PWk: Prod, Tlk: GS2, Datacash: Live
Monopoli edges right up to the cliffs and coves south of Bari. Its eastern edge looks more like a fortress than a town, thanks to the cannon-topped walls and Adriatic-view castle. They‘ve been fighting back everyone from marauding pirates to the Spanish Armada since the 16th century.
Monopoli Cathedral is easily the tallest peak in the skyline, with a bell tower rocketing up above talc-white houses. In fact, all the churches are real characters – from the bell-shaped windows of Santa Maria della Zaffara Church to the baroque beauty of Santa Maria Amalfitana Church.
Charles V Castle (Castillo di Carlo V) keeps an eye on the old harbour. Fishermen still sit in their blue and red boats, repairing nets and sorting bait; their catch goes straight to the town’s top-notch seafood restaurants. Just along the prom (Lungomare), Martinelli Palace sits grandly by the water.
You can reward your explorations with a dip at Cala Porta Vecchia. This pint-sized beach combines soft, pale sand with city views.
Get a history lesson at Monopoli Cathedral
Monopoli Cathedral (or the Basilica of the Madonna della Madia – or sometimes even Santa Maria della Madia) is the tallest building in Monopoli. It also marks one of the oldest spots in town. While it was built in the 12th century, a series of archaeological digs have revealed a Bronze Age past. The in-house museum is one of the best in the city, whirling you through 4,000 years of local history.
The rest of the cathedral’s insides are a bit of a baroque masterpiece. Alters, chapels, apses, domes – paintings and carvings wallpaper them all. Outside, a miniature square is closely guarded by elaborate colonnaded walls said to have been built to shield churchgoers from the bracing sea breezes.
Parade along the Lungomare promenade
The seaside promenade (Lungomare) serves up the best sea views in Monopoli. It starts at the old harbour by Charles V Castle (also a contender for the best views in town) and rolls out south, angling around bastions and churches until it fetches up at Cala Porta Vecchia.
Cala Porta Vecchia is a fitting finish. This beach might be tiny, but it’s a big hit with locals, who bring their families to its powdery sands. Dip your toes in the glassy shallows or go all-in and dive straight into the turquoise Adriatic.
Plus, you’re still right in the middle of Monopoli here, so you’ve only got to glance back over your shoulder for views back to the lace-white old town.