Puglia (pronounced poo-li-ya) is the heel of the Italian ‘boot’. It is often overlooked for more popular tourist regions in the country, but it is gaining popularity quickly. And I can tell you it deserves the same or more attention than other Italian areas.
Delicious traditional food, wine and oil production, iconic Middle Ages houses (Trulli) and stunning beaches make this area an amazing destination.
This is our proposed Itinerary to Discover Puglia.
Day 1: Bari
Bari is the capital and the biggest city in Puglia. It also hosts the main airport so most people spend at least a couple of hours in the city. The alternative airport is located in Brindisi, an hour and 30 minutes south by car.
It also hosts an important port and university. The historic town is the most popular attraction, surrounded by narrow streets, cute houses, religious symbols and buildings (see above), bars and restaurants. Its long boulevard and Basilica San Nicola are also worth visiting.
We stayed at Atipico B&B and it was a fairly good choice, especially for a single night. The room and location were great. Right in the middle of the historic centre, close to some key attractions such as Bari Cathedral, Basilica San Nicola and Teatro Margherita. There was also a good parking lot very close. The only downside is the breakfast, which was a voucher to have just a coffee or juice or tea with 1 croissant in a bar nearby.
In terms of food, our favourite restaurant was La Uascezze. Good ambience with tables outside, delicious traditional dishes and wine. You should try Burrata and also the grilled Caciocavallo cheese at least. They offer cold and hot dishes to share, so very convenient to try many things.
Another fabulous restaurant is Mastro Ciccio, which speciality is sandwiches. If you go you must try the octopus and burrata sandwich, delicious. For drinks, we can recommend the trendy EnoMezcla (it can get busy) or more relaxed places such as Le Officine Clandestine and Mercantile Nove, which also offer good food.
Day 2: Polignano a Mare, Alberobello and Monopoli
On our second day, we started driving south, and the first stop was Polignano a Mare, a beautiful seaside town with one of the most photographed spots in Puglia, Lama Monachile (see picture above).
Lama Monachile is a public tiny beach in the middle of the town, wrapped by two magnificent cliffs with houses and streets on top. Turquoise waters and amazing views from the bridge on top make this pebble beach special. The town is also beautiful and deserves to be walked.
Because the beach and town were really crowded, we parked at Stellplatz and rent 2 sunbeds and an umbrella at Lido Cala Paura. It was a recommendation of an Italian friend and worked very well. From there you can walk to the town in 15 minutes. I also recommend having some food at La Pescaria, then walking around the town and reaching Terrazza Santo Stefano, which has the best view of Lama Monachile.
We spent half-day at Polignano and then headed to Alberobello, another very popular town in Puglia. It’s known for its unique Trulli, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and receives thousands of visitors per year. We stayed only for a couple of hours and it seemed enough for us, but some people prefer to stay in a Trulli to have a full experience.
Our last stop for the day was Monopoly, which we liked a lot and deserves more time. Monopoly is known for its Baroque Monopoli Cathedral, featuring a tall bell tower and which crypt hosts an archaeological museum with sculptures and ancient tombs. Another popular attraction is the 16th-century Castle of Carlo V and the Palmieri Palace.
The Old Port is also worth visiting, and its central beach Cala Porta Vecchia (see picture above) as well. We started on the latter and walked all the way to the Old Port, which is a pleasant and beautiful walk by the sea.
Monopoly is more than a picturesque town, and with its 60 sq mi and a population of 50,000, offers a good variety of shops, restaurants and hotels. It is also an agricultural, industrial and tourist centre with a long history, as it has been inhabited since 500 BC. It takes its name from the early Greek city that was founded here: “Monos Polis” means singularly unique.
The best beaches in Puglia are further south of Monopoly; however, there are a couple of good ones that you can visit if you have time: Porto Marzano and Lido Santo Estefano.
Day 3: Locorotondo, Ostuni and Lido Morelli
There are many accommodation options around Alberobello, and because of its location and geography, it could be a great opportunity for agritourism.
Many people choose to stay in an authentic Trulli, which is normally costly. But either if it is a Trulli or not, at least one masseria should be in your schedule. In Italy, a masseria is a “finca“, which refers to a piece of rural or agricultural land, typically with a cottage, farmhouse or estate building present, and often adjacent to a woodland or plantation.
Masseria Iazzo Scagno was our choice and we totally recommend it. We did not sleep in a Trulli, but you have the option to do it, for a different price. It is close to Martina Franca and it is convenient to visit the towns nearby, such as Alberobello, Ostuni, Locorotondo, Cisternino and others. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, the pool is quite long with beds and chairs, the breakfast is better than the standard Italian and they also offer dinner, which we enjoyed a lot.
The first town we visited was Locorotondo, right after breakfast. It is a small and cute town known for its circular structure which is now the historical centre, from which derives its name, which means “Round place”.
The town is small, especially the part you will probably want to visit, so just a couple of hours should be enough. The view from the outside, so just before you arrive, is as photogenic as the town from the inside. There is actually a petrol station next to a roundabout which is a great spot to capture its circular shape (picture above).
After Locorotondo we headed to Ostuni, which is the most popular small town inland after Alberobello. It is known for its whitewashed old town, which goes uphill, and its main path is surrounded by cute houses, shops, bars and cafes.
Ostuni Cathedral combines Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine elements, while the arched Porta San Demetrio is one of 2 remaining medieval gates. The Civic Museum and Archaeological Park house, the skeleton of a woman from Paleolithic times. Northwest of town is the Santuario di Sant’Oronzo complex, with a triumphal arch.
Ostuni is also quite photogenic from the distance, but the town itself is also beautiful, and the walk to the centre is pleasant. It is also uphill, but you can hire a motorcycle if you need help. We parked the car at Parco Rimembranze, and then walked all the way up until Borgo Antico Bistrot, which we found by surprise. This pub and restaurant offers amazing salads and food for good prices and overlooks the sea from the top of the town. Great spot and value for money.
So after lunch, we drove 20 minutes to Lido Morelli, and we relaxed for the rest of the day on the beach. It is a thin but long beach located in a national park called Parco Naturale Regionale Dune Costiere da Torre. There are a couple of private areas where you can rent sunbeds and umbrellas, but the rest is public. There are a few entrances, and places to park the car, where you need to pay for the day. People that want to avoid the cost leave the car on Via Appia Antica, which is parallel to the main road.
By the end of the day, we were enjoying the pool at Masseria Iazzo Scagno, to then having dinner there as well. The pool closes a bit early (7 pm), but the food was delicious and the attention was great.
Day 4: Punta Prosciutto and Lecce
The next day (after our second night at Masseria Iazzo Scagno), we headed south again, but this time to the west, so instead of the Adriatic Sea (east coast) we visited the Ionian Sea. One key advantage of Puglia is that depending on where you are, you can either go to one side or the other. There are even some websites with live cameras on the beach, so you can literally check it out in real-time.
So we went to -arguably- the most popular beach in Puglia, Punta Prosciutto. It’s a very long beach with white sand and warm and turquoise waters. There are a few houses, streets and entrances, so you can find a parking space even if it takes time. There are also good facilities, with restaurants, sunbeds and umbrellas for rent, and kayaks and other water sports as well.
The beach area starts at Spiaggia di Punta Grossa and goes all the way to Punta Prosciutto. Its shallow and crystal clear waters compensate the number of people. But if you don’t like crowded beaches, maybe this is not the one for you. Its popularity, easy access and facilities simply make it busy, especially in July and August.
If you have time or you would rather visit a beach nearby, there are amazing alternatives minutes away. San Pietro In Bevagna and Spiaggia di Torre Colimena are two of them. They are located in Nature reserve Salina dei Monaci, and next to Salina Dei Monaci. There is a pedestrian path on the east side if case you like walking and need a break from the sandy beach.
Our next stop was Lecce, an hour’s drive from the beach. It deserves a special chapter as we were surprised for good. Its location, size, and hospitality options make it an excellent place to use as a base. From there you can go either side. The town has a lot to offer, many good restaurants, bars and shops. It hosts an important university and that makes it a vibrant city.
On top of that, we stayed in a very special B&B, the most special one we have stayed in a long time. Its name is A casa di Gio. If you are looking for hospitality, kindness, authenticity and delicious homemade traditional food, this is the place for you. It’s one of those places that you will remember forever (maybe not all the details, but the whole experience is hard to forget). Gio and Giusy are the best hosts you will find in a while. Be prepared for the best breakfast of your trip, it is actually a whole food experience in Puglia, with ingredients from their own garden. If you don’t believe us, just check booking’s reviews.
In terms of attractions in Lecce, the historical centre deserves a good walk to explore buildings and shops. Duomo di Lecce – Cattedrale “Maria Santissima Assunta” (see picture above), Basilica di Santa Croce, Piazza Sant’Oronzo, Roman Amphitheater and the Castello are some of the key places to visit.
And when it comes to restaurants and bars in Lecce… I will leave it for the next section.
Day 5: Spiaggia di Pescoluse (Maldive del Salento) and Lecce (II)
The next morning, still digesting the fabulous breakfast served as A casa di Gio, we headed to another very popular beach on the southwest coast, which name gives you a clue: Spiaggia di Pescoluse (Maldive del Salento). It took us just an hour and 10 minutes by car.
I’ve never been to the Maldives so I cannot compare, but I can tell you about this one. Fine white sand, shallow, turquoise and fragrant waters, sand dunes, acacias and tamarisks, and a wide horizon with infinite red sunsets where you can lose your thoughts and anxieties. To make it even better, it was not even close to Punta Prosciutto in terms of people. There was enough space to choose a good spot and relax.
There are also good facilities, including restaurants, private beach clubs and water sports. While you drive you will find many entrances to private beaches, so if you want public/free beaches, just follow the signs showing Spiaggia Libera.
Pescoluse is actually a seaside town located between Torre Vado and Torre Pali, on the Ionian coast of Salento. So besides the beach with the same name, there are others such as Spiaggia Marina Di Salve and Spiaggia di Posto Vecchio.
After spending most of the day on Maldive del Salento, we drove back to Lecce, as we knew the town had more to offer. We walked around the historical centre one more time, discovering new streets and ancient buildings.
We also discovered some good places for Aperitivo, and tiny streets full of bars and outside space. These streets are Via Benedetto Cairoli and Via Paladini, with spots for drinks such as Caffè Letterario, Prohibition and Quanto Basta.
In terms of restaurants, 400 Gradi was our favourite pizza of the trip. We found it beforehand by doing some research, and it was worth it. It is outside the historical centre, but not that far. It gets busy but they have plenty of tables inside and outside, so you should be ok, and you can book in advance as well. We didn’t book and only waited for 10 minutes. I can recommend the star-shaped margarita with Ricotta-stuffed crust (see picture above). And they also have good draught beer, which is not that easy to find in Puglia.
Day 6: Grotta della Poesia, Torre dell’Orso, Torre Sant’Andrea
The next day, after another delicious and generous breakfast at A casa di Gio, we headed to Grotta della Poesia, another popular attraction in Puglia. It’s only a 40-minute drive from Lecce, and comprises a set of beautiful natural swimming pools. The area is part of the archaeological site of Roca Vecchia. It had been listed among the 10 most beautiful natural pools in the world according to National Geographic.
The image in the picture above is the main Grotta, for which you need to pay an entrance fee of €6 per person. Swimming is not allowed, but as you can see in the picture people jump all the time. However; there are other natural pools around, with areas where you can swim and relax on flat rocks.
Note that it was a cloudy day when we were there, so the pictures do not reflect the intense blue of the water. The colours on a sunny day are stunning.
After another 10 minutes drive, we got to Torre dell’Orso, a popular seaside town with a long sandy beach of the same name. The area next to the beach is surrounded by pines so there are good spots with natural shade. The water is clean and warm. There are both private and public areas, and many facilities.
We recommend walking south until the end of the beach. There you can find a public beach, and then a cliff where you can see Grotta di San Cristoforo, Le Due Sorelle and also a great view of all the bay.
Our next stop of the day was Torre Sant’Andrea, another very photographed spot in Puglia. It’s only 10 minutes away by car and a pleasant journey. There are a number of places where you can park your car. Parcheggio pubblico della Spiaggia dei laghetti, Parcheggio Cretì and Le Due Sorelle are the three main parking lots. We found a good place when entering via Via Lungomare Matteotti and left the car there on the street (no ticket needed).
We first went to a tiny but cute beach called Baia di Torre Sant’Andrea. There is only a very small piece of sand and some other places on the rocks. But the water is calm and ideal to swim. From there you can swim to Scoglio the Tafaluro, which is a tiny island in front. If you take the footpath that borders the cliffs, you can pass by Grotta del Pepe and then reach the popular Torre Sant’Andrea. There is no sandy beach in that area, but there are rocks where you can stay, which are easy to jump into the sea. A swim through Torre Sant’Andrea is extremely tempting.
After some pictures in the tower, we had lunch at a bar/restaurant called Babilonia. It offers Italian food and has many tables with great views over the bay. Their traditional dish is called schiaccina, which is a filled flatbread (an Italian sandwich, in other words).
Day 7: Otranto and Castro Marina (boat tour)
The next town, where we also spent two nights, was Otranto. This coastal town is considered one the most beautiful in all of Puglia. And we unanimously selected it as our favourite town on the trip. (Visit our post “Discover Otranto” for more detailed information)
It’s small and simple, but beautiful and relaxing. Its beach on the north side is literally as calm as a swimming pool. It’s called Spiaggia della Riviera degli Haethei and was one of our favourite beaches as well. Some rock formations and human intervention have made this beach quite unique. There is sand but below there are rocks, so you cannot just put your umbrella on. However; there are some tubes already there so you only need to put your umbrella on top (no need to drill a hole).
The town centre is full of traditional shops, bars and restaurants. Otranto is home to the 15th-century Aragonese Castle and 11th-century Otranto Cathedral, with a rose window and ornate mosaic flooring. At the harbour, Torre Matta tower has sweeping sea views. Nearby beaches include the popular Alimini Beach. And there are 2 lakes inland: the saltwater Alimini Grande and spring-fed Alimini Piccolo. South is the Punta Palascìa lighthouse.
We stayed at B&B Rocamura and we liked it a lot. Super modern and comfortable rooms with balconies. Cosy kitchen and excellent breakfast. Silvia is a great host, very helpful and friendly. She speaks Italian, English and Spanish and knows many places in the area. She gave us good recommendations and was always very attentive. The cakes were super tasty and are all day available. Its location is ideal, as it’s a 10-walk minute from the beach and 15 from the city centre.
In terms of pubs, we can recommend Borderline Cafe, right in front of the beach (see picture above), where we had a couple of aperitivos. Another good spot is Caffè Sud Est, where they make very good cocktails.
In terms of restaurants, we had two really good meals at L’ora di mezzo (tasty ravioli with burrata) and Agli Angeli Ribelli (frutti di mare pasta), both recommendations from our host Silvia. But L’Ortale was our favourite place and it deserves at least one visit. It’s just a deli, not a restaurant, offering cold cuts and cheese boards; however, the back garden is beautiful and the ambience is great. There is also live music and very good local wines. A very enjoyable experience no doubt.
We also liked very much both the food and gelato from Martinucci. It was our favourite pistachio ice cream of the trip. They also have good salads, sandwiches, sweets and traditional Rustico.
The next day we headed to Castro Marina. It is a small town from where many boat tours depart. We think that spending a few hours in a boat is a good way to do something different, have some air, jump in the water, see some fish, etc.
There are at least 6 or 7 boat tour operators in the Marina. We did not book in advance and there were free slots available so we did not have a problem at all. Tours differ mostly in the length and the number of stops. We took one of 2.5 hours and we paid €30.
Some of the grottas you can visit are Palombara, Azzurra, Zinzulusa, Romanelli and delle Streghe. But our favourite stop was near Porto Miggiano Beach. This beach has only a small sand area which gets crowded easily, but there are also many rocky areas where you can stay. The water is super clear, and calm and there is plenty of fish. Ideal for swimming and snorkelling, as it is protected by the coves from wind and current.
Day 8: Otranto (II) and Surroundings
The plan for the next day was to visit a couple of beaches and areas around Otranto. However; we decided to stay in town, as we liked it a lot. We had breakfast one more time at B&B Rocamura and we spend the morning at the relaxing, beautiful and calm Spiaggia della Riviera degli Haethei.
The only trick on that beach is getting a good spot, in particular one of those tubes made for putting your umbrella. There are also flat areas on the rocks (see picture above), but they are not as good as thin sand.
During the morning we walked around and relaxed. Some of us did some shopping, and others walked around the town. Some other places to visit in Otranto are the Faro di Punta Cràulo and the beaches nearby, such as Spiaggia di Porto Craulo o La Punta, Spiaggia della Plancia and Lido della Staffa, which are all at the north end of the town.
It was also a windy day, so we did not visit Alimini Beach. But this is also one of the most popular beaches in Puglia, and it is worth visiting without a doubt. It is a long white sandy beach with lots of private and public lidos and facilities.
Day 9: Gallipoli and Baia Verde
After having lunch and spending a couple of hours at our favourite town, Otranto, we drove for an hour to the other side of the country, where the Ionian Sea was waiting for us one more time.
The next town was Gallipoli, which is a very popular name used in restaurants, songs, films, books and a peninsula in northwestern Turkey. It means a beautiful city.
The town of Gallipoli is divided into two parts, the modern and the old city. The latter is located on a limestone island, linked to the mainland by a bridge built in the 16th century.
The main attractions in Gallipoli are in the old town, so crossing the bridge. The parking lot is called Parcheggio Porto Gallipoli, which is very convenient as you have the stairs leading to the main area. However; it gets super busy during high season. It’s a ticket-based system, and most of the time the machines do not accept cards, so better to have coins ready.
If you are lucky to park the car (it may take some time), you can then start walking around the old town. The most popular activity is to see the sunset at Spiaggia della Purità (see picture above) which is next to the church of the same name. You can then walk all around the island on Riviera Sauro, where you can find bars and restaurants facing the sea. And then also take the streets inland where more shops and restaurants are available.
Other attractions include Gallipoli Castle and the Rivellino Tower, standing apart from the main building. There are also many churches, such as Basilica Cattedrale Sant’Agata Vergine e Martire and Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angeli. Across the bridge, on the mainland, is the Greek Fountain, dating from the Renaissance.
We stayed at a beautiful Masseria outside town, at about a 15/20 minutes drive. It is called Masseria Pitanni and it was again an amazing experience. If you don’t mind the distance and prefer quieter places, and if you like food in particular, this is a great choice.
Its host Stefania has a passion for its masseria and her cooking that is admirable. She even wrote books about it. The breakfast includes many savoury and sweet things, and they are all homemade. She even prepares the Nutella and yoghurt. Expect to have friselle, quiche, pasticiotti, lavender cookies and many other things. Stefania also produces olive oil, wine and jams, which can be purchased there. Our room was spacious and comfortable and has its own garden, and there is a swimming pool as well.
In terms of restaurants in town, the most recommended is Angolo Blu. We had delicious fish and pasta in a very traditional way. It was a recommendation from our host Stefania and we liked it a lot.
We were not lucky with the weather and it was our last day so we did not visit another amazing beach in Salento, Baia Verde. But I strongly recommend visiting at least one beach in the bay.
Note/Disclaimer: A year after this post was written we visited Baia Verde. Visit our post Visiting Baia Verde and Punta della Suina for full information.
There are many private and public beaches in the area, also restaurants, parking lots and even masserias and B&B. Some accommodations in Gallipoli can book an umbrella for you if you ask with a special discount.
One of the most beautiful beaches is Spiaggia di Punta della Suina (see picture above). Expect blue and shallow waters with a pleasant breeze. It’s a mix of thin sand, pebbles, tiny cliffs and vegetation at the back. The area is particularly busy during the high season, so the general recommendation is either to book a spot or go early, ideally at 9 am. Parking costs between €6 and €10 for a day.
Other beaches in the bay are Lido Pizzo, Spiaggia degli innamorati and Lido San Giovanni.
Day 10: Brindisi and Trani
And the saddest day arrived. Time to go back home. However; because our flight was in the evening, we had some time to explore two more towns on our way to Bari.
The first one was Brindisi, the second biggest city in Puglia, and home to the second most popular airport. We parked the car at the beginning of the main promenade, Lungomare Regina Margherita (see picture above), and walk all the way to the main port and the city centre.
Regarding attractions, The red-stone Aragonese Castle stands on a small island at the harbour’s entrance. The tall Monumento al Marinaio d’Italia, a rudder-shaped limestone memorial to sailors, has sea and city views. Across the harbour, the Swabian Castle of Brindisi dates from the 13th century. At the top of Virgil’s Staircase are the Roman Columns.
After half day in Brindisi, we headed to our last stop, Trani. The town is in the north of Bari, so we had to pass the capital. The advantage is that the airport is also in the north, so the last drive was shorter. It took almost 2 hours to get from Brindisi to Trani.
Before entering the town, we stopped by Pescaria (one more time) for lunch. It’s the same chain where we had delicious food in Polignano. This one is located in Lido Colonna, a calm beach in the south of Trani, with both public and private beaches.
Trani has lost its old city walls, bastions and cute houses with Norman decorations. The old port is beautiful and deserves a good walk around. It is surrounded by bars and restaurants. On the other side, its cathedral, Cathedral Basilica of Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim, seems to be observing the town from the distance.
If you would like some shade and vegetation to drink outside or have a picnic, Boschetto della Villa Comunale could be a good choice.
Near the harbour is the Gothic Palace of the Doges of Venice, which is now used as a seminary. The Church of Ognissanti which at one stage was the chapel of a Knights Templar hospital has a Romanesque relief of the Annunciation over the door. San Giacomo and San Francesco also have Romanesque facades; the latter, together with Sant’Andrea, have Byzantine domes.
Best Traditional Food in Puglia
We are going to publish a post about traditional food in Puglia soon, in the meantime, I am going to just provide a list of dishes/pastries you should try in Puglia.
- Caciocavallo (grilled)
- Octopus Sandwich
- Frise or Friselle
A drink I recommend is Caffo Vecchio Amaro Del Capo. It is a digestive liquor from Calabria made with 29 herbs, flowers, fruits and roots, including bitter orange and sweet orange peel, liquorice, mandarin, camomile and juniper infused in alcohol.
Appendix: The Music of the Trip
I cannot say Italian music, and Italian radios, in particular, are my favourites, but to close this post I would like to share a couple of songs that were playing all the time while we were there: