What to do, eat and see in the world’s most welcoming city
We don’t really need any excuse to visit Puglia, one of Italy’s most stunning regions. But if we had to offer up one, it would be the fact that Polignano a Mare – the sun-dappled town in the province of Bari – was recently declared the most welcoming city in the world in 2023.
Behind the recognition was online platform Booking.com, which, for its Traveler Review Award, selected a number of destinations with the highest number of establishments rated for the quality of hospitality. Polignano came on top, and we can’t say we’re surprised: spectacularly positioned on the edge of a craggy ravine pockmarked with caves, this small town boasts the best Puglia has to offer: a friendly atmosphere, the most atmospheric of centri storici, and beautiful beaches and food. Ready to plan a visit? Here’s all you need to know to spend two perfect days in Polignano.
Polignano a Mare’s old town dates back thousands of years and oozes history and culture at every corner. Spend a morning strolling down its winding lanes and pretty piazzas lined with whitewashed buildings and cacti, or opt for a tour in a classic apetta with the organisation Polignano Made in Love. Better yet, consider taking a boat trip to admire the town and its surrounding landscape from a different perspective.
On the seafront, on via Conversano 4, don’t miss the statue of the late, uber-celebrated singer Domenico Modugno, Polignano’s most famous native (although for many years the artist pretended to be Sicilian, as he believed it would be more beneficial to his career—something the locals eventually forgave him for) . The three-metre-high bronze statue is the work of the Argentine sculptor Hermann Mejer and depicts Modugno with his arms wide open, in a nod to the gesture he made at Sanremo in 1958, when he performed his unforgettable “Volare” for the first time.
Cala Paura – a small beach near the centre of Polignano a Mare – is another iconic sight, and the place where, on June 14, the statue of San Vito, patron saint of Polignano a Mare, is brought in from the sea. Next up don’t miss the Abbazia di San Vito, a church dating to the 10th century that can be visited only on Sunday morning during mass; and the Pino Pascali Museum, the only foundation in Puglia dedicated to contemporary art. The structure houses a permanent collection of the Polignano artist Pino Pascali, as well as rotating temporary exhibitions.
You’re in Puglia, which means one thing: Beach life is king. For a beach in spectacular settings, few are better than Lama Monachile Beach, also called Cala Porto, Polignano a Mare’s main public beach.
Known for its clear water and gorgeous white pebbles it is flanked by dramatic, rugged cliffs in what’s essentially a compact cove, making for a truly unique sunbathing spot, and one of Italy’s most picturesque beaches. Take in the views of the houses teetering above and the sea caves high up in the rocks and relax: This is the real soul of Polignano.
More fun and frolics under the sun can be had at Lido Cala Paura and Spiaggia di Ponte dei Lapilli, though be warned these are rocky, not sandy outposts (but they’re still really nice!).
Love extreme sports? Then make sure to plan your visit around the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championships, whose Italian leg has been held in Polignano a Mare since 2014.
Like the rest of Puglia, Polignano a Mare is a treasure trove of great food, local traditions, and the freshest fish cuisine.
Start with breakfast at Caffè dei Serafini with its exceptional sea views, then make a stop at Il Super Mago del Gelo Bar Mario Campanella, a cafe that has been around since 1935. Here, make sure to order the ‘special coffee,’ a concoction prepared with coffee, sugar, lemon zest, cream and amaretto that you won’t find anywhere else. Fueled up on caffeine? Great. Time for a pasticciotto (a classic Apulian pastry filled with custard) at Martinucci, the best in town.
For lunch, laidback Pescaria is an absolute must. Italy’s first fish fast food shop – you’ll also find it in Milan, Rome and Turin – opened its original location right in Polignano, where it draws crowds for its generous fish sandwiches, delicious salads and always fresh raw fish platters. Order at the counter, grab a glass of vino, and prepare to be blown away by one of the simplest yet most tantalising meals you’ll ever have in Puglia.
After a day of sunbathing and sightseeing, a gourmet seafood dinner can be had at Da Tuccino and Antiche Mura, which offer reinterpretations of typical Polignano cuisine; or the increasingly popular Jamantè, managed by the very young Gianluca Torres – an Italian TasteAmbassador – and chef Roberto Pisciotta, who’s part of Italy’s national chefs team. Want more options? Try Meraviglioso Osteria Moderna, Osteria Chichibio or Mint, where there is a wide choice of vegetarian dishes.
Caffè dei Serafini
Via S. Benedetto, 49, 70044 Polignano a mare BA
Contrada Santa Caterina, 69/f, 70044 Polignano a Mare BA