Ostuni, the White City. It sounds like Game of Thrones meets the Wizard of Oz and it’s every bit as evocative and romantic as it sounds! What your stay in Ostuni will look like depends on a few things. Will you be in Ostuni only, or do you want to use Ostuni as a home base to visit other spectacular places in Puglia? Right in the center of the heel of Italy’s boot, Ostuni’s location makes it a perfect launch point for your unforgettable Puglia holiday.
What to do in Ostuni
Wandering through the whitewashed historical center (the Centro Storico) can take a full, unhurried day. Filled with magnificent shops, outdoor cafés, restaurants, panoramic views, and gorgeous architecture, your senses will be on overload in the best possible way. Whether you are getting deliberately lost in a maze of narrow Medieval cobblestone streets, or gazing out from the fortifications of the incredible hilltop fortress over the glittering azure waters of the Adriatic, you can’t go wrong.
Cattedrale Santa Maria Assunta
The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is located at the highest point in Ostuni.
This cathedral takes center stage at the top of the hill. The current structure dates mostly to the 13th century but was built atop a site that dates back to the 5th century! An earthquake in 1456 caused significant damage, and the building underwent massive renovation. So, if it looks a little like an architectural hodge-podge it’s because the facade of the building is Romanesque, with a Baroque bell tower, Gothic portal, and Medieval rose window that is the second-largest in Europe. Somehow the mixy-matchy ensemble works, and serves as an architectural microcosm of the rich history of the city.
On either side of the piazza in front of the cathedral you’ll see the Palazzo Vescovile and the Palazzo del Seminario. They are connected by a beautiful arched loggia. The palazzo Vescovile shows the remains of the castle built in 1148.
The “Civiltà preclassiche della Murgia Meridionale” is Ostuni’s museum and can be found inside the Church of San Vito Martire. It also spills over into the halls of the Monastery next to it. The museum houses some fascinating objects discovered in the area starting from the 5th century BC. It includes an exhibit of perhaps Ostuni’s most famous woman – the 26,000 year old remains of a pregnant Paleolithic woman who is known as Donna di Ostuni.
A few of the intriguing shops in Ostuni
As you lose yourself in the otherworldliness of it all, winding down the whitewashed streets, take time to pop in to some of the many tantalizing shops. Even the “touristy” ones have beautiful local crafts, art, and food. And remember, you are in olive oil country here, and Puglia olive oil is the best so don’t leave empty-handed!
*Shops are open Monday to Saturday except some food stores which are closed on Thursdays. Clothing and shoe stores close Monday morning. Almost everything except tourist attractions, and restaurants are closed on Sundays. In the winter, store hours are 9am – 1pm, and then from 4:30 – 8pm. In the summer it’s 9am-1pm and then from 5-9 or 9:30pm.
Bars and outdoor eateries
If you visit during the warmer months or shoulder season, you’ll find a plethora of sumptuous little outdoor bars and cafés. Pull up a chair, or a sofa, or a cushion, have an aperitivo, sit back and watch the world go by. La dolce vita awaits you at every turn in Puglia.
Ostuni’s location in the center of Puglia allows for easy day trips to other must-sees in the area like Martina Franca, Alberobello and the Itria Valley filled with conical stone trulli houses, or coastal cities like Polignano a Mare and Monopoli. You can even day trip to the fascinating and ancient city of Matera, but if you can manage it, do at least one overnight there. You can read my post about Matera HERE.
An often-missed little gem, the town of Cisternino is loaded with alleyways, restaurants, and postcard shots everywhere you turn. Here, you can have a truly authentic taste of southern Italy without feeling like a tourist. We had one of our favorite meals here in a spot we stumbled into, without reservations.
This beautiful little city with the iconic trulli villages is just a short drive away. Again, shops, galleries, food, and atmosphere await! We spent all day in Alberobello, then dropped Helga back at the room and returned for a romantic dinner and to enjoy a local festival celebrating the two patron saints of the town.
Ostuni is located only about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the Adriatic coast, where you can find some of the most spectacular coastlines in Europe. You’ll have your pick from beaches with amenities, rentals, food, and alcohol, to quiet retreats on the ivory-colored sand. Many of the beaches proudly wield a Blue Flag designation, which means the water is clear and beautiful and the beaches achieve strict environmental standards.
We chose our beach day at the Lido Morelli, known for crystal clear and relatively shallow water. Parking was available right at the entrance for a small fee. There were chairs and umbrellas to rent, and dogs were welcomed! We opted to take a 10-minute walk past the organized beach area and flopped down next to a dune to enjoy the spectacular views, and the soft white sand. We had a whole stretch of this beach, located in a nature reserve, all to ourselves. Helga loved the beach, and mid-September was the perfect time for fewer crowds, warm weather, and still-warm water.
On our way back to the car, we stopped for a beer and Aperol spritz, and a light snack of a pannini and fries. The perfect end to a perfect day.
Ancient Olive Groves
Whether you’re gazing out from the ramparts of Ostuni’s walls, or driving to the beach, you can’t help but be mesmerized by Ostuni’s vast groves of olive trees. No two alike, twisted by time, standing as testaments to the area’s relationship to olive oil over the millenia. Some of the trees you see have been producing olives for over a thousand years! That’s a lot of olives! Don’t miss a tour of these ancient living wonders. I couldn’t help but marvel that some stood in the same places from when the cathedral in Ostuni was first built! If you’re a tree hugger, this is the place for you!
You can even wander through these ancient trees, visit a traditional farmhouse, and do an olive oil tasting while learning about local history! Just click HERE!
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Where to stay in Ostuni
Ostuni has great lodging in all shapes and forms. Hotels, B&Bs, resorts, and there are many old farmhouses in the surrounding countryside that have converted to small hotels and guest houses. We stayed at one of those farms (a trulli!) that welcomed dogs, and had a pool overlooking their olive grove. Absolute bliss! You can read my review of Petranima Wellness in Trulli HERE.
What to eat in Ostuni
Ostuni has tons of charming eateries, but there are two things you should seek out above all – seafood, and Pasticciotti. The first should go without saying. You are near the ocean, and what Italian cuisine does with fish is pretty magical. We both paired it with pasta and it was a truly memorable meal. For dessert, we stopped at a bakery advertising pasticciotti, a cream-filled pastry that came in many flavors. We opted for the classic, and “delicious” does not adequately describe it. I’m still thinking about it months later.
And as for what to drink? The local wine of course! You can even travel to a local winery just a mile or so outside the city for a wine tasting and aperitivo! Divine!
How long should you stay in Ostuni?
We stayed three nights, and two full days as part of a two-week southern Italy road trip. We consciously made this segment our chill out time, so we spent less time destination-focused, and more time on relaxation, beach time, pool time, aimless wandering, food, and wine. I highly recommend it!
How do you get to Ostuni?
Why is Ostuni White?
The houses and walls get a yearly whitewashing, with half the expense paid for by the city. The white paint reflects the sun and keeps everything cooler in the summertime. And also, if you’re known as “Ostuni, the White City,” you have an image to keep up!
How Dog-friendly is Ostuni?
In case you need something else to love about Italy, they love dogs! Dogs are welcomed at most beaches (but not all), and many restaurants and hotels. We had many people in Puglia talk to Helga including an adorable old man in a hat who kept calling her “booboo.” Yes, it stuck.
Top tips for visiting Ostuni:
Wear comfortable shoes. This applies to Europe in general, but you’ll be walking on stairs and particularly uneven cobblestones, so pack accordingly!
Bring cash. Many shops do not take credit cards, so be sure to have a pocketful of Euros handy when you see something you absolutely can’t resist!
Wear sunglasses. Sunshine + white city = lots of glare. A good pair of sunglasses is a must!
Stay hydrated. I tend to forget about this when there is so much to see and do! Don’t get distracted by your gorgeous surroundings and remember to drink lots of water.
Catch a sunset and stay until dark. If you can, staying for sunset and after dark means you can watch the city completely change character in real time. The soft yellow lights come on and Ostuni’s white walls become golden and almost seem to glow from within.
Is Ostuni Worth it?
Ostuni revealed itself as an absolutely stunning city with unique atmosphere, evocative architecture, history galore, and a slower pace than larger Italian cities. It’s the perfect home base to day trip your way across Puglia, sampling the regions unparalleled cuisine, stunning beaches, ancient olive groves, and charming towns and villages that transport you back in time and into another world. Make Ostuni part of your southern Italy adventure and you won’t regret it.
For the ultimate Ostuni experience, you can hire a private licensed guide to take you on a tour of the city. This way you’ll be sure not to miss any of the fascinating architecture, photo opps, history, beauty and culture of this unique place.