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Stories from our Travelers

Cisternino, A Village in White


A trullo in Alberobello

Elders in Cisternino

Quiet alley in Cisternino
by Melissa Cicci

I’m reluctant to share a recent discovery – the village of Cisternino, deep in Italy’s southern region of Puglia. But it is because of places like Cisternino that I travel; not to mention that several years ago I made a promise to share out-of-the-ordinary travel experiences on this site.

Puglia is not entirely undiscovered. Knowledgeable travelers for some time have been exploring the trulli (beehive-shaped dwellings) that date to the 18th century and dot the landscape along Puglia’s eastern edge and cluster on the hillsides in the UNESCO World Heritage village of Alberobello. Oenophiles and olive oil lovers know that Puglia’s rich vineyards and hundreds-years-old olive groves yield some of Italy’s best grapes and golden oil. In fact, the Pugliese rightfully argue that theirs is the best olive oil in all of Italy. The hilltop city of Ostuni is famous for its mystical presence and entirely whitewashed buildings.

On a recent tour through Southern Italy (among the many hats I wear, one is as an expedition leader for cultural travel groups), my colleague and new friend, a native of Calabria, suggested that we bypass the more recognized stop on our itinerary and visit intimate Cisternino. We arrived in late afternoon under a darkening sky. Like its larger neighbor, Ostuni, Cisternino is also whitewashed – a common architectural signature in Puglia. We climbed through narrow, pedestrian-only streets devoid of any other tourists or foreigners. Most of the homes' shutters were closed, and flower pots dotted balconies here and there, although there wasn’t a profusion of color in this magical white village.

We entered a tiny piazza with two opposing benches. On one bench, a trio of octogenarians sat with crossed arms, fedoras and canes. One smiled at us, the other two sat taciturn. On the other side of the piazza, three young men occupied another bench. The old and new guard. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought we’d stumbled upon a film set, with characters straight out of central casting or a Francis Ford Coppola movie (who, by the way, happens to own a beautifully restored palazzo in the nearby region of Basilicata).

Some in our group were hesitant to photograph this appealing scene, but the young men laughed and engaged us, and the elders shook our hands. We continued on our way to the top of the village, where a broad piazza and church overlooked the Itria valley. More of Cisternino's elder statesmen populated this scene as well. I was especially struck by two ancient men, holding hands as they walked home.

On the way back to our vehicle, we walked along the main commercial street, where mothers and daughters and groups of young women stopped for an espresso, or eyed a pair of shoes in a shop window. The shops had re-opened, the day was drawing to a close, and the streets began to fill for the customary passeggiata.

We had limited time in Cisternino, but I plan to return, either on my own or with a group, to improve my halting Italian and take pleasure in this amiable southern Italian town.

If You Go
Cisternino is located in the province of Brindisi, in the Italian region of Puglia. It is about 38 miles from the provincial capital of Brindisi, and about 45 miles from Puglia's capital of Bari and its modern airport. Alitalia flies between Rome (FCO) and both Bari (BRI) and Brindisi (BDS). Cisternino lies about 20 minutes inland from the Adriatic Sea.

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