In Puglia, we chanced upon a tiny, but wonderful city called Ostuni. Just eight kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, some call it La Città Bianca, or the White City.
What made seeing Ostuni even more of a delight, was that this stopover wasn’t even planned. After seeing Genoa, Pisa, Rome, and all the western coast, we headed to Stromboli.
Then, after Sicily, we made our way up the inner arch of Italy’s “boot”, towards the heel and eastern coast. Looking for a place to spend the night, we just happened to choose Ostuni on Google maps. The apartment we found promised a “local experience”, in a traditional stone house, in a city I’d never heard about before.
A 2,500-Year-Old Marvel
The road leading from the coast to Ostuni is lined with lush olive groves. Approaching the hilltop city, it gleamed a brilliant white in the sun. If you’re not expecting such a sight, it’s simply stunning.
Once inside the low-roofed stone house, we realized the “apartment” was tiny and overpriced—but too late to cancel our booking. The bathroom floor sloped downwards, and shower attempts ended up with the bedroom pavement getting soaked. The even tinier kitchen lacked cooking equipment, but we made do. Buying fresh seafood from the local fish market, we cooked dinner in the stone house and declared an early bedtime.
Of course, my kids didn’t mind–it was all a new, fun experience! When the two had settled down for the night, I left them in their capable dad’s watch, and made my way alone to the centro storico, exploring on my own.
Midnight Markets and More
Soft, soulful jazz music drew me to a wine bar near the main Piazza, where I found the perfect corner to sit, sketch and people-watch. The waiter told me how the city came to be painted all white.
“Because of the Plague,” he said. During the Plague of 1657, it was believed that the city was preserved because of the lime mixed with white-wash, with which the homes were painted. “But now it’s just more a tourist thing,” he quipped.
Ostuni’s labyrinth of mazes presents the perfect place for journeyers to get lost. They say the city was built with no real plan, as is evident in the way that many paths lead to a dead end, while others continue in spiraled mazes and webs.
I loved the chance to explore the city by night, alone, with only a wine glass for company. Being a mom means my days and holidays are hardly “peaceful and quiet”, so the effort to enjoy even just a few hours on my own is happiness.
Leaving the wine bar later, I passed by the fish market where we’d been in the late afternoon. Whereas before, it was quiet and empty, now it was buzzing with life.
A new truckload of fresh fish—giant lobsters, tuna, and mussels—had been delivered, and the open freezers were overflowing with the catch.
People crammed the Pescheria to place their orders, while inside an adjoined restaurant, diners lingered over seafood delicacies. The market was the perfect place to peek into local atmosphere, and having no expectations of the city meant I was in for a pleasant surprise.
How could I resist the chance to have a midnight snack? I selected cozze gratinate alla pugliese, the local breaded and baked mussels delicacy.
Again alone, I dined, scribbling notes about our journey; both the mishaps and marvels. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like, traveling the world by myself again…for a few moments, I enjoy the solitude…
But then, just as suddenly, I miss my children and husband and look forward to going home to them.
The fantasy of solo travel lasts only a few minutes and is replaced with the wonderful realization: the blessing it is to discover the world together, as a family.
(Getting to Ostuni:)
We approached Ostuni by driving up from the south near Taranto. But if you’re flying into Italy, you can reach the white city easily from the Brindisi or Bari airports. Brindisi is about 30 minutes drive, or 25 km away, while Bari is an hour with a car, or 100 km.
Fun Fact: The city of Matera, just 124 km from Ostuni, was the setting for Mel Gibson’s controversial film, Passion of Christ. Its white walls, similar to those of Ostuni’s resemble the Biblical Jerusalem.
The actor/director said: “Certain sections of the city are 2,000 years old, and the architecture, the blocks of stone, the surrounding areas and rocky terrain added a vista and backdrop that we [used] to create the backdrops for our lavish sets of Jerusalem. We relied heavily on the look that was there. In fact, the first time I saw it, I just went crazy, because it was so perfect.” (Source: http://www.iitaly.org)