Discover Bari – the bon viveur’s Paradise
Southern Italy at its best.
Going to Bari feels like stepping back in time to the Italy of the 1950s. You'll see children playing soccer in the alleys and old men engaging in seemingly vital discussions on park benches. Delightful aromas drift out of open windows. There’s probably a pan of ragu simmering on the stove inside. The packed bars ring with the sound of beautiful Italian voices as Bari has a lively outdoor lifestyle. You notice this as you wander through the streets of the city where old mixes with new, young with old and the sea with the city.
The ancestor of our very own Father Christmas also comes from Bari. On 9 May 1087, 62 sailors sailed from Mira in Turkey to Bari. They brought with them the body of Saint Nicholas, who died in 337 BCE. He was the patron saint of all seafarers. At that time, Bari needed help. The city was poor and trading was declining year by year. They believed the presence of the Saint would change their luck. It was also an important victory over powerful Venice, that also wanted the remains of Saint Nicholas. In honor of the saint, Bari built its most famous church, la Basilica di San Nicola. The city went on to become a destination for both Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims. The Saint and the city’s patron are celebrated with pomp and circumstance on 9 May each year. Visiting the city then will provide memories for life.
There are plenty of things to do and see in Bari. This coastal jewel is divided in two. On one side is the modern part with contemporary buildings, fashionable cafés and bars. On the other side is the old part of the city that resonates with history and ancient culture. Even though they speak different dialects in the two parts of the city, the locals move freely between the two without the least impediment and mingle together on the streets and squares. They have a common quest for the good things in life. The Apulia region, Italy's larder, has wonderful vegetables, fantastic wines and delicious dishes, a veritable paradise for bon viveurs.
Seat yourself at an outside table and enjoy a fantastic burrata, the local cheese, which is similar to mozzarella, but with a creamier center. Add a couple of slices of air-cured ham and your meal is sorted, simple but so delicious your mouth waters at the thought alone.
“Your plate should be full of milk when you finish,” says a restaurant owner who presses a burrata with a fork to force the white milk to ooze out.
The wonderful cheeses, juicy tomatoes and fresh-baked bread are all you need for a meal experience that will linger long in the memory.
You should go for an early morning stroll through the lively fish market. The weather-beaten fishmongers shout out the prices of the day’s catch in loud, shrill voices. On the counter are colorful fish and one man chases after an octopus that’s escaped from its box, while a woman twists and turns each mussel before choosing the very best of them for lunch that day. Next to the fish market are small kiosks and bars where you can order fantastic fish dishes, many served raw.
Bari has its own version of sushi that by no means pales in comparison to the Japanese equivalent. Here you can enjoy grilled octopus that costs next to nothing or eat the local specialty dish, riso, patate e cozze. Rice, potatoes and mussels. Or the famous ear shaped pasta, orecchiette, that’s served with various sauces. Eating here makes you feels like someone who knows how to live life well.
Close to the fish market down by the sea is a small bar called El Chiringuito. They play reggae here and the cheerful bartender serves colorful drinks with a parasol that are quickly reached across to eager hands on the other side of the counter. Here, older ladies with high heels and elegant purses sit side by side with young people who laugh loudly in the warm evening air. Nearby, a middle-aged couple are dancing with eyes only for each other. Diving equipment is laid out on the ground to dry in the evening sun. In Bari, people live side by side, just like they’ve always done. Here, they serve the local beer, Peroni, with fried bread filled with mozzarella and tomato, panzerotti, that really hits the spot. A wind called il maestrale, often blows in the evening, and cools the hot summer days. It’s especially appreciated when you walk along the beautiful seafront promenade lined with benches at regular intervals that entice you to rest a while and enjoy the views over the Adriatic Sea, the eternal blue backcloth to the city.
Nor should you miss a visit to the archaeological museum, that takes you on a trip back in time. Discover the Greek heritage and Bari’s 13th Century heyday, when Federico the Second made south Italy bloom and welcomed people from all corners of the world. Or discover subterranean Bari by booking a trip with Barisotteranea. There's as much to discover below ground as above.
Bari is also the perfect starting point from which to discover the rest of Apulia. Such as il Salento at the tip of the heel, where the white sands, known as the Italian Caribbean, are perfect for a sand, sun and sea stay. Or il Gargano in the northern part, with its dramatic nature with green forest and sheer cliffs that drop straight down into the sea. It's a great place for walking and experiencing the wonderful nature at the same time. And the picturesque villages surrounded by thousand-year old olive trees, where time seems to stand still. There are plenty of things to do and see. However, when you arrive in Bari, it's a good idea to acclimatize to the local rhythm to get the very best out of the experience.
Text by Åsa Johansson