You have seen Rome, admired Florence, strolled along the canals in Venice. Where to next? Discovering beautiful Southern Italy is a logic step for lovers of Bel Paese. On a private Italy vacation, you can head to Apulia, on the heel of the country where spectacular architecture, excellent food and wine await.
Martina Franca is a hidden gem that will steal your heart. The modern parts of the town can be quite disappointing, however, the historic centre (centro storico) is a delight to explore. In the oldest part of town, called the Lama, you can spot trulli, traditional pointed-roof buildings, for which the area is famous. The white-washed simple structures stand side by side with elegant 18th century palaces and opulent Baroque churches. The town’s charm is undeniable: tiny cosy bars, ornate balconies, terracotta pots with bright geraniums, washing hanging out of fancy baroque windows, small old ape trucks buzzing along narrow lanes.
The best way to enter the centro storico is through the magnificent Porta di Santo Stefano, one of the main four gates that were built in the 14th century. It used to be part of an impressive wall surrounding Martina Franca with numerous towers that disappeared as the town grew. From here head to Piazza Roma dominated by the impressive 17th century Palazzo Ducale, a fascinating mix of Renaissance and Baroque, a residence of the powerful dukes Caracciolo once, today it houses the town hall, a library and Martina Franca’s tourist information office.
The pearl of the local Baroque style is the 18th century Basilica di San Martino in Piazza Plebiscito. Its ornate facade is matched with opulent interior boasting richly decorated altars and rows of cherubs. There are many beautiful churches Martina Franca that are worth a visit: the Chiesa di San Domenico, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio da Padova, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio ai Cappuccini.
As you wonder down the town’s narrow lanes make sure to check out spectacular views over the Valle d’Itria dotted with fairytale-like trulli. On your private Italy vacation you can also visit the nearby towns of Alberobello and Locorotondo. These two stunning cities are often the main destinations for those who want to take a closer look at trulli structures.
Every year at the height of the summer season Martina Franca hosts an opera festival, Festival della Valle d’Itria, with excellent operas and classical music concerts performed around town.
Photos via Flickr by: Verity Cridland, Vito Manzari, Dauno Settantatre.