The Espressino Travel team first visited Ostuni seven years ago, and we immediately fell in love with this spectacular yet quiet hill town, while simultaneously we wondered why its stunning piazzas weren’t full of visitors.
Seven years later, that question has been definitively answered. Ostuni is now rightfully on the Puglia must-see list, its intricate and otherworldly Centro Storico, complete with dazzling views of the Adriatic and endless olive groves, unlike anywhere else in the region. Naturally, it’s one of the keys stops on the Espressino Travel Tour of Puglia. Whether you’re visiting with us or on your own, these are the six things you can’t afford to miss.
Best Restaurant: L’Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale
Back in 2007 Robert from Espressino Travel had the good fortune to interview Dan and Martina from Canadian band Dragonette for the Toronto Star. Conversation, predictably enough, turned to Italian travel. Which was when Dragonette, who subsequently achieved global fame for their work on Martin Solveig’s ‘Hello’, started enthusing wildly about an amazing little restaurant in Ostuni that we HAD to visit. That restaurant was L’Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale.
Frustratingly, L’Osteria was closed that first time we visited. But we’ve been back since and can confirm that, in addition to their ability to write a great pop song, Dragonette know their restaurants.
L’Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale is cosy yet uncrowded, formal but friendly, and great value for money. Their four-course tasting menu is full of Puglian classics, created with a passion for the region’s culinary heritage and served with a dash of flair that brings that history right up to date. Owner Roberto works the dining room effortlessly, helping answering any and all questions about his food, striking the perfect balance between attentiveness and respectfulness. He also knows his pop music.
“I did an interview years ago with a Canadian band, and they insisted we came to eat here,” explained Robert, the first time we visited.
“Dragonette,” smiled Roberto, before our Robert could continue. “They’re big fans.”
Best Sight: La Cattedrale
If we’re being honest, the ultimate sight in Ostuni is its meandering backstreets, lined with whitewashed homes and staircases to nowhere carved into the rock. It’s worth spending time getting lost in those backstreets, primarily because it’s so easy to find your way back again. Walking downhill will inevitably bring you back to Piazza Liberta’ (home to a stunning baroque column topped with a statue to Sant’Oronzo), while heading upwards will take you to Ostuni’s essential monument, the 15th Century Cattedrale.
While many visitors focus on the Romanesque exterior and its giant circular window (which looks particularly grand when photographed from outside L’Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale) it’s worth paying the one Euro to explore inside. Relatively modest by the baroque standard set in the Salento region further south, it still stars a bewilderingly ornate silver statue of Sant’Oronzo, and an array of surprisingly violent paintings from the life of Jesus and other Saints. Make sure you take the time to look up at the painted ceiling, where Jesus certainly doesn’t appear to be taking prisoners while driving the moneylenders from the Temple.
Best Shop: Via Cattedrale 16
No name. No web site. No storefront. In fact, the tiny doorway at 16 Via Cattedrale can barely be considered a shop at all. Its keeper sits outside, theoretically guarding the valuables but in reality mainly chatting with whoever’s passing by, while the tiny interior, only slightly bigger than an airline toilet cubicle, is rammed with antiques that can best be described as ‘mysterious.’
Consisting of what appears to be a mix of obsolete kitchen and home accessories, the main question on entry (one at a time, naturally) is not ‘will that look good in my home,’ but ‘what the hell was that used for?’
Unique to the point of incredulity, it remains unclear whether this weird little stop is a shop, a shed or merely a hobby. It’s also the most bizarrely entertaining five square feet of shopping anywhere in Puglia.
Best Drinks: La Mela Bacata
Perhaps the strangest thing about Ostuni is that alongside its timeless streets and monuments, its also blessed with a selection of impeccable high-end café-bars that wouldn’t be out of place in Carrie Bradshaw’s Manhattan. If bars in Manhattan were carved into caves on the side of a hill.
You’ll see the ultra-comfortable beanbag chairs of these bars popping up unexpectedly as you stroll through Ostuni’s backstreets. And the pick of them all is La Mela Bacata. Not just because it’s cuter, with better service than the others (it’s run by two ladies called Tina and Gina – how adorable is that?), but because it also has this view.
Best Gelato: Cremeria alla Scala
As in virtually all tourist-friendly Italian towns, there are a host of great gelaterie to choose from in Ostuni. But Cremeria alla Scala takes the biscuit (or rather, the wafer) for three significant factors.
1) Absolutely sensational all-natural, artisanal gelato. Not a huge range of flavours to choose from (by Italian standards) but every one delivers on taste and texture. Pistachio and Sant’Oronzo (mandarin orange and almond) are the house specialties. Outstanding!
2) It sits in an amazing location on Via Tamborrino, which is actually a pedestrianized square on the edge of the old town. Cute and comfortable, it’s the perfect place to watch the world go by as your ice cream slides down.
3) They give out the most enormous samples we’ve encountered anywhere in Italy. And they’re so confident and proud of their products, they’ll keep suggesting you try different flavours even after you’ve bought and eaten your cone. With gelato this great, it’s hard to say no.
Best Secret: Go Off-Piste!
As spectacular as the alleys and panoramic views of Ostuni’s Old Town are, it’s still worth browsing further afield. Take an early evening stroll through Piazza Liberta’ and down Corso Cavour to experience the best of the New Town. That’s actually a misnomer as it was built in the 1700s. While tourists are sitting admiring the views in Piazza Liberta’ you’ll find a bustling hive of activity as the residents of Ostuni go about their business. Drop into the bars and shops of the ‘New Town’ and you’ll realize that Ostuni isn’t a town resting on its history. It’s a modern Italian city alive, well and thriving, with all the adventure that comes with it. Dive in. You’ll have more fun than you thought.
Bonus Tip: Espressino Travel’s Parking Secret!!
As Ostuni’s reputation as a centre for Puglia tourism has rightfully grown, parking has become increasingly challenging. There’s no logical explanation, but Corso Giuseppe Mazzini, roughly five minutes walk from the base of the Old Town, has both unlimited free parking and plenty of space available. Seek and ye shall find!
There’s still one room left on our Tour of Puglia (including Ostuni) this September. Contact us if you would like to come along on our Puglia adventure. You can follow us on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.