Polignano a Mare: From Instagram to reality

Summer in Italy is magical.

Sure, it’s been said before, over and over, but it bears repeating. Go to any beach in southern Italy, even the lakes in the North, and you’re bound to enjoy crystal blue waters, captivating sunsets or sunrises and Italian style and culture at its peak.

This summer marked a very special birthday for me, so when it came to my ideal destination I looked no further than Polignano a Mare in Italy’s Puglia region.

What did I know about Polignano? Well, other than it having one of the most Instagrammed, Pinterest-pinned beaches and restaurants, I didn’t know much else. I had never visited the Puglia region, but I knew plenty about the food, like orecchiette (little ears pasta) and taralli (crunchy, bread-like snacks shaped in a small knot).

So regardless of what the destination had in store, I knew there would be good eating. Not surprisingly, since moving to Italy, eating good is a huge influencer in many of my everyday decisions … but I digress.

Our weekend jaunt to Puglia kicked off by taking a 4-hour train ride from Ancona south to Monopoli and then to Polignano. It would’ve been the same driving, but I prefer to leave the car at home as driving anywhere in the south, especially in the summer, results in nothing but hot heads and headaches.

When we arrived at the small train station in Polignano, we walked about 8 minutes to the historic center where our AirBnB host was waiting for us.

You guys, this apartment was sick! Check out this view from the rooftop terrace.

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I came across the apartment listing back in March, when the cold, blustery Ancona spring had me seriously missing the sunshine. The apartment on the inside had everything, but the outside balconies and terraces overlooking Polignano’s most popular beach were the real winners.

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Something you should know about Italian summers is that they get really HOT. I mean it. And, Italians don’t exactly embrace air conditioning like many Americans. So if you decide to visit Italy in the summer, make sure you do it by the sea or a swimmable body of water. You’ll thank me later.

Thankfully our apartment had AC, but being this close to the beach also had other perks. One morning, I woke up at sunrise and was the first on the beach for a morning dip. I felt like I had the whole beach to myself. Which was nice, because around 10 a.m. the beach really starts to fill up with tan-skinned Italians from all over the country and their brightly colored umbrellas.

Things get pretty tight, so don’t be surprised if you wake up from an afternoon beach-side snooze with a foot in your face. Ah Italia!

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Also, if you’re accustomed to sandy beaches rather than many of Italy’s rocky pebble beaches, I say it’s a good idea to invest in some water shoes. You and your feet will be better off.

On other days when the sun was too unbearable to face, the boyfriend and I would take down some aperitivo snacks and soak in a gorgeous sunset.

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But the biggest surprise of all was something I hadn’t planned for. Red Bull’s annual cliff diving championship was happening the same weekend during our visit.IMG_1580

And the cherry on the sundae? The diving platform was right outside our apartment. So no need to bake under the hot sun, we got to enjoy the view and the AC. Can you tell I love AC?

Without a car and a plan, our visit consisted of lots of beach days, sleeping in and eating at some new restaurants.

There’s plenty of traditional trattorias, pizzerias and fish restaurants to choose from. We stopped and had lunch at a cute and cozy restaurant called Mint, which I came across on a Google search. I was not disappointed. It definitely caters to the health-conscious, hipster, foodie crowd, but the service is not pretentious and the food is seriously yummy. Make a reservation because there aren’t many tables. I’m sure the menu changes seasonally, but if you’re there and they have it on the menu, try the Polpo (octopus).

For dinner, I had only one request: I wanted to eat at the Grotte Palazzese.

What? Don’t recognize the name?

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Yea, that’s right. Sticking to the Instagram bucket-list theme here, I wanted to eat there, the most-famous cave restaurant in the social sphere.

Yea, it’s expensive and I was going in with very low expectations after reading so many awful reviews about the food and the service. But, I decided to hell with it. I’ll decide for myself and try to have a great time.

I sure did. We opted for the late seating (9:45 p.m.). After a long, winding descent down a flight of stairs, we exited the staircase and we were outside on the deck of the cave facade. The sounds of a saxophone player filled the air along with the whispers of quiet conversation between couples at each table.

We ordered an antipasto of fried octopus. I had calamarata pasta all’Amatricana with monkfish and bacon. He had roasted lamb with mushrooms. We shared a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Look at those wine glasses! I need to have a set of those.

The service was good and attentive. The food is overpriced, but good.

In my opinion, dessert was my favorite. Mint tiramisu with freeze dried raspberries.

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Overall, it was a magical night. And if you’re contemplating going, go and have a light dinner and enjoy the view and atmosphere. It really is one of a kind and a perfect setting for a special occasion.

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Our final day in Polignano was spent watching the Red Bull competition from bed, lounging on the terrace and unsuccessfully searching for an American breakfast spot.

We know, we know. This is Italy. Basta with this need to have eggs, bacon, pancakes, toast and OJ for breakfast. But hey, the stomach wants what the stomach wants. And we will never give up.

We decided on a beachside lunch and then found some delicious tacos for dinner. I also tried Mezcal for the first time. Loved it! This Mexican liquor, similar but not quite tequila, packs quite a punch in a little shot, so be warned.

If you come to Polignano, I recommend staying in the historic city center. It’s small and during the peak of the day, can get crowded, but the nightlife is entertaining and the city is very walkable. Plus there are views of Polignano’s gorgeous cliffside anywhere you go.

Check out some of my city snapshots below.

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In the final moments before departing every Italian city I travel to, I always like to spend a few minutes to soak up the air, sounds and smells of a place. Polignano sunsets are truly magical, especially over a few glasses of Prosecco.

This cliffside town has a lot of character and the people are truly warm and welcoming. So if you’ve ever considered checking out that Italian city you seem to have Insta-liked more than a few dozen times, don’t hesitate. Make that dream a reality.

Ciao Polignano. Alla prossima. ❤