Reasons Why You Need to Add Puglia to Your Italy Travel Itinerary

Puglia is home to a number of alluring hill towns
Puglia is home to a number of alluring hill towns | © Andrey Trifonov / Alamy Stock Photo
Chloe Thrussell

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Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, is a coastal region defined by medieval hilltop towns, endless olive groves and dry, hot summers. Surrounded by the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Puglia is often missed by travellers – but here are just some of the reasons why you need to add the region to your Italian itinerary.

Keen to explore the region of Puglia? Book yourself onto our specially curated 10-day trip to southern Italy and enjoy guided visits to Naples, the Amalfi Coast and other highlights on this list.

1. Observe the cliff divers in Polignano a Mare

Architectural Landmark

People swimming and relaxing at the beach in Polignano a Mare, Puglia, with rocky cliffs and city buildings on either side
© Matthias Scholz / Alamy Stock Photo

This ancient coastal village, 40km (25mi) southeast of Bari, is the ideal laid-back day trip. The white-washed centro storico is poised on a craggy cliff edge and overlooks the hidden pebbled cove of Lama Monachile. The best views of the sea can be found on Belvedere Terrazza Santo Stefano, or, if you’re not on a budget, from the terrace of hotel-restaurant Grotta Palazzese, tucked inside a magnificent cave. The Pearl of the Adriatic is also home to the Cliff Diving World Series.

2. Discover Lecce, the Florence of the South

Architectural Landmark

The principal city of the Salento Peninsula, 2000-year-old Lecce is known for its lavish, 17th-century baroque landmarks. Don’t miss the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Sant’Oronzo, or the grandiose facade of the Basilica di Santa Croce, ornamented with detailed limestone cherubs, mythical animals and floral motifs. Be sure to try a local caffe leccese – iced coffee served with almond syrup – while people-watching in the scenic Piazza del Duomo.

3. Experience the vibrant nightlife of Gallipoli

Natural Feature

A nighttime view of Gallipolis Castello Angioino, Puglia, Italy
© adam eastland / Alamy Stock Photo

The old town of Gallipoli, fortified by 14th-century walls, juts out into the Ionian Sea on a small island. Populated with narrow alleys, a historic fishing port and baroque churches, most notably the 17th-century Cattedrale di Sant’Agata, the old town is full of bars and restaurants which spill out into the streets. The mainland portion of Gallipoli is more modern, known for its vibrant, LGBTQ-friendly nightlife and boutique shops.

4. Stay overnight in a trullo, in a unique Unesco World Heritage site

Architectural Landmark

Alberobello is home to the zona dei trulli, a dense hilltop sprawl of 1500 whitewashed stone houses with distinctive cone-shaped roofs. Originally home to agricultural labourers, trulli represent the most distinctive architectural symbol of Puglia. Their quaint, single-storey charm invites an overnight stay, which is possible in the surrounding countryside of the Valle d’Itria. When visiting the town itself, be aware that Alberobello draws large tourist crowds, so arrive early to beat them.

5. Meander through the pretty streets of Locorotondo

Architectural Landmark

A view of Locorotondo, Puglia, Italy
© Stephen Hughes / Alamy Stock Photo

The cobblestone streets of Locorotondo are best discovered on foot. While wandering, you’ll encounter charming lanes adorned with flower pots, flying buttresses and cummerse – the peculiar peaked roofs the town is known for. Locorotondo’s name is derived from “round place”, and the old town coils itself around the crown of a low hill. From up here, you’ll overlook the Valle d’Itria, an area of rolling green known for its groves of almonds and olives and its masserias – working farms that double up as bed and breakfasts.

6. Get lost in the fairytale Città Bianca of Ostuni

Architectural Landmark

Ostuni is a city for explorers. Sat atop three hills, the White City is a maze of alleys, staircases and archways stacked between whitewashed houses and family-owned trattorias. The citadel remains fortified by ancient walls and encloses a 15th-century gothic cathedral, Bishop’s Palace and a number of palazzi belonging to local aristocratic families. Known for its quality olive oil and wine, the local region can be sampled at the Saturday market (Mercato Settimanale del Sabato), a 15-minute walk from the centro storico.

7. Swim in sparkling blue waters

Natural Feature

Porto Selvaggio natural reserve, a view of the bay, Puglia, Italy
© AGF Srl / Alamy Stock Photo

With over 800km (497mi) of coastline, Puglia has a beach for every mood. From the dramatic landscapes of Porto Selvaggio, ideal for snorkelling, to the flamingo flocks of dune-lined Spiaggia Salina dei Monaci, Puglia’s picturesque coast is teeming with endless soft sands and remote bays. If swimming, sunset watching and succulent seafood are what you’ve come for, then you won’t leave disappointed – if you ever leave at all. Do bear in mind, however, the August high season draws large crowds to the region.

8. Dine on culinary delights and world-class wine

Winery

Puglia, like the rest of Italy, is an outstanding foodie destination. The best local dish is orecchiette (literally “small ear”), a type of pasta usually served with rapini, broccoli or cauliflower. Be sure to also try focaccia pugliese, made with cherry tomatoes, oregano and olives, and local burrata, produced here since the first decades of the 19th century. Puglia is also one of Italy’s leading wine regions, with an industry covering 83,000ha (205,000 acres). The leading native grapes are nero di troia and primitivo.

9. Tour the underground city of Matera

Historical Landmark

A view of Matera, Basilicata, Italy
© M.Flynn / Alamy Stock Photo

Matera, just across the Apulian border in the Basilicata region, is a central feature of Culture Trip’s 10-day Southern Italy trip – and for good reason. Known as la città sotterranea (the underground city), the Sassi di Matera is an ancient complex of cave dwellings carved into the river canyon, believed to have been continually occupied for thousands of years. Italian authorities forcibly removed poverty-stricken residents from the then-hazardous caves in the 1950s, but efforts since the 1980s have restored the region and opened it to tourism, with some dwellings now occupied by bars and even hotels.

Film buffs might recognise Matera from the opening scene of No Time to Die (2021) – in which Bond is chased through the cavernous town by a convoy of villains.

10. Take home liquid gold as a souvenir

Shop, Architectural Landmark

Puglia has around 60 million olive trees. The ancient arboreal landscape, which blankets rolling hills and craggy coastlines, is responsible for 12 percent of the world’s olive oil production, and around 40 percent of Italy’s supply. With more than 50 olive varieties grown in the region, make sure you take home a sample of one of the oldest industries in Puglia. The strade dell’olio, or olive oil road, connects ancient farms still producing liquid gold here today.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Francesca Masotti.

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