A glimpse of Puglia: 10 things I discovered in Margherita di Savoia

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When a city you are mandated to visit and promote as an up-and-coming destination turns out to be the wonderfully quiet little gem that is the coastal town of Margherita di Savoia, you are surely faced with the classic conundrum. Keep it to yourself? Share with the whole world? In this case, you’re in luck.

Nestled between Europe’s largest salt flats and the Adriatic sea, Margherita di Savoia is one of those rare diamonds in the rough. Very much a destination in progress, its imperfect rural perfection is, in fact, what makes it so charming. I spent a week exploring beautifully honest rural life in this very endearing town of Puglia with Destination Makers and eight other bloggers and today I’d love to show you ten things I discovered while in Margherita di Savoia.

Margherita holds a beauty that needs to be known, and so sharing I will.

1. Eat the freshest and most beautiful veggies (and pick them, too!)

Italy isn’t always known as the most vegan-friendly destination, and the smaller and lesser-visited the town, the more this fact is likely to apply. Or so I thought until I landed in Margherita di Savoia, where vegetables reign supreme.

Vegetables here grow all year round, and sweet white onions are definitely the kings of Margherita’s veggie kingdom. I was surprised to discover they grow in the sand, which is high in minerals due to the proximity of the sea to the east and the salt flats to the west. Fun fact: the harvesting technique has remained unchanged since the 18th century. All vegetables, and especially the onions, are carefully, delicately, and painstakingly hand-picked — no machine involved — because they are so fragile and delicate.

But if you think all these vegetables will equate in you eating “peasant food” — think again, as this is Italy, after all. Puglia may be rooted in a very humble classic Mediterranean diet known as cucina povera — or poor cooking, and indeed I was at times presented with simple, delicious roasted vegetables (the cipolla bianca (white onion) is delicious oven-roasted with just a drizzle of local olive oil and salt and pepper). But I was also served the most extravagant seven-course meals with multidimensional intricate dishes I am still dreaming of. And obviously, everything I was served was local. What else would you expect from the birthplace of the slow food and KM Zero movements?

2. Visit the second biggest salt flats in the world

Margherita di Savoia’s salt flats are Europe’s largest, and the world’s second largest after Bolivia. There are specialized tours in the 20-kilometer long stretch of salt works where you will learn the historical values and the traditional production of salt in the area. The water here is transferred in an upward-downward manner, from one basin to another, which helps make it saltier (and pinker!) as it goes. With an annual salt production of 600 million tons, chances are you’ve had Margherita salt on your table before without knowing!

The best time to visit and witness the salt production is in June, July, and August.

3. Go bird watching and discover over 100 species, including pink flamingos!

As you may imagine, the salt flats are extremely rich in minerals, which naturally attracts a wealth of wildlife. Birdwatching aficionados, eat your heart out! In Margherita, you can get to observe over a hundred species of aquatic and migratory birds such as widgeon, chiulottello, dunlin, curlew, avocet, and of course the captivating pink flamingos that will satisfy all your pastel palette dreams.

The environmental conservation organization Legambiente runs birdwatching expeditions where they provide binoculars and I wholeheartedly recommend meandering the gorgeous paths around the salt flats and taking in the cool and salty breeze. Beware that flamingos are a bit camera shy, however!

4. Get lost in Castel del Monte

Built in the 13th century, Castel del Monte or “Castle of the Mount” is a Medieval castle located atop a small hill that is said to be the “most fascinating castle built by Emperor Frederick II”. Upon entering the UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will be left in awe with amazing views of the Apulian countryside in every direction. The castle, with its octagonal structure, geometric designs, and touches of Greco-Roman architecture all under one roof, is delightful, if a bit of a maze. Its two entrances, several rooms with vaulted ceilings, eight-walled courtyard, and throne room make it easy to get lost. Here again, I would recommend having a guide.

5. Take a look at the pink lakes

You may be wondering by now why the salt lakes are pink? Has it crossed your mind that it is for the exact same reason why flamingos are also pink? Let’s geek out a bit here.

In the latest stage of the evaporation process, the pools of water become more and more concentrated in everything but water, allowing the color of anything living below the surface to shine through. As it turns out, tiny shrimps high in beta-carotene find this extremely salty water quite appealing and live there, giving the water its pink hue. This also happens to be what bring flamingos in, as they feed on these shrimps, hence why they are also pink. Seriously, how cool is that? It’s the flamingo recipe!

6. Lounge along the 5+ kilometer stretch of pristine beachside

Margherita di Savoia has a seemingly endless number of beaches that tourists and locals alike can lounge in under the heat of the sun. Some have iron-rich, dark sands, some have the clearest of water, but all share the same amount of beauty that would unleash the sleeping mermaid in you. Or, in my case, the beach yoga bum.

To hang with the locals, I recommend visiting Fenicottero Rosa Beach by Torre Pietra just north of the town center. It’s just a short bicycle ride away and not touristy at all. Just you, the sand, and the sea. Bring snacks.  

7. Make the most out of the healing minerals by visiting the Terme

Margherita is the “Capital of Thermal Spa” in the world. Come and inhale the mineral-rich ‘mother water’ or slather yourself with the nurturing clay. They have a full menu of baths, mud masks, massage treatments and whirlpools that are good for circulatory problems, arthrosis, swelling, or just plain old pampering and relaxing. They also have an excellent range of products to take home that will make for amazing presents.

8. Pay a visit to nearby romantic Barletta

Located 10km from Margherita di Savoia, Barletta is a great option should you want a little bit of a cultural city break. It is known for its bronze statue Colossus of Barletta, which is the biggest one that survived the Roman Empire era. Also found in Barletta is the archeological site of Canne Della Battaglia, the 12th-century Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the 10th-century Castle of Barletta, and the Palace of the Marra filled with Baroque architecture. If you’re looking for a quiet place to work, the public library inside the Castle is the most gorgeous and peaceful place to be.

Beyond all the cultural wonders, Barletta is a laid-back city to slowly discover, meandering the narrow streets filled with history, and stopping at cafés for aperitivo and people watching while soaking in the great atmosphere. If you have time, go take a look at the Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Curci — or better yet, gussy up and go watch a play! It has all the Neoclassical opulence you could possibly hope for.

9. Sail the turquoise Adriatic Sea on a catamaran

The Adriatic Sea never falls short in grandeur with its 1,300+ islands. And while you can’t navigate through all of these in a one-time trip, it’s possible to do a short sailing trip from Margherita di Savoia and get a sample of everything else there is to explore.

While in Margherita, it is possible to do a sailing course or just take a leisurely trip and a refreshing dip out to sea — which is what I did. Fancy scuba diving? That can also be arranged in Margherita di Savoia.

10. Wander the streets at sunset

On your free time, why not wander around the picturesque, quiet streets of Margherita di Savoia? Take time to do a photo walk, brush on your Italian skills by chatting up the locals, or maybe people-watch over a tiny cup of espresso. The undisturbed local life of Margherita and the Art Deco architecture are truly a joy to witness, especially so in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun.

Margherita di Savoia is definitely a road-less-traveled town in Italy. It offers farm-to-table meals by the beach, sea salt remedies, streets that speak of its culture and history, wildlife, and a little bit of everything you need for a unique trip. And if you’re wondering what piece of the town you could bring home to your family and friends, why not pack some sea salt goodness and the amazing jam from Canneto Beach such as Cipolla Bianca di Margherita, Cipolla Bianca e Fichi, Vino Cotto, and Uva Moscato?

After all, the best way to know a place is by its cultural taste.

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