A Golden Day in Martina Franca
Several months ago, Susan Van Allen, an author and fellow Italophile asked me to contribute a post to her “A Golden Day in . . .” blog. Susan, who comes by her love of Italy honestly from her southern Italian immigrant maternal grandparents, has developed a series of blog posts centered around providing would-be visitors with an idea of what it’s like to spend a perfect, or “golden” day in specific Italian locales. Susan’s blog reads like a preview of charming coming attractions; you’ll want to visit every single one of these enchanting towns. And since our turf is Martina Franca, my golden day begins and ends here.
Today, alas, is anything but a golden day all over southern Italy, which made me think about the gorgeous summer weather that inspired my “golden day” contribution to Susan’s blog. A scirocco storm blew in from Africa last night, bringing torrential rain and fearsome gusts of wind that are rattling our roof terrace’s terracotta pots and emptying the streets of their usual Sunday evening passeggiata parade. We’ve covered ourselves in fleece, poured some restorative primitivo wine and are dreaming of better weather to come.
You can read “A Golden Day in Martina Franca” on Susan’s site or continue here. And wherever you are, it’s my fondest hope that you’re inspired to discover your own “golden day” here once day soon. Follow the itinerary in the golden day post and you’ll
understand what makes this part of the world so compelling.
A Golden Day in Martina Franca in the Valle d’Itria of Puglia
Martina Franca is a jewel in Puglia’s Valle d’Itria located just 30 kilometers from the Adriatic coast. At almost 500 meters above sea level, it’s the highest town in sight and its stunning baroque architecture makes it a must-see stop on any southern Italian visit. From narrow, twisting alleyways in the antique town center to Slow Food-selected cured meats, Martina Franca has it all. Join us for a golden day here and learn more about what makes Martina so special.
To immerse yourself fully in the life of the town, plan to stay at Villaggio In, which offers self-catering apartments located throughout the picturesque centro storico (historic town center). Each apartment is beautifully furnished, offering a fully-equipped kitchen should you become inspired by the gorgeous fruits and vegetables on offer at Martina Franca’s weekly market. If you prefer a more rural experience still within close reach of Martina Franca, Masseria Fumarola is an inspired lodging choice just a few kilometers out of town. A family farm complete with mortarless stone, cone-shaped roof dwellings for which the Valle d’Itria is famous, Masseria Fumarola offers a deluxe lodgings with all of the amenities you might expect along with especially gracious hospitality from the young proprietor, Anna Sticchi.
Plan to arrive in Martina Franca on a Wednesday so you can visit the area’s most complete outdoor market located in Piazza d’Angio and its surrounding streets from Via Taranto. Puglia supplies much of Italy and northern Europe with an extraordinary array of fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, fish and just about anything else you can imagine, so the weekly market is the best place to appreciate the bounty. Walk to the market through the old town, stopping for a morning cappuccino and a breakfast treat at Caffe Tripoli, Puglia’s historic cafe famous for its ethereal bocconotti, a breakfast pastry filled with sweetened fresh ricotta and pear marmalade (Via Garibaldi, 35; 080-4805260).
After the market, stop in at l’Acropoli di Puglia (Via Votano, 5; 080-4303302)the only olive mill in the city center. There you can learn how olives are become extra virgin olive oil, a centuries-old tradition for which Puglia is justifiably famous. You can taste the many varieties available and even purchase some of your favorites to take with you.
Martina Franca is famous all over Italy for its delicious capocollo, a traditional Italian salume (cold cut) made from dry-cured whole pork shoulder or neck. It is cured with white wine, garlic and herbs, smoked over oak wood and it’s found on every antipasto menu in this region. Stop by Romanelli Macelleria (Via Valle d’Itria, 8/12; 080-4805385) and ask Nino for taste of this delicacy—you’ll be treated to a typically Pugliese greeting that always involves tastes from the bountiful salumi case and
convivial hospitality—and will leave having made new friends.
If you’d like to learn more about Martina Franca’s storied wine industry and the D.O.C. (Denominazione Origine Controllata) zones for which this area is famous, don’t miss Cantine Miali, a fourth generation winery now making some of the best wine in the region (Via Madonnina, 11; 080-4303222). Call ahead for a visit and tasting, which are also conducted in English.
Even though you have indulged in a little tasting, it’s lunchtime, the biggest meal of the day here and the choices are endless. It’s hard to go wrong, but a few of our favorite restaurants will offer you a terrific overview of the cucina casalinga for which Martina Franca and the Valle d’Itria are justifiably well known. In town, try La Tavernetta, a small, subterranean trattoria that gets the classics here just right. These include orecchiette al ragu (little handmade ear-shaped semolina pasta with a traditional southern Italian tomato sauce; fave e cicoria, delicious pureed fava beans with sautéed chicory; and braciole, thinly sliced veal stuffed with parsley, cheese and garlic then long-cooked in fresh tomato sauce). Trust yourself to longtime waiter Cesare, who, along with the husband and wife chef team Pino and Daniela, cares deeply about guests and their experience (Via Vittorio Emmanuele, 30; 0804306323). Another great option is La Tana di Nicola, located in a corner of Martina Franca’s stately Ducal Palace (Via Mascagni, 2/6; 080-4805320). Here the classics are reinterpreted
with confidence, sophistication and style and the wine list is exceptional.
When you finish your after-lunch espresso and perhaps a thimbleful of liquore d’alloro (bay leaf digestivo), it’s time to explore Martina Franca’s historic center. Before lunch, stop by the tourist office to pick up a walking tour map so that you can discover Martina’s treasures after lunch before stores open again at 5:00 p.m. and most of the town is still quiet. Must-see highlights include: the Basilica di San Martino (Via Masaniello, 1; 080-4306536), a UNESCO World Heritage site and a breathtaking example of Baroque and Rococò architecture; the Palazzo Ducale (Piazza Roma), built in the second half of the 17th century and home to the 18th century tempera wall paintings of Domenico Carella that depict biblical scenes, court life and classical mythology; and the site of the first Martina Franca settlement dating from the 13th century, Montedoro (Vico Montedoro). Details about all of these sites can be found in this newly-published guide book for English-speaking visitors. Pick it up at any bookstore or news stand in town.
When you finish your walk, you might feel like you falling in love with Martina Franca, so you shouldn’t miss the art studio of Vincenzo Milazzo (Via Garibaldi, 13; 080-4831330), a naïf artist who captures Martinese life in his paintings with whimsy and heart. The gallery is full of his work, both original and prints, and the painter is often on hand to talk with you about his inspiration.
All this activity might require a little rest before you venture out later for Martina Franca’s famous passeggiata, the evening walk through the old town that includes everyone from the Martina’s most elderly residents to newborn babies in strollers. Starting around 8:00 p.m. most evenings from Piazza XX Settembre, the walk follows the meandering Corso Vittorio Emmanuele past the basilica and into Piazza Santa Maria Immocolata, which looks like an opera stage set. The passeggiata offers superb people watching, so you might want to stop for an aperitivo at Super Bar in Piazza Roma so you don’t miss a thing. And in the unlikely event that you need a little snack to hold you over until dinner , Super Bar is famous for its panzerotti, heavenly little pockets of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes encased in fluffy pizza dough and deep-fried in olive oil.
Dinner starts late by North American standards, never before 9:00 p.m. Why not experience Martina Franca’s justifiably famous meat by dining at a fornello pronto establishment? Many of Martina’s butcher shops operate as restaurants in the evening, roasting their local meat in their own wood-burning ovens and serving you inside or outside, weather permitting. Traditional specialties include bombette (thin slices of veal stuffed with provolone, caciocavallo or gorgonzola), local sausages and tiny lamb chops. The best is Macelleria Granaldi (Via Bellini, 108; 328-3218371) located just on the edge of the old town center. In the summer, you can eat outside, but call ahead to reserve, because Granaldi is very popular with the locals.
If you’d like something lighter, try Convivium, a wine bar that features small plates, salads and samples of local meats and cheeses (Via Pietro Barnaba, 7; 368-561630). Located on a little alleyway just off
Piazza XX Settembre in the ground floor of the Ducal Palace, this is the place to be during the summer when you can eat outside—the people watching is unparalleled here since the clientele tends to be comprised of young and chic Martina residents. Pizza is another great option—the best is found at Al Dolce Morso (Via Giannone, 3; 080-4801315). The pizza menu is endless, the wood-burning oven is hot and the prices are excellent.
End your golden day in Martina Franca’s centro storico with a leisurely stroll or short drive back to your hotel, reveling in the luminous nighttime glow of Martina’s limestone-paved streets and stately, Baroque palaces. Your day here will long be remembered for its many moments of elegance and refinement immersed in the gracious, warm hospitality of its residents.