The capital of Apulia and an important touristic destination and commercial harbor, Bari lies on a fertile coastal plain facing the Adriatic Sea.
The landscape of the Murge Plateau, where time seems to stand still, stretches further inland. Timeless panoramas reveal a bare landscape whose sameness is broken up by rocks, hollows and ravines. Wide open spaces have adapted themselves to man’s needs over the centuries, and even dried-up river beds have become farmland. Olive and almond trees and vineyards paint the vast expanse of the plateau in intervals, where one finds ancient masserie (farmhouses) that long ago served as a means of defense against raids.
As a result of carsism, a unique landscape has been sculpted by water and the passage of time. In the Province of Bari lies the Itria Valley, one of the most symbolic sites in the region, and home to the famous trulli habitations, standing out with their grey conical roofs from the geometric field pattern that characterizes the entire valley. Rocky strips of land alternate with long sweeps of white sand, with the crystal-clear waters of the sea adding the finishing touches to the beauty of the landscape.
The province's stretch of coastline extends from Molfetta, north of Bari, to Monopoli further south. Along this itinerary, nature’s charm merges with the picturesque villages and the precious heritage of imposing castles and marvelous cathedrals. Further evidence of this can be found in the hinterland, scattered with charming locations, like chapters of a history book.
Celebrations and festivals, genuine flavors and tasty wines are at the center of ancient but never-forgotten traditions that the people of this land continue to preserve with love and abidance.
A tour of the imposing castles and cathedrals that dominate many of the Province's ancient villages is an opportunity to explore its wonderful natural highlights. Bari, cultural crossroads since ancient times, is an ideal starting point, a city where two souls meet: the old town, surrounded by an imposing wall and crossed with narrow streets that lead to the discovery of its rich heritage; and the modern city, built at the beginning of the 19th Century and and having endured several changes over time.
Along the perimeter of the old walls, one comes across the majestic Castel del Monte commissioned by Frederick II of Swabia; with its spacious inner courtyard, it is also used for modern-day gatherings and events. A wonderful example of Apulian Romanesque architecture is the imposing Basilica di San Nicola (Saint Nicholas's Basilica), where the holy relics of the famous saint are kept. The bright-but-sober façade, flanked by two towers of different shape and height, features three portals that give access to the interior naves that hold important works of art.
The second-most important church in Bari is the Cathedral, flanked by a tall bell tower and built on layers of previous ancient buildings. A finely decorated rose window and three portals give movement to the main façade. The interplay of volume and space, and the light seeping through the large openings and reflected off the stone walls, create an evocative atmosphere inside the church. The new town, whose project was planned by Gioacchino Murat, is criss-crossed with shopping streets like Corso Cavour, where the famous Teatro Petruzzelli is located, considered the temple of opera in Bari.
The southern part of the province borders on a strip of the gorgeous Itria Valley, known as the land of the trulli. Alberobello, the location of these characteristic conical buildings that symbolize Apulia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the surroundings, Locorotondo, a whitewashed village on a rocky spur overlooking the marvelous scenery of the valley, turns into an explosion of colors and scents during springtime. A patchwork of vineyards, olive groves, woods and fields outlined by whitewashed dry-stone walls, its uniformity is broken up by small conglomerations of the trulli.
Today the trulli, in strict respect for the ancient tradition, are equipped with all the modern comforts and represent an original alternative to traditional hotel rooms during one's stay. The old part of the town in Locorotondo deserves a visit: surrounded by its town wall, it is criss-crossed by narrow alleys that run between the quaint whitewashed houses that are enlivened by colorful floral displays adorning the balconies.
The journey continues with a visit to Conversano, a small town that has been able to protect its historical and cultural identity without renouncing the advantages of modernity. An imposing Castle overlooks the city, with four large towers located in the angles of the trapezoidal plan that also mark the cardinal directions. Built as a defense structure, the Aragonese turned it into a manor house with with a number of external and internal interventions that softened its lines and shapes.
The Galleria Municipale (Municipal Gallery) is also situated inside the Castle, and numerous religious buildings, such as the Cathedral, in Apulian Romanesque style, lie nearby. Also interesting is the architecture of the old town center of Putignano, known for its famous carnival, and Castellana Grotte, known for its intriguing underground caves.
On the coastal strip sits the old village of Polignano, located on a sheer cliff overlooking a sea full of natural grottoes and caves, as well as Monopoli, with one of the best coastlines in the province. Scattered about are ancient farmhouses, villas and the remains of ancient civilizations. To the north of Bari is Ruvo di Puglia, with one of the most renowned Cathedrals in the region, famous for its peculiar architectural lines that are the result of a series of harmonious alterations and restorations. A visit to the Jatta National Archaeological Museum is a must for its ancient collection of precious ceramics and paintings.
In the Murgia of the shepherds, the landscape leaves behind the warm colors of the maquis and takes on the dark tones of a bare terrain, beginning in Altamura (known mainly for a bread that has been awarded its own DOP status). The town can be spotted on a spur overlooking the plateau, with the Cathedral towers standing out against the sky. Commissioned by Frederick II of Swabia, the church has undergone important transformations, such as the construction of the two towers to the sides of the façade (rather than the bell towers that traditionally complete a religious structure).
Last but not least, an interesting stop on the journey is Gravina di Puglia, a land of natural galleries, caves and ravines carved out by an underground river and used as human dwellings in centuries past.
The slow action of an ancient river created the largest formation shaped by way of carsism in Italy, the Grotte di Castellana (Castellana Grottoes), located in the heart of the Murge Plateau. Amazing stalactites and stalagmites, scattered along galleries and large caves, give shape to a fascinating and mysterious scenery, provided with an evocative play between light and shade.
Two different itineraries allow visitors to explore all the cavities of this natural masterpiece, and they will find that it is almost impossible not to be impressed. One can choose trekking or riding a mountain bike to explore the beautiful landscape of the National Park of the High Murgia, cut by deep ravines and gorges, with interesting specimens of flora and fauna.
A terrain of intense tastes and fragrances deserves a dedicated trip to rediscover ancient flavors produced with traditions handed down from generation to generation. Take advantage of this delicious opportunity that will satisfy even the most demanding palates, and discover the natural and artistic beauty of ancient villages such as Locorotondo, Ruvo di Puglia, Bitetto, Alberobello, Altamura and Conversano, just to mention a few.
Small inlets, long coastlines and cliffs lapped by crystal-clear waters offer several ways of enjoying the wonderful sea. Surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, sailing, scuba-diving, and snorkelling are some of the many activities on offer for fun above and under water. After a day of sun and sea, enjoying aperitif in one of the many bars will then start the evening off right.
Among celebrations and local festivals, the Festa Patronale di San Nicola (Festival of San Nicola) in Bari is not to be missed, with its solemn historical and religious processions attended by hundreds of spectators, as well as the Putignano Carnival, a parade of masks and allegorical floats accompanied by music. Also very evocative is the night parade of Shrove Tuesday, when lights and colors stand out against the darkness of the night.
The cuisine is heavily-based on ichthyic resources and a strong bond with the produce and ancient traditions of this land.