For those that have already explored Polignano a Mare, the fishing village of Monopoli, Puglia is surprisingly large by comparison.
The old town of Monopoli also feels refreshingly less touristy. Yes, there are plenty of visitors sitting at outdoor cafes but there is also more space and fewer beaches. This all translates into fewer crowds (but you can still find spots for sun-seekers on the rocks outside of the fortified old port walls).
Monopoli, in Puglia – the heel of Italy’s boot, has been inhabited since 500 BC and it actually takes its name from the early Greek city that was founded here. “Monos Polis” means singularly unique. And the city still has that special, hard-to-find feeling that has faded from so many other Italian towns that end up on the main tourist routes.
The town still feels lived in, and imperfect, which adds to its charm. This is still very much a port city. A bit like a quiet, fully beachfront Naples.
Like many of the towns in this part of Puglia, the Monopoli’s centro storico is built of white stone and dotted with other white-washed buildings, all of which contrasts perfectly with the bright blue Puglia skies.
Around nearly every corner, there also seems to a be a stone church. Some are roughly-hewn, whereas others are adorned with carved reliefs and sculptures.
But best and quietest of all is the port. This is where you can come to walk along the water, watch the simple boats bob as the tide comes in, and stop to admire the fast handwork of fishermen repairing nets as they sit along the lungomare (seafront promenade).
Best Things to Do in Monopoli, Puglia
Monopoli is a perfect base for exploring the area south of Bari in Puglia. It offers a quiet break from the crowded centers of other towns and has seafront property and plenty of quiet piazzas and restaurants. However, there are a few sites that you should be sure to see when you are visiting Monopoli.
- Admire the 16th-century Castle of Charles V. Built on a promontory that juts out into the sea, the Castle of Charles V was built in 1525 as part of the fortifications around Monopoli. Over the centuries, the unique five-sided building was connecting to the city and eventually used as a jail. While it is not possible to go inside, the landmark is such a part of the Monopoli landscape that no trip to the city is complete without stopping to admire the fortress walls.
- Stop in Porta Vecchia. The traditional blue-and-red boats used in this part of Puglia are known as gozzo. The boats traditionally had oars and were used for fishing along the coast. You can still find the traditional gozzi bobbing in porta vecchia, the scenic old harbor in Monopoli. Today the boats are used by fishermen in the shallow waters nearby to catch octopus and other local fish. Come early in the morning to see the fishermen at work repairing nets, or for a sunset stroll when the light is just right.
- See the Cathedral. Construction of the cathedral in Monopoli, Puglia began in 1107 but legend has it that they had to stop building the church after running out of roof beams. Miraculously, a raft carrying an image of the Virgin Mary drifted into the harbor and the boards from the raft were used to finish the roof. This old church was later torn down and the Baroque cathedral that sits in the same spot was built in 1772 (but you can still find a piece of wood from the raft in the front of the church).
- Sit in the Piazza. Life in Monopoli has the slow, charmed pace of la dolce vita. While there are plenty of beautiful sights in the Puglia town, the best thing to do is to take your time and unwind, watching life go by in a central square – preferably with a glass of wine or a coffee in hand.
Where to Stay in Monopoli, Puglia
- Hotel Don Ferrante: Yes, yes, 100 times, yes. If you are going to stay in Monopoli then Hotel Don Ferrante is the clear number one choice. The boutique hotel has ten rooms set inside the old fortified city walls – making it one of the most unique hotels in the area. It is beautifully, if minimally, decorated to let the original limestone show through. Be sure to get a room with a terrace to enjoy the sea views, and don’t miss the rooftop pool.
- Fico Apartments: If you prefer to have more space, Fico Apartment has self-catering accommodation just down the street in the same area of Monopoli’s old town. The newly renovated apartments have lots of natural light and helpful necessities like Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a mini-fridge, and coffee maker. There is also a rooftop terrace with gorgeous views, which is the perfect place to enjoy the free, simple breakfast that is always included in the nightly price.
- B&B La Porta Vecchia: For a lovely, affordable option, this B&B is located on one of the tiny, winding streets of the centro storico. Rooms are clean and comfortable, with antique touches. But the best thing about this B&B is the family-run atmosphere set by the owner, Cosima.
How to Get to Monopoli, Italy
A much more expansive modern town has grown up around the characteristic fishing port. The train station is much farther from the old town than in Polignano a Mare so be prepared for a 15-minute walk from the station to the centro storico. That being said, it is easy to get to Monopoli from Bari with a regional train that costs €3.10 and takes about 40 minutes. It is on the same line as Polignano a Mare (just one stop, or about 5 minutes further). Here is how to buy train tickets in Italy.
If you are driving, the town is 25 miles south of Bari, just south of Polignano a Mare, and close to Alberobello, in case you would like to combine sightseeing opportunities.
If you only have a day, you can also take a private tour of Monopoli from Bari. It includes roundtrip transportation and a guide once you arrive in the charming city.
Have you ever been to Monopoli, Puglia? What was your favorite thing about this Italian town?
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