Martina Franca is a wonderful small city from which to explore the marvellous sites in the area- Locorotondo and Alberobello- for the trulli, Ostuni- the white city, and Matera for the sassi.
We arrived Saturday afternoon. It was busy. This was our introduction to city driving in Southern Italy. It was intense, chaotic and aggressive- and that’s the pedestrians. The drivers are manic, and I adopted a simple mantra- survive the drive! While we initially struggled to find a park, patience and continuously driving around in circles eventually paid off. In fact, we got to park right outside our apartment. The owner’s parents were there to greet us and just make us aware of the little foibles like managing the gas and the recycling. It was all very simple. The one thing that wasn’t simple was the access. We were on the third floor without a lift. While normally that would be straight-forward, there were 72 steps! The ceilings were incredibly high making the apartment feel huge and luxurious. It was delightful. There were two enormous bedrooms, two bathrooms, a study, massive lounge dining, an informal dining room and a small but well-appointed kitchen. It was an end of building apartment and had balconies all around. As well we were on the edge of the old town just minutes walking from the very heart of the city. We had loads of cafes, bars and restaurants to choose from, a fabulous greengrocer immediately below as well as being in the main shopping street, we couldn’t have asked for a better location. Val had nailed it.
We had to eat. We headed into the square. Parents hovered, children screamed, ran and played, old people totted and sat and watched, all while the young strutted their stuff. What a scene! Deeper into the city with the throngs of city dwellers we ventured to choose from one of the many restaurants. The Martina Franca festival of film was running, and a stage was set up in the main square with what we thought might be stars of film and television ready to be involved in some sort of live broadcast. It was alive. I understood- a city is about its people nothing else. Not the buildings, not the location, not the history, not the future. It felt wonderful. We ate well.
Ostuni was white and Alberabello had lots of lovely trulli but Matera was amazing. A unique and fascinating place with thousands of years of continuous human habitation it has some amazing stories.
We wandered the streets, took photos and Val found the most wonderful tourist information centre where she got three tickets and we were treated to a fabulous story of the Sassi di Matera. Firstly, we went into a restored cave which was about forty square metres. In the 1930s it had accommodated eleven people- the parents and their nine children, two of whom are still alive and live close by.
In another cave we saw how snow was collected and stored. An enormous cistern discovered in the town centre at Piazza Vittorio Veneto has 15m columns, can store five million litres and is navigable by boat. They offer a short tour, but we just ran out of time. In yet another cave a movie was shown covering many aspects of the Sassi di Matera and cultural aspects of the city including the story behind the curious festival of the Madonna della Bruna where an extraordinarily elaborate float dedicated to the Madonna is smashed and pieces souvenired for good luck.
Later, in Martina Franca, we prepared to go to dinner. The owner had recommended the restaurant immediately below us, Al Sagittario. Val checked and it would be open at eight. We were hungry by then. The restaurant is surrounded by buildings, there is no parking and it would be difficult to find had it not been pointed out to us. We were quite surprised how big it was, catering for at least a hundred plus patrons. Curious! We arrived just on eight and it began to fill. Families, old and young, singles and couples began to arrive.
The waiter had a smattering of English and we ordered. Val had done some research and when we ordered the antipasto, she mentioned that one for the three of us would be enough. OMG! The dishes just kept coming! Nine small plates! All delicious … well maybe not the tripe! We began to understand why it was so well patronised. The service was excellent, the food wonderful and the price very reasonable- such a great way to finish our Martina Franca experience.