I first heard about Alberobello and its stone “trulli” houses about four years ago. These 16th century, hobbit-like, conical stone buildings were designed to trick the tax man – the rough stonework meant that they looked like temporary shelters, exempting the inhabitants from paying tax on them. They were constructed entirely without mortar or any type of binder – allowing them to be partially “deconstructed” at tax time.
The town of Alberobello, in Italy’s Puglia region, is the finest and most concentrated collection of trulli. The town is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national monument. Entire streets consist of back-to-back stone buildings, many of which have now been carefully restored and are used as shops, restaurants, guest houses and permanent homes. Each conical roof represents a room – typically, a trullo had two or three “cones”, as well as a steep cellar and perhaps a loft space in the roof cavity. The stone buildings have metre-thick walls which keep the buildings cool in summer and warm in winter.
Apart from their distinctive shape and tetris-like stone construction, many trullo have a pattern emblazoned on their roof and a stone pinnacle at the very top. Some say that these symbols and rooftop crowns are magical, while others say they are purely decorative. I prefer to think that they are magic, and it is fascinating to wander the streets, identifying the different images and finding a new decoration.
To me, the best way to experience Alberobello is to stay at least one night in a trullo. We actually stayed for three, and I would encourage you to do the same if time permits. By the end of the third day we were distraught about leaving – we felt part of this town and its incredible history; our trullo felt like home; we had made friends with local residents and shop-keepers; we knew our way along back alleys and the sneaky places to park our car; we felt safe, comfortable and totally at ease here.
We stayed at Trulli e Puglia, a collection of lovingly restored trullo houses within the centre of Alberobello. The owner, Mimmo, and his father have nearly two dozen houses in the portfolio, varying in size and accommodation from one to seven guests. Breakfast is included, as well as a welcome drink in their wine bar (conveniently right next door to reception in the cellar of a trullo). Mimmo is passionate – not only about maintaining the spirit of each of these trullo that he restores and fits out for guests, but also about giving you a “trulli” genuine and engaging Puglia experience. His depth of knowledge about the area, its local produce, its wine and the history of Alberobello is unparalleled.
There’s a wonderful little souvenir store and local produce seller tucked away on a little back street near the park, called Trullo Sotteraneo. This trullo is family run, and the owner, Daniela, has excellent English and will tell you about her grandparents and what it was like when they had lived in that very spot. They love their limoncello and have a host of local Puglinese styles available for you to choose from.
A stay in Alberobello also offers you the chance to explore the local area. There are several diverse towns within a 45 minute drive of the town – from the labyrinth-like hilltop town of Locorotondo, to the seaside gem of Polignano a Mare, or a subterranean experience at the Grotti de Castellana, to name just a few.
This place is truly a gem within jewel-rich Italy – a unique cut of an incredible specimen that not that many people have discovered. If you want something special, memorable and immersive, get to Puglia.
x Sonia x