Claudia Caporaso flashes a broad smile as she welcomes us into a trullo, her home in Alberobello, Italy. Outside, the white building with its conical roof blends into a scenic row of trulli converted into shops and restaurants. Inside, the home features a modern interior: bath and kitchen, a comfortable bedroom and a cozy living/dining space centered around a stone fireplace. Sometimes, and today is one of those times, she invites visitors in for a glimpse of past-made-present. In her shop next door, also in a trullo, Ms. Caporaso sells terracotta whistles made by local artisans.
This post, originally published in July 2019, has been updated (see added COVID-19 Update section below) to provide readers with more up-to-date information.
Tom and I were in Puglia–and Alberobello–to experience Arboris Belli, an annual festival celebrating local traditions and culture. We stayed in a trullo, ate in trulli restaurants and with Alberobello as our base, we explored the surrounding countryside.
Puglia, like the rest of Italy, has spent the past year coping with the global pandemic. Travel restrictions continue, but will eventually be lifted. And when they are, Alberobello’s cultural offerings, dining and touring opportunities will be ready and waiting for pent-up demand to return to glorious Italy. There are many reasons to put Puglia’s Trulli Capital on an Italy travel itinerary. Here are a few of them.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Alberobello is located in the heart of the Valle d’Itria and is readily accessible from the region’s airports in Bari and Brindisi. The city is considered Puglia’s trulli capital and its two historic centers — Rione Aia Piccola and Rione Monti — consist entirely of the stone dwellings, whitewashed with quicklime and with the conical roofs that give the town an otherworldly, fairy-tale air. Alberobello is a must-see for many travelers in Puglia, either as a day trip from Bari or nearby towns, or as a destination in itself.
Alberobello’s first trulli were built here in the 14th century. By the late 18th century, when the village was designated a city by the King of Naples, the city’s trulli numbered 3,500. In 1996, the historic centers were awarded UNESCO World Heritage status as an exceptional Historic Urban Landscape. Today, approximately 1,400 trulli remain, many of them inhabited by locals, like Ms. Caporaso.
The simple structures were built using drywall construction and the limestone abundant in the region. They were originally intended to be dismantled at the whim of feudal lords, in order to evade taxation as houses. Built of wood and stone and insulated with hay, the trulli maintained a constant temperature of 18 degrees Celsius year-round, much like a cave or grotto.
Trulli with pinnacles were used as homes, and the more intricate the pinnacles, the richer the family. Several generations of large families lived together under one roof, with children sleeping on wooden planks set under the conical roof above the living space.
A living museum
A wander around Alberobello offers glimpses into what life might have been like in earlier times, a church that pays homage to trulli architecture, and the building that represents the city’s transition from a feudal village to an 18th-century city.
In Rione Aia Piccola, citizens of Alberobello, dressed in period costumes, demonstrate the use of original tools and explain how their ancestors lived and worked here. In Rione Monti, grandmothers make pasta in different shapes: orecchiette, cavatelli, and vermicelli. The ladies readily take a time out to offer tastes of liqueurs made with apple seeds, basil or laurel leaves, and sweet cherries. Nearby, artisans carve limestone into pinnacles and weave baskets.
Other Alberobello sights
Casa d’Amore on Piazza del Popolo was the first house built after Alberobello received its designation as a city in 1796. Its two-story structure illustrates the moment of passage and change for Alberobello. Across town, the Romanesque styled Church of Sant’Antonio was built in the shape of a trullo and consecrated in 1929. Inside, local artists painted a Byzantine-style fresco and sea rocks were used to make an altar and priest’s lectern.
Trullo dining in Alberobello
Puglia is known for its Cucina Povera (literally poor kitchen), which means seasonal dishes prepared with fresh, local ingredients, whatever is at hand. In this historically impoverished region, it also meant creative substitutions—wheat for meat, for example—and imaginative uses of vegetables, olive oil and herbs. Today’s chefs have taken their cues from this tradition and embellished or transformed recipes passed down through generations of Puglia home cooks. It is world-class cooking!
Restaurants abound in Alberobello and the surrounding countryside and the region offers many opportunities to sample Puglia dishes and wines. During our visit, several chefs in Alberobello surprised us with their creativity and winsome style.
Sleep in a trulli
Trulli dot the landscape of central Puglia, nestled among olive groves, oak forests and fields separated by low limestone walls. However, nowhere is there a concentration of trulli that outshines the historic center of Alberobello.
Here are a few options for trulli accommodations with a touch of luxury:
La Chiusa di Chietri Grand Hotel is located in a park filled with olive trees a short drive from Alberobello. It offers accommodations in either hotel rooms or the twelve trulli of Borgo Chietri. Guests can enjoy in-house spa services and meals from Executive Chef Pier Luca Ardio in the hotel’s Nobis Restaurant.
At Le Alcove-Luxury Hotel nei Trulli, accommodations are in trulli near Alberobello’s main square. A full home-cooked breakfast, free reserved car park and shuttle to airports, train stations and ports in the region are included.
Trulli e Puglia Resort is located in the center of Rione Monti. The family-owned property also offers wellness packages and local food tastings in Italian and English, as well as airport shuttle service from Bari or Brindisi airports.
What’s appealing to an over-50 luxury traveler?
- Alberobello is compact, atmospheric and authentic
- English is widely spoken
- Locals are welcoming and appreciate visitors
- A car is necessary for exploring the countryside
- Accessibility to some Alberobello trulli in the UNESCO zones may be limited
An Alberobello COVID-19 Update: What You Need to Know
- Italy is one of the countries hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, and measures to combat Covid-19 continue to be quite restrictive. Italy’s emergency decree, outlining restrictions for travel to and within Italy are updated every few weeks.
- As of April 2021, residents of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom may not enter Italy as tourists, and all arrivals are subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine. Since policies are in flux as infection rates change, check the websites of the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Italy, the Canadian government, and the UK government for up-to-date-information on travel to Italy from the U.S., Canada, and the UK, respectively.
- Some travel restrictions are valid within Italy, as well. Movement between provinces is restricted to Italian residents traveling for work, health, or necessity. Visits outside the home are limited to residents visiting relatives and friends during defined daytime hours unless other more stringent restrictions are in place. Check the Italian national tourist office’s Covid-19 updates: information for tourists page for more about restrictions on public places, shops, museums, parks, and public transport.
- Travelers throughout Europe face significant penalties for violating Covid-19 restrictions and testing requirements. To understand the rules for entry to Italy that may apply in specific cases, complete the questionnaire for entering Italy (provided as background information only, NOT an application to enter the country) from the Ministry of External Affairs to inform prospective travelers.
Disclosure: The authors’ visit was hosted by ARTECA Alberobello and the Comune di Alberobello. All opinions expressed are their own.
IF YOU GO
For more information, take a look at our dining recommendations on Anita’s Feast!
Photo credits: All photos Tom Fakler and Anita Breland
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