What to do in Conversano, Puglia
Looking for things to do in Puglia, or more specifically, the best things to do in Conversano? Whatever your holiday plans in this gorgeous Italian region, at the heel of the boot-shaped peninsula, don’t miss Conversano, in the metropolitan area of Bari.
This ancient town, which has been settled since Iron Age times, has a whitewashed charm all of its own, and today there are still lots of fascinating things to do and see whilst staying in or visiting Conversano.
Just seven kilometres from the Adriatic Coast, perched on a prehistoric hilltop, Conversano enjoys hazy views of the sea, and is distinguished by a slow-life vibe in its narrow streets, which break into broad piazzas with a medieval castle and several important churches.
Conversano is around 30 kilometres from Bari, and easy to reach from Puglia’s regional airport near Bari, or from the Bari train station. It has an average population of around 26,000 souls, swelling in the summer when guesthouses welcome tourists to the town.
Conversano is also an excellent answer to the question of where to stay in Puglia, providing the perfect base for visiting nearby towns such as Bari, Putignano and Ostuni, as well as gorgeous seaside resorts including Polignano a Mare, Monopoli and San Vito.
Best things to do in Conversano: When to visit Conversano
Conversano, as part of the Southern Italian region of Puglia, enjoys a temperate climate, making it a charming destination even in winter months. It’s a windy place, due to its lofty position, but these fresh breezes are more than welcome when the hot summer arrives. Perhaps the best time to come to Conversano in Puglia is during May, when the recently established #MaggioConversanese festival focuses an extra-special welcome around the annual Conversano Cherry Festival, which takes place every May and lasts the entire month. More on that later.
Overall, Conversano is a charming destination in Puglia, between the sea and a lovely tract of countryside, which gives you plenty of options when visiting Conversano at any time of year, and is a great idea if you’re wondering where to stay in Puglia.
What to do in Conversano: The 10 best things to do in Conversano, Puglia
If you’re wondering what are the best things to do in Conversano, as part of things to do in Puglia, you’ve come to the right place. This guide to Conversano gathers ten of the best things to do in Conversano and most of them are great things to see in Conversano all year round!
1. Best things to do in Conversano: visiting the Castle of Conversano and art galleries
You can’t miss the castle of Conversano – it’s virtually the first thing you see when visiting the town on Conversano, with its bold stone tower and imposing walls on the main square of Conversano, the old Largo della Corte.
The castle was the residence of the Counts of Conversano for almost seven centuries, although the original structure even predates the Normans – foundations of a defensive structure were found here dating back to the Gothic War, in the mid-500s, when this was the site of the ancient city of Norba.
These days, a visit to the Castle Museum – the Pinacoteca Civica Conversano – is an inspiring leap into the past, dominated by the art collection of former castle resident Giangirolamo II, a nobleman and politician who was born in Conversano in 1600. Family paintings and grand historic works of the liberation of Jerusalem by Paolo Dominico Finoglio, a peer of Caravaggio, are annotated in English for the international traveller. It’s a little tricky to find, so don’t be afraid to ask – it’s on an upper floor of the building. The Pinacoteca Civica Conversano is usually open Tuesday to Sunday from 9.00-20.00, with full priced tickets costing €5 and reductions €3.
While you’re in a museum mood, Conversano also has an excellent archaeological collection housed in the Chiostro di San Benedetto, just round the corner. Here, rare local artefacts from prehistoric to Roman times provide a fascinating peak into the past, recalling Conversano’s early Greek influences in its art and a magnificent collection of Greek-style vases.
In case you prefer your art more on the modern scale, don’t miss a great local curiosity: the art and music installations of local artist, Vittoria Rutigliano, whose trippy upper room has to be seen (and heard!) to be believed. Another modern art gallery Galleria Cattedrale, just behind the Cathedral, is full of fresh ideas as well, so feel free to peer in (entrance is free to both).
2. Best things to do in Conversano: Try a cooking class with ProLoco Conversano
The food of Puglia is one of the star attractions when visiting Conversano – more on that later – but one of the most memorable ways to enjoy it is by taking a cooking class. Local promotional organisation ProLoco Conversano offers an incredible range of services to tourists, but one of my favourite experiences here were two cooking classes I tried. The first was to make the local cherry jam during the Conversano Cherry Festival, which was a yummy introduction to this well loved summer fruit.
In a second class, we got to make pastatelle, delicious pastry half moons filled with cooked cherries and spices, another fun way to peer into Conversano traditions. ProLoco Conversano also offers much more, so be sure to look them up when visiting Conversano!
3. Best things to do in Conversano: Visit the Cathedral of Conversano
The beautiful, white Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is one of Conversano’s true gems. Built in a Romanesque style particular to Puglia, the building was started during the 11th and 12th centuries, renovated in 1358-1379 and then heavily restored first in the 18th century and then in 1911, following a fire that destroyed its heritage rose window. In 2012, it reopened again following a cleaning and restructuring mission which has restored it to clean, white perfection.
While you’re on the church trail, don’t miss the rich baroque of the Chiesa di San Cosma, whose gilt interior is a wonderful illustration of the generosity and vision of the Counts of Conversano.
The Monastery of San Benedetto was an extraordinary example of early female clerical power, presided over by a series of abbesses who applied their personal family wealth for the good of the church. Look out for the illustrations of cherries on the pillars, a reminder of how long this fruit has been prized in the this territory.
4. Best things to do in Conversano: Visit the Conversano Cherry Festival
Conversano has been formally celebrating a prized local crop, the cherry, for more than a decade. In recent times, this celebration has crystallised into a month-long festival during May, when live music and stalls selling cherries and more surround the castle walls.
If you visit Conversano in May, it is not only an exceptional opportunity to try the local cherry varieties – the most important of which is called the Ciliegie Ferrovia – but also to sample the jams and cakes they are transformed into. See details of cooking class above at the ProLoco Conversano.
5. Best things to do in Conversano: Stay in a typical masseria
Puglia’s masserie (singular masseria) were old, rural manor houses ruling over lush country estates in the Puglia region, many of which have now been turned into charming residences and hotels, with swimming pools and spas, ideal for a cool escape in summer.
This structures often contain incredible restaurants which still celebrate local produce, and often grow their own crops or produce wine and olive oil in the authentic tradition. Your holiday in Puglia and Conversano wouldn’t be complete without staying in an agriturismo.
Just a few minutes drive from the centre of Conversano, I can recommend the following two rural hotels for your stay with lavish gardens and pools as well as restaurants producing local, typical food. Don’t forget to say I sent you!
Alternatively, if you want to stay in Conversano’s medieval centre, Corte AltaVilla is a charming boutique hotel with it’s own spa.
6. Best things to do in Conversano: Eat typical food from Puglia
Like most Italian regions, Puglia has a cuisine all of its own, and the rich soil, rolling countryside, temperate climate and clean sea all contribute to the wonderful, local specialities.
I’ll have a longer post coming up about what to eat in Puglia, but if you like seafood, don’t miss the roast octopus or mussels baked with potatoes and rice, tried here at Pizzeria Terrarossa.
Typical ‘poor dishes’ are worth a try as well, such as cialledda, which combines vegetables and old bread for a tasty and healthy option.
Look out too for lots of interesting takes on pasta, from the famous local orecchiette, to these wonderful beetroot infused trofie which I tried at Masseria Montepaolo.
7. Best things to do in Conversano: Go on a guided walk in town or in the Puglia countryside
There are plenty of prehistoric – chiefly Iron Age – remains in the Conversano area. But one of the best ways of understanding the rich and ancient past of this fascinating territory is by taking a guided walk with a local expert. Local association Cooperativa Armida provides excellent city walks including church tours, with expert guides, at reasonable fees in Italian or English.
Another option is a walk in the countryside with Associazione Polyxena, which provide passionate guides about wildflowers and ancient topography in the beautiful Puglia countryside. On our walk beyond Conversano we even discovered prehistoric lakes and discovered how far the coastline has shifted over the millennia.
8. Best things to do in Conversano: Visit Polignano a Mare
Lovely Conversano is just seven kilometres from the sea, so it’s likely that you’ll want to visit a beach or two when holidaying in this part of the world.
Polignano a Mare is one of Puglia’s most famous coastal towns, distinguished by plunging cliffs which makes it ideal for the annual Redbull Cliff Diving Contest (this event has to be seen to be believed). The rest of the time, a regular influx of tourists keeps the buzz going, with Polignano home to one of Puglia’s most exclusive restaurants, Grotta Palazzese, set inside a magnificent natural grotto (also one of the most amazing ideas I have ever seen).
If you’re just passing through, admire the beautiful views from the bridge that crosses over into the old town and pause for an aperitivo in its cool and picturesque streets.
9. Best things to do in Conversano: Explore the ruined trulli on the coast
Apart from Polignano al Mare, this part of Puglia has gorgeous beaches round Monopoli and towards Cozze. Pause on the coastal stretch known as Ripagnola where the farmers’ fields combine local crops with ruined trulli, the typical rustic dwelling, for some unique photo opportunities – particularly at sunset! Not to be missed.
10. Best things to do in Conversano: Try a day trip to Bari
To reach Conversano, you may have merely passed through Bari, but don’t miss properly visiting this large port city which charms more and more tourists every year. Bari Vecchia, the old town, used to have such a dangerous reputation that even locals would stay away. However, it’s been transformed in recent years – without losing its original charm. The back streets round the famed Cathedral of San Nicola are full of local trattorias and locals selling their wares. Stroll down to the harbour, or catch the number 2 bus to reach local beaches.
Testaccina was a guest of the Puglia Region