Continuing eastward, the towns clicked off, and before long we were heading up a small pinnacle upon which perches the town known as La Bianca Cittá — The White City. In the distance, we could see the glittering Adriatic. If we were to keep continuing across the water, we’d land in Albania, just north of Greece.
This was Ostuni, situated majestically above the plain where the geographical stiletto heel of Italia’s fashionable boot begins its point. From its hillside throne, the town holds court over silvery green groves of ancient olive trees in one direction and stretches of sand lining the sea in the other. From a distance, its rounded buildings appear splashed with caramel and white, like a delicious dessert you can’t wait to dig into.
As we drove closer, I could readily see why it is called the White City. Whitewashed walls contrasted against the skies, gauzy blue from the humidity. It was stunning.
Driving to the top of the citadel, we followed the signs to Centro. We were anxious to find Casa Esmeralda, the little apartment we had rented for the next three days, and we knew it was somewhere in the city center.
It was mid-day and luckily the streets were near deserted for the afternoon pausa. This allowed me to drive around and around in circles unhindered by pressing traffic. None of the signs or landmarks we had been told to look for materialized. Worse, we were looking for a specific bar in which we were to find a woman who had the keys.
In exasperation, I parked on the edge of town in a large dirt parking lot. No one was about. After stashing our bags in the trunk, we headed upwards, arriving at a large piazza. A few people were wandering around, and I asked one of them where we might find the Tito Schipa Bar. Miraculously, it was just one block away!
Unable to believe our luck, we hustled down the street. Thankfully, the door was wide open and behind the bar stood the friendly-looking woman we were seeking: Annamaria. She had our keys.
Annamaria walked with us to the end of our little street and pointed out the door to Casa Esmeralda, our home for the next few days. Just as we arrived at the door, Tim and Angela, the owners of our apartment, stepped outside their own house, two doors down.
Tim showed us around, then after promising to return at 4:00 to take us on a quick orientation tour of the town, he left us to settle in. As soon as the door clicked closed, we raced wildly around the rooms, forcing ourselves to keep from screaming. This place was a dream!
It was built on three levels. From the street, the front door opened onto a hallway with steps leading upwards. Not far up, an arch led into a large airy room with exposed stone vaulted ceilings.
This room served as the main living area. A tiny kitchen nook was off to one side. Gino had to duck to enter it.
Off to the side, an angled wooden ladder led up to a loft with two single beds draped in white cotton bedspreads.
From the living room, two glass doors opened onto a little balcony with a small, ice-cream-parlor-sized table and chairs. You could stand out there, suspended over the street and see who was coming and going.
Back in the entrance hall, a narrow staircase led up to the second level. Halfway up was a strangely positioned tiny bathroom. Tim told us it used to be a closet, but had they converted it to a bathroom for the lower level. Further up, was a coat closet tucked into the wall. The whole place was starting to remind me of the vertical homes you find in Amsterdam.
At the top of the steps was the main sleeping room. It was right out of a fairy-tale. A large double-bed with white frothy mosquito netting draped down from the honey-hued arches of the stone ceiling. The fabric was gathered at each of the four corners, creating the effect of a four-poster without the posts.
An armadio stood at the foot of the bed with plenty of hangers for our clothes. Its top was lined with books. There was also a small, but very adequate bathroom — sparkling clean. It even had a washing machine!
The bedroom, too, had French doors that opened onto a private balcony. This balcony was larger than the one below, off the living room. With an umbrella and a larger table and chairs, we and several guests could easily eat there.
We ventured onto the balcony and spied yet another set of steps off to one side. Climbing up, we found a rooftop terrace set with garden furniture and a bird’s eye view of town. As we looked over the neighboring roofs and in between the forest of TV antennas, we could see the tops of the buildings in the piazza and, in the distance, the hazy blue of the Adriatic Sea.
I was wild with excitement, dashing up and down all the stairs, admiring the whimsical decor in bold colors: day-glo oranges, yellows, fuchsia reds, turquoise blues, and lime greens. Angela had left us water and a bottle of Prosecco chilling in the small fridge. A fresh loaf of Pugliese bread sat on the counter, waiting to be sliced. We had landed in a Hobbit house, and already I never wanted to leave!