A seaport on the Adriatic with a population of around 50,000. Monopoli is well served by public transport and easily accessible by road: 13 miles|21 km from Alberobello, 26 miles|42 km from Ostuni, 28 miles|46 km from Bari and 68 miles|110 km from Lecce.
The town didn’t give its name to the board game, but that does gives a clue to where it comes from.
Monopoli - from the Greek: monos ‘single’ + polis an urban centre, often fortified, built on a natural acropolis or harbour.
Monopoly - from monopōlion (monos + pōlein ‘sell’).
Often suggested as a destination for those who want to sit on the beach by day and enjoy a lively nightlife within walking distance, although sandy beaches are at a premium. Those with some sand tend to be on the small side - and fill up.
The BIG Guide to Monopoli
Adjacent to and sometimes overshadowed by its near neighbour Polignano a Mare, Monopoli offers a quieter alternative for lunch or dinner. It has a pretty old town and enjoys a less frenetic pace. The old port with its blue fishing boats bobbing gently, green fishing nets drying under the sun invites you into the beating heart of its centro storico.
Welcome to Monopoli
Although it is often suggested as a destination for those who want to sit on the beach by day and enjoy a lively nightlife within walking distance, sandy beaches are at a premium. Those with some sand tend to be on the small side - and fill up. Instead over 25 coves are dotted along its length, ranging from private lidos to small hidden bays.
If you are looking for a seaside base to explore the Valle d’Itria from Monopoli is well positioned, and easily accessible by public transport.
Trains run regularly between Bari and Brindisi and onward to Lecce. It’s a short hop by commuter train to near neighbour Polignano a Mare although accommodation and eating out tends to be cheaper here. Connections are relatively frequent and regular. A leisurely 15-minute walk takes you from the train station into Monopoli’s old town.
We usually drive from Ostuni. In less than 30 minutes we are parked and enjoying a coffee on Piazza Garibaldi in the heart of the centro storico. We suggest parking around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. From there it is only a short walk to the old port and centro storico. (Parking spaces outlined in white are free to park in, those outlined in blue are pay and display; during la pausa you don’t need to pay and remember to keep a photo of your hire car registration/license plates - some parking machines need you to input this).
5 Best Things to Do in Monopoli
When we visit Lecce we feel the need to absorb the beautiful baroque architecture. In Bari Vecchia we feel the need to experience barese life, see the nonne make orecchiette and eat the street food. In Alberobello we navigate the crowds of the rioni Monte trulli zone. Even in Polignano there are sights to be seen and restaurants to be visited.
But Monopoli, with its compact centro storico and equally compact beaches, is where we visit to take a pause and reset.
1. Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi
For a caffè, aperitivo, lunch or dinner. Piazza Garibaldi might be a squeeze, but it is the perfect place to sit and watch life pass by. Restaurants close after the lunch service so be sure to arrive before 2pm (2.30pm at the absolute latest). Golden hour is when the piazza really comes to life.
2. Porto Antico
Still a working port at the heart of Monopoli. Here local fishermen sell their day’s catch and mend their nets. There is something hypnotic about watching the small wooden boats bob with the rhythm of the sea. Sit a while and let the hues of blue and green, of fishing boats and sea, wash over you.
3. Stroll along the lungomare
Monopoli has a wonderful lungomare along the defensive sea wall that wraps around the old town. Follow it round from the Cala Porta Vecchia round to the Castello di Carlo V the 16th century sea fort currently used as an exhibition space.
Look out for the Bastione Santa Maria defensive tower with its two cannons pointing out to sea.
4. Head to the beach
We sometimes refer to Monopoli as Puglia’s seaside town. That may be a slight misnomer; it is not unique and despite a coastline approximately 14 km long, it has mainly rocky coves and shelves with some sandy spots dotted in between. The longest stretch of town beach can be found at Spiaggia Cala Porta Vecchia sitting below the old town. Alternatively head to Lido Colonia with a nice, though compact, sandy beach..
Spiaggia Cala Porta Vecchia | A strip of sand that runs along from the foot of the defensive sea wall and continues around the rocks under the Bastione di Babula. Like most of Monopoli’s town “beaches” it is incredibly popular and fills very quickly. A small bar sits between the small car park and southern access.
Cala Porto Rosso | Enjoy the incredibly clear azure sea. This is a small sandy cove about a 10 minute walk from the old town. The beach section will be crowded, but spills over onto the surrounding rocks. The Red Beach Bar sits alongside for food and drink. This is a public beach with no facilities, other than found in nearby bars and restaurants.
Beaches to the south
Spiaggia di Porto Verde | A tiny cove popular with locals.
Cala Paradiso | By spiaggia di Porto Verde but with a little more room. Part public beach, part beach club with some facilities during the peak season. It’s 2km from the old town - about a 20 minute walk.
Lido Colonia | A small sandy beach adjacent to Calemarena, with bar and facilities. Parking on the road. 2.5km from the old town.
Calamarena | Parking runs along the road and its a short walk to the “beach” consisting of rocky shelves. During the main summer season loungers can be rented and there’s a small bar. 2.5km from the old town.
Spiaggia di Porto Marzano | 4km from the old town, with free car parking. A small sandy beach with a small bar serving drink and food during the main summer season.
Spiaggia di Porto Ghiacciolo | A lively sandy cove at the foot of an abbey, this isn’t a great choice for those who want a peaceful Monopoli beach experience, but is incredibly popular. Also has a nice bar/restaurant renting out sunbeds and parasols. Just under 4.5km from the old town.
Lido Santo Stefano | A bland and sterile enclosed lido with a sandy beach set in beautiful countryside and with picturesque views of the medieval Castello di Santo Stefano. 4.5km from the old town. Look out for the super cute cat colony as you pull into the parking area.
Capitolo | If you prefer long stretches of sand over small coves, Capitolo is the one for you. This is the first stretch of sandy beach south of Bari (continuing south to Savelletri and then Torre Canne, Specchiolla and Torre Guaceto). Located nearby Egnazi Archeological Park, it has a variety of beach clubs for all budgets as well as some smallerfree sections of beach. 7km from the old town.
Beaches to the north
Torre Incina | Just over 5km from the old town Cala Incina is a very popular bathing spot. Like most of the nearby coast the beach is mainly rocky cove. Exit the SS16 at the Monopoli Nord exit, and drive towards the tower, where you can park. There is a gay and nudist beach a short walk from the tower in the direction of Polignano.
As we said, Monopoli is somewhere we go to pause and reset. So just choose any one of the above and enjoy the moment.
Valle d’Itria | drive the back roads
According to our northern Italian based ex-London friends Greg and Andrea who spent a joyous 3 weeks travelling up and down and around Puglia, forget “totally unauthentic” Alberobello, which is “worth giving a miss.”
“Trulli are its focal point but they are all over the countryside. Grit your teeth and don’t go!” Greg exclaims.
“If you are looking for UNESCO and World Heritage, if you are looking for authenticity then seek out the back roads between Savelletri, Fasano and Cisternino,” urges Andrea.
A viewpoint echoed by Greg.
“Drive the back roads inland between Torre Canne and Savelletri - the UNESCO protected dry walls, with the millennial olives groves. Fantastic drives, walks, bike routes - simply stunning. Breathtaking.”