Monopoli: sights, beaches, hotels, transportation
The Complete Guide to Monopoli

Monopoli: sights, beaches, hotels, transportation

Monopoli is a typical southern Italian town. Old and very beautiful, with a fishing port and magnificent, serene Mediterranean views, with white-washed little squares, where by day you just want to drink a cold white in the shade of the ancient walls, and in the evening it is so easy to mingle with the vocal crowd of descendants of the ancient Greeks and Romans and feel like you belong. Monopoli is not to be missed if you are traveling to Puglia.

When we say «Southern Puglia», we imagine turquoise sea, white sand and old coastal towns lined with light beige and white houses. Straight streets are blown by winds from the coast, light sandstone walls reflect the merciless sun of the Italian south, and the height of houses and the distance between them are so clearly calibrated that at any time of day, even at noon, on one side of the street will always be a shadow. Nature itself has for centuries taught the locals to enjoy living in a very hot and not very comfortable climate.

Monopoli is touristy, crowded, well-kept and cozy. From here it’s just a 5-minute, or one stop, train ride to the even busier Polignano-a-Mare, which ranks among the country’s most picturesque beaches. Hotel prices in Monopoli are ten percent lower, and there are slightly fewer people than in crowded Polignano. For exploring Southern Puglia and its towns — Alberobello, Ostuni, Locorotondo, Marina Franca — I recommend staying here. Monopoli is equidistant between Puglia’s capital, Bari, and the region’s other major city, Brindisi — either of which takes 45 minutes by train.

Monopoli sights and beaches

Monopoli Attractions

Monopoli is an ancient city: it was founded by the Greeks and later passed to the Romans, Spaniards and Venetians. Their traces remain in its walls, cobblestone streets and traditions.

The town is not rich in the usual attractions — historical or architectural. The main attraction here is the atmosphere of the seaport, fishing life and historic conquestsStar

Old city walls and bell tower
Old city walls and bell tower

Old Port (Porto Vecchio)

It’s not often that a harbor makes it to the top of «what to see» lists, but in Monopoli, Porto Vecchio, or «old port," is the heart and pulse of the city. It’s where the Gozzo fishing boats, typical Italian coastal fishing boats, are moored.

The Gozzi used to be paddleboats, but since the 1970s motors have been attached to them. In Monopoli, the boats are painted in red and blue colors. It is such an important symbol of the town that even its tourist logo shows a sea wave and a red and blue wooden oar.

Gozzi’s are still in use today. They are used by fishermen to go fishing close to the shore, and the Gozzo can also be used to book a boat trip along the coast.

In addition to the Gozzi, the neo-Gothic palace of Martinelli Meo-Evoli (Martinelli Meo-Evoli), built in the 18th century, and the Castle of Charles V attract attention in the old port.

Typical Gozzi boats in the Old Port of Monopoli
Typical Gozzi boats in the Old Port of Monopoli
Typical Gozzi boats in the Old Port of Monopoli
Typical Gozzi boats in the Old Port of Monopoli

Castle of Charles V (Castello Carlo V di Monopoli)

The pentagonal fortress was built by King Charles V of Spain on the remains of a former monastery on a promontory jutting out into the sea. The castle protected the city from attacks from the sea, from the XIX century until 1969 it served as a prison, and now it is an exhibition center.

The castle itself is not old: it dates back to 1552. However, beneath its stones are traces of even older civilizations. On one side of the castle wall there are semicircular gates — they were built by the Romans in the 1st century B. C. And even earlier, in place of the Roman gates and walls were the defensive fortifications of the Messapi — the ancient Italian people who lived on the territory of Apulia in the 4th century B.C. and were conquered by ancient Rome.

The church of San Nicola della Pina works in the fortress — it was built in the 10th century, and in its apse the ruins of an even older than Messapian prehistoric complex were found.

Monopoli Cathedral or Basilica of the Virgin Mary (Basilica Concattedrale di Maria Santissima della Madia)

The Duomo Monopoli stands in a small square in the old town. Its beautiful Baroque facade is impossible to miss — there are few buildings of this scale in the city. This facade is relatively recent — it was completed towards the end of the 18th century.

The status of the local Duomo is concathedral, that is, it is not the most important in the diocese, so it is more correct to call it a basilica. The original church building began to be erected in 1107 on the site of an ancient Roman temple, which was dedicated to the goddess of fertility Maya and her son, the god of commerce Mercury.

According to legend, there were not enough wooden beams to complete the work, and the construction of the temple had to be stopped. But a miracle happened: on December 15, 1117, a wooden raft with a Byzantine icon of the Madonna sailed into Porto Vecchio. The logs of the raft served as beams for the construction of the roof, and the cathedral was consecrated in honor of the Virgin Mary. The apparition of the Madonna is recreated every year in a festive and solemn dramatization.

The cathedral was finally completed and consecrated only in the 15th century, and after another 300 years it was completely rebuilt in the Baroque style. This facade still stands on the small cathedral square.

Cathedral of the Virgin Mary in Monopoli
Cathedral of the Virgin Mary in Monopoli

Next to the cathedral stands an original 33-meter-high structure called the Muraglione Wall. It was built in 1786 to protect the square from strong winds blowing from the mountains and the sea. In the niches of the Wall are statues of saints, who previously stood behind the altar. At the beginning of the 16th century, before the cathedral was rebuilt, lightning struck the altar, and its traces are visible on the statues.

Inside, the cathedral is very beautiful, but I didn’t manage to get inside, so be sure to check the website for current opening hours. The temple houses the very icon (or a later copy of it) of the Madonna della Madia — now considered the patroness of Monopoli. The cathedral preserves Baroque interiors, two organs and archaeological excavations — there was a settlement on the territory of the temple during the Bronze Age (3500 BC — 1200 BC).

Monopoli Beaches

The main value of Monopoli is its turquoise sea with clear waters and stunning rocky landscapes. The beaches in the surrounding area are mostly rocky, but they also manage to have umbrellas and sunbeds. There are beaches in the city center and in the surrounding villages. They are usually small bays with large stones and small areas of sand — sometimes only a few square meters where children play — and always with clear clean water.

Monopoli’s coastline is 15 km of beaches. North of the town and near the center they are more rocky, while in the south sandy and long beaches appear. The closer to the «heel» of the Apulian «heel» — the more luxurious sandy beaches you will find.

I will list the main beaches in Monopoli and the immediate surroundings. All of them are indicated on the map at the beginning of this article.

  • Cala Porto Rosso. A delightful sandy cove 15 minutes walk from the old town. The beach often gets crowded and people settle on the lawn.
  • Calamarena. A wild cove with crystal clear water, sun loungers for rent and a small bar — a little further away from the center, so more popular with locals.
  • Cala Paradiso. A private beach club with a publicly accessible sandy area. It is very crowded in summer.
  • Spiaggia di Porto Marzano. A small free sandy beach away from the town. Popular with families, with free parking and summer bar.
  • Spiaggia di Porto Ghiacciolo. A lively sandy cove at the foot of the abbey. This place is very popular. There is a nice bar where you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas.
  • Spiaggia di Santo Stefano. The beach overlooking the medieval castle is probably the most photogenic beach in the area. You can rent umbrellas and sun loungers here too.
  • Capitolo. If you prefer long stretches of sand to small coves, go to Capitolo and Sabbiadoro. The long beach strip next to the Egnaci Archaeological Park has plenty of beach clubs for every budget and free stretches of beach.
Cala Porta Vecchia beach in Monopoli
Cala Porta Vecchia beach in Monopoli

Things to do in Monopoli

In the small resort town of Monopoli, there’s plenty to keep yourself busy for an entire vacation — a week, for example.

  • Hire a colorful gozzo boat and visit beaches and coves, ask to be taught how to catch octopus and watch fishermen mend nets. Book
  • Go to Polignano-a-Mare — it’s only 5 minutes by train — and see the most picturesque beach in Italy. Not afraid of jumping off cliffs? Then jump! These cliffs are great for cliff diving.
  • Take a drive to other beaches in the south of Puglia and pick your favorite.
  • Take a day to see a real Puglian trulli — in touristy Alberobello or the quieter Locorotondo. A tour with round-trip transfers and a guided tour will cost 85 €.
  • Take a trip to the Egnazia water park in neighboring Sabbiadoro.
  • Set aside a couple of days for Bari, the capital of Puglia, and walk around the rocky churches of Matera, a unique city, the likes of which can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
  • Explore the local churches — there are so many of them that local guides lead separate guided walks. Don’t miss the underground (still Byzantine) Madonna del Soccorso church near the cathedral; the Church of the Resurrection (San Domenico); the large monastery of St. Anthony of Padua; the Church of the Savior, built by the captain of a pirate ship whose crew escaped after a shipwreck, or by Emperor Constantine the Great himself.
Monopoli streets
Monopoli streets
Monopoli streets
Monopoli streets

Where to stay in Monopoli

Hotel Don Ferrante is a luxurious 5* boutique hotel in the old town with cozy, bright rooms from 200 € per night for two people with breakfast. For single travelers there are rooms for one person — from 150 €. Rooftop pool, terrace with sea view and great breakfasts.

Fico Apartments are spacious, bright self-catering apartments, also in the old town area of Monopoli. The newly renovated apartments have lots of natural light and everything you need, including Wi-Fi, air conditioning, mini-fridge and coffee maker. The rooftop terrace with a great view is the perfect place for breakfast, which is included in the price.

B&B La Porta Vecchia is an inexpensive, by local standards, Bed & Breakfast located on one of the tiny winding streets of the historic center. The rooms are clean and comfortable, with antique elements. But the best thing about this small hotel is the cozy, family atmosphere.

B&B Portorosso is a stylish Bed & Breakfast a stone’s throw from the old center and just 400 m from Porta Vecchia beach. Small rooms with sea view from 150 €, which is cheap at local prices.

The walls of the old town of Monopoli
The walls of the old town of Monopoli

How to get to Monopoli

Monopoli is about equidistant from Bari and Brindisi, which have major international airports.

The easiest way to get here from these major cities is by train. The journey from Bari takes between 24 and 40 minutes, depending on the type of train, and the ticket costs 3,3 €. The journey from Brindisi will take 40—50 minutes and costs 5,8 €.

How to use Trenitalia trains

Map of Monopoli at the stop
Map of Monopoli at the stop