One of the largest towns of the beautiful Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca, Puglia, is a real gem of a place and can’t be missing from your Puglia itinerary. Photo opportunities abound in this hilltop town, and a short visit will reveal a well kept historic center, with narrow winding alleys, whitewashed buildings, and baroque churches.
Once the commercial center of the area, the city got its current name when in 1310 Philip of Anjou granted it tax free status and a number of other privileges. That’s when the town started expanding, with more people attracted by the idea of not having to pay taxes. With more nobles and businessmen residing there, the number of beautiful palaces and churches also increased – and you can definitely see that if you visit!
Today, Martina Franca is a bit lesser known compared to other towns of Valle d’Itria such Alberobello, the famous Trulli town; Locorotondo and Cisternino. Yet, it’s the one I liked the most. Perhaps it was the fact that we had the city to ourselves (though granted, my sister and I visited in shoulder season); perhaps it was the completely local atmosphere.
In this post, I will share everything there is to see and do in Martina Franca, Puglia, as well a few tips to help you plan your visit. Let me start with a brief history of the town!
What To See And Do In Martina Franca, Puglia
Wander around the Lama
Lama is the historic center of Martina Franca. Traffic to cars in this part of town is restricted (save for local residents, and not in all streets anyways) and there is nothing better than wandering around the area aimlessly, camera at hand – that’s what we did for sure! This is the area where you’ll be able to see the pointed-roof buildings that are traditional of the area.
Scattered around the Lama you will also spot beautiful 18th century buildings as well as simpler ones. Some are beautifully kept, others not quite so – both are equally charming. Colorful doors, windows and balconies, and hanging laundry will give you a break from all the white!
The historic center is where you’ll also find the prettiest squares in town, lovely shops, cafés and restaurants for a nice, relaxing break.
Admire the beautiful squares
The center of Martina Franca is packed with gorgeous squares. The ones you should not miss are Piazza XX Settembre; Piazza Roma, where you’ll be able to spot the Palazzo Ducale (more about it in a bit); and Piazza Plebiscito, a short distance from Piazza Roma and where you’ll spot the gorgeous Basilica di San Martino.
And Palazzo Ducale
Palazzo Ducale is the most beautiful civic building in Martina Franca. Located in Piazza Roma, it dates back to the 17th century – more precisely to 1668, when it was the residence of the Caracciolo family, the dukes who ruled over the city. It now is home to the Town Hall, a library and the tourist information office – a good spot to visit to ask for a local map!
Go through Martina Franca Gates
Martina Franca used to be completely surrounded by walls and had 24 watchtowers and four gates – this is how it appeared in 1861, when Italy became one unified countries. Back then, the towers were demolished and new access points added, but the Baroque and Renaissance gates remained, to separate the old historic center from the modern town.
The most famous gate is Porta di Santo Stefano, also known as Arco di Sant’Antonio. It allows access to the old town, via Piazza XX Settembre.
Visit the Basilica di San Martino
San Martino Basilica, located in Piazza Plebiscito, dates back to the 18th century (but became a basilica only in 1998) and it is dedicated to Martina Franca patron saint, San Martino. He is usually represented on horseback, sharing his cloak with a beggar. The best place to see representations of San Martino is obviously the church, where you can spot him on a number of bas-reliefs in the facade. Make sure to pop inside to admire the beautiful decorations, too!
And San Domenico Church
Not far from Basilica di San Martino, San Domenico church, also dating from the 18th century, is another beautiful church with lavish interior decorations.
If you just have one meal when visiting Martina Franca, make sure that it’s either a capocollo sandwich or a capocollo appetizer. This sort of cured ham is a regional specialty and reaches perfection here, and it’s the perfect start to a meal, a great appetizer when accompanied by wine, and the perfect meat for a quick sandwich!
Take in the views
For incredible views of Martina Franca surroundings, head to the belvedere in Via Pergolesi, right outside the historic center of town – keep in mind that if you visit in the spring or summer months, the views may be partially obstructed by the trees! Alternatively, opt for the viewpoint in via Bellini.
Celebrate with the Valle d’Itria Festival
Valle d’Itria Festival takes place each year between the end of July and the beginning of August. It’s a nice opera festival during which you can expect lots of classical music and opera concerts in incredible venues such as the Palazzo Ducale or the Basilica di San Martino in Martina Franca. If you are a fan of classical music and happen to be in the region when the festival takes place, make sure not to miss it!
Visit the nearby towns
If you decide to use Martina Franca as your base during your trip to Puglia, you should be able to easily access other towns in the Valle d’Itria and other places in Puglia. While having a car is definitely the easiest way to move around, public transportation is actually available and for the most part quite efficient too.
Ostuni, Puglia’s famous Città Bianca (White City) is a 24 km (15 miles) drive. It takes less than 30 minutes to get there by car, but the journey can be longer if you travel by public transportation.
How to get to Martina Franca
Martina Franca can be easily reached from Bari and Brindisi airports. Both airports are served by regular and budget airlines connecting them to the rest of Italy and other European countries.
My sister and I visited Martina Franca as part of our road trip around Puglia. It’s a great way to explore this part of Italy! You can rent a car in both Bari Airport and Brindisi Airport.
Driving time from Bari Airport is about one hour and 20 minutes; whereas from Brindisi Airport it’s just one hour.
Check out the prices of car rental in Puglia here.
You can get to Martina Franca by train – there are direct trains from Bari, Alberobello, Lecce and Taranto. Coming from Brindisi, you’ll have to change to a bus in Francavilla Fontana. The railway station of Martina Franca is about 15 minutes walk to the historic center of town.
You can check the train timetable and get tickets here.
Where to stay in Martina Franca
You will find plenty of good places to stay in Martina Franca, either in the historic center or a bit outside, in a masseria (an agricultural estate) or even in a trullo. This is a selection of places to stay:
- CASA RETRO’ – The perfect choice for budget travelers, who for a modest fee will have a full, beautiful apartment in the historic center at their disposal.
- LA NEVIERA DELL’ARCO – This apartment in the historic center has everything you need for a perfect stay. It’s decorated in a local, traditional style and incredibly cozy.
- MASSERIA TRULLI E VIGNE – If budget allows, opt to stay at this gorgeous masseria beautifully immersed in the countryside of Valle d’Itria. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, you’ll have a pool to relax in and a restaurant to eat your meals.
Planning a trip to Puglia? Make sure to read my other posts:
- The Best Things To Do In Bari
- The Best Things To Do In Lecce
- A Quick Guide To Polignano A Mare
- The Best Guide To Monopoli