Golden beaches, cuisine dictated by the seasons and glittering sunshine, Puglia is magical. Tucked away from mass tourism sits undiscovered Puglia, no wonder it is the region of the moment where savvy travellers turn to for an escape to something much more manicured and authentic away from the madling crowds. The “bread basket of Italy” right at the heel, is home to the trulli and is a haven to those seeking a quintessential Italian experience. The bustling city of Lecce, known as the “Florence of the South” offers doses of culture and history with its breath-taking Baroque. Visit the photogenic town of Ostuni, also known as the ‘wedding cake town’ earning it’s nickname from the white washed walls which layer the hillside. For you sun catchers, visit the pristine beaches along the hundred of miles of coastline which boast white sands and crystal blue seas. You will be overwhelmed with the choice of unfussy tratorias serving Puglianese feasts.
Our Travel Experts have gathered 5 points which stand out to them when they think of Puglia and which you have to explore on your visit.
Trulli- Famous for their white cone roofs and circular plan living spaces, trulli draw curiosity from all corners of the world. It’s in the Itria Valley in Puglia where Trulli take centre stage, with Alberollo hosting the highest concentration of these authentic gems and being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The only other place to have trulli is in Germany as migrant workers from Puglia would build these whiles working on the vineyards there to truly have a home away from home.
Originally constructed for use as a storehouse by local farmers, or shelters for peasants, these Italian structures date back to the 19th century. Trulli are essentially rural buildings made of either calcareous tufa or hard limestone. Their dry-wall construction without the use of mortar or cement, was imposed on new settlers to enable quick dismantle of their storehouse to evade taxes (imagine showing up and all you found was piles of stones instead of houses and a couple days after leaving these were all being built back up again!).
Fast forward to today and these traditional buildings are now some of Puglia’s most distinguished holiday properties. Bee lined for by those seeking an authentic, Southern Italian experience with a luxurious and boutique twist. By stepping into a trullo you are welcomed with a surprising amount of space.
Look and appreciate the architecture of the conical roof with each room often decorated with individual style, some with the most elegant of furnishings, and some with the most lavish fittings you will ever see. You can find a real mix of modern and rustic trulli, there is definitely one for every taste. Enjoy days by the often-private pools, with exceptional views of the surrounding hillsides filled with olive groves. See in the evening with fresh fish on the BBQ and absorb the ambience of these little pieces of history. One of Paul’s favourite Trulli is Trullo Noce, charmingly restored it is the perfect romantic getaway for couples.
Lecce- Right in the heart of Puglia, lies the Baroque, provincial capital of Lecce. The "Florence of the South", beautiful Baroque façades, elegant palazzi & wonderful churches. It is also surprisingly great value for money with coffees only costing around 2 euros and a pizza being around 5 euros which is very reasonable for a town of this standard! As all the produce is sourced locally (such as delicious cherry tomatoes) you get great tasting products which are freshly cultivated at a fraction of the cost! Our favourite place in Lecce to savour these flavours is Enogastronomia Povero, close to Santa Croce, it is a deli offering local specialities and meals with a great wine list!
Still relatively undiscovered and unknown, Lecce is truly magnificent. Once a Greek city, and then a Roman town, you can discover fine examples of its ancient past, including the 2nd century amphitheatre. There is also the Spanish Castle, right in the centre, and its many ‘palazzi’, churches and squares which are brimming with Baroque architecture, such as the remarkable Santa Croce Church. This is one of the finest models of ‘Barocco Leccese’, with its intricate exterior and wonderful, Renaissance interior with large wooden caisson ceilings.
Wandering the streets of this small city is a great way to explore and absorb the atmosphere, particularly in the evenings when the city bursts with life and light.
Lecce is great for adults as well as kids with some lovely ice cream shops to keep the kids occupied whiles enjoying the beautiful architecture of the town. We recommend the Natale Pasticceria, an artisan sweet shop offering beautifully made chocolate, sweets, ice creams and of course Pasticciotto (an Italian pastry filled with either ricotta cheese or egg custard depending on the region and very popular around Easter) these are incredibly moreish!
It is a city well worth exploring, yet, often overlooked, and that is a shame – you don’t know what you’re missing! Any itinerary in Puglia should include Lecce, by law!
Being an archi and history buff Michael is right in his element when he visits Puglia! But he never seizes to stop by the Natale Pasticceria and pick up some chocolates for the office and some marzipan fruit for himself!
Food! – Puglia, perhaps, has some of the finest food that Italy has to offer. It is in many ways, the definition of traditional Mediterranean food. It’s fresh, healthy, light, and meticulously prepared by chefs that really care about the food they are creating. The cuisine of Puglia, much like the region itself, remains relatively undiscovered, which makes it the perfect opportunity to take your taste buds on an adventure. Like much of Italy, you’ll find olive oils, meats, cheeses and pasta at its heart, but not like you’ve ever tasted before. The main delicacy in Puglia is also their regional speciality. Their classic pasta is called Orecchiette, which translates to ‘little ears’. This name is given to them after their delicate shape. While there are many several types of pasta on offer in the region, this is one that you simply must try while you are visiting. Meat is not commonly used, but fish is bountiful. When you taste a dish from Puglia, you won’t want to eat anything else.
Our top pick for fresh sea food in a beautiful location is the Ristorante La Rotonda 2 in Torre Canne which offers fresh catch of the day in delicious dishes such as a courgette and shrimp soufflé or Mussel gratin. If you are in the centre of Monopoli take a break from the history by visiting Ristorante Piazza Palmieri, the seafood here is at a sensible price for the quality of the food but be warned, the portions can be VERY generous! Discover food and wine in Puglia.
Beaches – The coastline stretch along Puglia is much larger than most expect and is the longest of any region in Italy, bordered by the Ionian and the Adriatic Sea.
With the climate being spectacular in Puglia this is a great destination for the sun catchers and beach lovers. The most spectacular beaches are on the south coast, the sea is so crystal clear and blue against the golden beaches it is picture perfect and you will never want to leave!
On the Ionian Coast you can find the Punta Prosciutto in Porto Cesareo which is one of Salento’s prettiest beaches, framed by sand dunes up to 8 metres tall or visit the Torre Lapillo also in Porto Cesareo with wonderful white sand in a shallow bay, perfect for families with younger children.
Nearer the Adriatic Coast visit the Baia dei Turchi near Otranto and walk through pine trees to reach the idyllic strips of white sands or visit Porto Selvaggio near Nardo which in complete contrast is a rocky and pebbly cove with crystal clear sea you would feel you are in the Caribbean rather than Italy! This is especially nice in the evening watching the spectacular sunset whiles enjoying a lovely glass of local vino!
If you are based more centrally there is still a great selection of sandy beaches near Torre Canne, with a choice between free sections and some very well equipped lidos. Of the lidos, our favourites are Lido Bizzarro (great facilities and an excellent restaurant) and Viar Beach Club – a lido with everything! Beach, restaurant, fabulous swimming pool, etc.
Torre Canne is a wonderful place to spend time as a couple or as a family with a delicious selection of sea food restaurants right by the sea, it is the perfect tranquil setting, or in contrast Torre Coccaro offers an alternative ‘Ibiza’ style beach club with wooden terrace and private lounge chairs under the palms, still peaceful but more vibrant in ways.
A great one to add to add to your list is the Torre Gauceto which is a lovely sandy beach set a little further south but as part of the nature reserve it has the prettiest most peaceful surroundings.
You could spend the entire holidays basking in the sunshine and slurping gelato in the seaside cafes of Puglia there is no doubt! With a ton of activities such as water sports, boat trips and excursions (The waters are chock-full of underwater caves and coral reefs and there are even roman shipwreck offshore to explore for the most daring scuba divers near the National Park!) you have to take a trip to the seaside whiles in Puglia.
Paul's personal favourite is the Grotto restaurant at Polignano a Mare. Quite literally build into the cave you look straight out to the sea and is accessed by a long staircase through the rocks. It is a stunning setting for dinner!
Authentic Coastal Towns – Puglia has a very rich and colourful past. On the coast sit some of our favourite historically rich towns – Monopoli, Otranto and Gallipoli. These towns were fortified by the Spanish and defensive towers were built as the towns were in such a strategic position between the east and west which made them an attractive place to settle or at least control and exploit. They were many people such as the Turks and the Venetians who tried to attack repeatedly to gain a foothold in the region.
Monopoli – Today it is a prosperous fishing port which is very vibrant yet unspoilt with medieval cobblestoned streets and whitewashed fishermen’s houses. When strolling through Monopoli a visit to the Porto Vecchio is a must, with blue fishing boats dotted around, this bustling fishing port is picturesque with a wealth of restaurants serving delicious sea-food dishes. Catch a glimpse of the fishermen off-loading the days catch from their nets (it could be your supper!). Even in the centre of Monopoli there are delights such as the 12th Century cathedral, a 16th century castle of Charles V and the imposing remains of the 16th century defensive town walls. Known as the city of a hundred hamlets it extends far into the countryside with little hamlets surrounded by olive and almond groves and sundry fortified masseria, small farmsteads turned into fortresses.
Gallipoli – With its name deriving from the Greek meaning citta bella ‘beautiful town’. It is in a way divided into two parts with a traditional side and a modern side which even features a skyscraper, this small island is just off the coast and is linked to the mainland by a 16th century arched bridge. It was hugely renowned for the produce of lamp oil – in such a great position they could transport the oil to all parts of the Mediterranean and Northern Europe and apparently even to London to illuminate all the street lamps. The oil mills in Gallipoli also produced the famous ‘Savon De Marseille’. The best sights are the castle and cathedral. The castle was largely rebuilt al polygonal wall were added to fortify the round towers.
Otranto – This peaceful historic seaside town with views of the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Albania 60kms away is probably most well-known for the large dominating castle, thick perimeter walls and stout towers with a small marina and picturesque alleyways which lead up to a beautiful beach with crystal clear turquoise waters. You can view the incredible history of this town at the Cappella Mortiri (Chapel of the Dead) this morbidly fascinating sight showcases the 800 martyrs men who sacrificed themselves to be beheaded by refusing to convert to Islam during the Turkish invasion, the skulls and bones were gathered from the fields and carefully arranged in 7 floor to ceiling glass cases. It is now recognised as the town that said no and slowed down the invasion sparing Rome of the same fate.
Sue highly recommends a visit to the Castel del Monte an incredible Octagonal Castle which is mysterious and picture perfect! On your visit to Puglia she also recommends trying a Panzerotti- resembling a turnover but fried with pizza fillings within it, yum! (just don’t think of how many calories are in it..)