Martina Franca is a beautiful Italian town with pretty whitewashed alleys and stunning Baroque churches opening onto sun-drenched piazzas. This is our travel guide to visiting Martina Franca, Puglia.
You know a trip is successful when the participants cannot agree on the trip highlight and this is exactly what happened the last time we visited Puglia.
I fell in love with the pretty town of Locorotondo while my husband elected as its favorite place beautiful Martina Franca.
Indeed, it is hard not to love ‘Martina’.
Perched on top of a hill overlooking the Valle d’Itria, in Puglia, the town mixes pretty, quaint corners with grand piazzas somewhat reminiscent of places in Sicily and the result is beautiful and unique.
I visited Martina Franca more than once, this last time with my husband and kids.
It is really pretty and I regularly recommend it as one of the most beautiful places to see in Italy.
This is all you need to know to visit.
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Is Martina Franca worth visiting?
In Puglia, several places fight for your attention and it is fair enough to wonder if they are all as special as they claim to be.
When it comes to Martina Franca, my personal answer is yes, it is worth visiting!
While on the surface it might seem like just one more hilltop village, Martina Franca is special as it combines pretty streets with a surprising amount of grand buildings and churches that are unexpected in a town this small.
While in other towns you may marvel at hidden corners and quaint balconies, here you find yourself properly stopped in your tracks by stunning baroque architecture.
Martina Franca may have a small town center but surely packs a punch not just in terms of charm but proper, undeniable beauty!
Interesting fact! Martina Franca’s architecture is distinctive and goes by the name of ‘Barocco Martinese‘, a style of Baroque that is unique to this city!
What there is to see in Martina Franca?
Martina Franca is a reasonably big town but the part you want to visit is the small historical town center.
Martina Franca was founded in 1310 by prince Filippo D’Angio and still maintains many traces of its medieval past.
Perched on top of a hill for defensive reasons, it was surrounded by protective city walls and had no less than 24 watch-towers, overlooking the surrounding countryside.
The best way to visit Martina Franca is to simply wander around and allow yourself to follow your fancy around its pretty maze of small alleys.
Even if you get lost, you won’t get lost for long and you are pretty much guaranteed to see Martina Franca’s highlights without even trying: it is that sort of town!
However, if you want to know what to expect, this is a quick list of the best things to see in Martina Franca.
The city gates
The town has 4 entrance gates and while the walls were largely modified in more recent times to make the city more suited to modern life, the gates are still visible and still mark the entrance to the oldest part of the center.
The gates take the name of Saints (Porta Santo Stefano, San Nicola, San Pietro and Santa Maria) and the most impressive in my opinion is Porta Santo Stefano that leads you into the town center.
This gate dates back to the XV century but it was destroyed and rebuilt in the XVIII century and now has a distinctive Baroque appearance that is peculiar to this town.
Martina Franca has an impressive Palazzo Ducale, towering above the beautiful piazza Roma.
The palazzo is now part home to Martina Franca’s city hall and part museum and it is a grand, interesting sight.
It was built by the Caracciolo family to resemble a royal residence and its original plans wanted it to have 365 rooms!
This ambitious plan never saw the light but the palace is still truly magnificent and a fantastic example of the Barocco Martinese this town is famous for.
Basilica di San Martino
San Martino is the patron Saint of Martina Franca and the basilica to its name is a testament to the importance of his role: the church is simply stunning!
The basilica is worth visiting inside and out: inside, it has an elaborate architecture with important artworks from local painters and outside, the facade is a triumph of elaborate carvings.
The church has the peculiar cream color that is typical of the local stone of which it is made and that makes it shine under the powerful rays of the Southern Italian sun.
Piazza Maria Immacolata
Just beside the basilica lies what is probably my favorite bit of Martina Franca, Piazza Maria Immacolara.
This is a grand square framed by semi-circular buildings now hosting cafes and restaurants and it is a relaxing, beautiful place.
We sat there with the kids eating gelato and it was the best resting spot we could have found.
The piazza has lovely porticoes, the basilica peeks from your left and quaint, pretty houses lie on your right, offering the first glimpse of what expects you next in your exploration: a maze of whitewashed alleys!
Martina Franca’s whitewashed streets
Martina Franca is one of the so-called citta’ bianche (white towns) of Puglia and a walk around its historical center will soon show you why.
As you leave the grand piazzas, you venture into a labyrinth of small alleyways that are all, entirely white!
This part of town is a delight to visit and the best wat to do itis to allow yourself to get lost.
If you do, you will truly enjoy this maze of dead-end alleys, laundry lines and cats lounging in the sun!
The lower part of Martina Franca is called the ‘lama’ and is today one of the most charming areas in the whole town.
Originally, this was the poorest part of the city, the one that, due to its location, would gather the coldest and dampest dwellings but nowaday is an architectural gem.
Here, houses of all shapes and sizes seem to overlap onto each other in an extravaganza of white walls and pointy roofs, the only planning being that dictated by the peculiar shape of the terrain.
Very different from the grander part of town you encounter when you first walk in from the main gate, this is a lovely district worth exploring.
Worth noticing are the pointy roofs ‘a pignone’ that are peculiar to this part of Puglia.
Where is Martina Franca? How to get there?
Martina Franca is in the South East of Italy, in the region of Puglia.
The closest big cities are Bari, which is also the nearest international airport, Brindisi, also served by an airport and a busy port, and Taranto.
The easiest way to get to Martina Franca is by car: the roads in this part of Puglia and well signposted and well kept and pay and display parking is easily available just outside the city walls.
Martina Franca is about 1.5h from Bari and only a 15-minute drive between Locorotondo and famous Alberobello.
Once parked, you can visit Martina Franca’s historical center on foot.
You can also reach Martina Franca by train.
How to fit Martina Franca in your Italian itinerary
Martina Franca can be easily added to an Italy itinerary focusing on the South of the country.
Located between Bari and Taranto, it can be visited as a day trip from with cities or you can easily drive to it from Alberobello, Locorotondo, Trani or even Matera.
You can see how we fit it into our itinerary through the South of Italy here.
Where to stay in Martina Franca?
Martina has several nice accommodation options and makes a good base for nearby explorations.
My go-to websites for accommodation booking in Italy are Homeaway (villas) and booking.com which allows you to book several typed of lodging and has generous cancellation policies.
Travel resources for visiting Martina Franca Italy
- Omio – Handy website for Train and Bus connections across Europe
- Booking.com – My go-to resource for accommodation (hotels, apartments and specialty lodging) with good deals and excellent cancellation policies
- LuggageHero – Large selection of luggage storage options for bags-free day trips
- GetYourGuide: booking platform for attraction tickets and day tours
- Lonely Planet: my one and only go-to travel guide provider
- AutoEurope: handy comparison website for the best car rental deals
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide and inspired you to visit Martina Franca. Safe travels!