You may not know how to pronounce it, but have probably heard of Puglia or Apulia. You may even heard of Bari, Alberobello, Lecce, and your British aunt may have mentioned Polignano a Mare once or twice. But unless you’ve been researching Puglia extensively, you probably never heard of Cisternino. Blame Puglia’s wealth of stunners, many of which concentrated at the heart of Puglia, Itria Valley. I cant think of another Italian region that boasts such wealth in such proximity.
Cisternino therefore is easy to overlook, but I’d argue that its the best base to explore the region with a car. Most pick the more famous Ostuni, 20 km to the south. But Cisternino is not only better positioned, but has a lot of things going for it. It reminds me of the Varenna and Bellagio situation in Lake Como. Its a small mystery why most chose Bellagio to this day where Varenna is not only more convenient, but arguably as attractive.
Draw the main sites in Valle d’Itria, and you’ll find Cisternino smack in the middle of it all. 30 is the magic number. Less than 30 minutes to another white stunner, Locorotondo, the mentioned Ostuni, and mother of Capocollo, Martina Franca. Food heaven Ceglie Messapica and the great Cibus is 16 km away. Cisternino is not only surrounded by Trulli but Trulli capital Alberobello is less than 30 minutes away. Then 30 minutes down the shore you got Polignano a Mare and Monopoli. And the nearby stretch between Savelletri and Torre Canne not only boasts some of the best beaches in the area, but known for its seafood.
Sometimes you come across a place that ticks all your boxes. One of mine is not only good food, but preferably a place that specializes in something. Cisternino is known for the Fornello Pronto, a network of butchers that will barbecue the meat of choice on the spot. Walk in, choose your meat, pay, and grab a table. Might as well make that meat another local specialty, Bombette, small meat rolls stuffed with cheese and pancetta, though you may find various variations.
But if you happen to lead a largish group like I did, or simply seek a more traditional sit down, there are no shortages here. Family owned and operated Ristorante Mezzofanti, recommended by our host, is literally a hidden gem in a quiet corner of the old town. Try the baked Entrecote with breadcrumbs, and honey mustard. Neapolitanish Pizzeria Doppio Zero is dope! And quite popular so make reservations.
Dining options get even more interesting in the country side. One is Il Cortiletto, a Slow Food guide recommendation in the tiny village of Speziale. Here you’ll find a charming cameo appearance of the chicken, and an exceptional version of the Altamura specialty Tette delle Monache, that may or may not be safe to Google at work (its means Nun’s tits). Another option is Masseria Il Frantoio for a family style set menu dinner in a striking environment. If you overlook the lavish wedding service, you’ll enjoy the elevated traditional grandma cooking with matching wine.
You dont have to stay inside Cisternino in order enjoy it, although waking up inside the empty old town is probably an experience in itself. The beauty in this part of Puglia is the variety of accommodations like Trulli, Masserias, or both (Masserias with Trulli). Consider Masseria Cervarolo, or the more subdued and homey Spetterrata, a short 15 minute drive from Cisternino, and 20 from Ostuni.