Bari, Italy: A Hidden Gem on the Adriatic Coast


Heather Markel, Best Selling Author, TEDx Speaker, Traveler, Full Time Travel and Business Coach

Bari was never on my radar to travel to. In another post, I mentioned meeting a lovely young man from Italy while in Sarajevo, and he told me he had traveled by boat! He was returning from Dubrovnik, but I learned I could travel from Albania as well, so that’s what I’m about to do.

The Boat To Bari

A couple of things you should know; I’m not a fan of boats especially on rough seas, and I read some awful reviews of the boats (people sleeping all over the deck floors, poor communication from the companies that sell tickets). I decided to do it anyway, and, since I felt safer as a solo traveler, booked a cabin.

Durres port

From my hotel in Durres, I take a taxi to the check-in point. I had tried to walk there on another day and saw it’s a bit of a long walk, through a somewhat not-so-great area of town, and the taxi seems safer, especially since I’m traveling at night. The check-in process is really easy, and soon I’m walking to the boat, and claim my cabin. Despite my angst, I think it’s cool that I’m about to sail across the Adriatic Sea! I find all the seas that I’ve crossed to be another fascinating part of traveling full time.

The cabin is nothing fancy – a single bed, a toilet with a step up, a small shower, and a table. There’s a window that would look out the side of the boat, but it’s been covered with something dark, maybe tape. I learn this is because it’s right next to the outside sitting and walking area, and anyone would have been able to look into my cabin, were it not for that dark covering. I spend some time outside watching the boat pull away from Durres, and have to admit, I’m relieved to be leaving and excited to see a part of Italy I don’t know. And, added bonus, a wonderful woman I met via social media years ago is living nearby and we are going to meet!

bari port

After a few trips in and out, and exploring the dining area of the boat, I see there are some people sleeping on benches in there, and also, on the floor. I return to my cabin and people talking outside are pretty loud. I figure I won’t sleep much. Nonetheless, I get into bed, and next thing I know, there’s an announcement being made over the loudspeakers. It’s at least an hour until we’re supposed to arrive, but I get myself up. I go outside and that’s when I discover I can see land, and we are, in fact, arriving in Bari at that moment!

Exploring Bari With A “New Old Friend”

One of the best things about Bari is its location on the Adriatic coast. The city is home to a picturesque old town, complete with narrow streets, white-washed buildings, and an impressive castle.  Since I only have a couple of days to enjoy myself here, I grab a taxi (who ends up overcharging me, and I point that out to him but he doesn’t care) to my hotel the Residence Moderno, which is lovely and, happily, has a room available for me when I check in. They include breakfast and it’s quite extensive and delicious! I go outside and grab an Italian SIM card to make it through my week or so in Italy.

Bari castle
meeting Jessica
me with Bari police
Delighted to find two WOMEN police officers to pose with in Bari. 🙂 If you didn’t know, I take photos with police officers around the world.

I’m so happy to meet Jessica! We have been “online” friends since early in the pandemic, and have been hoping to meet. She is a lovely tour guide and takes me to Bakery Violante, where I eat, literally, the best foccacia bread of my life. In fact, not only did it ruin all other foccacia bread, it even rivaled pizza. I couldn’t get enough. We wander through the small streets of Bari’s old town and see women making pasta and multi flavored taralli; like bread sticks but circular, and delicous!

meeting Jessica

We have an amazing day, I learn where to get some great coffee, explore the main streets of Bari, and we eat at a lovely restaurant for dinner. Well, we didn’t love one of the things we ordered, but the rest was nice. Bari is known for its delicious cuisine. The city is famous for its seafood, particularly the local specialties of orecchiette pasta with seafood and fish soup. You can also find some great traditional Italian dishes like pasta alla Norma, which is a dish of pasta with eggplant, tomato, and ricotta cheese. And, Jessica tells me I should make sure to visit Polignano a Mare while in Bari.

Playing Tourist

The following day, I explore the city, and even dare to do one of those tourist train trips. It’s actually delightful and I meet a hillarious group of travelers from France and we chat a great deal during the tour. I can’t believe that for something like 10 euros we get the train tour of the city, a small food and wine tasting, and then a guide into some of the local churches! It was well worth the money.

A highlight of Bari is the Basilica di San Nicola, which is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Italy. The basilica is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, who is the patron saint of Bari. The church is home to the remains of Saint Nicholas, which were brought to Bari from the Holy Land in the 11th century. I learn from my tour guide that  Saint Nicholas, is also the protector/advocate of women looking for a husband. My guide tells me I should write down the qualities I’m looking for in a husband on a piece of paper, and drop the paper by the column in the basement of the main church. Obviously, I do!

Polignano A Mare

As mid-afternoon approaches, I decide to go for it and run to Polignano a Mare. I grab the train, and learn that masks are so mandatory you can be kicked off for not wearing one. The ride is short, and I arrive in Polignano as the sun is softly beginning to set, and catch some wonderful photos.

One of the main attractions in Polignano a Mare is its old town, which is nestled on top of a limestone cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The town’s historic center is a maze of narrow streets and alleys lined with charming boutiques, restaurants, and cafes.

Though it’s very touristy, I’ll also say it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours. Note – tourist items are the same as in Bari, but more expensive here, so get your souvenirs in Bari!

Polignano a mare
me in Polignano a Mare
Polignano a mare souvenirs

My time in Bari has been short but extremely sweet. But what I’m really excited about is taking the train tomorrow. I’m headed to Bologna where I studied Italian when I was 16! I’m curious if I’ll remember it or if it looks the same…

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