Compared to the rest of Puglia, people don’t seem to have as many compliments for Bari, the capital of the region. But for one reason or another, we spent one night in Bari at the beginning of our holiday, and one at the end. An introduction to Puglia, and the conclusion to our trip. It worked well. And while I wouldn’t use Bari as my base for a Puglian holiday (head further south to the Valle D’Itria, and base yourself in a Masseria or Villa/Trulli like we did), I would certainly not protest spending a night here if needs be.
Most people flying to Puglia will fly to Bari Airport (there is also Brindisi Airport, but Bari has better connections from London and Amsterdam). From the airport it’s a 20 minute taxi ride to the centre of town (EUR25 – fixed price), or a short bus (every hour) or train (more regularly) journey.
Bari is a fairly large port city and there is plenty to do and see. Base yourself in the Old Town. Apart from getting lost in the labyrinth of alleyways, visit the Basilica of St Nicholas, where the bones of the real Saint Nicholas (and for us Dutchmen Sinterklaas) lay buried. Worth having a look at is the Cathedral (Duomo) of San Sabino, which I feel has been slightly ruined by it’s newish rose window. Impressive none the less. Walk along the old city walls, with beautiful views of the palm tree lined promenade on the sea. But the best thing to do, as is with all these Puglian towns, is just to wander through the town. Observe old ladies sitting outside their houses as the sun begins to set, gossiping with neighbours and watching you curiously. It’s clear the Old Town is not just for tourists; this is where many locals really live, and their brightly coloured washing flutters in the sea breeze above your head as you walk through the winding cobbled streets. The city truly comes alive at night, when the squares, restaurants and bars fill up.
Breakfast If you’re looking for a good place for breakfast and you’ve got a sweet tooth, try Martinucci on Piazza Mercentile. The most famous pastry makers in town, you must try their Pasticcioti (traditional pastries from Lecce) and they serve fantastic Cappuccinos. Another lovely breakfast cafe is Bacio di Latte. There are two on via Sparana (go for the second one), just outside the Old Town. Have a freshly pressed vegetable juice here to balance out the fresh and very buttery croissants on offer (though wholewheat is an option).
Lunch It’s all about the focaccia in Bari, and the most famous bakery serving the best focaccia is Panificio Fiori. Freshly baked and 1 EUR a piece, this is an ideal lunch for on the go.
Dinner If you want traditional food, then Vini e Cucina is the only place to go for dinner. They serve a (4 course) set menu for 20 EUR per person, don’t speak a word of English and serve house wine in a jug. This is not a place for delicate service, or flashy interiors. But it’s excellent, hearty, local food, for an absolute steal (see the octopus below). If you want something a bit more polished, go for Black & White on the main square. The services is excellent here, and the food delicious. They serve everything from (excellent) pizzas, to smoked mozzarella, to sea food linguini.
Bari is heaving with bars, and especially the bars around Piazza Mercentile attract a lot of tourists and teenagers looking for cheap drinks (cocktails are 3 euros, shots 1 euro in many places). For the better bars, go slightly farther afield.
For sunset views of the harbour head to Caffe sotto il Mare, where a glass of house wine will set you back around 3 euros. I liked their stripy interiors too. If you’re looking for a cute vinoteca (though this one is more a ‘bread-cheese-salami shop’) try the Panineria Salumeria in the corner of Piazza Mercantile (no trace of it online). Pour yourself a small glass of vino from a barrel for 1 euro. It won’t be the best wine you drink, but it’s fun none the less. Our favourite was the very local La Ciclatera, with the charming owner Massimo (who makes a real effort) and a lovely, small terrace (Massimo just keeps adding tables as it gets busier, and often people just sit on the pavement). Inside you’ll find lots of nooks and cranies and alcoves if you want a bit of peace and quiet.
Airbnb it. We did, for both nights, and for about £20 per person slept very comfortably and very centrally. The owners were super friendly on both occasions, and recommended great local places to eat and drink [see above].
More blogs to follow on Puglia, or for an overview, see here.