For those readers who don’t know, I spent a year living in Bari when I was a student. Not only does it offer the perfect lifestyle for an out of their depth Brit learning the lingo and the Italian way of life, but it was also a great base to plan another adventure. Cheap flights and coaches meant I couple explore other Italian regions. But before I embarked on my trips to Venice, Syracuse, Naples and Pisa, I used Bari as a hub for my trips across Puglia.
Puglia is a southern region in Italy, which forms the heel of the Italian boot. One of the more lesser-trodden travel paths for tourists seeking an Italian getaway, Puglia has miles of serene coastline, cities filled with architecture and culinary surprises at every corner.
To make the most of a Pugliese getaway, pack your bags and park yourself up in Puglia’s capital city, Bari.
It’s steeped in its own culture
An important Byzantine town, Bari has continued to flourish throughout the centuries and is the south of Italy’s most important city after Naples.
Spend afternoon wandering around the labyrinth that is Bari Vecchia. Formed of tight alleyways, Bari’s historical centre is home to around 40 churches.
Arguably the most famous is Basilica di San Nicola. Built in the Puglian-Romanesque style, its facade is striking. You’ll be equally impressed by the inside, which houses the remains of St Nicholas in a vaulted crypt.
Grab an ice cream from Martinucci Laboratory (my personal favourite) as you soak in the architecture in Piazza Mercantile.
At sunset, stretch your legs and take a walk along Bari’s lungomare and watch the colours of the horizon changes and the lamplight sparkle atop of the Adriatic.
For a real taste of the Italian lifestyle, head to Bari during the festival of San Nicola. The streets are flooded with locals. Parades and food stalls line the streets and fireworks and flybys fill the air.
Well connected to regional towns and attractions
Puglia is packed full of historical towns and cities, which are a stones throw away from Bari. Arguably, the easiest way to travel around Puglia is via car. However, if like me, you can’t drive or just want to be more environmentally friendly, then you’ll be pleased to know that Bari’s public transport network is surprisingly well-connected.
From Bari’s main train station, Bari Centrale, you’ll be able to jump on a train to Polignano a Mare, Monopoli, Ostuni, Lecce, Alberbello and plenty of other towns and attractions. Next to Bari Centrale, is the private train company Ferrovia Appulo Lucane. From there, you’ll be able to jump on a train to Matera, Basilicata.
Tickets are relatively cheap and you’ll be able to grab a return ticket for less than 2 euros. Be sure to book your tickets or arrive early to get your tickets as trains do sell out in Italian and you don’t want to be stuck with a slow regional service or no service after you’ve spent ages planning the perfect day.
It has a beach
The pane pomodoro in Bari may not be the most serene or picturesque beach in the world, but it’s a beach none the less. Grab yourself a peroni, a book and a beach towel and soak up the sun.
If you fancy something more instagrammable and can’t drive to those sought after spots, then I recommend jumping on a train to Polignano a Mare where a stony beach is just a short walk from the train station.
It’s the golden rule of holidaying in Italy, you must eat as much pizza, pasta and ice-cream as humanly possible. Apart from the holy trinity, Bari has a few other culinary tricks up his sleeve.
First up is a personal favourite of mine, Panzerotti. Essentially, it’s a small calzone that is traditionally filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce and then deep fat fried. Make sure to grab one from a takeaway that is packed with locals.
If you’re after your pasta hit, make sure to try some orecchiette. This ear-shaped pasta is local to the region. I recommend grabbing some of the fresh kind as a spot of pranzo. No trip to Italy is complete without a huge chunk of cheese, so make sure to try some freshly made burrata. It’s much better than the supermarket versions you find in the UK.
Like the rest of Italy, sea food in Puglia is mouth watering. But if you’re after something fresh, get some octopus (polpo) it’s caught fresh off the coast and prepared in several ways. My favourite – the burger.
When I first moved to Bari, I spoke absolutely no Italian. I tried making my way through a course on Duolingo but the stress really got to me.
Instead, I did my very best to immerse myself in the language when I arrived and with the encourage of my friendly locals I managed to pick up a word or two. They were patient with my flustered ordering and around the food markets, store holders taught me some much-needed bartering lingo. In my experience, Italians are patient, kind and all-too happy to hear you fumble your way through an order. For me, the people made Bari and I can’t wait to head back soon.
If you enjoyed this, then you might want to read my posts about:
- How to spend a day in San Marino
- Five reasons Rimini is the perfect Emilia-Romagna hub
- Eight hours in Ravenna
Thanks for reading!