It was a whirlwind of white towns in the Valle d’Itria in Puglia for us in June. First we walked around Locorotondo, then drove across the valley to Cisternino and later strolled the trulli-lined lanes of Alberobello. Another town that captured our interest and imagination along the way was Martina Franca.
Martina Franca is the commercial center of Valle d’Itria and is much larger than those other towns, but similar in ways — the historic center consists of winding lanes and white-washed buildings adorned with flowers and wrought-iron balconies, and of course, there is a beautiful cathedral. To the original name Martina, Franca (derived from franchigie meaning exemptions) was added in 1310 when Prince of Taranto province, Philip of Anjou, granted the town tax-free status.
A key attraction in Martina Franca is the baroque 17th century Palazzo Ducale in the Piazza Roma just past the Arco di Sant-Antonio at the entrance to the town’s centro storico. Once a castle, it now houses the city hall as well as a museum, but the former royal apartments can still be toured.
Characterized by opulence and elegance, the Palazzo Ducale’s walls were adorned with tempera paintings which include scenes from the bible, life in the royal court and mythology.
Martina Franca was abuzz with tourists and locals, creating a bit busier scene than in the peaceful settings of Locorotondo and Cisternino, but that didn’t reduce the old world charm for us, and it was easy to find quiet side streets to roam.
Walking further into the centro storico, we came into the Piazza Plebiscito, the main area of the old town where the Basilica of San Martino prominently stands.
The basilica dates back to the 18th century when it replaced the old Romanesque Collegiate Church that as many other structures in Martina Franca had been destroyed by an earthquake in 1743.
Around the piazza and along neighboring streets, are ornate frames that hold many white lights that are lit up for festivals, such as the annual music festival “Festival della Valle d’Itria” in July and August. We would have loved to see them lit at night.
Many cities in Puglia have these, too, but none that we saw were as prolific as these. The shops and restaurants looked very inviting and it would have been nice to enjoy the ambiance of Martina Franca while sipping a cold drink at a cafe on this hot summer day. Perhaps on our next trip we’ll get a chance to do that and experience a festival, too.
For more information:
Puglia Tourist Information
The nearest airport is in Brindisi which is about a one hour’s drive from Martina Franca.
Our thanks to Puglia Promozione for hosting our Puglia experience.
I’ve always wanted to go to Puglia. Now I’m sold.
Next time you’re in Italy, check out the plane and train schedules. We traveled from Rimini in Emilia-Romagna to Foggia by train — less than 3 hours, we were there. You’ll love Puglia, Penny.
Aren’t most Italian towns charming? Particularly the small ones in the back country. Even big cities like Rome has it’s old charm intact.
I’d have to agree with you about Italian towns — at least the ones I’ve been to so far. The small towns have many similarities, but seems that they each have their own distinctive qualities.
I remember the first time I visited Martina many, many years ago. It was fascinating. Even if it wasn’t as well-kept white then as it is today.
Isn’t it great that so many of these wonderful old towns are being maintained so well these days? The people have so much pride in their towns and it shows.
Such beautiful photos! Puglia wasn’t even on my radar until I started reading about your trip and now I would love to visit the area!
That’s great to hear, Lisa. I think you’d find much to love about Puglia. It wasn’t on my radar until last year either. Glad that I can share with others now.
Wow, I just love Martina Franca. Picture postcard perfect and tax-free too? Quite a find, Cathy! I can see why it’s popular, especially during the festival.
Thanks for introducing us to Martina Franca, Cathy. Another picturesque Italian town to add my expanding list.
Keep some room on that Italian town list, Marcia — I’ve got more to tell you about in Puglia and Emilia-Romagna.
What a fabulous tour! I can’t believe the elaborately decorated interiors of the Palazzo Ducale!! Magnficent to say the least. It’s such a shame you couldn’t see the piazzas bathed in light at night, I bet it’s beautiful!! Brilliant photos too!!
Martina Franca must be gorgeous when the lights are lit. I’ll find a photo and share it with you.
It may be busier than the other towns you visited but it still looks beautiful. I always wonder how often they have to whitewash the buildings to keep them looking so good.
Would love a few weeks biking around Puglia – to wear off all that good food and wine you find in the region.
A hiking and biking trip around this area would be great. I’d like to do that, too. Lots of nice flat terrain in the valley and hills for a more challenging ride.
The frescoed ceilings look amazing!
Throughout Puglia, we saw so many gorgeous frescoes in the old churches and of course, in this old palace. To me it emphasizes how important it is to maintain these old treasures.
Everything looks so pristine in white, except for the, IMO, garish Palazzo Ducale.
I don’t suppose I’d decorate my palace quite like the Palazzo Ducale — if I should ever have one. 🙂 Still was quite impressive.
“Tempera paintings in the Palazzo Ducale”
Absolutely incredible the details, color and the magnificence – I love witnessing such historical beauty!
Add Martina Franca to your Italy wish list, Patti.
I’m glad you liked my town so much. Hope you will come back in Puglia soon.
I don’t mean to sound like a broken record but once again the streets are so crisp with color and clean, Clathy! Like all of your ventures. I would love to see those royal apartments. As I’ve mentioned in all of my other comments about crowds – I prefer to avoid them. So, I would want steer my visit time there accordingly. Enjoying your posts immensely always! 🙂
Mike, thanks for following along on my Puglia experience! You’d have plenty of room to stroll and roam in comfort in these towns in Puglia — Martina Franca, Locorotondo and Cisternino, in particular.
Very beautiful city…
Thanks – happy that we conveyed that in these photos.
It’s amazing how well the frescoes were preserved or conserved. Gorgeous.
I’m always grateful that there are people and communities that take care to preserve their historical treasures.
The walls of Palazzo Ducale look stunning! I want to see them with my own eyes!
One of the things I love about Italy is that virtually every town is special. Thanks for sharing this little gem!
What a beautiful and charming town. I’ve seen posts of Puglia here and there but these beautiful pictures really make me want to visit. I love all the architecture and history on these towns. I’ve only been to Rome and Venice so I would love to explore little towns like these not overrun with tourists. That Palazzo Ducale is stunning!
I really like the tempera paintings in the Palazzo’s rooms. I hope the people who lived there properly appreciated them. I also like that one building that broke out of the whitewash mold and added a splash of color to the town. It does seem that you visited one fantastic village after another.
Gorgeous! Those tempera paintings are beautiful. I just love Baroque buildings.
I love how different the architecture looks from that of the north of Italy where we live. I really hope we can make it south to Puglia this year. Looks like such a beautiful region to visit!
Wow, it looks just lovely here. We’re hoping to get back to Italy again maybe in September. Felt very comfortable amongst all the Italian food and architecture. 🙂
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I adored Martina Franca. It offers the best pasta in Puglia! We stayed in a wonderful apartment you can see a photo of it here if anyone is interested in visiting. Also highly recommended is Bistro Garibaldi.
I was there last week and one of the lovelt city in Southern Italy. I love it vey much, lovely narrow streets son nice for photographer.