The Valle d’Itria or Itria Valley is situated in the heart of the region of Puglia, in the ‘heel’ of the Italian peninsula (map). This area is characterised by charming villages, historic towns, wooded slopes, vineyards, mile after mile of olive groves and the intriguing ‘trulli’ (whitewashed, cone-roofed houses) that dot the countryside. The trulli are the first things that will grab your attention as you travel through this area – they sure lend an almost fairy-tale like element to this beautiful valley! – but spend some time here and you’ll discover a gorgeous region with atmospheric towns, terrific food and wines and stunning vistas. Here are ten places to visit in the Itria Valley and its surroundings which I absolutely loved.
Places to visit in Valle d’Itria
Alberobello (map) is perhaps the most famous town in the Itria Valley due to its famous trulli houses. The conical rooftops coupled with charming cobblestone alleys and whitewashed houses are a simply magical sight. The old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consists of a maze of streets and steps lined by trulli; drystone dwellings that were built using prehistoric techniques.
Search for hotels in Alberobello (Booking.com).
Martina Franca (map) is the largest town in the Itria Valley and can trace its roots back to the 10th century AD. Being in the heart of the valley, Martina Franca is a great base from which to explore the area but spend some time exploring its old centre which boasts beautiful baroque architecture (like the Palazzo Ducale, the impressive Basilica di San Martino and the Church of St. Dominic), beautiful squares like the Piazza Maria Immacolata, and a maze of quaint streets.
When you’re here, drop by for dinner at Osteria del Coco Pazzo, a charming restaurant in a vaulted space that serves excellent Puglian food and wines. Ask for the local specialty ‘capocollo’, a cured pork salami. Other restaurants I can recommend include Ristorante Garibaldi (with a lovely terrace in front of the Basilica) and La Tavernetta.
Search for hotels in Martina Franca (Booking.com).
Locorotondo (map) means ’round place’ and that’s what it is: a town in a circular form atop a hill. Its hilltop position means that you can see the town from miles around and once you’re up there, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Itria Valley. Search for hotels in Locorotondo (Booking.com).
The town centre is a labyrinth of white alleys punctuated by churches or piazzas. The houses have pitched roofs called ‘cummerse’, a feature typical of Locorotondo. Walking around the historic centre is like a step back in time. Don’t forget to stop at a café and sip on a famous Locorotondo DOC white wine!
Cisternino (map) is often listed as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. I beg to differ but this town, which dates back from medieval times, sure has a lot of charm to offer. With the beautiful Piazza Dell’orologio at its centre, it’s a delight to stroll around the town’s picturesque lanes lined with whitewashed houses and their external staircases. Cisternino is certainly a town in the Itria Valley you shouldn’t miss! Search for hotels in Cisternino (Booking.com).
As you drive along the SS379 motorway that skirts the coast near Fasano, your attention will be drawn to the gleaming white appearance of Ostuni (map), also known as the ‘white city’. It’s an impressive sight that acts as a magnet for travellers. With its ancient cobblestone streets, grand churches and quaint white houses, Ostuni truly is stunning. The town boasts a remarkable history that goes back to the Stone Ages! The Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace are especially striking but there are many other architectural gems to be found, including the old homes of the nobles.
For a meal in Ostuni, look up Risto Caffe Cavour (Corso Camillo Benso Cavour) and Osteria Del Tempo Perso (Via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale, 47), excellent restaurants with an atmospheric cave setting. I also highly recommend Restaurant Cielo in the Relais La Sommita.
There are many accommodation types in and around Ostuni, from five star hotels to rustic B&B’s and holiday homes. For a rustic cave-like accommodation in the historic centre, check out Pantarei, White Dream or La Dama Bianca. In the historic centre, indulge yourself at the fabulous Relais La Sommita (it also has its own Michelin-starred restaurant, Cielo). Just outside Ostuni, you’ll find some excellent hotels such as the Masseria Cervarolo (with its trulli) and the gorgeous white-washed Masseria Dagilupi. Search for hotels in Ostuni (Booking.com).
An alluring historic town near Ostuni, Ceglie Messapica (map) is one of the oldest towns in Puglia, with a history that goes back to at least the 8th century BC. The town also has one of the largest historic centres, which is amazingly well preserved. Stroll around its atmospheric lanes and buzzing piazzas, visit the Castello Ducale (Ducal Palace) and one of the ancient churches such as the Chiesa di Sant’Anna, sit at the Piazza Plebiscito (with its beautiful clock tower) and have a meal at one of the many excellent restaurants (the town is well-known for its gastronomy). For a terrific meal, check out L’Acquolina (Via Orto del Capitolo, 37), and if you’re a meat-lover, don’t miss Enococus – Acini & Carbone (Via Pendinello, 2). Search for hotels in Ceglie Messapica (Booking.com).
Polignano a Mare
I’m cheating here as Polignano a Mare isn’t (technically) located in the Itria Valley. As its name suggests, it’s situated at the seaside but I’ve listed it here because it’s a town you shouldn’t miss and it’s only a short drive from the Itria Valley. Polignano a Mare (map) can trace its origins back to the 4th century BC when Greek settlers founded the settlement of Neapolis. These days, the town is popular amongst tourists who come to visit its historic centre, perched precariously on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and enjoy its beaches. One bit of trivia: the writer of the famous Italian song, Volare, Domenico Modugno hails from Polignano a Mare. Search for hotels in Polignano a Mare (Booking.com).
Just south of Polignano a Mare lies another beautiful fishing town: Monopoli (map). Monopoli has a charming historic centre (don’t miss the Baroque-style Monopoli Cathedral) with a beautiful seafront promenade. In addition to its 16th century castle and defensive walls, the seafront also features a lovely sandy beach, perfect for a dip after a wander around the town. One restaurant I can recommend for lunch or dinner is il Guazetto in the old town.
Located a short, scenic drive northwest of Alberobello, Putignano (map) is another ancient town that’s famous for its caves and Carnival (started in 1394, it’s the oldest Carnival in Italy). In the town centre, there’s a museum dedicated to the history of the Carnival. Other important sites include the Santa Maria La Greca Church and the Civic Museum. The town is also home to Angelo Sabatelli, a Michelin-starred restaurant that’s famous throughout Puglia. Just outside the town, you’ll find the wondrous caves of Grotta del Trullo.
Between Putignano and Polignano a Mare lies Conversano (map), a historic town with a medieval castle. It’s a lovely town to stroll around in. In addition to the Castle, look out for the 11th century Romanesque Cathedral and the 6th century Benedictine Monastery.
Getting to Itria Valley
The Itria Valley is located in central Puglia between the region’s two gateway cities: Bari (read about things to see in Bari) and Brindisi. There are frequent flights from the major cities of Italy and other hubs in Europe to these cities. The places described here in the Itria Valley are not more than a few hours’ drive from either Bari or Brindisi.
One more tip: if you’re exploring the Itria Valley, consider a side trip to Matera in the neighbouring region of Basilicata. It’s not more than a two-hour drive away. Matera is one of the oldest cities in the world and absolutely worth a visit. Read about things to do in Matera.