Ostuni and Martina Franca
By PAMELA HASTEROK with photos by DON LINDLEY
When we were researching the best cities in Puglia, Ostuni regularly rated at the top of the list. Admittedly, it’s small, about 32,000, but holds an impressive advantage being a hill town, a rare thing in the south. It also looks amazingly white and Greek-like, with its warren of medieval streets in the old town, crowned by an enormous cathedral with majolica tiles. Plus, it has a great view of the Adriatic, just 6 K away.
We also had the advantage of having a local contact, a friend of a friend of Don’s, who is from there and so knew everything good, from the best gelateria to the sweetest café for a frito misto (fried seafood.) Marina met us every day we were there, with her children in tow, who suffered us, but just barely. She also invited us to her parent’s home, where her mother was preparing for her own retirement party, giving everything a festive air.
Our apartment was an amazing feat of accommodating a 13th Century building to modern living, not without some hardships. The stone stairs were so steep even Don had trouble negotiating them. The kitchen, dining room and living room were on the first floor with the fridge located across the room from the kitchen, which was smaller than most American bathrooms. Making dinner was a test to acrobatics, with one of us having to leave the kitchen so the other could get in. Nonetheless, we managed a delicious vongole (clams) pasta dish because that’s what was fresh at the market that day.
We visited the inland town of Martina Franca, known for having an excellent opera festival in July. As we drove through the countryside, we saw these tiny conical shaped buildings called truli that people have saved and still live in. They’re whitewashed and adorable, but I don’t know how anyone fits through the front door.
Martina Franca, however, was a bustling, gorgeous city, with a medieval past and lots of 18th and 19th Century palazzi to spruce up the façade and give it a more elegant feel. We had a blast in the Palazzo Ducale, marveling at the ornate decorations of the rooms, the sheer size of the place and in an unexpected turn, discovered cardboard figures of mock nobility that you could stick your head through and take a picture, which of course, we did.
One issue with traveling in the south of Italy is that everything closes at 12:30, when you’re expected to do the sensible thing – go home and eat lunch and stay out of the heat until at least 5, if not 6. Absolutely everything boards up like a ghost town and there is nothing to see and nowhere to go other than a restaurant. Don and I are foodies, but even we can’t make a meal last four hours. We’re learning to get our sightseeing done earlier if only not to sweat to death, but we still haven’t adapted to so much of the day being devoted to rest.
We loved both Ostuni and Martina Franca, but because neither is on the sea, their chances of making it onto our final list are dice