Italy’s Bari is undergoing a fantastic period of energy and transformation

Following Naples and Palermo, Bari is the third most densely populated municipality in southern Italy.

Bari’s glittering harbour and old town enchant with charms aplenty
Bari’s glittering harbour and old town enchant with charms aplenty

The city’s old town centre and its typical alleys twist and turn around the famed Basilica of Saint Nicholas. The church, a prime example of Romanesque architecture in Puglia, is the holy symbol of the city and safeguards half of the saint’s skeleton. An expedition of three ships carrying 62 sailors left Bari for Myra (in modern-day southern Turkey) to seize the bones of the saint, and returned in 1087. Legend has it that the remains were left at the spot where the oxen stopped as they were pulling the ship’s load.

Behind it’s historical facade lies a vibrant contemporary art scene
Behind it’s historical facade lies a vibrant contemporary art scene

"The view of Bari, arriving from the south at night, is my favourite. The sea is dark but never threatening, the seafront and the harbour are full of lights and promises, the highest buildings give rhythm to the silhouette of the city and the cast-iron lampposts, and the sea’s gushes. Entering the city that way gives the idea of being in a small metropolis, pleasant and welcoming." So wrote Gianrico Carofiglio, the ex-magistrate and writer, whose love of his hometown shines through in novels such as Né Qui Né Altrove: Una Notte a Bari.

Antonella Spano and Michele Spinelli of Doppelgaenger Gallery
Antonella Spano and Michele Spinelli of Doppelgaenger Gallery

Following Naples and Palermo, Bari is the third most densely populated municipality in southern Italy. The city’s old town centre and its typical alleys twist and turn around the famed Basilica of Saint Nicholas. The church, a prime example of Romanesque architecture in Puglia, is the holy symbol of the city and safeguards half of the saint’s skeleton. An expedition of three ships carrying 62 sailors left Bari for Myra (in modern-day southern Turkey) to seize the bones of the saint, and returned in 1087. Legend has it that the remains were left at the spot where the oxen stopped as they were pulling the ship’s load.

Raw-vegan greengrocer Spops boasts a restaurant and cafe within its multi-faceted design-focused space
Raw-vegan greengrocer Spops boasts a restaurant and cafe within its multi-faceted design-focused space

Steeped in history, the city’s other important sites include the Cathedral of San Sabino and its numerous archaeological artefacts, the medieval Norman-Swabian castle, the orthogonal streets in the city between Sparano Road and Corso Cavour, and the Emperor Augustus seafront. Another notable spot is the Teatro Petruzzelli, Italy’s fourth-largest theatre. After being burned to the ground in an arson attack in 1991, it was rebuilt and ultimately reopened in 2009. Aside from hosting performances, it also showcases art and design activities by local galleries including Doppelgaenger, Artcore and Misia Arte.

The interiors and libations on the menu at seafront bar Speakeasy
The interiors and libations on the menu at seafront bar Speakeasy

It’s not uncommon to see women of all ages sitting in the streets of the old town centre with wooden boards, preparing orecchiette – the homemade wholegrain wheat pasta served with turnip greens or pork chop ragu. This ancient tradition continues on between Arco Basso and Via dell’Arco Alto, where you can order pasta for five to seven euros per kilo. After stocking up on your daily carbs, take a stroll through the quirky alleys of Arco Meraviglia, full of laundry drying in the sun, Virgin Mary statues, fake flowers and crochet work. And don’t skip one of the best bakeries in town for focaccia (tomatoes, olives, oil and oregano) at Corte Lascia Fare a Dio in the Piazza del Ferrarese, one of the two squares that will take you to Bari’s old town centre.

For chic stays try The Palazzo Calo
For chic stays try The Palazzo Calo

If you want to feel like a Bari native, you’ll spend your Sunday on the N’Dèrr’a la Lanze promenade between the Teatro Margherita, the Circolo Canottieri Barion and San Nicola’s dock. Here, you can eat octopus, shellfish, mussels and sea urchin as the tanned fishermen ply their traditional trade. Thanks to the scent of the sea, the warmth of the sun and the colour of the sky, even the beer has a special taste that can’t be found anywhere else. But Bari isn’t stuck in the past. To enjoy more of the city’s culinary excellence, it’s worth paying a visit to the sophisticated La Bul bistro, where regional dishes get a modern twist courtesy of chefs Antonio Scalera and Francesca Rosele, or to trendy raw-vegan greengrocer Spops.

Bright and bold is the credo at nightlife hot-spot Fitzcarraldo
Bright and bold is the credo at nightlife hot-spot Fitzcarraldo

In addition to its food, Bari seduces with cutting-edge fashion and Mediterranean nightlife. Among the best shops is In-Sight (Via Re Manfredi 48/49), which offers a selection of international brands inspired by Berlin style; Satoshi Klein, creator of the last United Colours of Benetton advertising campaign, is a loyal customer. Meanwhile, Interno 12 (Via Bozzi 67) caters to lovers of British culture, from laced loafers to electronic music – and Andrea Paccapelo, business partner and soul of the shop, entertains clients with DJ sets until late in the evening on Fridays.

Hotel Imago offers clean, contemporary comfort
Hotel Imago offers clean, contemporary comfort

Regarding accommodation, check out Hotel Imago, which targets a younger clientele with minimal but comfortable rooms, free Wi-Fi and a visual arts library next to the cafe. The Palazzo Calo is a bit more exclusive, with suites featuring kitchens furnished with the best “Made in Italy” products. Both locations are very central and aren’t far from some of the most well-known nightlife hot spots, including Fitzcarraldo and the seafront cocktail bar Speakeasy.

The best thing about this joyful city is that you’ll never need to look at your watch, with a slowed-down rhythm that’s difficult to find anywhere else. At the same time, Bari has a lot to offer, with a slew of exhibitions, workshops and performances. To belong to Bari makes its residents extremely proud of their quality of life and the ability to enjoy it. As they say, he who comes here lets himself succumb to that same magic – of vitality and positivity.

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