17 Mar Getting off the Tourist Trail in Manfredonia, Italy
“Smile…You’re in Manfredonia” is a line the locals say, and I spent my 3-days in Manfredonia, Italy doing just that.
Prior to this trip I had visited Italy many times, but only ever the main cities of Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan. You know- the big four.
My first reaction when I was invited on a blog trip to Manfredonia was- “Manfredonia where?!”
So like any savvy travel blogger would do… I googled it. Manfredonia is a town that lies on the eastern coast of Italy, to the south of Monte Gargano in the comune of Puglia and the province of Foggia.
I flew into Bari airport, which is located about an hour’s drive away from Manfredonia and is served by low cost airlines such as Ryanair.
On my first day in Manfredonia I joined some of the other bloggers for a tour of the main sights in the ancient town. Manfredonia was founded by King Manfredi of Swabia who wanted to give a home for all those “orphaned” inhabitants of old Siponto, which was sadly destroyed by an earthquake in 1223 and a tidal wave in 1256.
First we visited the Swabian castle, the construction of which was started by King Manfredi. Sadly he never got to see the completed structure because he was killed in the Battle of Benevento, but it was later completed by the Angevins and shows signs of various transformations, restorations and renovations throughout the years. These days the castle houses the National Archeological Museum and several ‘Daunian Steles’ with engravings.
Next up we took a lovely walk along the waterfront to the port, where we admired the views from the top of the lighthouse. Although it was rather chilly at this time of year (March), Manfredonia looks absolutely sunny on a beautiful blue day. In the one direction we could see the beach, while in the other direction we could see little fishing boats bobbing around on the blue-green water. One thing I love about coastal towns is the smell of the sea air and the fresh fish caught daily by the fishermen.
We strolled along Manfredonia’s main street, where locals like to parade up and down then turn around again. In the morning this street is bustling with activity, but come lunchtime it’s completely deserted as everyone goes home for lunch. In the evening the families come back out again, then they leave to make way for the younger crowds late at night.
Afterwards we visited the gothic Cathedral and the Church of San Domenico in Piazza del Popolo, where the Chapel of Maddalena contains old paintings from the 14th century.
Finally it was time for a fabulous seafood lunch at Bacco, Tabacco e Venere– a cosy restaurant in the heart of the town. I ate some antipasti including octopus, aubergine and bruschetta, followed by ‘little ears’ pasta with mussels and a tasty fillet of fish. This of course was washed down with a lovely glass of white wine from Puglia.
To end the afternoon we made two more stops outside of the city to see the Basilica of Saint Leonardo and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. San Leonardo is located 10km from Manfredonia and was built around the beginning of the twelfth century. The most intriguing thing about this church is that it features small holes in the roof of the Church and every year, on the 21st of June, the sun streams through the gnomonic hole, casting a projection of light in the middle of the Church. Weddings are often held there at this time of year. Meanwhile the cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore di Soponto can be found 3km from Manfredonia and was built in 117 in a Romanesque style, with a dome and a crypt.
Getting there- You can check Skyscanner for the cheapest flights to Bari airport. I flew from Manchester to Milan and then Milan to Bari on Ryanair. My return flight to Manchester was on Germanwings via Cologne.
Getting Around- There aren’t any hotels in the town centre so you will need to hire a car to get around.
Where to stay- I stayed at the Regiohotel Manfredi wellness resort just outside of Manfredonia.
Where to drink- Civico 5 is a popular bar with the young and trendy- if you like tequila, try their Hawaiian margarita.
I left Manfredonia feeling like I had seen another side of Italy, away from the tourist trail. My lovely English translator Patricia- who happens to be from Stockport not far from where I grew up- introduced me to an English lady in the street on the night of the Carnival parade. As we walked on, she said “Now you’ve met the only other English person in Manfredonia!” The people here were friendly, the food was to die for and best of all I discovered a wine shop selling a litre of wine for €1,40!