We waited a long time for this trip, originally organised for 2019, for one reason and also COVID, we finally got there in September 2021.
We wanted, as we often do, to do a quick tour of the region, in order to familiarise ourselves with the area, so that when we return, which we most likely will, we know where we want to stay longer.
Our itinerary for the week was this: Polignano a Mare 3 nights; Alberobello 1 night; Lecce 2 nights and Ostuni 1 night. Below are my tips for a weekend in Polignano a Mare. See here for Alborabello, Lecce and Ostuni reviews.
How to get there:
We flew into Brindisi (the only airport we could fly to direct from Pisa). I think you can fly to Bari all year round from the UK with British Airways, and Brindisi is the seasonal route. Ryanair fly to Puglia only in season. It’s a bit hard to check this information, because right now, nobody knows where anyone is flying to regularly!
Driving to Polignano a Mare – We picked up our hire car from Locauto at the airport, very reasonable rates for one week, but this was due to the lack of travel, they told us this was the first weekend that a full flight had come into Puglia.
Only 50 minutes away from Brindisi, 35 minutes from Bari, Polignano a Mare is a beautiful coastal town, with a historic centre, (l later discovered most Puglian towns have a historical centre), lots of small, rocky beaches, (no sand here), and a range of beautiful gelaterias, bars and restaurants.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Musea Relais & Spa hotel. I found it quite difficult to find somewhere right in the centre, but after walking around, I discovered a few little gems for next time. The hotel had been very accommodating moving our reservation more than 3 times, communication from Danny, the manager, via WhatsApp was good and by the time we checked in I felt like we were old friends.
It was very central, we literally stepped out into the main attraction, the town had the feel of a Mediterranean resort, more like Greece than Italy, full of wonderful caves and grottos to explore. A walk around the historical centre leads you to nowhere. Dead ends, mostly for the views and Instagram shots. Walking through little passageways, decorated with dreamcatchers, flowerpots and posters by way of writing on steps, it’s a beautiful area and a real feast for the eyes! Crowded beaches hidden in little coves, would avoid this place in the middle of Summer!
The door to our room opened out onto the main street, I’m not entirely sure where the other rooms were or anything else in the hotel for that matter, because we were shown straight to our room by Danny, which was next door to the reception area. Looking online, there was also an array of, more expensive, rooftop rooms, with their own jacuzzis and roof terraces. Next time!
Our room was small but practical, except for the integral bathroom, without ceiling, so there was very little privacy, or ability to ‘keep the magic’. as we like to call it! We’ve been together a long while, but still like to maintain some kind of bedroom/bathroom decorum!
It wasn’t as noisy as we had expected, only the odd scooter flying past disturbed us in the early hours. Breakfast was pre-ordered and brought to the room, next time, we’d eat out for breakfast as we felt there was a limited choice, but it was delivered to our room , and any issue we had were quickly dealt with via Danny and Whats’App! However, it was a perfect base from which to explore the surrounding areas.
Where to eat:
This area is full of restaurants, from basic local cuisine, to top notch gourmet food, and so many to chose from.
We had late lunch in an Osteria, Osteria dei Mulini, beware as they usually stop serving lunch around 2.30 in Italy then re-open for dinner in the evenings. Osterias are small bars that have evolved to serve little meals, a bit simpler than eating at a trattoria, but if you didn’t know the difference, you would be none the wiser as to whether you were eating at a restaurant, trattoria or osteria! The markets were great to wander round. By the end of the week, we discovered that wandering is actually the main thing to do anywhere in Puglia!
By night, it was a great place to people watch, one of my favourite pastimes, find a seat in a well located bar, have an early evening Spritz, and watch the world go by. Don’t forget to stop by this den of collectibles below, you’ll find it! A treasure trove of bits and pieces, from old postcards and records, to glasses and watches, a lot not actually for sale, and ask to see inside his plastic wallet of original letters/postcards, looking out for the letters from Hitler and Garibaldi, to name but a few!!
Dinner one evening was typically touristy for us, not one for fancy shmancy places, yet we couldn’t resist dinner in one of the most famous grottos. Grotto Palazzese, hotel and restaurant. A dream for professional influencers and instagramers, and somewhere that you really need a billionaire to take you to!
My OH isn’t a billionaire, but luckily for me, he’s a wonderfully generous man, and had decided to go all out and pay for the once in a lifetime experience as if it were a day trip in a helicopter to Paris! Seats are allocated on a first come, first served basis, and as I knew this, we quick stepped ahead of the people in front of us, who had stopped to admire the view before taking the many steps down into the grotto, so we got the front row table! The photos don’t do it justice, if you can take the plunge, then do it. The food was gourmet and delicious, the wine list varied, most bottles starting at £45. Tasting menus were available, also with wine pairings, with A La Carte an option too, but at a set price for 1,2,3 and 4 courses. We went for 3 courses, for the same price as 1 or 2! We skipped on the extra £34 each for dessert, deciding that a £3 ice cream was much better value, but we were too full for that one anyway, so at least we saved £6 that evening!
Another evening was spent at Monachile. freshly made flavoured bread rolls to die for, cocktails like Tom Cruise would make, and tuna tartare that melted in the mouth! Highly recommend this one, with views below of the small beach coves.
For after dinner drinks or cocktails, head to Aquamarea, and make sure you head for the rooftop.
What to do:
Apart from wander, wander and wander, visit the 3m tall bronze statue of Domenico Modugno, the singer famous for the song Volare, Polignano was his home town. Take a look at the street lighting at night, if you don’t know the words to Volare, they are right there as you walk down the main drag. We took a trip round the grottos on a small boat with a great company, Dorino boat trips, with around 8 other people, with the option to get out and swim in the caves. Entertainment by the drivers, with stories and music to boot!
For sandy beaches, the hotel has an agreement with a neighbouring beach in Monopoli, Sabbiadoro Beach & Restaurant, which we pre booked on arrival, however it was not to be as it was the one day of our trip that actually rained! To read about what we did on a rainy day in Polignano a Mare, click here for our day trip to Matera.
Polignano a Mare is a great place for a weekend in Puglia, I can’t imagine how busy it would be in the height of summer and tourist time, but for us, it was a pleasure to experience as the world of travel was starting to wake up again after the Covid pandemic.