For this part of Puglia, many people choose to stay in either Polignano a Mare or Monopoli. So how do you pick between the two?
Polignano has a small and very quaint centro storico, beautiful views (including its very picturesque cliff-flanked beach) and is fairly easy to get around. Monopoli is also set on the coast, is a bit larger, has a wall flanked waterfront area and marina, more restaurant and lodging options but in my opionion, is a bit less ‘quaint’. In saying that, its white washed buildings in in historic centre are pretty fabulous!
In this post I cover off a two day, two night stay in Polignano A Mare that included an afternoon trip to Monopoli. The two towns are only five minutes away by regional train so deciding which one you want to base yourself in, is a matter of preference. If relying on public transport, it’s important to note Polignano is only serviced by regional trains. So to access high speed trains, you’ll need to first take a regional train and then switch over at another station. If exploring the region by car, I’d suggest Polignano would be a bit easier to navigate.
Polignano A Mare
One of my favourite towns in the area, Polignano a Mare is a picturesque town perched on the Adriatic coast in central Puglia. Located 40km southeast of Bari or 40 minutes by train, it’s an ideal base for this part of the region.
The coastal town is famous for its towering limestone cliffs, picturesque beaches and its famous son, Domenico Modugno. You may recognize one of his famous songs Volare (or its Italian name, Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu).
If you’ve been researching Puglia (Apulia), you’ve probably come across photos of one of the town’s beaches – Lama Monachile. When many people think of this part of Italy, they think of this often photographed beach.
How much time do you need for Polignano a Mare?
As like most places in Italy, the more days you have, the better! But if you only have two days and two nights, you can enjoy the town at a leisurely pace. This will give you enough time to visit its beaches, stroll the back streets of the centro storico and even fit in a short afternoon trip to neighbouring Monopoli.
Polignano a Mare’s Highlights
What is there to see and do in Polignano a Mare?
- The beaches! Though keep in mind they are not the white sandy type. Instead, you’ll find large pebbles or concrete. Don’t worry, the surrounding views are pretty spectacular and make up for the lack of sand. If you’re looking for white sand, head to the Salento.
- Walk along the coast (I think the pictures below speak for themselves)
- Wander through side streets and see what you can find. For such a small town there’s lots to discover, such as a terrace overlooking the ocean which is also the location of Red Bull’s cliff diving competition.
- People watch in the large piazza (Piazza Aldo Moro), with or without a takeaway pizza
- Take an afternoon trip to Monopoli with its grand walls and peaceful harbour
We visited Polignano a Mare and Monopoli during the first week of October. Keep in mind the photos below may not be reflective of the crowds that arrive in July and August. While there were people swimming, the water was rather chilly.
The beach closest to the town centre is the very famous Lama Monachile located a few minutes walk from Piazza Aldo Moro. Be warned, the stony beach is not very comfortable without some cushioning. To make up for it though, it’s flanked by limestone cliffs on two sides and the Ponte Di Polignano from behind. In my view, an absolutely stunning part of the region.
If sitting on the stones isn’t for you but you still want views, there are a few bars to choose from overlooking the beach. I can think of a worse way to spend an hour or two!
For another beach experience, follow the coast westward until you reach a small boat launching area and Lido Cala Paura. While you could lay on the small sandy beach, follow the concrete pathway to the left and you’ll find another ‘beach’. This area has calm, protected water and lots of concrete to stretch out on. Maybe a little uncomfortable, but the sunbathers didn’t seem to care (and neither did we!).
Walking along the coast
With the town perched on the top of limestone cliffs, the surrounding scenery is very dramatic and worth taking in from different vantage points. Walking west over the bridge and past Lama Monachile, you’ll find more restaurants and accommodation and the statue of Domenico Modugno (and most likely a crowd!). There may or may not be some singing!
Continuing along the coast, there are several vantage points to see the old town centre and also a swimming pool carved into the rock. Following the water, you’ll arrive at Lido Cala Paura. The total walking time (without stopping for multiple photos) is about 10 – 15 minutes from the bridge to Lido Cala Paura.
Wandering around the Centro Storico
My favourite way to enter Polignano’s Centro Storico (historic centre) is through the gate near Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi. From there, follow the narrow street until you reach Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, lined with several restaurants and bars.
For views of Lama Monachile from above, weave your way through the laneways to the left to find Bastione di Santo Stefano.
Wandering through Polignano’s streets and laneways, you’ll find many inviting restaurants and shops. One of my favourite spots is a cute and busy wine bar called La Cueva Café. This place was very popular around aperitivo time, but bring cash (no credit cards accepted)!
Eating pizza while people watching in Piazza Aldo Moro
Just outside the centro storico, you’ll find the large piazza called Piazza Aldo Moro. With several places to sit, it’s a popular place for people watching and eating a takeaway pizza from Casa Mia Trattoria Pizzeria. On Sunday morning, the piazza turns into a large farmers’ market.
One of my other favourite meals involved picking up supplies at a salumeria (deli) on the other side of the bridge from the main square. They sell a variety of cheeses, antipasti, meats and other goodies for a takeaway picnic lunch.
Afternoon trip to Monopoli
With Monopoli a five minute train ride from Polignano A Mare, it makes for a very enjoyable and easy half or full day trip, or as an alternative base to Polignano a Mare. While trains are frequent, Polignano a Mare is serviced by regional trains only, so the high speed trains stopping at Monopoli do not stop at Polignano a Mare. For more information check the Trenitalia website here and check the departures board so you don’t end up in Bari by mistake!
Monopoli’s historic centre is an easy and flat 10 minute walk from the train station. It’s historic town is a maze of windy streets lined with whitewashed buildings that are pretty in every direction, complete with clothes hanging out the windows and potted plants lining small courtyards.
After finding your way out of the maze of streets, grab a gelato and stroll around the small boat harbour, Via Porto and its walls and Castello Carlo V.
Next stop, Matera!
So should you stay in Polignano a Mare or Monopoli?
To be perfectly honest, either town would make a great base for this part of Puglia. They’re both flat (not so common when you’re used to visiting Tuscany and Umbria!), are both located next to the ocean, both have excellent restaurants and plenty of accommodation. For me though, Polignano a Mare ‘spoke’ to me when I visited so I would happily return there (tomorrow if I could swing it!).
We spent two days in Polignano a Mare in early October 2016 during a nine day trip in the region. Starting in Lecce, we visited Otranto and the Salento, the Trulli region including Alberobello and Locorotondo, the seaside Polignano a Mare ending in Matera.
Polignano a Mare ended up being one of my favourite towns in Puglia. Have you visited the region? Is there any highlights I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you, so leave me a comment below!
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