While staying in Rome we often wondered where all the Italians were. Outside the central tourist areas it often felt like a ghost town. No need to worry – we found them all at the beach in Puglia.
Sprawled for miles across rocks, sand, pebbles, car parks, campgrounds, hanging off cliff faces, along old castle walls, and lying on boardwalks, the holidaying Italians were hemmed in like tanned sweaty hotdogs in sandy tins – women and children, men in speedos, the frail and infirm, the hale and hearty were all present. Over the course of our week-long stay in the Puglian town of Monopoli, we didn’t sit on the beach or swim in the sea – the constant bustling presence of the local crowd deterred us. One day we even rented bikes to cycle along the coast to get away from the mob to some undiscovered obscure outcrop of sand, but the itinerant Italian holiday makers beat us to it, like Droopy the dog awaiting his adversary at his destination. Trains to surrounding towns and villages made no difference. There they were, ceaselessly sunbathing, swimming, chatting, posing, flirting, arguing (always arguing), eating gelato, sleeping and swimming again. Finally we decided that it was futile. We were not going to beat the summering Italians in August. The beach could wait. Thankfully there were other things to do.
Like many coastal towns along the Puglian coast, the modern buildings of Monopoli are built around a quaint and historical centro storico full of angular cobblestone alleys, with a busy fishing harbour and an abundance of medieval churches. It is enclosed within the walls of the 16th century Charles V castle whose canon-lined fortifications extend along the sea front promenade, where we sat with a glass of wine or a coffee to look out across the Adriatic, at the less than picturesque industrial ships coming in to port, or even at the aforementioned beaches. To escape the heat of the day we visited many of the churches and underground grottoes, the most notable being the town’s 17th century baroque cathedral with its 60 foot high bell tower and ornate interior decorations.
The main focus of the town’s nightlife is around the old town in the Piazza Garibaldi which is lined with restaurants, bars and a couple of delis. We tried the local seafood, rinsed one of the bars for its free internet access, and collected fresh pastries for breakfast. I managed to stretch my limited Italian to breaking point – there are very few non-Italian tourists here and so, unlike many other parts of Italy, English alone will not get you by. In fact, even when I did try my Italian a few waiters just stared glassy-eyed into the distance, sighed, and walked away. I think it was my accent, or perhaps I mistakenly said something about their mothers. Either way I need to improve.
There. I did it. I finished the blog post without making a ‘monopoly’ pun. Happy? No, OK, I need to say it: THE ITALIANS MONOPOLISED THE BEACH. THEY MONOPOLISED THE BEACH IN MONOPOLI. Thank you. I feel much better. But also kind of cheap.