Ostuni, a white city on a hill, will seduce you. Ostuni’s old town, famous for its whitewashed homes stacked precariously on a hill, shimmers in the sun. It is located about 100 miles east of Matera in Italy’s Puglia region.
So we pack our bags early to arrive before 10 am. Our bus driver whips the van around the winding country roads. We frequently pass slower drivers. The most prominent site enroute is the groves of olive trees.
White City on a Hill
From a far distance our group spies Ostuni. The city resembles an ornate wedding cake comprised of eight tiers of irregular layers. At its pinnacle sits the Ostuni Cathedral (instead of the cliche bride and groom).
Its architecture combines Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine design. Our van drops us at the lowest part of the city. We meander through the parking lot and then begin the climb up the winding alleys, the buildings painted by the white lime.
There are stores selling sandstone artwork, plastic bags of tri-colored elephant ear pasta, religious statues and summer frocks. The boisterous flowers and plants spill out of the baskets that line the balconies of many abodes.
We stop at a bar to buy a cappuccino and use the toilet. The espresso machine sputters and growls as cup upon cup is brewed. Each cappuccino is adorned with an irregular heart formed by the milk froth. Italian patronize their local bar throughout the day, first to buy their espresso in the morning, then for a quick snack at lunch and finally for a glass of vino in the evening.
After our refreshment, we wander through the piazza. All the buildings are white so the city seems to shimmer in the sun. There is a statue of the archibishop. Children are running everywhere. A toddler cries mournfully for a gelato. Mid-morning approaches rush hour on Ostuni’s sidewalks. They are teeming with strollers.
A motorcyclist whips his bike up on the curb to get around the slow moving cars. Golf carts emblazoned with the logos for competing tour companies ferry tourists up the steep streets. We begin our steady winding climb to the piazza where there is a panoramic view of the sea. Looking down, I see the steep drop of roofs.
Ostuni is home to a cathedral dating back to the 1400s. Its architecture combines Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine design. Its second church (Chisea de San Vito Martire) has been recommissioned as a archaeological museum. The adjoining convent once was home to a Carmelite order of nuns. San Vito is one of Italy’s most beloved saints after Francis de Assisi. Vito is the patron saint of family pets.
Although the streets are packed with tourists, we are still able to enjoy this outdoor museum. I particularly love the whitewashed staircases that are laden with baskets, clay pots and metal containers spilling over with pale peach, rose, pink and yellow flowers perfuming the air.
The intricate railings adorn the balcony windows and stairwells. A bicycle lazily rests against the side of the staircase. Its wicker basket is overflowing with red geraniums and green foliage.
The perfect way to end this short visit to Ostuni is to arrange a picnic. There is no time for a leisurely lunch and a glass of vino as we have the big afternoon hike to the masseria. It is located outside Ostuni. But Italian villas are available for rent in the white city on the hill.
Each of us separately purchases our “street food”—rolls stacked with ham, salami, Prosciutto or mozzarella. Sundried tomatoes give a vinegary punch. I add anchovies. Then we find a bench under a tree to watch the people walk by and eat in peace.
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