If you drive through the Itria Valley of Puglia, you’ll notice two things. The first is the olive trees. Their twisted, gnarled trunks flank the quieter highways. They’re beautiful, and ancient: some are over 1,000 years old. The second is the trulli houses. These traditional squat, round dwellings with conical roofs spring up regularly, in fields and rural farmland. But the place where you’ll see the biggest collection is in the town of Alberobello – Puglia’s capital of trulli.
Alberobello’s zona dei trulli is packed with trullo constructions. Squat, stumpy and rugged, there are 1500 of these little gnome-esque houses on the town’s western hill. Some of them are painted with symbols, which it’s said were originally the hallmark of the person who built the trulli. A kind of medieval tagging system, if you like.
Farmers built trulli in this part of Italy as far back as the fourteenth century. They’re traditionally made without mortar or cement; just a cleverly constructed dry stone heap, with a cone at the top, to stop the whole thing from collapsing. The received wisdom is that locals started building these mortar-free buildings to avoid paying tax. The trullo could be demolished just by taking out the keystone from the top of the conical roof – and so it wouldn’t count as a taxable permanent structure.
On our visit to Alberobello, though, the trulli looked formidably strong, and permanent.
Our hosts at Bookings for You and Raro Villas recommended we ate at La Cantina, but we didn’t make a reservation, and the popular tiny cellar restaurant was fully booked, even though we travelled off season. So we found a parking space on the east side of town, and walked down the hill to the town square. We picked a restaurant at random – the sort that looked child-friendly, with brightly coloured paper cloths set on tables on the edge of the square. The food was exceptional. I ate a simple but perfectly cooked pork with potatoes, and it was possibly the finest I’ve tried. This part of Italy is renowned for its cuisine, so it’s hard to go wrong, even in restaurants that look a little touristy.
After finishing off our meal with some delicious gelato, our walk into the zona dei trulli took us up narrow streets. Some of these cobbled lanes were pedestrianised, and the ones that weren’t saw only the occasional Fiat drive through. Although lots of trulli along the main drag had been turned into shops, there were plenty that still looked as though they were inhabited by locals, or at least rented out as holiday properties.
The construction method of the trulli means they can’t be more than one storey in height. Space inside would be limited. I was curious to see what lay inside these stumpy little dwellings, and made a resolution to come back to Puglia soon, to stay in one.
I was also intrigued by the town’s shops. We found our fair share of tacky fridge magnets, snow globes and keyrings. But some of the shops vied with the trulli for picture-worthy credentials. They sold all manner of fine local products, from pasta and wine to olive oil and handcrafted rag dolls.
The shop above, in particular, piqued our interest. Who were the men in the picture??
Alberobello has UNESCO world heritage status and is said to be very busy in the summer months. But when we visited, in March, it was quiet and uncrowded.
The cute little houses amused the children long enough for us adults to drink in all the sights in the pretty, historic streets. And we even managed to find a playground. Public toilets seemed to be a little thin on the ground, but the bar we nipped into didn’t seem to mind us using theirs, even though we didn’t stop for a drink.
How to get to Alberobello Puglia
Bari and Brindisi are the nearest airports to Alberobello. Public transport runs from each airport to the town, via a route with a few changes. You can find out more on the Puglia tourist website.
Where to stay in Puglia
We stayed at Corte dei Messapi, which was a great base for exploring Alberobello. It was also near the other picturesque towns in Puglia, and the coast. Bookings for You and Raro Villas offer other properties within driving distance of Alberobello, so do check out their websites if you’re interested in travelling there.
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If you’re more interested in travelling to the north of the country, I’ve written here about Villa Pia, a family-friendly shared villa on the border of Umbria and Tuscany.
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