Travel to the Italian village of Alberobello, down by the “boot heel” in the Puglia region just south of Bari, to find a unique, delightful form of architecture: the trulli house. These ancient limestone houses are built without mortar (a scary thing in an earthquake-prone country) because, according to the UNESCO World Heritage website:
“Tradition has it that drystone walling was imposed upon the new settlers so their houses could be quickly dismantled. This served two purposes: recalcitrant householders could be dispossessed easily and, later, it would be possible to avoid taxation on new settlements. In the latter case the buildings could be reconstructed equally rapidly. This is known to have occurred in 1644 to thwart tax inspectors sent by the King of Naples.”
I’ve been known to employ some tax-avoidance measures myself, but never anything as drastic as dismantling a house. Can you imagine? But thank goodness these dwellings survived to the present day. They are absolutely charming.
The people who live in Alberobello have embraced the trulli form not only for their residences but for other purposes as well.
Things to Know Before You Go
- In the past few years, many entrepreneurs have moved in to buy some of the long-abandoned trullis and renovate them for tourists to rent. If you’re hoping to stay in a trulli and are booking ahead of time, make sure you rent from a company with a good track record. We booked online ahead of our visit and were truly dismayed at the first trulli the property manager showed us. I didn’t expect luxury accommodations, but the trulli they had reserved for us was dark, musty, and not so clean, with a kitchen from the ’40s or ’50s and decor to match. When we protested, the manager “upgraded” us to a trulli house that was at least clean, with newly renovated bathrooms. Some of the management companies have offices in downtown Alberobello, and you can look at photo albums of trullis for rent.
- This part of the country is very different from other regions in Italy. The Puglia region will provide you with an authentic travel experience (and you know how I love those), but expect minimal tourist infrastructure. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just something to know in advance. Alberobello lives for its tourist visitors, but if you venture outside of the village and into the surrounding areas, know that you will be stared at wherever you go. At first I thought that the people were resentful of and unfriendly to visitors, but by the end of the week I had decided that they really were just curious, and my attempts to break the ice with smiles and bad Italian were rewarded. Also know that everything, and I mean everything, closes in the middle of the day, so make sure that you have secured your lunch before noonish or you will be quite hungry by the time the restaurants and shops open again at about 7. Gas up your car in the morning too.
- That said, when you do find a tourist attraction, you will be greeted with a reception worthy of royalty because there just aren’t that many tourists venturing down to this region (yet!). For example, after several detours and wrong turns, we finally found a small wine museum that was definitely off the beaten path. The caretaker rushed out to greet us and motioned for us to sign the guest book. I noticed that the previous guest signature was from four days ago. The man ushered us into an auditorium with seating for about 50 and proceeded to play a video for us (in Italian) featuring the scenery of Puglia, even though we were the only ones in the theater. He then gave us a private tour (with tastings!) of the attached winery. I’m sad to say that my photos and video of that day were lost in a computer crash, but that tour was the highlight of our stay. That man was SO enthusiastic and genuinely happy to share his wine stories with us. He should be hired as an ambassador for the area.
- I had the best pizza and focaccia of my life in Puglia. And the Primitivo wine (a dark, robust red) is delicious and inexpensive. I rarely find it in the US, but I always buy it when I do.
- This corner of Italy is worthy of further exploration. If I return, I think that I’d like to stay at a farm and do the “agritourismo” experience. People are taking advantage of the relatively low prices here to purchase and restore old farms, olive groves, vineyards and wineries, etc., and exploring these enterprises sounds like a fun vacation.
More images from Alberobello: