Part of the charm of Puglia, Southern Italy’s rising star, is its slow approach to everyday life. Centuries old farmland are hemmed by a superb sun-bleached sandy coast and travellers looking for a little more authenticity, are spurning Tuscany’s frenetic vibe for the peaceful nature of this region.
In the spur of Italy, Gargano is replete with beautiful fishing villages, dark and ancient forests inland, fine sandy beaches but also rugged cliffs, secret caves and picturesque coves. A perfect hub for eco-tourism and relax.
The most popular and fashionable town in Gargano is the medieval village of Vieste, with its narrow streets and white houses, dominated by a stunning 13th century castle.
Among the most beautiful beaches we recommend Mattinata beach, especially the coastal area of Baia delle Zagare, with its famous stacks a few metres from the shore.
If you like fresh fish you have to try a dinner at trabucco, a traditional wooden fishing platform on the coast where you can watch the fishing process, help out if you want, and dine leaving you with a very memorable experience.
The southernmost area of Puglia is defined by stony olive groves that extend between dry-stone walls bordered with oleander. It has a strong identity with its own cuisine, traditions and music, influenced by its Greek past.
Along with some of Italy’s best beaches such as Porto Cesareo with the Punta Prosciutto dunes, Pescoluse beach (also called Maldives of Salento) and Torre Lapillo beach there are some fascinating towns to explore such as Otranto, Specchia and Presicce (awarded as 3 of the most beautiful Italian villages).
Get there in the summer for a chance to witness a sagra di paese (a village festival) where you can eat traditional street food while listening to traditional music such as pizzica or tarantella.
Valle d’Itria, also called “Trulli valley”, is an extended valley with a unique fairytale landscape composed by cylindrical peasant houses with beehive roofs known as Trulli.
These traditional apulian buildings served a very practical function: using up all the stones that peasants cleared from their difficult, rocky fields. They were easily made and easily knocked down again.
Today, the fanciful Trulli are restored holiday houses for tourists: silent and peaceful places that keep you warm in winter and cool in the summer months. Step back in time and experience living in a traditional trullo house with a private pool set in the peaceful Puglia countryside. For example, Trullo Porta Blu in Valle d’Itria has been carefully renovated to bring together traditional features and contemporary style.
Another authentic Trulli house in the heart of Valle D’Itria is Trullo Fantastico, a secluded spot offering wonderful outdoor living with a private pool, shady gazebo and pretty garden.
And whenever you feel like enjoying the sunshine and sea at one of the beautiful beaches, you can easily head to the coast.
The city of Ostuni is a beautiful maze-like white city on a hilltop just 8km from the Adriatic Sea packed with narrow streets you can spend ages getting lost in, climbing staircases and falling in love with the stunning views. Wandering through the old alleys of its historic center inside its ancient walls you can find traditional craftsmanship shops, cosy cafes and aperitivo spots, and lovely restaurants to experience a perfect Apulian dinner before a drink in one of the trendy bars where you can enjoy the lively Italian nightlife in a very international environment.
Created in the style of a traditional farmhouse, Villa Margareta is only five minutes from Ostuni. The terrace and saltwater pool boast stunning sea views and plenty of spacious areas where you can relax in the shade or sunshine or prepare a rustic meal in the outdoor kitchen with its wood-fired barbecue and pizza oven.
The port of Brindisi was recognised as a UNESCO heritage site for culture of Peace as it was always considered a safe harbour for travellers and a point of departure. The city today hosts the United Nations Logistics Base – the hub for peacekeeping operations.
For many years, the port has been a main stop of the Indian Mail from London to Bombay, and it hosted world-known names such as Virgil and Ghandi.
Its beautiful waterfront is packed with restaurants that serve local and fresh food. The old town has the charm of old-school traditional Italy that sometimes feels lost in the more touristic cities. People are friendly and welcoming and visitors like to call it “Brindeasy” for its slow and relaxed lifestyle.
Old town of Bari
Bari, the capital of the region is buzzing and busy which has a lovely old town. Bari Vecchia (the old town of Bari) is a walled city built on a peninsula jutting into the sea. While walking down the narrow alleyways you will feel like being in someone’s living room. The streets here are places to socialise, and in the mornings women sit at tables making orecchiette (little ears), the typical Apulian pasta made by rolling the dough into thin logs, cutting off a chunk and shaping it by hand at an impressively rapid pace.
TIP: Be sure to try the focaccia! It is a flat bread typical of this area with roasted cherry tomatoes, olives and glistening with local olive oil.
Polignano A Mare
Polignano a Mare is one of Puglia’s most picturesque seaside towns, and one of the most important ancient settlements in Puglia. Spectacularly positioned on the Adriatic coast, it is built on the edge of a craggy ravine pockmarked with caves.
TIP: For a once in a lifetime experience, visit Grotta Palazzese, a luxury restaurant with a view over a magnificent blue-green sea, carved out of magnificent limestone rocks that lies in an unparalleled location. It has been enchanting visitors for centuries.
Set in the countryside close to Polignano a Mare there is Villa Incanto a Mare, the ultimate in modern Italian style and luxury outdoor living. A stylish and exclusive holiday villa designed for good times, the most striking feature of Villa Incanto a Mare is the spacious party area, which comes complete with a chef’s kitchen, pizza oven and barbecue.
Alberobello is a fairytale UNESCO World Heritage town made of 1500 Trulli (typical Apulian conical stone huts). It is considered a unique and enchanting place, and despite the fact that you may find it a bit touristy, it is definitely worth a visit.
Most of the Trulli here have been transformed into souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, but some of them (in less crowded areas of the town) are real homes where people still live.
You can also stay in one of the authentic Trulli, such as Trullo Sofia, a hidden gem that combines the tradition of a historic trullo with the comforts of modern living. Although it feels completely secluded this authentic trullo house lies within an easy walk or drive of Alberobello. Enjoy soaking up the sunshine beside your private pool and relaxing in the shady gazebo.
Also called the Florence of the south, Lecce is one of Puglia’s largest cities. It is known for its baroque architecture with more than 40 churches and at least as many noble palazzi built or renovated between 17th and 18th century. The magnificent result is that it has one of the most unified urban landscapes in Italy.
The streets are always alive with a very friendly atmosphere with young people drinking in cafes but also families out for a stroll and groups of friends enjoying gelato or street food.
TIP: Don’t miss the Pasticciotto (typical cake of Lecce) at Pasticceria Alvino in piazza Sant’Oronzo, and Caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla (ice coffee with almond syrup).
Known as Italy’s easternmost town, charming and picturesque, it’s a mix of history, architecture, beautiful views, sea-front restaurants and white sandy beaches and definitely worth a visit.
Sitting right on the Adriatic sea, in front of the Balkans and Greece, its strategic position has profoundly influenced its history. The imposing castle and the robust towers dominate much of the town, surrounded by thick perimeter walls and giving way to a small port and lovely sea-front promenades where you can find excellent fish restaurants
The delightful Romanesque cathedral, dating back to 1088 with unique 12th century floor mosaics, is another highlight not to be missed.
TIP: Though the town has its own beautiful white sandy beach with turquoise waters, make a little time to find the Alimini beach, part of a marine protected area. This is a long beach with white sand dunes and a rich Mediterranean vegetation.
Those with a passion for vintage design, history and culture may consider staying in Palazzo Siena, a typical Apulian old Palace converted into a family-managed boutique hotel without changing its main home identity.