Just a half an hour and €2.90 on the train from Bari, or 5 minutes and €1 from Polignano a Mare, where we were staying, Monopoli was a gem. Much bigger than Polignano, with 50,000 inhabitants, it had more of the feel of an "authentic" city. But still managed to be incredibly beautiful and relaxing. Especially if you did it like we did.
You easily can spend a couple of hours wandering through Monopoli's tangled centro storico. There's not a ton that you "have" to see here, although there is a 16th-century castle and an imposing Baroque cathedral. (We skipped the castle and ducked into the cathedral. Baroque is an understatement. Our favorite part, though, was seeing the priest walk a young couple—the girl dressed in a super-tight T-shirt, the guy in shorts—through what appeared to be a wedding ceremony. We thought we were witnessing an elopement until we realized that it was a practice run).
Just wandering the streets, though, is a pleasure. Make sure to take five minutes and stop at one of Monopoli's many cafes and bakeries for a little taste of Pugliese flavor; I was very, very happy with my choice of a fluffy, buttery pastry filled with cheese and meat. Puglia's answer to the Cornish pasty.
One of the real draws of Monopoli, though, is wandering outside of its fortified walls, past groups of families and old men and various and sundry other beach-goers, sunning themselves on rocks or the odd bit of sand.
The favorite place, of course, was the city beach. And the water looked extremely clear and clean—much more so than anything you'd see around Rome. Given the crowd, though, we opted to push on and see what else we found.
About 10 minutes into our wander, walking south down the coast, my father and I hit on a relatively quiet beach. We were all set to plop down our towels when we saw a restaurant perched above, its open-air terrace with a to-die-for view of the Adriatic. And then I recognized the name: Lido Bianco.
Without meaning to, we'd stumbled right upon the restaurant that food blogger Katie Parla had recommended to me. Now that's what I call serendipity… especially since it was getting close to lunchtime. Although the food would have been worth the effort. And the view.
Wandering around the historic center, relaxing on the beach, and eating a meal that was beautiful in every sense of the word: you can't get a better day in Puglia than that.