panorama  › Detour 24

Bari, a once-dangerous, ever-epicurean Southern city where life is lived in the streets

by Marigia Mangano

The chair placed in front of the house serves three purposes: cooking (or eating), getting some fresh air, or for saving a parking spot. When you wander through “Bari Vecchia” or old Bari, keep this in mind. Indeed, because along the alleys that cross through the most ancient part of the capital of Puglia, you will walk down different streets where the old ladies of Bari knead the “massa” precisely on those chairs, they make “orecchiette” on the street or fry up “sgagliozze” (polenta) and empty fritters called “popizze.” Never move those chairs, even if the old ladies aren't there and if that place, in hindsight, would make a good parking spot!

Bari is filled with charm. To discover it, start from Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the street that divides the old part from the “Murattian” part. Today it hosts several clubs and bars. Some time ago only few people would cross it. Today you don't need to pay any special attention. Just dive into the spiderweb of alleyways and discover the rebirth of an entirely restored city and wrapped in a suggestive atmosphere.

8 am breakfast
If you have a car, it's worth going 10 km outside of the town center to Torre a Mare. It's a minuscule fishing village on the sea, full of bars scattered along the pier, it has a particular charm. Grabbing an excellent cappuccino at Bar Miramare (Via Leopardi 54, Torre a Mare) is a worthy stop that even offers good bakery products. If, on the other hand, you prefer to remain in the city, the Gran Caffè Riviera, on Lungomare Nazario Sauro 19-21, is one of the many historic cafes of Bari: it's been a meeting place for generations, and is another must. Not far from Caffè Riviera, in the old part of the city, Caffè Sotto il Mare deserves a try, situated on the wall in front of the sea. The spot is unbeatable (it gets sun from 8 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon and is cooled by the Mistral wind that blows from the north-west for 250 days of the year). Among the historic cafes of Bari there is also Caffè Dante (Via Alighieri Dante, 63).

10 am roaming through the alleyways
Despite its big dimensions, Bari can be seen easily as it is subdivided in three distinct sections. To the North extends Old Bari, the historic center. To the South expands the Murattiano neighborhood, the heart of the modern city. Beyond the train tracks and the touristy part of the city there's its chaotic and modern periphery. Old Bari is a charming maze of narrow and uneven alleys that define the modest sized area, but that includes the beauty of about thirty churches. San Nicola along with San Sabino are among the most beautiful. The elegant entrance to the old city is essentially Piazza del Ferrarese. To the left of the square you can admire the Sala di Murat, which hosts contemporary art exhibitions, and to the left of the square you can find the old, covered fish market. While just beyond the western perimeter of Old Bari the great Norman Castle Svevo rises majestically, one of the many castles that dominate the city and the ports of Puglia.

1 pm, lunch break
If you want to stop for a quick nibble and proceed with the itinerary, the watchwords in Bari are “focaccia” and “panzerotti.” If you are in the old city, stop at the Fiore bakery: it's located in a former medieval church and makes one of Bari's tastiest focaccias. Also within the old city, a true Bari institution is la Dregher (piazza Chiurlia), famous for its fried panzerotti but also known for the pizza! Great focaccia and panzerotti are also served at el Focacciaro and Pupetta.

3 pm afternoon in downtown
Outside the city center itself, the borgo nuovo, or Murattiano, is deserving of a visit. The Teatro Petruzzelli, the Margherita, the Teatro Comunale Niccolò Piccinini and the Palazzo del Governo are considered the most magnificent and famous neoclassic buildings from the Murat era. Shopping locations are concentrated on Via Sparano (and its surroundings), on Corso Cavour and Via Melo situated between the area of old Bari and the modern one. The walk through the Murattian neighborhood can end on Corso Vittorio Emanuele which hosts several bars that boast excellent aperitifs.

7 pm aperitif and dinner
Be careful not to go overboard with appetizers! It's better to enjoy a full meal of fish, a great choice if you're in Bari, where raw seafood is a specialty: best places to try it are Al Pescatore, where is impressive, da Nicola e la Vela in Torre a mare and il Gambero. For a more traditional dinner, La Taverna Verde, la Pignata and la Taberna (a Carbonara) stand out. In this case the classic menu is made up of various appetizers (equivalent to a full lunch), “spaghetti all'assassina” or “orecchiette” with turnip tops.

The typical Bari cuisine is also offered by Osteria le arpie, in the historic center, and la Cecchina, on piazza Mercantile. If you prefer pizza, Bari has three strongholds: Enzo e ciro (with an excellent piadina that is very different from the “Romagnola”), al Buco (Via Crispi, near cemetery area) and Donato. For a touch of gourmet cuisine, try Antonio Scalera's “La Bul.”

For a quick meal, in the outskirts of the Poggiofranco area, Couch Club and Gulp (Charcuterie, alehouse, and wine bar) finally stand out. But the authentic roast meat is found in in the province, da San Michele (with an excellent “zampina”) in Cisternino (where butcher shops that transform into restaurants in the evening). Finally, after dinner, several bars in the Umbertino neighborhood stand out. Among the most renowned are Speakeasy and CheckPoint Charlie.

10 pm where to stay
Bari hosts a lot of hotels and B&Bs with great quality/price ratios. Two, in particular, are among the most appealing for their location: B&B Vittorio Emanuele (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 124) and the Uascézze (in the middle of Bari's historic center, on Vico Sant'Agostino 2-3). A five-star option is the Grande Albergo delle Nazioni, overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

P.S. If you have time, you can go 30 km from Bari to Polignano a Mare, a town built on the cliffs hanging over the sea where you can find excellent seafood restaurants and classic bars. But Polignano a Mare, as all of the back-country and the Itria Valley, deserve a separate mention.


Panificio Fiore
Strada Palazzo di Città 38

Panificio el Focacciaro
Via Cognetti Salvatore 43

Panificio La Pupetta
Via Benedetto Cairoli 25

La Dregher
piazza Chiurlia

Al pescatore
Piazza Fed. II di Svevia 6

Al Gambero
Corso De Tullio Antonio, 8

Da Nicola
Viale Principi Di Piemonte 3

La Vela
Viale Grotta Regina 19 (Torre a Mare)

La Taverna verde
Largo Adua 18-19

La Pignata
Vittorio Emanuele II 173/5

La Taberna
Vico Quarto Ospedale di Venere 8

Osteria delle Arpie
Vico Arco del Carmine 2

La Cecchina
Piazza Mercantile 31

Enzo e Ciro
Via Matteo Renato Imbriani 79

Al Buco
Via Nitto de Rossi 2

Da Donato
Via Francesco Lattanzio 59

Largo Giordano Bruno 34

Checkpoint Charlie
Via Giuseppe Bozzi 42

Couch club
Prolungamento Via Caccuri 47

Via Pappacena, 24/A, 26, 4G

B&B Vittorio Emanuele
Corso Vittorio Emanuele 124

Vico Sant'Agostino 2-3

Grande Albergo delle Nazioni
Lungomare Nazario Sauro 7