Boungiorno, Puglia! We continue our tour of the area, racing through its endless undulating fields covered with olive trees and vines. What an idyll! And here and there a hill, with a snow-white town perched on it… like Ostuni!
Where is located and how to get there
Ostuni is located centrally in Puglia, at almost equal distances from Bari (84 km) and Lecce (78 km). The nearest airport is Brindisi (43 km) and very close to some of the most touristy and visited places in the area – Martina Franca (24 km), Locorotondo (27 km) and Alberobello (35 km). Another advantage of the location is the proximity to the beach. The nearest resorts are only 10 km away!
We traveled to southern Italy by car rental and this is the best option for exploring this part of the country. Outside the summer season, the streets are calm and driving through the beautiful landscapes of the Itria Valley is one of the most soothing things you can do here. Especially if you choose your route well and mark some panoramic roads… like the one at the foot of Ostuni! Right HERE there is a small turnoff where you can stop the car and click a few frames to the hill and the white houses.
We had chosen a large and tidy parking lot, located near the old town – HERE. A little strange, but it turned out that we are the only car. Obviously out of season is normal. I’m not sure if it wasn’t free, but we still released a ticket for the machines, and the price for 1 hour was 1.50 euro.
💡 If your choice is train travel, keep in mind that Ostuni Station is about 3 km outside the city! To get from there to the center you need to catch a bus.
The history of the city
Ostuni is located on three hills, rising to 230 m above sea level. Information about the city in these lands dates back to the Messapians, who in the VIII century BC. they began to build fortified cities on high hills, and its Greek hue is still visible today. The then city of Hastunium, derived from the Greek Astu néon (“new city”), was conquered by the Roman Empire and subsequently declined, but still survived.
Ostuni’s heyday came during the Renaissance and the reign of Isabella of Aragon. The city is getting a new look! Defensive towers are being built, the fortress walls are further fortified, the population is growing significantly, and humanists and artists are invited to live in it to contribute to its development!
The whitewashed houses
Ah, the white lime! This is the hallmark of Ostuni. The lime is easily accessible in the vicinity of the city, but the truth is that its use doesn’t come just for that. It had three very important properties that were helpful to the local population. The white color manages to keep the rooms in the houses cooler to a large extent and reflects the sunlight, blinding the invaders who dared to attack the village. And during the plague epidemic in Italy, Ostuni was one of the places that was slightly affected and one of the reasons is she plays the role of an effective natural disinfectant…
The steep hike to the center passes by Chiesa Del Carmine. It’s very strange when you look at she from the side… The beautiful massive facade and the simple building in complete contrast. From here you can continue on a panoramic road passing around the fortress walls. Built wall to wall, Ostuni’s white houses look like medieval guardians of what lies behind them…
The square – Piazza Liberta
Our first impression of Ostuni is from the foot of Piazza Liberta! This is one of the main squares in the city and in the summer the space around the stairs is full of tables from the restaurants. In February, however, it is more spacious than ever and you can meet mostly locals, sometimes looking a little stern and angry, but such are the southerners – raw on the outside and gentle on the inside!
The square is surrounded by beautiful architecture, decorated with… laundry! What is southern Italy without hanging laundry? This square gives the city a real Italian feel! And the eyes are drawn to the 18th-century Baroque column, decorated with a statue of Saint Oronzo at the top. It was built in honor of the saint revered throughout Puglia, considered the guardian of Ostuni during the plague (I told you more about him in the article on Lecce).
💡 At the height of the summer season, between 24 and 27 August,i s being organised a festival in honor of Saint Oronzo – Cavalcata di Sant’Oronzo.
The upper part of the square
We cross the main boulevard to go to the other side of the square. Piazza Liberta is a bridge between the old and the new part of Ostuni. It’s a favorite place for meetings, gatherings and conversations of locals. Or in short, this is the social center of the city! The Palazzo San Francesco and the adjoining Church of San Francesco d’Assisi play a major role in this part of the square, and both were once part of an ancient Franciscan monastery. Today in the former palace houses the town hall.
Coffee and dessert
We decided to mix with the locals and sit down to drink a cappuccino in a traditional place. Da Pasquale is the perfect choice to feel the spirit of Ostuni. It’s not a modern and kitschy restaurant, but on the contrary – a small and narrow bar with two tables and a crowded window with fresh delicacies. This is one of those places where sellers and customers know each other by name! They enter quickly and don’t even need to say what they want… The man behind the showcase is aware and with a smile prepare their order.
We couldn’t miss the exquisite dessert “Pasticciotto” from Lecce! It’s available in a variety of options – with a delicious ricotta filling, candied fruit or chocolate chips. To complete the idyll, I decided to read the current issue of La Gazzetta dello Sport… or at least look at it. 😊
On via Catedrale
It’s time to explore the old part of Ostuni! For this purpose we take via Catedrale – the most colorful street in the city. This is also the shopping street, full of many souvenir shops and what not. Our eyes play in all directions… We try to memorize as much as possible, but it is difficult when we want to peek into every stall and around every corner. And the narrow intersections of the street are the real treasure of Ostuni…
The square – La Piazzetta Cattedrale
The Greek traces in Ostuni are clearly visible and the walk through its streets is very similar to that in a Greek island village. Enjoying it, we find ourselves in the heart of the historical part – La Piazzetta Cattedrale. That’s right, the cathedral square! If you were expecting a huge central square, where most of the main cathedrals of Italian cities are usually located, this isn’t the case here… As the name suggests (Piazzetta – small square), its size is far from impressive… unlike the feeling it brings! And it was completely deserted – just for us!
The arch – Arco Scoppa
Despite its narrow size, between the dense snow-white walls of the square are two palaces – Palazzo Vescovile and Palazzo del Seminario. They are associated with one of the emblems of Ostuni – Arco Scoppa. Known as the Loggia, this amazing arch is built on the likeness of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Originally made of wood, the arch later acquired its current appearance, slightly contrasting with everything white, but also delicately fitting.
The Cathedral – Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo
The Duomo on Ostuni! The construction of the church began in 1435 and ended between 1470 – 1495. The style is Gothic and the facade is three-sided. The most impressive thing on her it’s the pink window in the center and its unique details! The outer columns, 24 in number, symbolize the hours of the day. The inner 12 arcades – the months of the year. Angels are equal to the days of the week, exactly 7. And in the center is the image of Jesus Christ. There is a 1 euro fee to enter, but it was closed and we couldn’t visit it.
Wandering in the streets
The best thing to do in Ostuni is to wander through labyrinths of alleys, arches and stairs… Immerse yourself in the atmosphere and character of the white city! There is no map or GPS that can navigate you to the historic center. Indescribable is the spontaneous moment of surprise from what lies around the corner… A head-on collision with a dead-end street or a stunning view of the vast fields and the clearly visible Adriatic coast? Let yourself be surprised!
Due to the location of the city, the race through the old part is a series of ascents and descents from under the balconies of white like mozzarella houses with green shutters on the windows. Despite their small size, most of the terraces are full of flowers, and in some places also the space in front of the entrances. Italians love everything in their daily lives to be beautiful, and flowers are one of the things that contribute to this beauty! The owners of restaurants are extremely resourceful and you can see landed tables in all sorts of places.
As much as we got lost in Ostuni, at one point we found ourselves on via Catedrale, just opposite the baroque facade of another impressive church in the city – San Vito Martire. From here we already knew the way and when we reached the column of St. Oronzo, we knew that we were collecting the last emotions from the city…
View of Ostuni
But we left the most beautiful view for dessert! The Ostuni Belvedere or the Piazzetta Martiri delle Foibe terrace provides a great opportunity to sit on one of the benches and admire the panoramic city views. White mountain of houses, as if rising from the olive groves and hiding the barely perceptible Adriatic coast behind it…
For a final
We spent a few hours exploring Ostuni, which was enough for a visit in February. But in summer the look of the city changes dramatically and you can stay for days or weeks… The proximity to the coast and the possibility of one-day visits to nearby interesting places, makes Ostuni a good starting point for exploring Puglia.