On a clear sunny day one November, we set out with our friends, Paola and Jim, to explore Monopoli. Monopoli is about an hours drive (94km) from our Puglia holiday villas, north of Brindisi and south of Bari. Monopoli is a lovely seaside town, perfect for a day trip. The town has a small, enchanting historic centre, a recently restored castle and a lovely port. There are plenty of sandy beaches along the coastline surrounding Monopoli, making it a perfect summer day out with a town visit in the morning followed by lunch and an afternoon on the beach. Or take a boat excursion to fish, swim and eat the fish you catch.
After parking the car we set out on foot for Piazza XX Settembre where we had planned to meet up with a social networking acquaintance. The meeting didn’t happen but starting out at the Piazza, which has a great street market, put us in a good place to visit the Cathedral and explore the historic centre and the old port. First stop, of course, was for coffee. This time “caffè corretto”, translating literally as “correct coffee”, caffè corretto is a shot of espresso corrected with a shot of liquor, usually grappa, sometimes sambuca or brandy or whatever is to hand! Paola took the opportunity to get a restaurant recommendation for lunch from our host, making sure that he recommended somewhere that served typical, local fare. It is certainly the best way to find out where the locals eat and where you can find the best lunch. Suitably refreshed we set out across the Piazza and followed the signs for the Cathedral.
As is typical with most Pugliese towns and cities the modern part of the town is unremarkable but once you enter the Centro Storico it is like entering a new world. We had read in the lonely planet “Puglia and Basilicata” guide book that Monopoli’s historic centre is sorely neglected and many of its prize sights are in such a terrible state of repair that they’re falling down. Now my copy of the guide is the first edition published Feb 2008, later editions may say something different, but we did not see any signs of disrepair … of course, the buildings are old, but they are well maintained. Monopoli has one of the nicest historic centres that we have visited. The Cathedral is magnificent, inside and out. It was built in 1693, on what had been a pagan plot, and is one of the largest cathedrals in the region. Renovated in the 1700s it is a lavish explosion of the baroque and the interior boasts fantastic floor to ceiling marbles and notable artworks (see the photos in the Image Gallery below). From the Cathedral we wandered through the tiny, winding streets towards the Porto Vecchio, soaking up the ambience and sniffing at the wonderful cooking aromas from homes and restaurants alike.
Needless to say, that by now it was getting close to lunchtime and our thoughts were turning to food and wine! The recommendation from our morning coffee stop was for Osteria Perricci where they serve “Cucina Casalinga Tipica” – “typical home cooking”. We were warmly welcomed and I can do no better than quote the description on Concierge.com which starts out by saying “A local institution, Osteria Perricci is one of those great Italian trattorias that leave you sated, smiling, and not much poorer.” Once we were seated the very friendly waitress reeled off the option for antipasti, first and second courses, as is often the case there was no menu. We ordered antipasti di mare and antipasti di terra. The bruschetta (that’s brus’ketta with a hard k) that arrived first was fantastic. Bruschetta is simply a slice of grilled bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, usually covered with tomatoes although that can vary. It was the olive oil that made this bruschetta superb and we greedily mopped up the excess with the bread served separately. The antipasti were superb, a good combination of seafood, vegetables, cheese and meats. Something to suit everyone. For our first course, we had linguine with scampi and cavatelli with mussels and clams, which we followed with a main course of fritto misto for Paola and Jim and grilled fish for Bob and me. Despite having three courses the food was so delicious we just had to make room for a dessert, panna cotta con caramel! The house white and house red that accompanied our meal was perfectly 1acceptable. Great food, warm and friendly service, atmosphere, the Osteria Perricci gets a definite thumbs up.
After lunch, we meandered our way back through the historic centre to Piazza XX Settembre to take a post-pranzo coffee at the Borgo Antico and give our thanks for the wonderful lunch recommendation. Would we go to Monopoli again, a definite Yes. What did we miss – Palazzo Palmieri, Diocesan Museum, the castle and a side trip to Egnazia. So plenty to go back for, not to mention the best boat trip in Puglia.
A little of the history
The city’s coat of arms was donated by Frederick II of Svevia. It consists of three white roses in a red field. The white roses represent fidelity to the Emperor while the red symbolizes the blood spilt by the inhabitants in the defence of their city during the siege of 1207 by Gualtiero di Brienne. But Frederick and his troops were just one in a long line of people who have passed by. These include the original Greek settlers, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Angioins, Spanish, Austrians and Bourbons. Perhaps the greatest date in the city’s history was 16 December 1117. It was during the night that an image of the Madonna della Madia floated into the port together with sturdy beams which were subsequently used by the then Vescovo Romualdo to repair the sorry roof of the Cathedral. Look inside for a painting of the event by Giovanni Bernardo Lama. Every year the miracle is re-enacted by the townsfolk to demonstrate their devotion.