Polignano a Mare, white cliffs of Puglia
Perched on the edge of a high cliff rising from the Adriatic Sea, Polignano a Mare is one of the most spectacular and popular locations on the Apulian coast.
The historic centre of this seaside village is a maze of narrow streets that slope down towards a tiny beach, the Lama Monachile, which cuts the cliff in two. Underneath the town, a tangle of caves invites you to discover a crystal-clear sea.
Polignano is also the birthplace of Domenico Modugno, the singer-songwriter of “Volare”, the most famous Italian song in the world.
All lanes lead to the sea
The historic core of Polignano a Mare, an inhabited centre since Neolithic times, is an expanse of white houses of medieval origin clustered on the cliffs. The village is entered by passing under the 16th-century Arco Marchesale, also known as Porta Grande, which until 1780 was the only point of access to the village that was surrounded by a moat, now hidden by Piazza Garibaldi, with its drawbridge.
You can get lost in the narrow streets of Polignano, sooner or later you will land at an overlook to the sea and the surprise effect will be even greater.
A selfie at Lama Monachile, a small beach with turquoise water
You will undoubtedly find the 13th century Chiesa Matrice, the Marchesale palace, home of the feudal lords, the Orologio palace and the 4 defensive towers. The most photographed place in Polignano a Mare is its turquoise-water beach, Lama Monachile, always very crowded in the summer months: the bridge behind it is built over a Roman bridge of the Via Traiana, the Rome-Brindisi road of antiquity, which passed right through here. Next door, on the promenade, you will see the statue dedicated to the world's most famous Polignanese, singer Domenico Modugno.
On the opposite side of town, again with a spectacular sea view, is the beautiful museum of the Pino Pascali Foundation an artist from Polignano who died in the 1960s, which displays contemporary art exhibitions.
What to see around Polignano a Mare
The ambience of Polignano a Mare can be relished as you stroll along the cliffs and down to the shoreline from which the view of the white city is spectacular. A forty-minute walk in the direction of Nola, between the delightful bays of Ponte dei Lapilli and Porto Cavallo, both ideal for bathing, will take you to the village of San Vito, unmistakable because of the remains of the abbey of the same name dating back to the 9th century, to the time of the Basilian monks who took refuge in these lands to escape the iconoclastic struggles of the Byzantine Empire.
A little further on is the quadrangular tower of San Vito in front of a stretch of sea that looks like a natural swimming pool. During the day as well as in the evening, in this idyllic place, which is also full of clubs and restaurants, you will never be alone: Polignano's nightlife reaches here.
Caves and cliff diving
There are about twenty caves that the sea has created with the force of its waves on the cliff on which Polignano stands: the largest is the Palazzese cave, so called because it is located under a noble palace from which it could be accessed. Today, the palace has been transformed into a five-star hotel that has created restaurant rooms in the natural recesses of the cliff and the cave remains accessible by sea.
Some other caves have the most unthinkable names, mostly related to their use over time: that of the Archbishop's Palace is said to have been connected through tunnels to the bishop's palace, that of the Nuns was used by the religious sisters of the hospital. The most striking one is the Ardito, named after its owners, which has a natural column inside that fishermen used to climb up to the village.
What to eat in Polignano al mare
On one of the many terraces overlooking the reef, in Polignano's many restaurants, you can enjoy year-round dishes of seafood crudités, a mixture of cuttlefish, prawns, scampi and many other fish depending on the season and the catch. For those who prefer their fish well cooked, then the dish to try is rice, potatoes and mussels.
Another local speciality is the sweet Polignano carrot, grown right in the area of San Vito Abbey, recognised as a Slow Food presidium.
One coffee, but special: with lemon peel and cream
If you prefer street food, so you don't miss a minute of the beach, then try the fish sandwich, with tuna tartare, burrata and tomatoes, or the fried octopus and turnip tops, a real treat.
At the end of a meal, treat yourself to Caffè Speciale, according to a recipe developed right here in Polignano: it is a sweetened coffee with added lemon peel, cream and amaretto, always served in a small glass.