Polignano a Mare is a little blessing and curse of Puglia: it is its emblem, but you tend to visit it quickly, like visiting a postcard, without attempting to get in touch with its life, its vita lenta (“slow life”) and its citizens. Even, and perhaps above all, visiting outside the high season months are ideal for just this.
If we think of Polignano a Mare, we immediately think of its marvelous cliff overlooking the sea, where – we don’t know how – the people of Polignano dug and built houses that today have an inestimable value. Then there is the bridge, built on the ancient Via Traiana, which overlooks the Monachile blade, the beach theater of Red Bull Cliff Diving, the diving competition that brings together thousands of people. And finally the spectacular viewpoints that appear around the corner, in a mixture of surprise and awareness that the sea is always there.
But Polignano is more than this. It is also a great place from where to discover the surrounding area. Today I will take you to some less traveled places, off the beaten track. Jump in the car, or mount on the saddle of your motorbike or bicycle, our journey begins North.
Along state road 16, shortly after San Vito and Cala San Giovanni, on our right we are attracted by another sort of postcard scenery. While the green of the grass meets the blue of the sea, small and rudimentary trulli – once used by farmers as storage and shelter – are arranged like a chessboard. Costa Ripagnola – also known as Costa dei Trulli – is a place at the center of interest for citizens who want to protect it and transform it into a natural park. The area is partly private, but you can enter through one of the many passages in the dry stone walls; put Cala Fetente in your navigation to get there. And don’t tell anyone that I told you!
Going back towards San Vito, take the provincial Polignano to Conversano route and go up towards Conversano. You will arrive near Terre di San Vito, a wine estate where you can make a pit stop to buy and taste local wine and oil. Continue on the road and enjoy the Apulian countryside. Just before arriving in Conversano, on your right you will notice a depression in the ground. It is the “lake” of San Vito. I use quotation marks not by chance, because in reality they are karst depressions that occasionally fill up with rainwater. In the countryside of Conversano there are 12, but the only one that is regularly full is that of Sassano. Continuing further, you will meet a small church on the side of the road. The church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria is a unique rural church of its kind. This monument recognized by the FAI, the association that protects Italian historical sites, was built in the fifteenth century and is characterized by its quadriloba-shaped plan, with four apses supporting a hemispherical dome. An elegant chapel that contrasts with the surrounding countryside.
Continue and arrive in Conversano, where you can take an ice cream break with my friend Franco.
Here you can decide to visit an old fortified village on a hill. At the foot of the Torre di Castiglione, between Conversano and Putignano, the view of the surrounding area is breathtaking. In Castiglione you can walk immersed in nature and in the ruins of the village, built during the Bronze Age, abandoned and then re-inhabited in medieval times, only to be finally abandoned around 1500.
After this visit, you can get back on the road towards Triggianello, a hamlet divided between Conversano and Polignano a Mare, located at the crossroads with Castellana Grotte (if you want some advice, go and visit the caves). Triggianello is a small village born in 1878 at the behest of a landowner, Saverio De Bellis. The original name of the village was Villanova De Bellis, as it was there that De Bellis built the first settlements for his workers, as was customary at the time, especially in northern Italy. Today Triggianello is well known for its craft beer festival and for its butchers, where in the evening it is possible to taste meat from the “fornello” (literally “little oven”), a cooking technique probably imported from Turkey in which the meat is cooked slowly, remaining juicy and taking a beautiful golden color.
Triggianello is in an excellent position to visit one of the hundred districts of Monopoli as well. One in particular comes to mind: Contrada Virbo, where, before the pandemic, a very famous festival was organized dedicated to panzerotto, a fried crescent of pizza dough stuffed with mozzarella and tomato. The favorite street food of the Apulians. How much I miss it!
And now, if the weather and the season allow it, we can end our trip with a nice dip accompanied perhaps by some raw seafood and a good bottle of rosé wine.
Here you are really spoiled for choice. We can decide to return to Polignano a Mare, where my favorite spots are Punta Paradiso and Port’Alga, an old fishing port. Or continue towards Monopoli: among the coves most frequented by the locals there is the beautiful Cala Verde, where it is better to go in the morning to find a comfortable place, or the less easy to reach Cala Tre Buchi, so called because it consists of three inlets.
Our exploration around Polignano a Mare ends here, at sunset and perhaps with the saltiness on the skin. Even if it is right to visit its most iconic places, remember one thing: Puglia is something more than a postcard, it is a state of mind, a state of vita lenta.