Stupidly, I’d left my Rough Guide to Italy back in the UK when I recently visited the heel of Italy’s boot – Puglia, but I remembered its glowing praise of Ostuni, one of the area’s città bianche (white towns).
So when I noticed how easy it was to get to Ostuni train station (25 minutes from Polignano and just over €5 return), we pencilled a daytrip in for later in the week.
Now if I’d have brought the guidebook with me, I’d have known this was a bad idea: “the train station is some way out of town”, it gloated at me when I read it on our return home.
We could see it in the distance, its brilliant white buildings mocking us. Off we set on the road to Ostuni – a good 3km hike on a busy road up a steep hill.
But five minutes into our trek, a big black cloud rolled in from the Adriatic, and it was looking doubtful that we’d see the sun again that day. Thunder rumbled, lightening lightened and we pretty soon got pelted by jumbo raindrops.
Then we were saved – a passing bus driver took pity on us, beeped his horn and beckoned us on board as he pulled in. It was a long drive and we realised we were crazy to have tried to walk it.
We eventually alighted the bus at Piazza della Libertà, the town’s focal point where several bars and gelaterias can be found.
The rain stopped, the clouds parted and out came the sunglasses again, so off we went to explore Ostuni in the two and a bit hours we had left before our return train. We headed up Via Cattedrale, the steep street which leads towards Ostuni’s cathedral (below) – one of few buildings in the centro storico that is not dazzling white.
The town has earned its “white city” nickname as its houses, and the defensive city walls surrounding it, are painted with lime every year. It’s a good job we had our sunglasses on as I imagine the reflections could hurt your eyes. You may even think for a minute you are on a Greek Island, but the prices remind you that you are in rip-off Italy (€18 for a beer, a glass of wine and two ice-creams).
There is a Terrazza Panoramico nearby for great views of the vineyards, valleys and the sea – you really are quite high up here, as the town of Ostuni was built on three hills. A maze of pretty cobbled alleyways radiates off from the cathedral, and it was at this point that we got horribly lost without a map.
We somehow ended back up on Piazza della Libertà where we had started, and recognised the huge Baroque statue of Saint Oronzo (below). We had seen a similar statue of the great man in Lecce – a local legend, he is the patron Saint of both Lecce and Ostuni, and rumour has it he rid Puglia of cholera.
We settled down for one final drink in the sunshine of the square before our train arrived – this was the cue for the heavens to re-open, and we got absolutely soaked running from the outside of a bar to the inside to shelter.
The weather can have such an impact on your impressions of a destination. One of the most beautiful towns in Italy? I’m not sure about that – it looks a lot nicer from a distance, but if I’d have visited in the 30C heat and sunshine which I’d been told is the norm in Ostuni, I might be in agreement with the Rough Guide.
I normally only use my own photos in my blog posts, but as the weather was so rubbish I wasn’t able to take any pictures of Ostuni looking lovely and white. Have a look at the two photos I’ve pinched from elsewhere below: it is beautiful, honest:
The moral of the story? If you want to see Ostuni don’t get the train there, take a brolly and a decent map and give yourself longer than we did – it justifies a whole day.