Sleep in One of Italy’s Oldest (and Oddest) Buildings in Puglia

Ancient trulli look like something out of a fairy tale.

A journey to see – perhaps even sleep in – one of Italy’s oldest and oddest buildings takes you south through the countryside, all the way to the heel of the boot–shaped peninsula. Here, off the sun–drenched dirt roads, squat, whitewashed trulli are clustered among the olive groves. Topped with pointed roofs, many of which are painted with mysterious mythological markings designed to ward off evil, they look like the dwellings of storybook witches.

Trulli are unique to Italy’s Puglia region. Fairy–tale appearance aside, they were designed with a practical purpose: Dating back as early as the 14th century, they served as simple farm sheds or full–time homes for labourers, and were built using a prehistoric dry–stone technique that involved interlocking limestone that didn’t require mortar or cement. Local legend suggests the trulli were designed to be easy to dismantle so that landowners could remove any evidence of them when building–tax collectors paid a visit. (The structures could be reassembled just as quickly, once the coast was clear.)

December 2, 2019
The interior of a trullo with multiple arches as doorways
   Photo: Matthias Scholz / Alamy

Construction of new trulli slowed toward the end of the 18th century, and Puglia’s little buildings were eventually abandoned and forgotten. Then, in 1996, UNESCO granted World Heritage status to Alberobello, a town that’s home to a remarkable assortment of more than 1,500 trulli recognized for their distinctive construction and the minimal modifications that have been made to their original design. Just like that, trulli became trendy. Eager Europeans looking for vacation homes began buying and renovating them throughout Puglia. Many have been updated with modern amenities, including Wi–Fi and air conditioning, and some have been converted into shops and restaurants. Their domed architecture creates a cave–like resonance, and their rough stone walls are reminiscent of chunky ice blocks – staying in a trullo feels a little like sleeping inside a warm–weather version of an igloo.

There are now more than 300 trulli available for rent on Airbnb, while countless others are marketed as boutique hotels, rented privately or used as personal vacation homes. If the tax–evasion origin stories are to be believed, trulli have come full circle: They were built to save money, and now, in their second life as tourist accommodations, they’re making it.

Test Out a Trullo

Trulli e Puglia Wine Bar While away an evening inside one of Puglia’s most unusual buildings at Alberobello’s trullo turned wine bar.

Trullo Sovrano Set in Alberobello’s only two–storey trullo, this unassuming museum gives visitors a glimpse of what life was like inside one of these traditional homes.

Le Alcove Hotel This luxury boutique hotel is composed of a small collection of trulli in Alberobello. The original design of each space has been preserved as much as possible, with the added comfort of minibars and under–floor heating and cooling.