At the center of the two seas that bathe the Puglia, a majestic ancient and hospitable city where art, legends and traditions are woven into a history spanning three thousand years
Oria, a small town, nestling in the hills between the Adriatic and Ionian seas, more than three thousand years old – a town with a fairy tale.
As you approach, due to an atmospheric phenomenon, Oria often seems to be surrounded by a light mist, giving it a fairytale appearance. This phenomenon has given rise to a local legend known as “Oria fumosa” or “Smokey Oria”. The tale tells of portraying the heroism of a girl who killed herself to escape the evil wishes of the governor of the castle. Tradition has it that it was the girl’s mother, who had had her daughter snatched form her, set fire to herself, cursing the city: “May you smoke Oria, as my exasperated heart smokes”, the poor woman shouted at the top of her voice.
During our first years in Puglia we tried to take a day trip every two weeks or so with friends to discover parts of Puglia that we have not explored before. Sadly, in more recent years we seem to have lost the habit, something that will be reinstated when life goes back to normal, post Covid-19.
One day, in years gone by as the storytellers would say, we set out for Oria, a town and comune in the province of Brindisi. We parked on the street close to the Centro Storico. Our first stop, of course, was for that all-important morning coffee at the Caffè Deco – americano for me and cappuccini for the others. Suitably refreshed we stepped out, strolled up the street and entered the historic centre of Oria. It never ceases to amaze me that you can one minute be walking through an unremarkable town and then suddenly you find the magic of tiny cobbled streets, whitewashed walls, glorious flowers, fabulous architecture. It was hard to believe that we had been in Puglia for more than four years and we have never visited this charming little town.
We strolled up the tiny streets heading towards the castle and the cathedral. Our first stop was the early 13th-century castle, Castello Svevo, still owned privately by the Martini family, and lovingly restored. Unfortunately for us the castle was still being restored and was not open to the public, that has now changed and, according to the ViaggiareInPuglia website can now be visited.
Following the signs for the cathedral, we reached the piazza in front of the cathedral from where on a clear day, and without the infamous mists, you can see both the Adriatic and the Ionian sea. The Cathedral Basilica was built in the mid 18th century over the ruins of a pre-existing building that had been damaged by an earthquake. The outside of the cathedral boasts a large polychrome dome. The interior is lavishly decorated and houses numerous paintings from the 17th to 20th century. By prior appointment with the bishop, it is also possible to view the mummies housed in the cathedral.
Other sites to be seen in Oria include Gate of the Jews, the Bishops Palace, and at least four other churches. We were happy just to stroll through the sunny, pretty streets, admiring the architecture and soaking up the atmosphere. Our next stop was the Castello on Piazza D.Albanese for pre-lunch aperitivo, a tiny “pub, birreria, stuzzicheria” (stuzzicheria = appetizer). During our strolls, we had spotted, or more accurately, our nostrils had twitched at the wonderful aromas as we passed by the Fuori Porta.
Retracing our steps we soon found our way back to the Fuori Porta, described in their publicity as being located on the most important route to Castello Svevo and providing an elegant dining room in which to enjoy fine Puglia cuisine. We lunched on antipasti followed by a primi piatti pasta course, skipping the secondi and moving on to dolce, accompanied by fine wine and better conversation! After lunch like that it is always necessary to stroll some more to try and walk off the damage – and of course, wrap everything up with caffé.
From the official website of Oria, we learn that Oria has a long history of art, culture and traditions. It is believed that Oria was founded in 1200BC by a group of Cretan Minos who were shipwrecked on the Ionion coast and who created the original community then known as Hyria. Through the ages, the town was subject to invasions, sieges and plunder. Today the city is a plum tourist destination, not be missed when you visit Puglia. Situated halfway between Brindisi and Taranto, high on the hills with beautiful views of both coasts, monuments, artefacts and of course the restaurants and bars, we highly recommend a visit to this charming Pugliese town during your holiday in Puglia.
Oria is about 45 minutes from our Puglia holiday villas, take the Brindisi to Taranto superstrada (SS7) and before you reach Francavilla Fontana you will see the exit for Oria. Once you reach Oria follow the signs for the Centro Storico, you should be able to park on the streets just outside the Centro Storico