There are many things that define the Puglia region of Italy – an unhinged, jagged coastline, dazzling sea, Salice Salentino wine and seafood so fresh that the locals think nothing of serving you a giant plate of raw squid, mussels and octopus as a starter.
But what makes Puglia extra special are its trulli, the cone shaped dwellings that dot the countryside and are the star attraction of UNESCO heritage site Alberobello – a village frozen in time. People come from all over to behold Alberobello and its row upon row of white-walled huts with their signature cone shaped roofs and sky grazing turrets, lined up neatly like an assembly of praying wizards.
The throngs of eager tourists might not be your idea of a peaceful day out, but the fact you’re all united in mutual fascination adds to Alberobello’s enchanting atmosphere. There are plenty of side lanes for you to meander down, escape the crowds and get up close and personal with the revered buildings. You might just chance upon an abandoned trullo that you can venture into – or one you can even stay the night in.
The drive to Alberobello is an adventure in itself. The ancient trulli ruins are first spotted sparsely on the journey from Brindisi airport, in a historic game of eyespy, until they snowball in number, sweeping across the landscape in a rocky haze.
In fact, it was these ancient trulli that I was most taken with. As picturesque as Alberobello is, with its beautifully maintained and preserved trulli, there is something so fascinating about the abandoned ruins and their haphazard, wild appearance, compared with the organised, manicured nature of Alberobello.
There is an element of rooting for the underdog here in really appreciating the ancient trulli, discarded hundreds of years before the glamour of Alberobello was established. While you might imagine fairies and elves to hold midnight tea parties within the trulli of Alberobello, the wilderness that is home to the ancient trulli seems more befitting to a more sinister breed of gremlins and trolls, stalking the night.
The ancient trulli appear in the background of farmyards, nestled high up in hills or even within your view of the sea – crops tended around them, towels and tents dragged past them, sometimes nearly overtaken by nature but as much an urban fixture of Italy’s history as the Colosseum in Rome and the main roads which circle it.
Who lived here, how did they live, and where did they go? You can find some of the answers to these questions within Alberobello itself, as many of the trullo stores on the main street of the heritage zone offer educational tours. But as with Capitolo Beach, I reckon it’s more fun to imagine it – the story growing stronger and more vivid in your mind with each trullo that whizzes past your window.
Alberobello is about a 20 minute drive from the town of Castellana Grotte, in the Bari province of Puglia. We stayed at the Masseria Cesarina.