Like giant white and grey mushrooms sprouting up from the fields, clusters of pointy stone trulli started to appear along the roadside as we wound through narrow walled streets towards Alberobello, the last stop on our southern Italy tour. Alberobello is a small but fascinating town located in the Puglia region of Italy, just an hour from the Brindisi and Bari airports. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in the nineties, the main, and really only, attraction in town are the prehistoric trulli, and they draw tourists by the busload.
A trullo is a small dwelling built from the local limestone, with dry-stone walls and a characteristic conical roof, and is used for anything from residential housing to sheds among the olive groves. The trulli originated as a clever way to evade royal taxes. The local feudal lord, Count Acquaviva, moved his peasant workers to the area to cultivate the land; however, to avoid taxes, it was important that Alberobello didn’t qualify as an inhabited settlement. So, people lived in trulli, which were ingeniously built without mortar and could therefore be dismantled quickly during royal inspections.
Alberobello was finally given ‘town’ status in 1797, but these days most residents live in modern homes on the outskirts of the trulli, the trulli instead used as Airbnbs, hotels, souvenir shops and cafes. We were spending the night in once such trullo, booked through Airbnb, in the heart of the Rione Monti quarter, the denser of the town’s two ‘trulli zones’. Set on a slope facing the modern town centre, the Rione Monti quarter contains over 1,000 trulli and consists of several narrow lanes sloping upwards, with others winding along the hillside. While very touristy, with gift shops and flashing lights lining the street, it is also extremely picturesque.
After exploring the streets of Rione Monti we wandered across the main town center to the second trulli district, Aia Piccola. This is the more authentic trulli area, as it is still a residential area of quiet lanes lined with trulli inhabited by locals, and is therefore significantly less touristy. It was easy to spend a couple of hours wandering through the labyrinth of streets admiring the whitewashed trullo, generally immaculately clean and perfectly adorned with flowers or other colorful decorations.
Near Alberobello’s twentieth-century trullo church, the Chiesa di Sant’Antonio, we found a nice deli with local specialties, and decided on a bottle of wine and array of antipasti for dinner, to be enjoyed by candlelight on the private patio of our trullo.
While Alberobello is a bizzarre and fascinating town that is certainly worth a visit for anyone near the area, one day was plenty of time to explore the trulli, and in the morning we were ready to hit the road. After one last stop in the pristine circular town of Locorotondo, we said goodbye to Puglia, and made our way to the airport, pondering which region of Italy to explore next.