Masstourism in Alberobello, to visit or not to visit?

Lizet Wesselman - 18/04/2024

Masstourism in Alberobello, to visit or not to visit?

Lizet Wesselman - 18/04/2024

Alberobello is a small town in Italy’s Puglia region, which has become famous in recent years for its cute trulli houses. So popular, in fact, that it is always crowded with tourists. Even during my trip in mid-March. What is the effect of all those tourists in Alberobello? And should you visit the village or not, in view of mass tourism? I explain the effect of mass tourism in Alberobello, as well as what sustainable measures you can take to still see the cute trulli houses.

Empty villages in Italy

To understand Alberobello’s sudden popularity, we need to delve a little deeper into Italy’s problems. In fact, Italy has had an emptying of small towns for years. So much so, that for years there have been projects where for €1 you can buy a house or even get paid to live somewhere for a few years. The catch is then always that you are thus in a village that is completely deserted, and where people have left for a reason. The idea is that the new residents will breathe new life into it. Quite an adventure, but also quite a responsibility. Often, the house has to be completely renovated and sometimes you are expected to open a local business, such as a bakery or café.

Alberobello also went through a period of vacancy, with the cottages falling into disrepair and many becoming uninhabitable. Until someone in the 1980s decided to refurbish some of the Trullis to rent them out to tourists. An ambitious plan, as those tourists were totally non-existent. But on the other hand, seeing the cottages really makes you wonder how this has remained such a hidden town all this time.

Anyway, eventually more people started refurbishing the Trulli’s and Alberobello became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Thus, tourism revitalised this village and boosted its economy. Today, most Trullis are either accommodations, shops or restaurants.

Masstourism in Alberobello

But that has a downside. Like any other place on earth, of course, Alberobello can only have so much. It has a population of 10,000 and 1,600 trulli. No figures are known at the moment, but a village of this size, overflows quickly.

Tourism continues to grow, with all its consequences. At the moment, it runs entirely on tourism, a large part of which does include Italians who therefore travel outside the high season (hence the crowds in March). Which on the one hand therefore provides income, an income that was not there before tourism. But there is always a turning point where it changes from locals who benefit from tourism and have an extra cottage to rent out, to big buyers who see how popular something is and buy up dozens of cottages at a time. You now find ‘resorts’ of whole groups of Trulli where you can stay. This is effectively the same as a chain hotel. Chances are that the owner doesn’t even live in the area, but enjoys making money abroad. So it no longer goes to the local economy, but to rich entrepreneurs from abroad.

This also results in the prices of cottages, as well as maintenance, going up. A simple matter of supply to demand. So there are people who have had to sell their Trulli because they could no longer afford the maintenance. So then you literally lose your house because of mass tourism, which is quite intense.

Furthermore, I personally did notice that the prices for food are quite low, lower than I have seen in other locations in Puglia. This is often also a problem of mass tourism, that catering prices increase because tourists pay for it anyway. But that, therefore, causes locals to be unable to afford it anymore. So that doesn’t seem to be a problem in Alberobello (yet).

Should you visit Alberobello?

Whether or not you should then visit such a place is a tricky question. If you really want to travel sustainably and not contribute to the effects of mass tourism, you should avoid it. Trulli can be found all over the region, only in Alberobello will you find the most trulli together. But even in less popular villages like Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca you will find the trulli, also as accommodations. So you can still see the cute little houses, without contributing to mass tourism in Alberobello.

But then again, is such a town really better off without tourists? So in the end, the problem lies mainly with the entrepreneurs who take over such a town and jack up the prices. And that does not take away from the beauty of Alberobello and its culture and history, which are definitely worth a visit. Moreover, there are now quite a few shops run by local artists, such as woodworkers and potters. These can obviously earn nice money from us tourists.

Moreover, mass tourism in Alberobello seems pretty much under control at the moment. The only question is, for how long? Looking at other unique locations, such as Hallstatt in Austria, it is only a matter of time until the influx of tourists is many times greater than the village can handle. Then it will become a problem for the inhabitants. Do you then want to contribute to the growth of mass tourism, and still go before it gets too crowded, or skip it altogether and visit the other villages?

Sustainable choices for your visit to Alberobello

Do you ultimately choose to visit Alberobello? Understandably so, as it really is a unique village. As you can see, I made that choice too. But then take the right measures, if you want to limit your impact on Alberobello.

Here are some tips to make your trip to Alberobello more sustainable.

  • Go in low season. This is nice for yourself, as it’s a lot quieter then and often cheaper. But also nice for the locals. You won’t be happy with thousands of people in your backyard either, so if it’s a bit more spread out over the year, it’s less annoying. Moreover, you then help the locals with extra income, if you choose a locally run Trullo.
  • Choose local. Whether it’s restaurants, groceries or souvenirs, try to find local options. Olive oil and wine from the region, restaurants that buy from local farmers and those small art studios for your souvenirs, rather than the tourist shop.
  • Go by train. Alberobello has a train station and can be reached in 1.5 hours from Bari. It is just a small village and there is little parking space for cars anyway. In March, people were already putting their cars in the middle of the street because there were no parking spaces. So don’t make life even harder for the locals and take the train on a sustainable basis.
  • Opt for a private cottage, if you stay overnight in Alberobello. Do your research on the cottages you come across. On Airbnb, you can click on the landlord and see if they have 20 more cottages besides this Trullo, or if it’s just 1 or 2. Through platforms like Booking, you can look for the single cottages or B&Bs, but you can also find all the resorts there, of course. You can also just google the individual cottages or search on maps. They often have a website where you can find out if it is a family Trullo or if they have many more. Go for the individual cottages and support a local.