After ten minutes walking the shaded, limestone laneways of Monopoli, I get it.
This is where Italy comes to spend the summer.
We’re on the ‘heel’ of the boot, along the gleaming azure coastline of the Adriatic, in Puglia. Known for its warm southern climate and outstanding food (even amongst Italians), the region stretches from the commercial centre of Bari in the north to the Salento peninsula’s 2000 year-old city of Lecce in the south.
Italians in beach gear meander between the town’s old centre and the seaside promenade (lungomare) – it’s safe to say we’re the only English speakers in the village. It’s like we’ve won the holiday lottery.
Climbing roses and bougainvillea in red, violet and white bedeck narrow balconies and faded green, storm-shuttered windows. Anywhere else in the world I’d say its kitsch – not here. A 90-something Nonna lovingly tends her plants outside her door, a stamp of authenticity.
“Ciao, Daniel!” shouts Gianfranco, my new best friend, from his restaurant door.
“No, no grazie – tired – pisolino”, I reply in my tourist’s hybrid English Italian. It’s 3pm after all, nap time.
We’d spent the earlier part of the day wallowing in the clear waters of the Adriatic Sea, at a beach only five-minutes walk from the old town centre. There’s an abundance of beachside choices in the region – from the well-provisioned (and often over-priced) privately-run beach clubs, blaring out the Summer’s trashy Euro anthems, to little gems like Porto Rosso – a 10 minute walk and leap into deep, azure water off the limestone rocks from our house-stay.
After several hours exploring inlets and sea caves carved by the tide, our hunger is of Apulian (the lingua franca for anything, or anyone, from Puglia) proportions.
A quick turn-a-round the town’s Piazza Garibaldi offers some enticing choices. Vini Panini showcases local fare and wines. I must admit the region’s rosés and whites punch above their weight, while the reds tend to be quaffable but young.
Away from the Piazza we discover Tiles on Via Orazio Comes – a hole-in-the-wall bar offering local fresh seafood, sophisticated cocktails and local craft beers. We tuck into a Puccia, a toasted flatbread stuffed with meat, cheese and seasonal vegetables straight off nearby farms – and tuna tartare. Served with a side of Apulian-style Melba toast, the tuna is fresh, delicately unctuous and served at the ideal temperature.
Back in the piazza, a hand-made gelato from Gelateria Caruso finishes off lunch – local lemons, melons and berries form the base for many of the flavours. Try the limone e’ torta – a smooth and creamy lemon gelato with sponge cake pieces. My self-discipline fails miserably in my attempt to not have a second helping.
While the baking afternoon sun is likely to keep all but the most committed day tourist off the streets, evening brings out a fairly chilled-out holiday crowd.
As the evening air starts to cool we head to a local trattoria for a meal. Freshly caught grilled fish and calamari as well as a hand-made pasta in a simple tomato sauce matched with a large carafe of a crisp, dry local wine costs less than €20 for three of us. We’re completely content for a fraction of what we’d pay in Rome.
And as the sky darkens after another day of meandering, beachside slumbering and wonderful food I realise you just can’t go past Monopoli. So while other holidaymakers from around the world inundate the Amalfi Coast or head to Capri and Tuscany, I should suggest you head to Monopoli’s relatively undiscovered mix of fresh cuisine, softly cool summer nights and sparkling sea but I won’t – it’s mine.