When leaving the tower, Fabia asked where we were going next.
“Vittorio Veneto,” we replied.
After correcting my pronunciation of Veneto (VEN-eto not VenEEto), she looked puzzled, and then almost offended. “Why are you going there?” she asked.
We shrugged. “Because there was an apartment we liked.”
And it was almost as simple as that. It turned out well. Likewise, when deciding where to stay in Puglia, we looked at apartments we liked the look of, that met all our requirements (wi-fi, washing machine, and air-conditioning), and that were in a decent location. We didn’t want to be too far south, as it would take too many hours travelling for day trips. Monopoli looked like a good destination. Not that we could find anything about it in guidebooks. We shrugged. All we needed in a nearby town (we’re on the outskirts) was a supermarket, and a few restaurants. Any Italian town would have those. We could explore when we got here.
After arriving the night before, we ventured out the next morning. After navigating the one-way system through narrow streets, we found a park down near the port. We set off, and just around the corner, only a few metres from our park, we saw the inner harbour and the old town. The Castle took pride of place, guarding the busy, working harbour. We found the gate into the old town, and emerged into a bright, sunny, flower-filled piazza, lined with lovely buildings and restaurants, an old clock tower surveying its territory. What a delight!
Lunch at the bustling Vini e Panini was a treat – inevitably, we shared vini, panini and a salad, as we soaked in the happy atmosphere of this little town that is completely absent from our guidebook. After lunch, we decided to wander. We walked around the harbour, past the castle, and around the waterfront. We have explored more extensively since, finding narrow cobbled streets, a popular beach right beside the city walls, good restaurants, and a number of charming churches (on the outside at least), as well as a few subterranean churches or chapels dug into the rocks. As the old town ends, and new town begins, there is a large piazza, bustling in the early evening with people strolling on their passegiata, families, elderly and the young all there, eating gelati and catching up with friends and family. There are few shops and restaurants around the piazza, surprising us. But we have since realised that the locals head to the old town for their special occasions, their Saturday nights, filling the streets and restaurants, meeting friends, chatting to neighbours, buying drinks at the Pineapple, all contributing to the wonderful atmosphere.
We feel quite at home here We know the different routes to the port, where to find parking in the evening when the port carpark is full. We know how the harbour and the boats and the buildings look different as the light changes. We know where to get the best view for an evening prosecco, if it isn’t too windy, and where to find the best pizza (La Dolce Vita). The man in the local enoteca (wine shop) knows us, as does the man at Palazzo Indelli (though he doesn’t seem to know not to suggest the most expensive wine). We know which lanes through the centre of the old town will get us back to the piazza, and where the carabinieri park all their cars. We knew where to take our friend for seafood (Palazzo Indelli) when she visited over the weekend. And since then, we’ve discovered more new things, come upon a few new chapels, tried a new restaurant with the best bread so far in Italy (Il Punto Cardinale), walked down some very narrow winding streets we hadn’t found before, and found the butcher who spit-roasts chicken (over roast potatoes) to take away (dinner last night).
We know now that a few travel writers on-line have discovered Monopoli, agreeing with our perception that this is one of the most charming of all towns in Puglia. We know that those who miss it off their recommendations must never have bothered enough to visit, let alone explore. We know that we absolutely adore Monopoli.