Polignano a Mare
The seaside summer vacation is a cherished ritual among Italians, and Polignano a Mare is the perfect place for it. Thirty minutes south of Bari on the southern Adriatic coast in Puglia, Polignano a Mare is a delightful little town known for its dramatic scenery, iconic beach, and excellent dining.
We visited Polignano a Mare with Stefano’s mom, Maria, and our sons, both young adults. We stayed in the historical center, a maze of narrow streets, whitewashed buildings, and piazzas lined with bars, restaurants, gelaterias, and shops. It was an ideal destination for our group, as there is plenty to see and experience, but it is still small enough that everyone could explore the city at their own pace and on their own timeline and easily meet up again.
Here is how we spent our days:
Join the beachgoers at Lama Monachile
Also called Cala Porto by the locals, Lama Monachile is a sliver of rocky beach tucked between high cliffs right next to the town. It makes a delightful backdrop for photos and not surprisingly, it is one of the most photographed beaches in Italy. It is also an annual stop on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Accordingly, the more adventurous beachgoers jump off the cliffs into the sparkling turquoise sea below, while others enjoy swimming in the crystal clear water. It’s a public beach with no beach chairs or umbrellas to rent, so if you go, plan to bring your own or just spread out your beach towel. The beach is rocky, so be sure to wear beach shoes – it will hurt to walk barefoot. Finally, for the best view of the beach and an Insta-worthy photo, stroll to the Belvedere su Lama Monachile, a terrace with a scenic overlook located on Via Porto in the village.
Take a stroll through the historical center
The gateway to Polignano a Mare’s centro storico is Arco Marchesale, also known as Porta Grande. Just inside the archway is Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II with its hallmark clock tower building, Palazzo del Orologio, and the medieval Chiesa Santa Matrice – Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Work your way through the alleyways toward Terrazza Santo Stefano, noticing the poems inscribed on the town’s stairways and walls as you go. Take a quick visit to the statute of Italian singer-songwriter Domenico Modugno and break out in a spontaneous rendition of Volare, his most famous song. Go shopping along Via Roma, stroll through Piazza San Benedetto, and stop by the scenic overlook of the upscale hotel and restaurant Grotto Palazzese at the end of Via Gelsomino off of Via Tritone.
Enjoy amazing seafood
Polignano a Mare has amazing seafood restaurants and eateries, from casual to fine dining. For a quick but delicious lunch, head back out of the Arco Marchesale to nearby Piazza Aldo Moro where you will find Pescaria, an amazing fast-casual place serving up seafood sandwiches and more. We had a great meal with friends on the terrace at the restaurant inside Hotel Covo dei Saraceni, where the fresh, raw seafood at the crudo bar stole the show. For a splurge, make reservations at Grotta Palazzese, the stunning restaurant built into a cave on the water, located in the hotel by the same name. Our pugliese friends chuckle and tell us not to bother – there are many less expensive restaurants with even better food in Polignano a Mare. We say it’s such a captivating place that it is worth at least one visit.
Take a day trip to nearby towns
If you have time and are ready for a chance of scenery, hop in the car or arrange a tour to one of several nearby villages.
Ostuni is a hilltop city with whitewashed homes just 40 minutes down the coast from Polignano a Mare. Take your time walking up the maze of narrow streets and stairs until you reach Piazza Cattedrale and the Ostuni Cathedral. Enjoy a gelato or an aperitivo in the piazza before working your way back to Piazza della Libertà at the bottom of the hill.
The small town of Alberobello is known for its cone-shaped trullo houses. Stroll the steep, narrow alleyways of the town lined with shops and small restaurants, or take a walking tour with food or olive oil tasting.
Just down the road from Alberobello is the slightly larger and splendid city of Martina Franca. The biggest village in Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca is known for its Southern-Italian Baroque and Rococo style historical center with its wrought-iron balconies and grandiose façades. Take a walk through the old town to admire the architecture yourself, making sure to not miss the Basilica di San Martino, or schedule an architectural walking tour and let a local expert guide you.