Every time I have a couple of hour or so to wander round Monopoli I remember why I am here. It is always possible to, as they say here, ‘unire l’utile col dilettevole’ – combine the useful with the delightful.
Shopping, going to the bank or dropping off dry cleaning become a pleasure when you stop off for a coffee in a beautiful square, pause to gaze out to sea or admire the architecture, or even have a quick swim en route. In summer I often have a swimsuit on under my clothes, and a sarong which doubles up as a towel in my handbag, so that when the impulse takes me…
I was running errands a couple of weeks ago, on an improbably warm November day with blazing sunshine and blue sky, and remembered that I had taken the identical route in March this year… taking photos as I went for a future blog post… So here they are – better late than never!
On this particular day I started off at the main square, Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele, because I needed to go to the bank. Known as ‘the borgo’ or ‘the village’ this is one of the largest squares in Southern Italy. Dating from 1877, and slightly marred by some modern additions to the buildings surrounding it, it is not one of the most beautiful spots in Monopoli but is always lively, with people strolling, chatting, children riding on carousels in the summer, occasional fairs and concerts and an ice rink in December.
Having been to the bank I set off down Via Garibaldi into the ‘centro storico’ proper. This road houses the comune, or town hall, and is lined with the elegant palazzi built by wealthy merchants during the Venetian occupation in the 15th century.
At the end of Via Garibaldi you find yourself facing the fishermen’s association, painted a glorious shade of blue. You then pass the medieval ‘colonna d’infame’, a stone pillar where witches, and plague bearers used to be punished, before coming into Piazza Garibaldi, a pretty square lined with flowering trees. This is one of my favourite places to stop for a coffee, but the day was so glorious I kept going, up Via Del Porto, and passed through the archway into the little harbor where fishing boats are moored.
Pausing briefly, to admire the sun reflecting off the water and turning the loggia of the Venetian style palazzo to pale gold, I continued past the castle, gun ramparts and cannon, along the sea wall to the beach at Porta Vecchia –named for the ‘the old gate’, one of three which lead into the fortified town.
Past the beach there is a pedestrian/cycle path which follows the coast round, past the beaches of Lido Bianco and Porto Rosso. Looking back from here you see Monopoli’s old town at its best. I went as far as the second cove, admired the wild flowers, and sat for a while on the deserted beach watching the wavelets and enjoying the sunshine.
So far all very delightful but not so useful (apart from the bank!). Setting off again I passed Porta Vecchia and walked up Via Argento, past the cathedral and Bishops Palace into Largo Vescovado. Here you find Caffe Roma, home to the best cornetti, cakes and icecream in Monopoli and for miles around (their ice cream has won national prizes). Best still, they know exactly what I usually want (a double espresso and a cornetto with apricot jam, possibly with a freah squeezed orange juice as well).
Now to the useful part – several large bags of, ridiculously cheap, fruit and vegetables and purchases from the bakery, cheese shop and grocers. Some spring flowers from the flower shop and some light bulbs from the hardware shop concluded the list. What a way to do your shopping….
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