A port and university city, as well as the city of St Nicholas all at once, South Italy’s second largest town is jam-packed with activities for all ages, expectations, budgets and energy levels. Bari is a buzzing seaport with connections to Greece, Albania and Croatia, reinvigorated by a recent facelift and heavy investments into restoring its vast architectural heritage to its former glory. Fly to Bari for its beaches and stay for everything else, such as its enchanting old town, Bari Vecchia, winding streets and unpretentious, market-fresh cuisine. Have a glass of ripe primitivo or aperitivo at its gem-like Piazza Mercantile or just watch the world go by, sitting on church steps and munching on some panzerotti. And of course, dedicate ample time during your Bari holiday to finding your favourite among its myriads of bays and beaches, lapped at by the impossibly blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Once called Barium, Bari is the capital city of the Apulia region, tucked right down in the heel of Italy. Don’t let that fool you: the region takes centre stage in more ways than one: Apulia, or Puglia, is well-known and well-loved for its thick extra virgin oil, stunning 800-km-long coastline, and unfussy, yet deeply satisfying cuisine. With a population of a little over 300,000, Bari comes in behind Naples in terms of economic power but stands second to none in cultural riches, history and warmth. A coastal city with access to strategic shipping routes, it has enjoyed a premier status both as a centre of fishery and an important gateway to the Adriatic since it came under Roman rule in the 3rd century BC. For the same reason, the city has changed hands countless times over centuries, turning this port city into the living memory of tribes and empires, sieges and civil wars, and saints and dictators.
Puglia’s cuisine, in true Italian style, has real culinary firepower. It’s nothing fancy, though. Quite literally: the region’s most important gastro-invention is cucina povera or 'food of the poor’. Born more out of necessity than mere culinary experimentation, local cuisine is down-to-earth, delicious, and strictly uses seasonal and local ingredients. This philosophy is best represented by orecchiette, or ‘little ears’, an ear-shaped Pugliese pasta variety, made without eggs. They make a perfect backdrop for the mouth-watering sauces Bari is known for, blended from aubergine, tomatoes, mushrooms and ripe Pugliese olives. La Locanda di Federico, a medieval-style restaurant on Piazza Mercantile serves traditional Barese dishes with a side of cosy.
Seafood, of course, is also a main character in Bari’s inimitable culinary scene. Ask straight for the signature dish: riso, patate e cozze, and enjoy the harmony of rice, potatoes and mussels, baked in terracotta pots in wood-fired ovens. Visit the market behind Teatro Margherita and sample the freshest seafood you’ve ever tasted. Temptations are all around: fishermen dish up plates of octopus, shrimp and Adriatic fish, ready for you to try. Bari’s street food is legendary, too: try panzerotti, a deep-fried mini-calzone, stuffed with tomato and mozzarella. Look for Maria delle Sgagliozze on Strada delle Crociate and grab some sgagliozze, aka deep-fried polenta cubes, from Maria herself for a comforting home-cooked snack.
Bari has a mild, Mediterranean climate, with rainy, almost spring-like winters and hot summers. Thanks to the occasional winds from Eastern Europe, there might be a few cold days or even (gasp!) snow but the average temperature does not drop below 6°C even in the coldest of months, March. In the summer, desert-air tends to flow over from North Africa, bringing warm to hot days and one more reason to keep to the beach.
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