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Puglia’s beautiful beaches may be the main attraction for many Bari visitors, but the city itself has much to encourage visitors to stay put.
The city’s St Nicholas’s Basilica and cathedral are among southern Italy’s most beautiful churches, while its old town’s bars are bright spots in an otherwise quiet province. Bari’s restaurants serve ultra-local food that’s very hard to find outside the region, while the city’s main market has antique bargains and excellent produce. Outside the city are the Gargano Peninsulas’s white sand beaches, the ancient port of Lecce, Baroque hill towns such as Ostuni and some of the remotest, most thinly populated backcountry Italy has to offer.
Bari’s Saint Nicholas Basilica is not only a beautiful Romanesque masterpiece, it’s also a living pilgrimage site for many Christians who come to pray at the tomb of St Nicholas. Equally imposing is the Castello Svevo, a Norman fortress built on Roman foundations that became a sumptuous residence in the 16th century. Music lovers, meanwhile, will love Teatro Petruzelli, with its frescoed cupola and cherrywood stage, once host to Rudolf Nureyev and Luciano Pavarotti and fully restored after a devastating fire in 1991.
Stalls at Bari Market have sometimes passed down in the same families for centuries, making it a very traditional place to buy food, housewares and antiques. The city’s Via de Rossi is also good for buying local delicacies, leather goods and such oddities as its stationery shop’s handmade diaries. For international and national brands such as Zara and Goldpoint, try Corso Vittorio Emanuele.
The elegant, pseudo-medieval décor at la Locanda di Federico is the setting for regional dishes including fresh fish from Bari’s port and horsemeat in Puglian tomato ragù. For a special occasion meal, try Murat on the roof of the Palace Hotel, which serves extravagant dishes such as seafood profiteroles and sea urchin mousse against a backdrop of superb city views. For something more down to earth, Pizzeria Enzo e Ciro is the city’s most famous pizza spot, great value and buzzing till late.
In Bari’s Old City, La Vineria is a wine bar serving local wines, while Premiata Norcineria is a cosy, relatively calm pub serving drinks and Puglian charcuterie. In the new town, Barcollo is a cocktail bar and ice cream parlour popular with a student crowd who colonise the bar stools on its terrace. In high summer, the whole city turns out for an evening stroll, drink or ice cream along the waterfront at Torre a Mare.
Puglia’s fine beaches start in Bari itself. In the city’s suburbs is pretty Torre a Mare, where much of the city’s nightlife decamps in summer to enjoy the fish restaurants pizzerias and ice cream parlours that line the sandy beach. North of Bari, the Gargano Peninsula’s beaches are popular but have avoided heavy development. At the end of Italy’s heel, the town of Gallipoli also has some nightlife flanking its northern beaches but to the south it has calm dunes, such as lovely Lido Pizzo, that offer nothing but peaceful sand fringed by pine woodlands. Elsewhere, Torre dell’Orso’s white sand beaches lie beneath chalk cliffs and headlands, with many small coves to explore.