Bari, Italy is perhaps known best to most travellers as a ferry port and coastal town on the shores of the Adriatic Sea; but it is so much more than just a port. As the second largest city in Puglia (the region of this southern part of Italy) Bari is a fascinating old town steeped in history, tradition and culture. It is an ideal place to take a short break and explore its diverse sights.
The fact that Bari is not one of the more popular tourist haunts of Italy obviously adds to its attraction as it means the town has retained its authentic and rustic charm. Bari's old town pre-dates the Romans, although it is particularly rich in Roman and early mediaeval architecture and cultural influences. For the Italians, it is mostly revered for its numerous ancient churches; in particular the Romanesque Basilica of St Nicholas, with its fabulous gold ceiling, to which pilgrims flock all year round. The relics of St Nicholas, more popularly known as Santa Claus, lie beneath the altar in this 11th century structure, which rises majestically in the heart of the old town amid its labyrinthine streets and buildings.
And then there is Adelfia, a small town just outside Bari, in which devout Italians congregate early in November to pay tribute to St Trifone with a spectacular three day pageant of celebrations, music and festivities. In fact this is an ideal time to visit the south of Italy because of its mild winter climate. In Bari late-season visitors can stroll leisurely by the waterfront, explore the narrow, twisting streets or ramble atop the old city walls to catch a glimpse of an almost-forgotten way of life.
Being a university town has made Bari an attractive and lively centre for young people from all over the world. There is a vibrant night life for clubbing and dancing as well as a number of late night cafes in which to while away the small hours in intimate conversation. Bari also boasts a large number of excellent trattorias, pizzerias and pasticcerias offering locally sourced, seasonal delicacies, especially in Bari Vecchia, or old Bari.
Bari has so much more to offer visitors than ferry rides across the Adriatic to Greece and it is a great pity to think of it merely as a gateway out of Italy. It is a welcoming town, well-worth a visit. And with beautiful Naples only a two hour drive away, Bari is an ideal base for a touring holiday in the south of Italy.