Sunday 31 July 2011

Ostuni, Puglia, Italy

A gleaming white-washed hilltop town high above the plains below, Ostuni is an alluring and easy afternoon trip from the nearby sandy beaches. Extended across several hills, it is a big place and it can be difficult to find its ancient stone citadel. But it is worth the effort. You should aim for the piazza della Libertà, a bustling meeting place overseen by a bishop on an ornate obelisk that towers above the bars, cafes and striking baroque church below.  From here, a stone-paved street winds it way through the old city gradually up to Ostuni's biggest attraction - the cathedral with its spectacular rose window - a wheel of incredibly-detailed carving at the centre of a grand facade. On the way up, you pass too many souvenir shops and under an attractive archway bearing an elegant eighteenth century gallery. From the streets near the church, there are far-reaching views over the surviving city walls, far below, and across the olive groves to the distant sea beyond. Tumbling down from the cathedral are stone lanes and terraces, many of which have been lined with flowering pot plants or commandeered by slouchy chairs from cool bars and restaurants. On summer evenings, you'll find plenty of foreign and Italian tourists in Ostuni, but this picturesque and charismatic town also draws in the locals. 8/10