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Alberobello, Italy – a guide to the real-life fairy town

Alberobello, Italy – a guide to the real-life fairy town

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If you see photos from Alberobello you might think, “Wow, this place is like a fairy tale!” But once you set foot on one of the cobblestone streets and find yourself surrounded by the otherworldly houses, you might feel inclined to reassess your concept of magic.

The trulli (the local name for the cone-roofed stone houses; trullo in singular) have been here for centuries and some of them are still inhabited by tiny Italian grannies who refuse to swap their one-room stone house for an apartment in a block of flats in the new part of the town. Fair enough, we reckon.

Alberobello, Rione Monti | © Maria Angelova/www.203challenges.com

History of the trulli fairy houses

According to legend, the trulli (from Greek trullos – dome) were invented as a cunning plan devised by the inhabitants of the village when the local count introduced a tax on every newly built house. To avoid paying, the locals started building these stone, storehouse-like structures to mislead the tax collectors. If necessary, they could be dismantled in a matter of hours because the walls were dry-stone. The whole family used to live in one room, with the roof space often being separated with a plank “ceiling” where the kids were sent to sleep. Today, the trulli are protected by UNESCO.

Alberobello, Rione Monti | © Maria Angelova/www.203challenges.com

How to explore the trulli in Alberobello

The trulli in Alberobello are concentrated in two areas, while the rest of the town has normal Italian-style streets and buildings.

Rione Monti is the most touristy area with countless souvenir shops. Some of the trulli here have become restaurants, hotels or AirBnBs.

Alberobello | © Maria Angelova/www.203challenges.com

One of the most emblematic photo sites in the town is the row of houses with pagan symbols on their roofs. The truth is there is nothing mystical about these symbols – they were ordered by the local tourist office in the 1930s because Mussolini was expected to pay a visit to the town.

Alberobello, the “mystical” signs on the roofs | © Maria Angelova/www.203challenges.com

I’d recommend spending more time in Aia Piccola – the other trulli area that has thankfully remained trinket-free. This is actually a residential area where many of the houses are still inhabited; it’s much calmer than its noisy neighbor, and you’ll probably be one of just a handful of tourists around.

Alberobello, Aia Piccola | © Maria Angelova/www.203challenges.com

One of the best views of the trulli comes from the vantage point of Belvedere Santa Lucia (see the map below).

There are a few small museums showcasing the story of the houses. The biggest of them is the Museo del Territorio, which features 10 trulli and allows you to get an idea of what life was like in Alberobello in the past.

Where to see more trulli

While Alberobello is the most famous and most densely concentrated of Italy’s trulli towns, it is not the only one. Traditional stone houses are scattered around the whole Valle d’Itria region.

Alberobello, Rione Monti | © Maria Angelova/www.203challenges.com

Tips

1. Summer is scorching here and everything closes at noon, so plan to rest between 1 and 5 pm.

2. You probably know this already, but just let us remind you to skip the restaurants with huge signs in English saying “tourist menu” – you will get more food for less money if you walk a few blocks away from the tourist area (tested!).

3. There are many shops selling local products that will let you taste high-quality vinegar, olives and sweets for free.

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