Last Updated On: July 28th 2016
Not so known as Tuscany or Sicily, Puglia is a diamond to be revealed. Rich in gastronomy, landscapes (sea and hills) and culture (going back to the Romans!), you’ll never have enough time to truly discover this Southeast part of Italy. It is bordered by the Ionian and the Adriatic seas with 800 kms of coastline. The most prominent city is Bari, and six provinces divide the region.
Puglia has a Mediterranean climate with hot and dry summers and mild, wet winters. Temperatures vary from 5°C-13°C during a winter day and 18°C-31°C in the summer, meaning the whole year provides tolerable temperatures for travel. The best months, however, are May/June and September/October, when visitors avoid the crowds of July and August and enjoy good temperatures with little chance of rain.
Puglia has two international airports: Bari (BRI) and Brindisi (BRD) managed by the company ‘aeroport di puglia S.p.A‘. Brindisi is 130 km South of Bari. Both airports offer car hires in their terminals; by car is the best way to explore the region. The major towns can be reached by car via a good road network and several motorways. For example, the A16 goes from Naples to Canosa di Puglia, and the A14 brings you from Bari to Tarente. The bus can be an affordable solution with a variety of companies bringing you from all over Italy – Marozzi, Miccolis, Marino Autolinee. Many local companies provide this service, such as Sita Sud, and STP. Some companies also manage trains and buses, namely Ferrovie del Gargano, Ferrovie Appulo Lucane. In addition there is a summer service for the South of Puglia with ‘Salento In Bus‘.
Traveling from around Europe to the area with the train is not the fastest solution, but if you come from Rome or another big city it could be an option. Other regional companies serve Puglia as well, namely Ferrovie Appulo Lucane, Ferrovie del Sud-Est, Ferrotramviaria.
It’s difficult to choose the top sites to see, as there are so many! However, below are some highlights that I thoroughly enjoyed, and some I will be sure to see again should I return.
Alberobello transports you instantaneously to another world in another time. With its little stone houses without mortar and with conical roofs (for elves may you think) called trulli, you will enjoy a preserved Patrimony (classified at by Unesco) existing since the 15th century. The signs painted on the roofs were to protect families, honour the gods or even as a symbol for good crops.
Monopoli is bordered by the sea, and the little harbour is charming. The historic center is very well preserved and walking along the passages, little streets and squares is enchanting. Go especially to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and see its wonderful baroque style cathedral of the 11th century.
Matera is a troglodyte village of more than a thousand dwellings and invites us to take a glimpse of the past. The houses are called sassi and housed Palaeolithic men! They were dug in the turf and they are now classified as a World Heritage site by Unesco. There are also 130 troglodyte churches.
Lecce is the capital of Lecce province in the Salento area (the boot heel of Italy), and must be seen for the detailed sculptures on the frontage of the main buildings: the baroque of Lecce. It is due to a particular limestone, which was very malleable and permitted very fine and detailed work. Some call Lecce ‘The Florence of the South’. The Piazza Duomo is a must see, with the cathedral and its five-story bell tower. The Basilique Santa Croce (Via Umberto I, 3 | C/O Parrocchia SS. Trinita, 73100, Lecce ) is also well known for its ornamentation, but just look up the streets, and you will find many treasures.
Otranto thrills with the exceptional blue colour of the nearby sea and many beautiful sites. Standing out are the fortifications, the castle (Piazza Castello, Otranto), the cathedral (Piazza Basilica, Otranto) with mosaics of the 12th century, and the promenade. Much more charm can be appreciated in the low season, when crowds are few.
Go underground to the Grotte di Castellana and take a one-hour tour, an impressive and refreshing break when it’s hot outside. I felt very small and ephemeral when I gazed at those very ancient stalactites and stalagmites gathered in majestic columns (they grow only 1 cm in 40 years!). No photographs are allowed in order to preserve the site. There is a large parking lot outside, and be sure to check the hours of the tours before coming, especially during the low season.
Trani will enchant you with its majestic cathedral at the sea and its golden stone used for the houses and religious buildings. Also a promenade along the sea will provide you an eye pleasure.
Otsuni is a white village, preserving the look of Greece with all the houses painted with lime and having flat roofs. It is very touristic, but there is a very special atmosphere in these small streets. From the ramparts you have great views of the sea. There are few historic buildings, despite its ancient origins, but be sure to see the 15th century cathedral, which is gothic outside and baroque inside. See also the Chiesa delle Monacelle and the church of San Francesco.
All the pleasure of the sea in the summer are at your disposal in Puglia with a many sandy beaches, perfect for enjoying swimming and sunning. As there are areas with rocks in the sea which are easily reachable, Puglia also offers an occasion to go snorkeling. There are many places with good quality water and great landscapes. The Ioanian coast of Gallipoli is sometimes compared to the Maldives, and you’ll find also wonderful beaches at the Adriatic sea near the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, also near Monopoli.
Poligano A Mare is built on a cliff and overhangs the sea. It is a rather interesting and particular place. You will be under the charm of its historic center and the interlacing of the little streets.
Eat and Drink
The area of Puglia is still rural and was the first producer of olive oil in Italy. It also produces wine, fruits and vegetables. There are a lot of food specialties, such as the Altamura bread from re-milled durum wheat, semolina. You will definitely find an Italian staple – pasta – like the region’s typical orecchiette, ear-shaped pasta served with tomato sauce, with or without meat. Almond production is also important to the area and in bakeries you will find many sweets and desserts made with almonds. As part of Puglia is comprised of the seaside, many fresh fish and seafood appear on restaurant menus. They still offer horse meat (cavallo/puledro) and donkey (asino) or in cooked meats. Garlic is less used than in other Italian areas; in some places like Gallipoli only onions are used. In the matter of wine, Puglia has a great tradition of wine production and is still a major player on the Italian wine scene. White, red and rosé are produced. The aim of many wine producers is to improve the quality and to export more. Even if there are still few wines brands with D.O.C, you can now find wines which age well.
There is much to choose from when it comes to food, drinks and treats, everything from gourmet ice cream to a full menu. Some restaurants even take the Spanish approach with antipasti, offering several small plates.
Il Boschetto (corso Umberto I, 178, 72012, Carovigno) is a local restaurant in Carovigno near Otsuni. Here you will find wonderful pizzas, many typical plates, friendly service and a family atmosphere. Here is where you should try antipasti like the locals.
For ice cream try gelateria Caruso (Piazza G. Garibaldi, 7/8, 70043 Monopoli). They serve many flavours, are not too sweet and service is very friendly.
For fresh fish, typical plates and also good pizza, try Nonsolopizza (via Statuti Marittimi, 102, Trani). The terrace is gorgeous with a splendid view of the sea and the cathedral. Inside, the restaurant has been recently renovated.
The selection of accommodation in offer is huge, you’ll just have to choose carefully…
Looking for a quiet place in the countryside? Choose a masseria such as Le Fabriche (C.da Le Fabbriche – S.P. 130 Maruggio ). It is a 17th century farmhouse and still produces wine and olive oil.
A wonderful stay will be provided at the Ostuni Palace Hotel Meeting SPA (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 218/222, 72017, Ostuni). Situated outside of the historic center, you can leave your car in the hotel parking lot and walk to visit the village. The spa is particularly enjoyable after visiting Otsuni and the nearest towns.
Many houses are for rent in all Puglia, an offer the unique chance to rent a trullo on the website Homelidays, or other websites.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Puglia.
Local Tips and Insider Travel Blogs
As in all of Italy, the way of driving is more dynamic than in other parts of Europe. So stay calm and be careful.
The people I spoke with in Puglia were open and friendly. Even if they just speak a few words of English, they were glad to help.
The official website of the Puglia tourism office is plenty of information about places to go, activities, events and so on…
On the blog of Caroline Edwards (journalist and travel consultant living in Puglia) you’ll find some tips and interesting stay offers.
If you would like other ideas for travelling in Puglia, Char Taylor gives a lot of information in her blog.