill was privately owned and has been lovingly restored from generation to generation. We finished our visit with a private olive oil tasting, in the mill by candlelight.
Learn How to Cook Puglian Food
On the last day of my trip one of my Italian dreams came true. I visited a local farm and was invited into Mrs. Lucrezia’s kitchen to learn how to make a few of the local dishes and Puglia specialties. I learned how to make panzerotti, a beautifully light dough-stuffed pastry that is deep-fried.
Of course, I was thrilled to learn how to make orecchiette from scratch and from one of the best pasta makers in the area. After the class, the students are invited to join Mrs. Lucrezia for a feast enjoying the goodness that we made together.
Do Some Monopoli Wine Tasting
Of course, we squeezed in a wine tasting at a local winery. I Pastini was established in 1996 and it is located in the valley of the trulli. This winery stretches over 12 hectares of native grape varietals such as Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano and Minutolo white grapes, as well as Susumaniello and Primitivo red grapes.
The tasting room is beautifully modern, and the guided tour through the facility was an interesting step-by-step farm to bottle education which made the sipping taste even better. You can easily purchase wines you like here or have them shipped back home to meet you when you return.
Day Trips from Monopoli
Monopoli to Matera
Leaving the coast inland about an hour and a half drive will take you to Matera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth visiting while you are close enough. I first visited Matera a few years ago. The cave homes of this area are unique and some of the oldest homes in the world. I stayed at a one-of-a-kind cave hotel and the experience was (and still is) a highlight of my entire trip of Italy, that year.
Monopoli to Bari
Bari is a 40-minute drive from Monopoli along the coast. This capital city is a mazelike old port city with 19th-century architecture and narrow streets. Bari is another destination worth exploring that has plenty of diversity and local, authentic adventure. You’ll find a castle, piazzas, churches, and cathedrals along with ample beaches.
Monopoli to Polignano a Mare
The “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Polignano a Mare has become particularly busy over the last few years, thanks to an increasing number of photos of its Cala Porto Beach seemingly all over social media with each European summer. The easiest way to get from Polignano a Mare from Monopoli is to catch the bus or train. In high summer, it is very difficult to find parking, particularly in the middle of the day. Get up and go early in the morning to beat the crowds.
A full tummy, happy heart and a camera full of incredible photographs is the mark of a holiday well-spent in Italy. My visit to Monopoli Puglia was just that. Gaining access to ancient treasures through a robust itinerary created by a locally owned and run tour company made this trip even better.
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Apulia – La Finestra Sul Mare for our visit to Monopoli Puglia. As always, the words, images and opinions are independently our own.
Pat Bailey is a certified Bhakti Yoga Teacher, published poet, writer and entrepreneur with a passion for exploring the globe. Pat is also the founder of The Hell Yes Life, where she has created her own branding academy helping to elevate brands and students through authentic and intuitive coaching.