Martina Franca Puglia: Our Definitive Guide
Discover Martina Franca Puglia, an Italian town with a rich history and plenty to do. Keep reading for the full travel guide to the Itria Valley’s most dramatic town.
Whether you’ve managed to find out about Martina Franca while planning a Puglia road trip itinerary or you’re just researching day trips from Bari or Polignano a Mare, Martina Franca is one of Puglia’s real gems.
It’s architecturally different from all other Itria Valley towns and reminds one of Lecce or even Rome with its Baroque flamboyance and drama. The historic center is full of narrow alleyways waiting for you to get lost in and there are some delicious restaurants to eat at and great accommodation options.
All you need is a few hours in Martina Franca to already experience its beauty and grandeur so it’s well worth your time even if you are just passing through. Keep reading for our definitive guide to Martina Franca Puglia and start planning your trip today.
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READ MORE: A Puglia Road Trip Itinerary: Our 10 Day Puglia Guide
How to Get to Martina Franca Puglia
Martina Franca is located in the heart of the Itria Valley in Puglia’s Taranto district of Italy. It’s about an hour’s drive, southeast of Bari, 35 minutes south of Monopoli and just 10 minutes from other nearby towns like Locorotondo, Cisternino and Alberobello.
The best way to get to Martina Franca Puglia is by car and if you’re on a Puglia road trip itinerary, Martina Franca can be visited along with Alberobello and Locorotondo on the same day. I strongly recommend renting a car for the Puglia area as it gives you the most freedom for exploring all of these historic towns.
I always use Auto Europe to rent a car in Italy. They have some of the best rates, especially in the summer high season. Find a rental car with Auto Europe here.
Other than renting a car, bus and train are good options for getting to Martina Franca. There are bus and train links from Bari, Brindisi, Locorotondo, Alberobello, Ceglie Messapica and many other destinations in Puglia too. Make sure to check Tren Italia here for the best bus and rail connection in Italy to plan your journey.
Martina Franca’s railway station is located just southwest of the historic center and it’s close enough to walk.
Best Things to do in Martina Franca Puglia
Wander around the Historic Center or ‘Lama’
The first thing you should do? Get your bearings with a wander around the Martina Franca Centro Storico.
As mentioned previously, Martina Franca has one of the most beautiful, Baroque historic centers of any of the towns in the Itria Valley, which immediately transports you to a mini Rome. With elaborate wrought-iron balconies, grand Baroque facades of public buildings and churches and imposing squares, it’s a pretty picturesque place to get lost in for a few hours.
As you walk around you will, no doubt come across many of Martina Franca’s most iconic squares and feel free to be led by the rather well-informing street sights. You’ll discover a maze of winding alleyways, white-washed buildings and Italian nonnas peeking down at the street from their balconies while their laundry dries high up over the street.
If you don’t quite feel up to exploring the old town by yourself or you want to learn a little more about Martina Franca’s history signing up for a local tour is a great idea.
Why not sign up for a Rococo and Baroque architecture tour to learn more about the history of the buildings or perhaps a wine and local products tasting tour to learn a bit more about the gastronomy of the area.
Visit Palazzo Ducale
Palazzo Ducale is one of Martina Franca’s most iconic buildings. Built in 1668 the palace functioned as the historical seat of government and nobility. Today it still acts as the office of the civic government of Martina Franca. While the palace is pretty impressive on the outside, head in to see the noble, stone staircase leading up to the grand rooms on the first floor.
Upstairs you find multiple connected rooms decorated in elaborate frescos that have been semi-restored. The space is also used for contemporary art exhibitions so make sure to check out and see what’s on during your visit.
Outside Palazzo Ducale, you’ll also find the beautiful Piazza Roma with its beautiful flowers and fountain.
Check out Martina Franca’s Squares
Some of the best squares in Puglia are located in Martina Franca and I’m not just talking about the incredibly grand Baroque Piazzas Italy is known for. Martina Franca has some amazing small, communal squares that are hidden from view by small street angles and buildings.
These small squares are often the epicentre of community life and if you visit at the right time of day you’ll notice older gentlemen gathering around the fountain to talk about the day and nonnas sharing gossip.
The best way to find these tiny squares is just to walk around and accidentally stumble into them as you explore. However, one of my favourites is located right behind Terre di Puglia mini market. Find it on Google Maps here.
Walk Through Porta di Santo Stefano
Nothing quite like entering an Italian city through its historical gates and that’s exactly what you can do in Martina Franca. Keep an eye out for this imposing gate when visiting Palazzo Ducale as it’s right next door. This grandiose Baroque arch brilliantly leads visitors from Piazza XX Settembre into the historical heart of the city.
Peek inside Basilica Cattedrale di San Martino
Probably the most impressive church in the Valle de Itria, Martina Franca’s Duomo is unmissable when in the centro storico. Built in 1747 on the sight of a late-Romanesque church, the building has undergone quite a few changes and restorations in its time. With an exquisite Baroque facade towering over Piazza Plebiscito, you’ll also want to take a moment to peek inside.
Inside the Duomo, you’ll find a light and airy interior, coloured marble columns and a grand, ornate altar. Make sure to also notice the beautiful paintings in the side chapels as they are pretty interesting.
Hangout on Piazza Plebiscito
Whether you decide to grab an aperitif at any one of the cafes and restaurants at sunset or just take a seat on the cathedral steps, spending some time in Piazza Plebiscito is a great way to pass the time in Martina Franca Puglia.
Piazza Plebiscito is probably the town’s most beautiful spot with the cathedral on one side, the small Chiesa del Monte Purgatorio and the Palazzo dell’Università on the other side.
Walk away from the cathedral and in a few hundred meters you’ll soon arrive at the equally beautiful Piazza Maria Immacolata or Piazza dei Portici as it’s also known. Here you’ll find a grandiose, semi-circle building with arcades, baroque buildings with wrought iron balconies filled with flowers and cafes and restaurants everywhere you look.
It’s the perfect scene from everyday life in Martina Franca so grab a spritz, take a seat and watch life go by.
Seek out shade in Giardini Villa Madonna del Carmine
If you’re looking for the perfect spot to seek shade, relax for a while or even have a bite to eat-picnic style- head to this lovely little green space just outside the historic center. You’ll be able to join the locals in taking afternoon siesta breaks under the pine trees and just take a well-earned break from exploring.
The park is a great place to relax if you happen to be in town when everything shuts down from about 3 pm until 6 pm.
People watch in the Piazza XX Settembre
One of the biggest squares in Martina Franca Puglia, this gorgeous tree-lined, rectangle-shaped area is the perfect welcome to the city. Featuring a number of clothing stores, cafes and bars it’s another great spot to relax over an espresso.
Around the perimeter of the square, you’ll also find the historic Teatro Verdi and the rather ornate Teatre cafe where you can learn a little more about the history of this very corner and rub shoulders with the locals.
Visit the Church of Saint Dominic
It’s hard to miss the church of St Dominic when trying to navigate the maze-like alleyways of the historic center. Another splendid Baroque-facade church with a light altar, simple frescos and numerous paintings. Make sure to also notice the rather contemporary glass chandelier hanging over the main dome.
Housed in the former Agostiniane Romite Nuns convent, this spectacular building was built in the 17th Century. Many of the daughters of the wealthiest local families were welcomed here over the years. The convent revolves around the central cloister but probably the best part of the building is its rooftop terrace which is decorated by statues of angels and offers some of the best views of Martina Franca.
In the Villaggio Sant’Agostino, you’ll also find an art gallery with quite a few historical paintings as well as the oldest bell in Martina Franca. There’s also the church of Santa Maria Della Purita which is the only rococo-style church in Martina Franca.
Entrance to the church, cloister and refectory are free of charge however it costs €3 per person to access the rooftop terrace, wooden choir and picture gallery by guided tour only. Tours are only in Italian at 10.30 am, 11.30 am and 5 pm.
Check below for more ideas for top things to do in Martina Franca Puglia.