Discover with us what to do in the beautiful town of Martina Franca, a Baroque brushstroke in the heart of the Itria Valley
Visiting Martina Franca, in the southern part of the province of Taranto, is certainly one of the things you must do on a trip to Apulia. The beautiful town is the heart of the Itria Valley, a Baroque gem in the southern Murgia beloved not only by the Apulians but also by travellers arriving here from all over.
Martina Franca has plenty of things to do and visit. You can immerse yourself in breathtaking natural landscapes and admire baroque palaces whose architecture is so peculiar that it gave rise to the Italian expression ‘Barocco Martinese’ (translatable as “the Baroque typical of Martina Franca”).
Table of content
- What to see in Martina Franca, baroque gem of the Itria Valley
- What to see in the surroundings of Martina Franca?
- Things to do in Martina Franca
The beauty of Martina Franca, however, is not limited to its architecture and natural landscapes. The town is in fact rich in history, art and culture, and also boasts a very rich food and wine tradition. Located on a plateau 400 metres above sea level, the location is even more fascinating. Not to mention that, to put a modern face on the town, actor Beppe Convertini and dancer and presenter Rossella Brescia were born right here!
From a historical point of view, the name of this town also has very ancient origins. In fact, it seems that ‘Martina’ derives from the inhabitants’ devotion to St. Martin of Tours, and that the adjective ‘Franca’ was later added by Philip I D’Anjou in the 14th century, following the various privileges he had granted the town. Initially, however, the town was called Franca Martina; today’s name was given only after the unification of Italy.
Is Martina Franca truly worth visiting? In this guide, we will lead you to discover all the wonders to explore in the territory of the town, but also in the surroundings, including the enchanting Alberobello, Ostuni and Cisternino. You’ll see yourself if it’s really worth it!
So discover with us what to visit in the white town of Martina Franca! 👇
What to see in Martina Franca, baroque gem of the Itria Valley
This beautiful village in the province of Taranto is a great destination all year round, but it is particularly attractive during the spring and summer seasons, when the weather is mild and the days are longer.
We suggest you dedicate at least one day to visiting the old town of Martina Franca and, if you have the availability of a few more days, we invite you to explore its beautiful surroundings as well.
You can explore the entire historic centre on foot, including the places and attractions we suggest below. You could start from Piazza Roma, the heart of the town.
Here is what to see in Martina Franca:
Basilica of San Martino and the MuBa Museum
About 180 metres from Piazza Roma is the Basilica di San Martino, built in the 18th century, one of the most important religious buildings in the town. In 2002, UNESCO declared this place a ‘monument messenger of a culture of peace‘. According to tradition, the ancient basilica on which the modern one is based was dedicated to St Martin of Tours and was founded by refugees from the Saracen raids in nearby Taranto.
Inside the basilica are the relics of St. Comasia, the patron saint of Martina Franca together with St. Martin.
Why visit the interior? You will be amazed to know that on the left side you will only see paintings, while on the right side you will only see statues! Furthermore, the church, elevated to minor basilica status a few years ago, also houses the MuBa, the Museum of the Basilica, which exhibits various documents and liturgical furnishings.
The churches of Martina Franca are unmissable gems in a visit to the town.
Without a doubt, the Church of the Blessed Virgin of Carmel, just outside the city walls, with its elegant Baroque style, is one of the most interesting churches to visit in Martina Franca. St. Anthony of Padua, with its neoclassical façade, St. Dominic’s, in Baroque style, and the 20th-century Church of Christ the King also represent an interesting immersion in the town’s artistic and religious past.
The Palazzo Ducale of Martina Franca
The 17th-century Palazzo Ducale, seat of the town hall, is one of the most important things to see in Martina Franca. Its uniqueness lies in its incredible fusion of architectural styles: Renaissance, Lecce Baroque and even a local touch of ‘Martinese Baroque’.
In addition to admiring the splendid cycles of frescoes inside, you will also find here the Pianelle Park Museum, which recounts the variety of local flora and fauna, and the Museo di Filippo I d’Angiò (Philip I of Anjou Museum), which exhibits interesting art collections inspired by the area.
The noble palaces
Listing all the palaces worthy of attention in this Baroque village is not easy, because there are dozens of them, each with its own specific characteristics. In fact, in addition to the Palazzo Ducale, we find Palazzo Nardelli, in Piazza Roma, and Palazzo Torricella, with its peculiar little side balconies, Palazzo Barnaba, with its stone balconies, Palazzo Carucci, with a large mask, and Palazzo Delfino, which bears the family coat of arms on its façade (needless to say, a dolphin!).
In other words, with a simple stroll through the streets of the town, you will find surprising historical, artistic and architectural insights.
Porta Santo Stefano
The Gate, or Arch, of St Stephen is one of the city’s ancient gates, dating back to the 14th century. It was later demolished and rebuilt in the 18th century in Baroque style. The gate depicts details of the miraculous intervention of St Martin of Tours in saving the city from mercenary soldiers of Balkan origin, called Cappelletti, in the 16th century.
The Palazzo dell’Università and the Civic Tower with the clock
An unbridled horse in the façade will let you know that you are in front of the Palazzo dell’Università (University Palace), built in the 18th century and once home to the Town Hall. Next to the Palace is the Civic Tower with the clock, built on a four-storey square plan.
La Lama district
La Lama is a characteristic area of Martina Franca’s old town, built in the mediaeval period behind the city walls (which no longer exist). It is characterised by narrow streets and small white houses with pinion, or sloping, roofs. While this was once the poorest area of the town, today it is undoubtedly one of the most charming.
The Trulli of Itria Valley
If the most famous Trulli are certainly those of Alberobello, you will also find some in the Martina Franca area. Their origin is uncertain, mixed with legendary tales, but undoubtedly their charm endures to this day. You can not only see them from the outside, but by carefully selecting them, you can also see their interiors and, in some cases, even stay in them!
What to see in the surroundings
If you have more time on your hands, there are many interesting sights around the town.
Within easy reach of the town are the Grotta di Monte Fellone, a cave complex dating back to the Bronze Age, the Bosco delle Pianelle, a nature oasis with trekking and mountain biking trails, and Alberobello, the famous UNESCO-listed trulli village.
Other characteristic villages are also nearby, such as Noci with its Clock Tower, Putignano with its Carnival, and Grottaglie, famous for its handmade ceramics. Cisternino, Ostuni and Locorotondo are other charming places to explore, each with its own unique charm and architectural style.
Also, if you want to take a trip to the beach, in about an hour’s drive you can reach both the beaches on the Ionian side, such as Marina di Ginosa and Castellaneta Marina, and the Adriatic side, such as the famous Torre Canne.
Things to do in Martina Franca
This beautiful town offers many activities, both in the city and its surroundings.
One of the main activities is walking through the streets of the old town of Martina Franca, where you can do some shopping of local handicrafts, such as fine fabrics and the famous Apulian ceramics.
Also, while strolling through the streets of the centre, perhaps in the evening when the alleys are lit up, be sure to stop for an aperitif or dinner in the local restaurants. There is no shortage of walks, even for families with children: for example, a visit to the Villa Garibaldi public garden is a must, for a few hours of coolness on hot days, or a picturesque itinerary from the Torre Civica and Rione La Lama.
Even trekking lovers will find plenty of trails in Martina Franca. Some trails even start from the historic centre and wind along more or less long paths throughout the Itria Valley.
What to eat in Martina Franca
There is no doubt that food and wine is a fundamental part of Martina Franca’s cultural heritage. A taste of local products and dishes is one of the fundamental experiences to have in the Itria Valley.
Among wines, the most famous is certainly Martina Franca DOC, a dry but delicate white wine that goes perfectly with Apulian dishes. As far as typical dishes are concerned, one cannot fail to mention orecchiette with turnip tops, fava beans and chicory, braciole (chops), bombette (meat stuffed with cheese and bacon), capocollo di Martina Franca (Slow Food presidium) and cheeses such as ricotta, caciocavallo and pecorino. Among the desserts, there are pasticciotti, puccia, sweet taralli and sweet focaccia with sultanas and almonds.
If you want to deepen your food and wine experience, you have several possibilities. From wine and typical food tastings organised by local wineries, to cooking courses where you can learn traditional recipes. In addition, numerous restaurants and trattorias in the historic center offer local cuisine, where you can enjoy local specialities in a cosy and familiar atmosphere.
Martina Franca is a city that hosts numerous cultural and traditional events throughout the year.
Among the most important are the Festival della Valle d’Itria, a festival of baroque and opera music that takes place every year between July and August, attracting music lovers from all over the world. Other notable events include the Feast of St Martin, the city’s patron saint, celebrated on 11 November with a Eucharistic procession, and the Lumière, an installation of lights and colours that enlivens the historical centre during the Christmas festivities.
How to get there
Martina Franca is easy to reach by car thanks to the SS172 state road that connects the city with Bari and Taranto. Alternatively, you can take the train to Martina Franca station. The nearest airport is Bari-Palese, located about 80 km away.
We hope that, by following this guide, you have indeed discovered that, with all the things to see, Martina Franca is truly worth visiting. So start organising an unforgettable stay in this beautiful Apulian city! 😍
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