During a visit to Puglia, perhaps the greatest challenge - aside from deciding whether it's time for a spritz or a gelato - is choosing in which of the many appealing towns and villages to spend your time. So, let me do you a big favour and tell you straight up, that Monopoli is not to be missed. This charming little town by the sea offers up a little piece of Puglian paradise on a plate: whitewashed houses, winding tiny streets, lively squares and hidden rocky coves. An entire day to explore the town at ease is ideal, but arriving at lunchtime is entirely acceptable too - just remember that you'll have to take a little seaside siesta until everything opens later on in the afternoon, if you want to see the Old Town come to life.
Highlight: bucking the touristic piazza café trend
It's true, restaurants and cafés on Italian piazzas tend to be places to stay away from if searching for an authentic, non-touristic experience. However, if stuck in a small Puglian place in the middle of the afternoon, you can be forgiven for succumbing to such places a few times during your trip. Luckily though, Cafè Venezia in Monopoli, despite being on a square, is not one of those places. Sure, they serve up the standard tourist fare of toast and omelettes, but if you avoid that and opt for the freshly prepared pasta then you're in for a treat. The gnocchetti (mini versions of Gnocchi) are perfect little pieces of Italian pasta heaven. Made from beetroot, and served up with a creamy, bacon-filled tomato sauce and a dollop of Burrata cheese, they will perhaps even rival the pasta eaten in the most secluded spots on a Puglian trip.
Highlight: one word...gelato
Looking for the best gelato in town? Then look no further than Cafè Roma. Tucked away on a little corner on the edge of old town, if you blink, you might miss it. Away from the tourist trail, if arriving here in the afternoon you're more likely to find a few carefree Italians sipping on a café, rather than a queue of English-speaking tourists looking for a sugar hit. Once there, you can be forgiven for being overwhelmed by choice - because everything looks good. My advice? Start by deciding if you want something fruity or something decadently rich/creamy, and take it from there. Either that, or simply ask the friendly staff which their favourites are (a move that always leads to winning foodie choices, in my opinion).
A beautiful church, a bustling harbour and a labyrinth of little streets to get lost in. Leave your schedule and google maps behind and just immerse yourself in Monopoli's beating heart: its Old Town. Make sure though, to make time to follow the path alongside the harbour wall and in doing so, be treated to white washed houses covered in brightly coloured flowers, overlooking the sea.
WANDER FURTHER ALONG THE COAST
As beautiful as it is, you can be forgiven for thinking that stopping at the Harbour beachfront is a good move. It's certainly not a false one, but those curious enough to venture a little further will be rewarded with dramatic coastline and hidden little coves where the locals hang out and catch their rays of sunshine.
If looking for a sandy stretch, then a particularly pretty one is Spiaggia di Cala Paradiso.
However, nearby Porto Verde beach, though tiny, is sure to tempt, too. For a little extra comfort, there's the option at some spots to rent a lounger and an umbrella, but for those travelling solo with nobody to watch their stuff, perhaps picking a little flat rock on the edge of the sea is the best bet.