La Puglia, a southern region in Italy located in the heart of the Mediterranean, is a magical combination of artifacts, history, art, and unspoiled nature, amidst beautiful coastlines and picture-postcard landscapes. Apulia is renowned for its golden beaches and crystal-clear waters, intense flavors, and fascinating destinations.
The laid-back style of day-to-day living, or perhaps the attention the Pugliesi give to their food, attracts millions of tourists to the area.
I visited Puglia at the beginning of Summer, which is the ideal time of the year to visit to experience smaller crowds. Renting a car is by far the best way to get around Puglia. It is possible by train or bus, but public transport is slow and limited.
Here are the ten towns I visited while I was in Puglia:
I started my trip by staying one night in Alberobello, famous for its unique shaped tiny houses called ‘Trulli.’ I’ve always wanted to experience the feeling of staying in one of these smurf like buildings.
Alberobello is a UNESCO world heritage sight located in central Puglia. Alberobello is divided into two areas, the Monti District with the largest concentration of Trulli and Aia Piccola, the residential area – both sites can be easily visited in one day.
While in Alberobello, make sure you dine at La Cantina, a typical Italian osteria with authentic food.
Polignano al Mare
For the rest of my trip to Puglia, I stayed in Polignano al Mare. Definitely one of my favorite places in Italy. I was lucky enough to find a small old house, ‘Il Sogno blu,’ overlooking the iconic beach of Polignano.
Polignano al Mare is located on the Adriatic sea and is referred to as the pearl of the Adriatic. A small historic town with a maze of alleys, all leading to magnificent belvederes overlooking the beautiful crystal beaches. Polignano al Mare is the birthplace of the Italian singer Domenico Modugno, who become famous for his song ‘Nel blu dipinto di blu.’
The fascinating historical center reveals traces of its Arab, Byzantine, Spanish, and Norman past, including the remains of the four watchtowers that once guarded the ancient town.
Some eatery suggestions if you stay in Polignano al Mare:
Breakfast: SanBe in Piazza San Benedetto
Lunch: Ristorante Neuro in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II
Dinner: Osteria dei Mulini in Via dei Mulini
Post Dinner Drink: Diplomatico in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II
Locorotondo, Ostuni & Cisternino
If you’re driving, you can do Locorotondo, Ostuni, and Cisternino in one day. They are pretty similar but yet they all have different characteristics.
Locorotondo overlooks the majestic Itria valley is made of whitewashed historic dwellings in a maze of alleys. Pink geraniums uniquely decorate its quiet streets and houses.
Ostuni is located near the Salento coast and is only a 30 minutes drive from Locorotondo. This beautiful town is a bit busier with tourists than Locorotondo and Cisternino. It’s also of the best cities in Puglia to get lost wandering the alleys of the Centro Storico.
In Ostuni’s ancient piazzas, you can find vibrant cafes and restaurants where you can indulge in beautiful plates of local dishes, olive oil, and cool glasses of Puglian wine.
Lunch: Trattoria Sapere e Sapori in Largo Arciverscovo Teodoro Trinchers – (try the orecchiette)
Cisternino is less than a half an hour’s drive from Ostuni. If you decide to do the three towns in one day as I did, I will leave it for the last. The charming village of Cisternino is lesser known and therefore less busy. Here you can reward yourself with a nice walk into the cobbled alleys and the experience of a genuinely unique Pugliese town. Its houses have beautifully decorated doors and windows and a selection of old churches and piazzas in a quaint atmosphere. Here you’ll have the impression that life goes at a slower pace—an authentic experience of the ‘dolce far niente’ – the art of doing nothing.
Monopoli is ideal for a half-day trip combined with Polignano al Mare as it is just a 15-minute drive away.
Like so many Adriatic towns, Monopoli’s history has been thoroughly influenced by its east-facing position, and its fortified sea-front walls and castle tell many a story. Monopoli gives quite a southern Italian experience with a glimpse of everyday life.
The centro storico is full of color with different tones of pink, oranges, and blues. The further to the city center you go, the town goes whiter and whiter. If you’re there in summer, take a dip in the beautiful crystal clear blue sea. If you like to snap pictures while exploring the alleyways, have your camera handy, and you’ll have a fiesta at every corner.
Lunch or Dinner: Osteria Il Guazetto in Via Dell’Elba (This is a must!)
Brindisi is not considered a top-rated tourist destination. However, there are several reasons why you should give this city a chance. Brindisi has been an important port city since Roman time, and it is still considered an active trading and transport hub in all of Italy.
Spending a couple of hours in Brindisi, you can enjoy the cathedrals, the culinary experience, and the ancient Roman remains scattered across the city. A stroll by the port and promenade is also recommended.
Lecce is one of Puglia’s larger cities, and can be easily a stand alone short break. The city is still a walkable size, lively and vibrant yet relaxed simultaneously.
Lecce is rich in baroque architecture in the typical golden Leccese stone. Walking around the Centro Storica you can admire its lavishly decorated churches, piazzas and cafes.
Apart from its buildings and architecture, Lecce most attraction is the food and wine.
Lunch: Trattoria Storica San Carlino in Via Giuseppe Libertini
Many people ask if Bari is worth a visit. My answer is yes. Bari is the regional capital of the Puglia region considered as cultural and foodie hotspot with an easy-going vibe typical of the southern part of Italy.
The Centro Storico is a maze of narrow street and architecturally stunning churches. In the heart of old town of Bari there is a street known “the street of orecchiette” characterized precisely by a number of housewives preparing the ‘orecchiette’ a typical Pugliese pasta, in front of the visitors. This is are a real attraction of the historic center of Bari , as well as to represent an original cross-section of Apulian everyday life.
In the evening tourists and locals love to flock to the streets staying up late feasting and having fun.
Lunch/Dinner: La RistoPazzeria in Via Filippo Corridni (if you’re lucky, the owner Giancarlo goes out to the kitchen and sings!)
While in Puglia, you might also visit Matera, which is in the Basilicata region border with Puglia.
Have you seen James Bond 007 – No time to die? If yes, that magnificent stone city at the movie’s beginning is Matera!
Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements dating back to the Palaeolithic period. Famous for its ‘Sassi’ the cave-dwellings of Sassi di Matera. The caves had been inhabited for centuries until the residents moved to residential buildings in the 1950s. Some shelters have been converted into modern B&Bs, hotels, and restaurants with charm and fascination.