The best of Puglia – the ultimate guide

Puglia is famous for its ‘trulli’ (cone-shaped houses). The UNESCO World Heritage town Alberobello is full of them!

Puglia is a region that occupies the ‘heel’ of southern Italy and is home to historic towns (many of which have histories that go back thousands of years), diverse landscapes, excellent food and some of the best beaches in southern Italy. The main entry points for most international visitors are Bari and Brindisi (both have airports and ports with international connections). From here, many adventures await for those who want to explore this diverse region. I’ve visited Puglia several times and explored the length and breadth of the region. Based on these trips, I’ve compiled this guide featuring the best places to visit in Puglia. These places can be visited on a comfortable 15-day self-drive itinerary or you can choose to focus on just 1-2 areas in a shorter space of time.

The Ultimate Guide to the Best of Puglia

Bari

Bari, the capital of Puglia, can trace its roots back more than 2,000 years when it was founded by the Peucetii tribe. These days, Bari is one of the most important economic centres in southern Italy and, due to its international airport and port, an important gateway to the region. Most visitors arrive in Bari but tend to skip the city, choosing instead to move on to another part of Puglia. I recommend spending 1-2 nights in Bari to wander around its Old Town and soaking up the authentic atmosphere.

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Entering the maze of streets in the Old Town of Bari.

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Strolling around the Old Town feels like taking a step back in time!

Read more about Bari. Search for hotels in Bari (Booking.com).

Central Puglia

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Trulli, with their characteristic cone roofs, can be found throughout the Itria valley.

Central Puglia consists of hilly landscapes, verdant valleys, mile after mile of olive groves, vineyards and fruit orchards, quaint whitewashed towns, dramatic coastal cliffs and beautiful beaches on both the Adriatic and Ionian coasts.

Valle d’Itria

Central Puglia is also home to Valle d’Itria or Itria Valley, an area famous for its ‘trulli’ (whitewashed, cone-roofed houses), charming towns and agricultural products. I recommend spending at least 4-5 days in the Itria Valley. Of all the towns in this area, Alberobello (a UNESCO World Heritage town) is the biggest draw. You can opt to make Alberobello your base to explore the rest of the valley or you can choose one of the other towns such as Martina Franca, Locorotondo or Cisternino. I chose Martina Franca because of its strategic location on an intersection of major regional roads and discovered a lovely town that makes for a terrific base.

Alberobello

Alberobello is perhaps the most famous town in the Itria Valley due to its famous trulli houses. The conical rooftops coupled with charming cobblestone alleys and whitewashed houses are a simply magical sight. The old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consists of a maze of streets and steps lined by trulli; drystone dwellings that were built using prehistoric techniques.

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The famous trulli of Alberobello.

Search for hotels in Alberobello (Booking.com).

Martina Franca

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Martina Franca

Martina Franca is the largest town in the Itria Valley and can trace its roots back to the 10th century AD. Being in the heart of the valley, Martina Franca is a great base from which to explore the area but spend some time exploring its old centre which boasts beautiful Baroque architecture (like the Palazzo Ducale and the impressive Basilica di San Martino) and quaint streets. When you’re here, drop by for dinner at Osteria del Coco Pazzo, a charming restaurant in a vaulted space that serves excellent Puglian food and wines. Ask for the local specialty ‘capocollo’, a cured pork salami. Search for hotels in Martina Franca (Booking.com)

Locorotondo

Locorotondo means ’round place’ and that’s what it is: a town in a circular form atop a hill. Its hilltop position means that you can see the town from miles around and once you’re up there, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Itria Valley. The town centre is a labyrinth of white alleys punctuated by churches or piazzas. The houses have pitched roofs called ‘cummerse’, a feature typical of Locorotondo. Walking around the historic centre is like a step back in time. Don’t forget to stop at a café and sip on a famous Locorotondo DOC white wine! Search for hotels in Locorotondo (Booking.com).

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Locorotondo

Cisternino

Cisternino is often listed as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. I beg to differ but this town, which dates back from medieval times, sure has a lot of charm to offer. It’s a delight to stroll around the picturesque lanes lined with the typical whitewashed houses and their external staircases. Search for hotels in Cisternino (Booking.com).

Ostuni

As you drive along the SS379 motorway that skirts the coast near Fasano, your attention will be drawn to the gleaming white appearance of Ostuni, also known as the ‘white city’. It’s an impressive sight that acts as a magnet for travellers. With its ancient cobblestone streets, grand churches and quaint white houses, Ostuni truly is stunning. The town boasts a remarkable history that goes back to the Stone Ages! The Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace are especially striking but there are many other architectural gems to be found, including the old homes of the nobles.

Puglia is full of stunning historic towns like Ostuni, also called the ‘White City’.

The Adriatic Coast

The Adriatic coast is characterised by ancient clifftop towns, rocky coves and sandy beaches. Coastal towns I can definitely recommend for a visit or a short stay include Polignano a Mare and Monopoli.

Polignano a Mare can trace its origins back to the 4th century BC when Greek settlers founded the settlement of Neapolis. These days, the town is popular amongst tourists who come to visit its historic centre, perched precariously on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and enjoy its beaches. Make sure to make a reservation if you plan to eat at the town’s world-famous Grotta Palazzese, a spectacular cave restaurant. Search for hotels in Polignano a Mare (Booking.com).

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The spectacular Polignano a Mare.

Monopoli has a charming historic centre (don’t miss the Baroque-style Monopoli Cathedral) with a beautiful seafront promenade. In addition to its 16th century castle and defensive walls, the seafront also features a lovely sandy beach, perfect for a dip after a wander around the town. Search for hotels in Monopoli.

The coastline towards Bari is quite rocky, with a sprinkling of sandy beaches and little villages such as Cozze and Mola di Bari.

The Ionian coast

Aragonese Castle in Taranto. Image By Livioandronico2013.

The largest town on the Ionian coast of Central Puglia is Taranto. The city’s history goes back to 700 BC (!) and these days, it’s one of the biggest commercial centres in southern Italy as well as an important base for the Italian Navy. There are several attractions along its long waterfront such as the 15th century Aragon Castle. Spend some time wandering around the ancient Old Town (Citta Vecchia), which basically has the same layout as in the time it was built in the 1st century by the Byzantines, to enjoy the atmosphere of its maze of streets and lanes. There are also some Greek ruins to be seen such as the Doric columns on Piazza Castello. If you’re passing this area, I suggest stopping in Taranto for 1-2 nights. Search for hotels in Taranto (Booking.com).

Head inland from Taranto to the town of Massafra. This historic town straddles both sides of the San Marco ravine and is worth a stop for lunch and a wander. The town is most famous for its cliff dwellings comprised of homes and cave churches in the ravine. You can also visit the imposing Massafra Castle. For a delicious meal, I recommend Ristorante Vecchie Storie in Via Giuseppe Pisanelli.

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Massafra sits on both sides of the San Marco ravine.

Southern Puglia

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The Duomo (Cathedral) of Lecce.

The area to the southeast of the Taranto-Brindisi axis is dominated by the province of Lecce with its capital of the same name. Its long coastline stretches from the Adriatic Sea around the ‘heel’ of Italy to the Ionian Sea, and boasts historic towns, sandy beaches and crystal-clear water. Most visitors choose to stay in this region for their beach holidays, and rightfully so. However, look further and you’ll discover charming towns with many historic and artistic treasures, and an addictive laid-back lifestyle.

Lecce

The capital of the province of Lecce, the city of Lecce is often called the ‘Florence of the South’ due to the abundance of Baroque architecture in its historic centre. The city can trace its history back to the 2nd century AD – remnants from this age include the Roman amphitheatre. The other attractions in the city include the Cathedral (Duomo), Basilica di Santa Croce, Porta Napoli and Church of San Giovanni Battista.

Top left: Church of Santa Croce, Top right: Lecce Roman amphitheatre, Bottom left: Lecce Porta Napoli in Universita Street, Bottom middle: Saint Giovanni Cathedral in Perroni area, Bottom right: Lecce Cathedral in Duomo Square. Image By DaniDF1995.

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One of Lecce’s ornate buildings at sunset.

You can choose to stay along the coast to enjoy the province’s stunning beaches and visit Lecce on a day trip, or you can stay in Lecce for 1-2 nights to truly appreciate its historic gems. Search for hotels in Lecce (Booking.com).

Gallipoli

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The enormous baroque Sant Agata Cathedral towers over the old town!

Gallipoli is believed to have been founded by the Greeks and through the centuries, the town was conquered by a succession of powers including the Byzantines and the Normans. In the 18th century, Gallipoli was home to the largest olive oil market in the Mediterranean. From its ports, ships laden with olive oil sailed to major European cities where the oil was used for lighting. It is said that olive oil from Gallipoli lit the streets of London before the advent of the electric bulb.

The old town is situated on a little island and is connected to the mainland by a 16th century bridge. This part of town features an impressive castle (built by the Byzantines in the 13th century) and equally impressive fortification walls and towers. Behind the castle lies a maze of picturesque streets filled with quaint shops, cafés and restaurants, as well as historic churches, convents and palaces. Despite its small size, Gallipoli is packed with historic and cultural treasures, and it has a dazzling sandy beach right at its doorstep. Important sights include the Sant Agata Cathedral and the Santa Maria della Purità church. You can easily spend a few days here while you explore the town and enjoy the nearby beaches. Search for hotels in Gallipoli (Booking.com).

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The old town of Gallipoli on the island, viewed from across the harbour.

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Gallipoli also has a gorgeous beach and a shallow cove right at its doorstep!

Otranto

This spectacular clifftop town overlooks the stunning turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea. Explore the historic promenade and discover the town’s rich history that was shaped by the Romans, Greeks and Byzantines. Be sure to visit the Cathedral and the Aragonese Castle. Search for hotels in Otranto (Booking.com).

Otranto

The beaches

Southern Puglia has some of the best beaches in southern Italy. Here, you’ll find long stretches of fine, white or golden sand, lapped by crystal-clear turquoise water. Some of the best beaches can be found at or near Torre dell’Orso/Sant’Andrea, Otranto, Maldive del Salento and Porto Cesareo. Search for hotels in Porto Cesareo (Booking.com).

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There are many gorgeous beaches in the Lecce province, such as this one in Maldive del Salento.

The rocky cliffs along the east coast also feature some beautiful natural rock formations such as Le Due Sorelle (the ‘Two Sisters’), the sea stacks of Torre Sant’Andrea and the sea caves near Castrignano del Capo/Leuca.

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The sea caves near Castrignano del Capo.

Northern Puglia

The Gargano peninsula in northern Puglia sticks out into the Adriatic Sea and consists of a mountainous massif, sandy beaches, limestone cliffs and ancient forests. A large part of the peninsula is occupied by the Gargano National Park (the most extensive national park in Italy), where visitors can enjoy hikes through the beautiful forests. The 140km coastline, lapped by crystalline waters, has dramatic cliffs interspersed with white, sandy beaches and charming fishing towns.

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The Gargano peninsula features a mountainous core and a coastline with cliffs, beaches and charming towns.

The first town visitors encounter as they approach Gargano is Manfredonia. From here, it’s a short drive to the expansive beaches of Mattinata, a great place to base yourself. I stayed at Hotel Residence Il Porto, which I absolutely loved! The rooms were comfortable and offered stunning views of the coast and sea below. Search for hotels in Mattinata (Booking.com).

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Views from Hotel Residence Il Porto in Mattinata.

I recommend spending a few days on the peninsula to explore the flora and fauna of the national park, as well as to enjoy the beaches, charming towns and two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Vico del Gargano and the Sanctuary of San Michele in Monte Sant’Angelo.

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Driving through the Gargano National Park.

As you drive along the northern coast, look out for the trabucchi, wooden structures used by fishermen which are now protected historical monuments. Some of them have been converted into restaurants, making it an unforgettable seaside lunch experience.

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A trabucco (historic fishing installations) is a great spot for a seafood lunch. This is the Trabucco di Monte Pucci on the northern coast near Peschici.

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The view towards Peschici from Trabucco di Monte Pucci.

Towns which shouldn’t be missed include Vieste (built on a rocky promontory and flanked by two sandy beaches), Vico del Gargano (a UNESCO World Heritage listed medieval town bursting with charm) and Peschici (a little town perched on rocky cliffs above the blue sea). Search for hotels in Vieste (Booking.com).

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Vieste

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An ancient street in Vico del Gargano.

Places to visit on the way to Gargano

If you’re heading to Gargano from southern/central Puglia, consider a stop at the historic Castel del Monte, an imposing 13th century citadel, and a lunch stop at Trani, a quaint fishing village with a lively promenade.

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Castel del Monte

Another town I can recommend for a (lunch) stop is Altamura. Located near Matera, Altamura is a bustling walled town with an impressive Cathedral. If you’re looking for a lunch spot, check out Ristorante Tre Archi! And ask for Pane di Altamura (a bread that the town is famous for).

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The Cathedral in Altamura.

Matera, Basilicata

Matera is situated in the adjacent region of Basilicata and if you’re visiting central Puglia, I highly recommend spending a few days in this extraordinary city. Wedged between the ‘heel’ and the ‘foot’ of southern Italy, Matera is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited human settlements in the world, with a history that goes back (perhaps) 7,000 years! The cityscape is somewhat ‘Biblical’ and strolling around its cobblestone streets is like taking a step back in time. Despite its age, or maybe because of it, there are many things to do and see in Matera, making any visit a wondrous experience. Read more about things to do in Matera (including places to stay, restaurants and cafés).

I suggest a stay of at least two nights to truly appreciate this enchanting city. Search for hotels in Matera (Booking.com).

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Matera as seen from Sasso Caveoso.

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This ancient city in the south of Italy just blew my mind!

15-day ‘Best of Puglia’ itinerary (including Matera)

This 14 night/15 day self-drive itinerary takes you past the best places to visit in Puglia as described above. You can start the trip in Bari or Brindisi and follow the entire itinerary or concentrate on 1-2 areas, depending on your interests or the length of your stay. I’ve included a suggested length of stay per place/area. The itinerary is as follows:

1 night: Bari

4 nights: Central Puglia which includes the Itria Valley and the Adriatic coast. Suggested base: Martina Franca or Alberobello.

4 nights: Southern Puglia which includes the city of Lecce and the towns/beaches of Otranto, Gallipoli and Porto Cesareo. Suggested base: Lecce, Otranto and/or Gallipoli.

2 nights: Matera

3 nights: Gargano peninsula. Suggested base: Mattinata and/or Vieste.

Day 15: back to Bari Airport

Route map

Car hire

Compare prices and hire a car (rentalcars.com).

Find your accommodations in Puglia



Booking.com

More information on Puglia

Visit the website of Puglia Tourism for more information.

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13 Responses to “The best of Puglia – the ultimate guide”

  1. Keith Jenkins 23/10/2018 8:58 pm
    #

    Hi Renuka,
    Puglia is fabulous isn’t it? Shame you didn’t like Bari. I absolutely loved the winding streets and alleys of the old town. Hope you get a chance to go back and see more of Puglia (and add Matera too!).

    Cheers,
    Keith

  2. Renuka 23/10/2018 7:13 pm
    #

    I visited Puglia on my honeymoon, and both my husband and I love it, especially the food! I didn’t like Bari. I found quite non-European. I loved Ostuni, Monopoli and Lecce. I hope to visit it again and explore it more deeply.

  3. Nimesh Ganatra 18/10/2018 12:06 pm
    #

    Great post! Thanks for sharing this amazing post.

  4. Lorenzo Traveller 13/09/2018 7:39 am
    #

    I was lucky enough to visit Brindisi and Bari, hope to go there again! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Martin Harrison 24/05/2018 12:20 pm
    #

    I heard this name Puglia for the first time.I didn’t even know that such place exists in Italy.This guide proved to a piece of gem for me as it help me to choose my next travel destination.

  6. Markus 08/05/2018 11:45 am
    #

    You’ve truly jotted down the best of Puglia…loved reading it throughout. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Keith Jenkins 08/05/2018 11:12 am
    #

    Oh yes! Great tip! I had some too in Matera and it’s so delicious!

    Keith

  8. Simon 08/05/2018 8:31 am
    #

    Amazing blog. Very well explained. The pictures look scintillating, especially that of the white city. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Giovanni Esposito 03/05/2018 11:25 am
    #

    Also don’t forget to taste Pane di Matera, with crunchy crust with creamy center 🍞 Matera’s traditional local food.

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