Getting Lost in Ostuni, Puglia’s White City

Ostuni is one of Puglia’s most beautiful cities, a tumble of white-washed buildings perched strategically atop a hill with views of the endless olive trees in the Valle d’Itria countryside, and the glimmering Adriatic Sea just 8 km away, home to some of the region’s most exclusive resorts.

View of olive trees and the Adriatic sea from Ostuni

View of olive trees and the Adriatic sea from Ostuni

The medieval walled city was built without a plan, and it shows. The web of streets is confusing, a maze of alleyways, staircases and arches. Buildings were built on top of each other, and the archways support the houses they connect, making up for the lack of strong foundations. You turn one way and find a dead end, another and get a glimpse of the sapphire sea. Puglia has seen a stream of invaders—Greeks, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Normans—and the labyrinth of Ostuni is the perfect way to confuse the enemy.

Ostuni archway OstuniOstuniThe stark white buildings are dazzling in the southern sun and are brightened by vivid green and blue wooden doors, pots of red geraniums and cacti.

Blue door Ostuni, Puglia Flowers on stairs, Ostuni, Puglia Ostuni, PugliaIn the 17th century a plague killed millions in the area and infected houses were painted white by mixing limestone dust with water. Locals noticed that there was less illness around the white houses and attributed it to a miracle; most likely it was the antibacterial effect of the calcium carbonate. Nowadays the white houses attract tourists and the local government encourages everyone to repaint every two years by paying for half the cost.

Ostuni's main street

Ostuni’s main street

The main street in Ostuni is lined with boutiques and souvenir shops selling local olive oil and Salentino sandals, but the best way to experience the town is by diving down the narrow side streets and like the invaders once did, getting lost.

We came across this craftsman in his workshop, making kitchen spoons out of olive wood. He’s been crafting them by hand for 40 years and was proud to show them off.

Olive wood workshop in Ostuni

Olive wood workshop

At Ostuni’s highest point you’ll find the Cathedral, built in the 15th century in the late Gothic style, rare in Puglia where most of the churches are austere Romanesque or ornate Baroque. Its graceful lines lead to the sky and there’s a magnificent rose window with Christ at the centre surrounded by 24 finely carved columns representing the hours of the day.

Ostuni Cathedral

Ostuni Cathedral

Ostuni Market

We visited on a Saturday, Ostuni’s market day. It’s very much a local place—most tourists don’t make it here on the edge of town—and is foodie heaven.

Ostuni market

Ostuni market (L:R): Lupini beans, round cucumbers, tomatoes, caciocavallo cheese

We browsed the stalls of bulbous round cucumbers, fresh almonds in brine, dried figs, piles of walnuts, aromatic bunches of oregano, twin balls of caciocavallo cheese dangling from string, trays of snails, entire octopus, and mounds of vibrant red chiles, sweet and spicy, round, bell-shaped and long.

Chiles at Ostuni marketOne vendor encouraged us to try his home-made taralli, crunchy bread stick rings that are a typical local snack. He had them in all different flavours including fennel, chile, onion, pizza, and bacon. We also tried lupini for the first time, a yellow bean pickled in brine that you eat by piercing the skin with your teeth and pushing the bean into your mouth.

Taralli at Ostuni market

Taralli

We were amazed by the variety of fresh local produce on offer and at such low prices—most things were under €1 a kilo, grapes were €0.50 a kilo, and giant watermelon just €0.25 a kilo. We wished we were staying longer and had a kitchen to take advantage of the riches.

Where to Stay in Ostuni

We visited Ostuni from Masseria Ferri, a 30-minute drive away, but Ostuni makes a fabulous base for exploring the Valle d’Itria’s trulli (conical stone huts), olive groves, coastline, and many charming Puglia towns like Locorotondo, Alberobello and Cisternino.

If you want to stay in the centre of Ostuni, Biancadamari is a stylish B&B with stunning views of the old town and sea. Or there are many budget apartments in the historic centre like 30 Metri Quadri

If you have a car, staying in a masseria (fortified farmhouse) in the surrounding countryside is a wonderful option. On my next visit, I want to stay at Masseria Il Frantoio 10 minutes outside Ostuni. We visited on a day trip to tour their olive groves and sample their homemade olive oil and we didn’t want to leave. The 300-year-old stables and grain mill have been lovingly restored and converted to 12 guest rooms. The beautiful grounds are perfect for relaxing and the tasting menus are supposed to be incredible. 

You can find more places to stay in Ostuni here.

La Città Bianca, the white city of Ostuni, is one of Puglia’s highlights and shouldn’t be missed on a trip to this beautiful region of Italy. 

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Ostuni, Puglia is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy with a maze of whitewashed buildings perched on a hilltop and views of olive groves and the sea. Click through for more Ostuni photos and travel tips.

Thank you to Puglia Promozione, the region’s tourism board, who hosted us in Puglia, and to Dionisio our guide who showed us around Ostuni.

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10 thoughts on Getting Lost in Ostuni, Puglia’s White City

  1. I lived here about 3 years and the beautiful pictures almost do it justice. There are so many terrific things to do that never make it on an ordinary tourist agenda.

  2. Having lived years ago in Brindisi, your website it excellent and pictures superb . Will keep visiting this excellent site as I am helping friends to negotiate a trip to Italy.
    Thanks for a job well done! MLG

  3. I recently came across an advertisement in the “Italy Magazine” website for a property near Ostuni selling for less than it would cost us for a two-bedroom unit in a retirement home in Sydney, and I looked up Ostuni on the Internet. What a marvellous town! If only we were a few decades younger and my Italian were much much better! (If wishes were horses all beggars would ride!)

    We have visited Italy several times in recent years but we have never been in Puglia – this is something we must remedy very soon.

    Ian and Alison
    Sydney, Australia

  4. Pingback: The Masserie (Farmstays) of Puglia

  5. It’s interesting how Italy is full of hidden treasures… I’m not familiar with the south of the country, although friends from Puglia and Calabria keep inviting me to visit them. After this post, I think I should take on those invitations and start planning my trip there!

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