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Discovering the Jewel of Puglia: Polignano a Mare

Explore the captivating seaside town of Polignano a Mare in Puglia, Italy, where rugged cliffs meet azure waters and whitewashed buildings cling to the rocky coastline. Discover breathtaking coastal scenery, rich history, and delectable cuisine, and uncover hidden gems waiting to be discovred.
The lyrics of Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu hung up as signs on a street in Polignano al Mare. On either side are whitewashed buildings with balconies and the sky is clear and blue.
The lyrics of Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu hung up as signs on a street in Polignano al Mare. Photo by Emily Fata.

After a road trip through Matera and Alberobello, we found ourselves spending a day just outside of the seaside town of Puglia’s Polignano a Mare for the end of our long weekend adventure. If you know the popular Italian song Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu from 1958, an interesting fact is that this is the hometown of its singer, Domenico Modugno (for my North American millennials, it was remade by Vitamin C as Volare for the 2003 Lizzie McGuire Movie).

Don’t worry, though; there’s obviously way more to Polignano a Mare than just this.

The town itself stands on a rugged cliff overlooking the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea, with whitewashed buildings perched precariously on the rocky surface above, and the sound of waves crashing against the rocks below. It’s like a scene straight out of a postcard (in fact, this is one of the many postcard scenes I painted during my trip).

Coastal Splendour in Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare boasts some of the most breathtaking coastal scenery in all of Italy, with dramatic cliffs, hidden coves, and crystal-clear waters that beckon travellers to explore their depths. When we arrived, we actually went first to our Airbnb in Monopoli, a short 15 minute drive from Polignano a Mare. Because it was later in the evening, we decided to go to a nearby beach—Lido Cala Paradiso—where we sat on towels and talked while we watched the sun set. From here, we went into Monopoli for the night to grab a bite to eat and explore that town.

A woman with a ponytail sits with her back to the camera. She is watching people on a crowded beach. In the background are rocky cliffs with buildings atop them, and a turquoise blue see and clear blue sky.
People watching at Cala Porto. Photo by Vittoria Urzetta.

The next morning though, we drove into Polignano a Mare for the morning. Here, the coastline looks magical, and you can find your pristine beach of choice with the Mediterranean sun shining above you; you can swim, snorkel, or just relax and soak in the stunning surroundings. While we didn’t have enough time to do so, more adventurous people can also take a boat tour along the coast to discover hidden sea caves and secluded beaches accessible only by water. I guess this just means that I have to come back to enjoy all the things I missed this first time around!

Personally, I was super content just sitting back and people watching from the beach of beautiful Cala Porto for a half hour, the temperatures sitting around 25°C (77°F) being a little too cool for comfort for actually swimming. It was September though, so I definitely can’t complain…and, besides, who doesn’t love getting lost in their thoughts while making up backstories for complete strangers as you watch them go about their business?

Historic Charm

A religious painting adorns the ceiling of a church with white walls.
Inside Chiesa Madre di Santa Maria Assunta. Photo by Emily Fata.

Despite its small size, Polignano a Mare is steeped in history and has a rich cultural heritage dating back centuries. While navigating the town's picturesque historic centre, you’ll find narrow cobblestone streets wind their way past ancient churches, medieval palaces, and traditional whitewashed houses adorned with colourful balconies and flower-filled courtyards.

The Mother Church of the Holiest Mary of the Assumption (Chiesa Madre di Santa Maria Assunta) is one of these gorgeous places, and is definitely worth walking in to admire. Painted ceilings, carefully sculpted statues, and the still and silent peace that only comes in designated holy spaces is what you can expect here.

There’s also the Ponte Lama Monachile that you don’t want to miss, a beautiful bridge that spans the gorge and offers stunning views of the sea below. Plus, roughly five kilometres (three miles) north of the town, you can also visit the the Abbey of Saint Vito (Abbazia di San Vito), a stunning example of Romanesque architecture that dates back to the 13th century, and marvel at its intricate stone carvings and ornate frescoes (I am—very unsurprisingly—a big fan of frescoes, so this had my attention). 

Apulian Culinary Delights

A quote written on a white wall with fish "swimming" around it. The quote reads, in italian: "Ma il mare è come l'Anima. E non fa silenzio mai. Nemmeno quando tutto tace." by Angelo De Pascalis.
"But the sea is like the Soul and he never stays silent. Not even when everything is silent." Photo by Emily Fata.

While our visit to Polignano a Mare was an early morning trip and we were gone by lunchtime, it was clear that no full-day trip here would be complete without indulging in the town’s incredible cuisine, which celebrates the rich flavours and traditions of Puglia. Judging from all the other Apulian dishes I had throughout the long weekend, the region’s food is to die for! Like most of Italy, so many of the dishes offered are prepared using traditional recipes passed down through generations within the area, which make them unique to try in every new city or town that you visit. No two dishes are quite the same!

As I mentioned in previous articles, the region's famous orecchiette pasta is a must-have, served with a variety of mouth-watering sauces. You can also indulge in their locally-produced cheeses and olive oils (by ‘indulge,’ I obviously mean ‘eat with every single meal you possibly can’). Wash it all down with a glass of Primitivo or Negroamaro wine, produced from grapes grown in the fertile vineyards that dot the countryside surrounding Polignano a Mare.

Uncovering the Town’s Natural Wonders

Beyond its charming streets and historic landmarks, Polignano a Mare is also home to some of the region's most spectacular natural wonders. Here, you can explore the Grotta Palazzese, a stunning sea cave transformed into a world-renowned restaurant, where you can dine amidst the natural beauty of the cave and enjoy panoramic views of the sea below.

A woman wearing sunglasses and a green romper stands in front of a bunch of potted cacti, several of which are more than double her size. In the background is a white brick building.
Standing among the cacti. Photo by Vittoria Urzetta.

You can also hike along the scenic coastal trails that wind their way through the countryside surrounding the town, where you can discover hidden grottos, olive groves, and vineyards, all against the backdrop of the breathtaking Adriatic coastline. Personally, I also loved navigating the streets in the town centre, where there were a seemingly endless number of beautiful potted plants belonging to locals outside their homes. Obviously, I had to take photos with most of these, documenting the sheer size of some of the cacti and marvelling at how beautiful the flowers were.

So, yeah—whether you're up for a long hike or are simply looking to reconnect with nature on a leisurely stroll punctuated by countless pauses to literally ‘stop and smell the flowers,’ Polignano a Mare offers a wealth of outdoor experiences just waiting to be discovered.

Cultural Experiences in Polignano a Mare

The town of Polignano a Mare on the edge of the rock cliffs. Below is the Adriatic Sea, a bright blue. The blue sky is mostly clear with a white fluffy, white clouds.
The cliffsides of Polignano a Mare. Photo by Emily Fata.

The colourful cultural scene of Polignano a Mare is where music, art, and tradition come together to create a truly unforgettable experience. There are traditional folk festivals and concerts that happen in the town's historic centre, where local musicians and dancers perform traditional Apulian music and dance. When I was there, while no one was dancing, there was an incredible food market with farmers and vendors selling locally sourced cheeses, nuts, breads, meats, and even little trinkets.

You may also want to visit the Museo Civico, housed in a historic palazzo, to learn more about the history and heritage of the town and its inhabitants, or explore the works of local artists at one of the many galleries and studios scattered throughout the town. Some of these are in places you might not expect, like a jewellery store featuring earrings made of hand-painted pottery (which was so tempting to buy, let me tell you).

All in All

As you explore the Polignano a Mare in all of its enchanting seaside glory, immersing yourself in its rich history, culture, and natural beauty of the town, you'll find yourself enthralled by its timeless charm and warm hospitality. Whether you're lounging on the beach, devouring a delicious meal (or two…or three), or discovering hidden architectural, shopping, and natural gems around every corner, Polignano a Mare offers a truly unforgettable experience that will leave a lasting impression.



Julie Ann Shahin
Julie Ann Shahin
May 28

I have to say that you should sell your watercolor postcards on Etsy! Those are awesome. What talent you have. I would love to try the orecchiette pasta in Polignano a Mare in Puglia, Italy!


Renata Feyen
Renata Feyen
May 28

The blend of historical charm, breathtaking coastal scenery, and delightful cuisine makes me eager to explore it myself. Wonderful read!

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