Our Fiat Cinquecento moved lazily along the splendid country road as if to savour every single moment the way Katerina and I did. We drove through centuries-old olive groves, constantly under the shadow of tall trees. Suddenly, an unexpected clearing allowed us to look towards the horizon. We couldn’t help but gasp. Built atop a hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea and clad in blinding white, Ostuni was soaring above the Pugliese land as if in a dream. Only it was 100% real. We went, we saw and we’re presenting you our suggestions on what to do in Ostuni, Italy’s gorgeous White City.
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Why visit Ostuni
Ostuni is a breathtakingly beautiful town in Puglia, Southern Italy’s stunning region. The fact that the town’s population triples during peak summer season says quite a lot about Ostuni’s charms. However, the White City, as Ostuni is nicknamed due to its whitewashed buildings, doesn’t only attract tourists. Ostuni also appeals to people from all over the world who dream of calling this quaint town home. Suffice it to say that, no matter its small size, Ostuni has the fifth largest population of British expatriates in Italy. For all of us mere travellers, Ostuni is both a real gem of a town in its own right and a fantastic base to explore the treasures of Italy’s Deep South.
How to get to Ostuni
Ostuni is a town in the province of Brindisi. The nearest airports (and ports for that matter) are those of Brindisi (30km) and Bari (98km). From there, the best way to get to Ostuni is by car. Driving is the ideal way to explore Puglia. That said, you can also get to Ostuni by train from all major cities in Italy. The train station lies about 2km from Ostuni centre and there is public bus service that connects the train station to the town.
7 fantastic things to do in Ostuni Italy
1. Wander around the Old Town’s maze of whitewashed streets
Even if one had just one hour to spend in Ostuni, this is what they should be doing. Wander around the narrow alleys of the Old Town. Ostuni’s historic centre occupies the tip of the hill on which the town is built. Its architecture renders it one of the most enchanting destinations in Italy or even Europe. Whitewashed old houses are built one next to the other creating the illusion that the entire town is just one single building. The countless arches that connect the buildings are yet another unique characteristic of Ostuni.
No matter its special architecture though, Ostuni felt way too familiar to us. This is because the town is built the same way the settlements on the Greek Islands are. Not to mention that the occasional bougainvillea added very much to the Greek Island ambience of Ostuni. It’s not an overstatement to say that there were moments we had to stop and think for a second in order to remind ourselves that we were actually in Italy rather than back home in Greece. There isn’t much more to say about the magic of Ostuni Old Town here. It’s one of those (rare) moments that I am at a loss for words. You honestly need to be there to feel the unique vibes of this place.
Tip: Expect some uphill walking but there is no need to rush. Relax and enjoy your stroll at your own pace. If you have time, stop at one of many quaint cafes and bars. Take a seat at a comfortable cushion or a colourful chair and have a cocktail at the most picturesque setting.
2. Admire La Piazzetta Cattedrale
If you’ve travelled around Italy a bit, you must have noticed that any city’s Cathedral is usually in the middle of a large, impressive square. However, this is not the case in Ostuni (or many other towns in Puglia for that matter). Hence, La Piazzetta (small square) Cattedrale. Its small size is what makes this square all the more interesting in our opinion though. The Cathedral itself is dedicated to the Assumption of Virgin Mary. Its elegant facade is a fascinating blend of Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic elements. The square is home to two more buildings, the Bishop’s Palace and the Seminar’s Palace. The two connect to one another by the superb Arco di Scoppa.
3. Walk along Ostuni’s defensive walls
Ostuni Old Town is an acropolis surrounded by strong defensive walls. Deprived of their primary function which was to protect the lovely town and its inhabitants from enemy invasions, the walls of the city now offer the opportunity for one of the most enchanting strolls, especially during sunset. It is only then that Ostuni’s blinding white gives way to the sweetest hue of gold.
4. Get carried away by the happy vibes of Piazza della Liberta
Piazza della Liberta is Ostuni’s largest square and the one that gives the town its true Italian feel. Buzzing with life all day long, the square is Ostuni’s major social hub and home to a couple of magnificent landmarks as well. The most striking is Palazzo San Francesco, a former convent that now houses Ostuni’s Town Hall, alongside the adjoining Church of San Francesco d’Assisi. Last but not least, the column of Sant’Oronzo soars above the vibrant square. The 20m tall column was built in 1771 as an expression of gratitude towards Sant’Oronzo for helping Ostuni survive the plague and famine during the 18th century.
5. Stay at an authentic masseria
You know how we always tell you to stay in the very heart of the destinations you visit? Well, this time we have a different suggestion for you. Although we’d love to stay within the walls of Ostuni Old Town, this time the beauty of the surrounding countryside and the thought of staying among ancient olive trees in a centuries-old masseria won us over. The entire region of Puglia is dotted with masserie. These are utterly charming, once fortified, estates, the majority of which have now been turned into farmstays. We stayed at Masseria Il Frantoio, which lies just about 10′ by car from Ostuni. Far from being yet another accommodation option, Masseria Il Frantoio is a unique experience in its own right. Looking back, staying there contributed greatly to us being immersed in the authentic Pugliese way of life.
From the moment we exited the main road and drove along the scenic dirt one that led us to the masseria’s gate, we knew we were in for a very special experience. There were centuries-old olive trees as far as the eye could see. An inescapable sense of tranquility and relaxation got us instantly under its spell. As soon as we arrived at the masseria, we were shown into our super cosy room which used to be, wait for it, part of the estate’s stables! Then it was time to check out the masseria’s main courtyard and instantly lose our hearts to it. Oh, if we could only stay there for ever! Seriously, this courtyard is everything. It is Italy at its best. Il bel paese del nostro cuore!*
Masseria Il Frantoio boasts a remarkable balance between luxury and tradition. This reflects to its smartly decorated rooms as well as the masseria’s various common areas, such as the courtyard (ah, the courtyard), the swimming pool area and the splendid Italian garden. Another thing we loved about the masseria was breakfast. Cooked with care and the best organic ingredients, breakfast is a real feast of delicious sweet and savoury treats. The entire farmstay screams nostalgia and endless Italian summers. Have we already told you that we could stay there for ever? Well, we would. And, yes, we’ll keep saying so.
Dinner at the masseria
In order to savour the complete experience that Masseria Il Frantoio offers its guests, one should definitely have dinner there at least once. Keep in mind that the masseria accepts dinner and lunch reservations for outside guests as well. Dinner at Masseria Il Frantoio is a whole new level of authentic Italian hospitality and one of the best moments of our travels to date.
We were asked to be at the gorgeous courtyard about 30′ before dinner. There, alongside all other guests, we enjoyed a glass of wine with titbits under the stars. By now, the oh so beautiful courtyard was dimly lit thus even more enchanting. Then Luciano, the manager, came along and invited us on a short tour around the masseria. During this magical stroll, we learnt that the masseria, alongside being a farmstay, is still a working organic farm. All fruit and vegetables that go into the masseria’s dishes grow on-site. The masseria is also an excellent olive oil production unit. Just how it used to be in older times. Luciano also pointed out that meat and dairy products, although not produced on-site, are brought from nearby organic farms. We also visited the frantoio, the old underground olive mill.
After the short but very enlightening tour, it was time for dinner. Depending on the weather, dinner is either served outside at the courtyard or in the masseria‘s restaurant. The latter’s highlight is the magnificent vaulted ceiling, typical of Apulian architecture. Although a sweet April night, it was quite chilly. Therefore, dinner was served inside. When you book a table for dinner (or lunch) at Masseria Il Frantoio, you are asked whether you have any dietary restrictions or not. Other than that, guests have no clue as to the menu. Only that they’ve signed up for an eight-course dinner cooked by a mamma Italiana rather than an awarded chef. And that pretty much says it all.
We don’t deem it necessary to get into much detail about each and every dish we tried at the masseria. The menu changes daily and it differs according to the season anyway. But we feel the need to let the world know that this was probably the best culinary experience we’ve ever had. Each surprise dish that came along was better than the previous one. Every time the waiter came our way with a new dish, we played a game of sorts by saying something in the lines of This one won’t be that good. Only to burst into laughter when we’d realise that it wasn’t just good. It was divine. Vegetarian options were just as superb, while we tried three different varieties of wine during this 3h feast. After dessert, we had more than 30 rosoli (homemade liquers) to choose from. The perfect finishing touch to an unforgettable dinner.
6. Tour Ostuni in an old-fashioned Ape Callesino
Walking around Ostuni Old Town is definitely the best way to make the most of your time there. However, another fun way to enjoy the White City is by riding a legendary Ape Callesino, one of Italy’s most iconic vehicles alongside the Vespa, the vintage Fiat 500 and so many more. Keep in mind that, although it’s genuine and great fun, an Ape tour is quite pricey at 15€/person for a 30′ tour of Ostuni.
7. Take day trips to the trulli region and Salento
Ostuni is an excellent base to discover all of Puglia’s hidden gems. Conveniently located between the famous trulli area and Salento, Ostuni offers the opportunity for easy day trips to some of the region’s prettiest towns, such as Alberobello and Martina Franca in Valle d’Itria or the lost-in-time and super quaint Greek towns of Salento.
Bonus tip: What to do in Ostuni throughout the year
Spring & Autumn: We visited Ostuni in late April and we enjoyed our time there immensely. The weather was warm and pleasant enough to make the most of the outdoors, even in the evening. We assume that, weather-wise, autumn isn’t much different than spring.
Winter: For many, the best time to visit Puglia is winter. It is then that visitors can take in the beauty of Ostuni and the surrounding countryside without any crowds whatsoever. Winter in Ostuni means unique photo opportunities and quality time with locals. If you dream to live in a beautiful Italian town like a local for a while, winter is your best shot at meaningfully mingling with locals while learning Italian in the process.
Summer: Ostuni is an amazing destination for one’s summer holidays. The White City enjoys a fantastic location from where to explore many of Puglia’s stunning beaches. That said, do your best to avoid going there in August. Beaches tend to get unbearably crowded then.
We spent just one day in Ostuni but it was enough for Italy’s dazzling White City to steal our hearts. We really hope to go back one day and spend the laziest afternoons wandering around its quaint alleys or taking in the beauty of the masseria. Will you join us?
*The beautiful country of our hearts.
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Disclosure: We were guests at Masseria Il Frantoio but we express nothing but our personal and honest opinion about the amazing experience we had.