A rustic two hundred year old trullo in the countryside outside of Alberobello, in the southern Italian region of Puglia or Apulia is our latest home away from home and it oozes atmosphere and romance.

The trulli (plural) are the traditional homes of the people of the area, and while there are many holiday-trulli to rent, both locally- and foreign-owned, these charming residences with their conical-shaped roofs remain an integral part of the urban and rural landscape here. If you come to Puglia and don’t stay in a trullo you’re missing out on a very special local experience.

But first, a disclosure: we had serious reservations about staying in a trullo after some northern Italians had told us they were only for tourists. While we’ve travelled around Italy countless times for work and pleasure (we’ve written guidebooks to Milan, Calabria, Northern Italy and the Italian Lakes, as well as myriad stories on the country), Puglia was a region we didn’t know – we’d only sped through on a drive from Calabria to Rimini.

“Staying in a trullo is like going to Tuscany and staying in a villa,” they told us. As we’re on a quest to live like locals this year that was the last thing we wanted. Was this going to be a classic stay or a cliché, we wondered?

Fortunately, our anxiety disappeared soon after touching down in Bari, when, on the drive to Alberobello, we spotted our first trulli and in their backyards, not only swimming pools and barbecues, but horses, cows, cats and dogs, vegetable gardens, cars in various states of (dis)repair, and washing hanging on clothes lines… the trulli we saw served as farmhouses, barns, garages, country refuges, and, in the towns themselves, everyday suburban homes. Phew.

Around five kilometres outside of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Alberobello, our trullo, accessible from a dirt track off a quiet country road, did indeed have a swimming pool, a barbecue, and an outdoor pizza oven, but as we excitedly discovered, it was also surrounded by fields of wheat, vegetable gardens, olive groves, and vineyards. It’s idyllically located and apparently isolated, although in reality it’s less than half a kilometre from the road as the crow flies.

In keeping with our slow travel theme, we opted for bicycles instead of a car to get around – the ride on our rented bici into Alberobello took us around 20 minutes – although a family or group of friends would need a vehicle, vital if you’re keen on exploring the region.

While there’s another trullo down the track that’s also rented out as a holiday home, most of the nearby trulli are farmhouses and the nearest serves as a garage for tractors. There are a few antique trulli being renovated close by. Maria, the caretaker of our property, tells us they’re owned by newlyweds. Buying and renovating trulli is becoming increasingly popular among locals, but more on that growing trend in another post.

Our trullo is truly enchanting, and it didn’t take long for us to be smitten with the place. Just inside the entrance there’s a cute kitchen from where narrow stairs lead up to the main bedroom, the stove from the kitchen providing warmth on chilly nights. And it was unexpectedly cold for May too.

From our bedroom there are views across the countryside from the tiny windows and a balcony that’s been built onto the roof. Back downstairs, at the centre of the trullo is the dining room and a cosy nook for a living room, and off this space are two more bedrooms and the bathroom.

There are bare stone walls in some rooms, white plaster in others, and while one of the cones is hollow, another has a wooden mezzanine to create storage space, a common feature of trulli. In the old days that’s where the children would sleep!

The trullo is compact and cosy and while it might be a tight squeeze for a family in winter when a lot of time would be spent indoors, in summer when everyone can spread about the place and eat outside, there’s plenty of room for a big family or a group of friends.

In fact, the Dutch owner has several children, two German families were booked in after us, and the owners have set up the place with loads of cutlery and plates and towels and linen. There’s also a double bedroom with a bathroom beside the swimming pool.

The place is charmingly rustic with a big wooden dining table and mismatched chairs, antique sideboards and cabinets with peeling paint, cross-stitched linen sheets, and crocheted bedspreads. The bright blue plates are a little chipped and the glasses are those you typically find in Italian pizzerias. Idiosyncratic pieces decorate the home: big antique bowls, rusty tin boxes, unframed paintings. And it’s all very endearing.

There is no Internet or television, and you wouldn’t miss either if you’re on holidays*, but there’s a small portable DVD player (handy in bad weather) that we hooked up to our iPod so we could play music and Italian-language lessons. There’s also a small selection of books and magazines, though nothing in English. The only hi-tech things in the place are the microwave (which we didn’t use) and the Gaggia espresso maker (which we greatly appreciated).

As the attention to detail demonstrates – there was ample of everything including plenty of kitchen supplies, along with a fridge thoughtfully stocked full of food – the owners obviously love the trullo and make good use of it and it shows. Maria fondly recollected family pizza parties and barbecues – and by the end of our stay we had our own fond memories of the same. More on those in another post.

  • A note on telecommunications: the lack of Internet and phone did prove a nuisance for us unfortunately as we were working, although it probably wouldn’t bother people looking to get away from it all. We used two USB broadband modems, one by Vodaphone and one by TIM. They either didn’t work at all, they worked but were excruciatingly slow, or we had to go outside to get a signal, which wasn’t much fun when it rained. Oddly enough, our Italian TIM SIM also didn’t work very well – it was mostly on ‘Emergency Only’ and while I could dial our Dubai mobile from it, I couldn’t call anyone else most of the time. If staying connected is essential, discuss your requirements with the owner before booking. If you like the idea of a trullo but want something closer to town, HomeAway has more trulli in the area.
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