The south-eastern Italian region of Apulia is often called the ‘heel of Italy’, in reference to the country’s boot-like shape. The busy port of Bari is the area’s capital and Italy’s second largest southern city, after Naples.
Bari’s industrial past has often led to it being overlooked by holiday makers but this vibrant urban destination has a lot to offer – both in the city itself and in the pretty towns and villages surrounding it. Here are the top five things to do in the area.
The tangled network of crooked streets and passageways that make up Bari’s old town is commonly known as Bari Vecchia. Home to many of the city’s churches and historic buildings, the area is a beautiful example of ancient medieval architecture.
Until recently, the quarter had a somewhat dubious reputation among the locals and was even considered a no-go area due to high levels of street robberies and petty crime. However, a concerted effort by the city authorities to attract tourism to the area has seen large scale redevelopment of the Bari Vecchia – resulting in many new bars and a 24/7 night-time atmosphere.
The district is increasingly cosmopolitan but like any busy area, it’s wise to keep a firm hold of your belongings.
Basilica di San Nicola
So you thought you had to go to Lapland to visit Father Christmas? In Bari they have the real deal. The Basilica di San Nicola, or Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, is thought to be the final resting place of this famous saint.
The basilica was built between 1087 and 1197 after the relics of St Nicholas were brought to Italy from Myra, in what is now Turkey, and the splendid building is dominated by its gilded wooden ceiling.
On December 6, the main feast day of Saint Nicholas, the basilica comes alive for the religious festival, with pilgrims making their way there from all over the world.
The Trulli of Alberobello
Trulli are a stunning example of an ancient building technique that has survived from prehistoric times into the modern age. These conical structures are built without mortar and have a dome-shaped slate roof, many of which feature pagan symbols and rune-like designs.
The village of Alberobello is littered with these mysterious dwellings and the area has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although many are now uninhabited, these strange white buildings are well worth making a side-trip for and Alberobello has plenty of welcoming restaurants in which to unwind, after an afternoon exploring the town.
Grotte di Castellana
Entered by an enormous vertical tunnel, some 60 metres long, the caves in Castellana, are said to be among the deepest in the world. This huge gaping chasm, known as La Grave (the Deep), leads to the cave network’s central chamber – a vast passage almost 600 metres long.
Beneath the main chamber lies a system of tunnels that spiral downwards for almost three kilometres. Lasting for two hours, the tour of this underground labyrinth is undeniably a lengthy challenge but visitors are amply rewarded by the final cavern – the breathtaking White Cave and its shimmering pure white stalactites.
Located on the Adriatic Sea, Bari is one of Italy’s most important maritime gateways. Whether you plan on boarding one of the many cruise ships that use the city as a staging point or you simply want to catch a cheap ferry to Greece and beyond, there are plenty of seafaring options to choose from.
The main naval destinations from Bari are Dubrovnik in Croatia, Bar in Montenegro, Durazzo in Albania and Corfu or Patrasso in Greece.
Top Hotels in Bari, Italy
- Hotel Holiday Residence – double room starting from €45/£40.8/$61
- Best Western Hotel HR – double room starting from €63/£57.1/$85.4
- Hotel Mercure Villa Romanazzi Carducci – double room starting from €69/£62.5/$93.5
Photo of the Trulli in Alberobello by marionzetta.