Rising above the stunning landscapes of Puglia, the città bianche (white towns) are iconic of the region. Scattered prettily across hillsides, these ancient urban clusters offer historic whitewashed buildings and charming cobbled streets, and are as beautiful from afar as they are up close. From the hilltop charm of Ostuni and Locorotondo to the architectural treasures of Martina Franca and foodie delights in Cisternino, here’s how to explore the best of Puglia’s città bianche.
Any exploration of the region’s white towns should start in the Valle d’Itria. Stunning in its own right, this verdant valley is home to ancient olive groves, fragrant lemon trees, and, of course, more medieval hilltop towns than could possibly fit within the frame of one photograph.
Locorotondo takes its name from the circular nature of the town itself. Labyrinthine, its streets wind past tranquil stone cottages and flower boxes bursting with coral-bright geraniums, finally reaching the centro storico at the top. The panoramic views are stunning. Before heading back down, sample some of the delicious local sparkling white wine, unusual in a region known primarily for its reds. A crisp flute of Spumante is certainly an ideal refreshment after your hill climb.
For another beautiful vista, make your way up the broad boulevard of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in Ostuni. This white town is particularly famous for its cathedral—you can’t miss that intricate rose window—and the medieval Porta San Demetrio gate. Stroll the city walls at sunset and witness the white town turn rosy pink in the fading light. From here, it’s just a short jaunt to the sea, should sundowners on the beach beckon.
Head north to Cisternino for a bite to eat. The stunning little town is as famous for its prime cuts of meat as it is for its architectural sights. Pull up a chair on the cobbles outside one of the many butchers, known as fornelli pronti (meaning “ready ovens”), and prepare for plates piled high with freshly grilled meat. Sample the local favourites, gnummareddi (delicious savoury parcels of offal) and bombetta (chunky morsels of crisp roast pork), and wash them down with a carafe of fruity local red. It’s simple, hearty cuisine that allows the ingredients to speak for themselves, typical of this laid-back corner of Italy. It’s not all about the food in Cisternino, though. There are plenty of viewpoints to enjoy as you wander throughout this città bianche, where you can spot Puglia’s signature conical trulli roofs.
If Cisternino’s sightings of the Puglian trulli whet your appetite, a visit to the white town of Alberobello is a must. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status, there are more than 1,400 of these historic dry-stone homes with their conical roofs lining the town’s charming narrow streets. For something a little more high-brow, the smart town of Martina Franca delivers with Baroque abundance. From its ornate blonde-stone cathedral to the nearby palaces, there’s plenty here to discover for a memorable encounter with south Italy’s unique aesthetic.
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Alberobello Viaggiareinpugliait Giorgio Guarini
Locorotondo Viaggiareinpugliait Carlos Solito
Alberobello Mchen007 iStock
Cisternino Angelo D Amico iStock
Martina Franca Chiara zeni iStock
Ostuni ValerioMei iStock