Heading to Italy’s Heel for a Quiet Summer Break

Want to experience the best of Italy? A trip to Puglia offers epic coasts, gorgeous cities and everything else you could possibly wish for
Want to experience the best of Italy? A trip to Puglia offers epic coasts, gorgeous cities and everything else you could possibly wish for | © Baglioni Masseria Muzza

Editorial Manager

Italy has bounced back from pandemic restrictions in a big way. The country has seen international visitors return in big numbers and domestic tourism continues to grow too. With many people choosing the summer months to head to the major cities and glorious coastlines, it can be hard to pick a spot if you want to explore in peace and quiet. We take a look at some of the highlights from Puglia, a region which has increased in popularity in recent years but that has ample room to accommodate all.

Fancy a trip to Italy? We’ve got a series of Epic Trips and Mini Adventures to showcase the best of the country. See the highlights of Northern Italy in one go to experience the most popular destinations in the country with Culture Trip on a small-group trip, or follow our local insider to the South and take in the gorgeous Amalfi Coast with an expert in the know.

Everyone knows the outline of Italy. It’s arguably the most distinctive country to pick out from a map thanks to its uncanny resemblance to a boot. If you head towards the ‘heel’, you’ll find Puglia, a culturally rich region which has the historic cities, amazing coastlines and famous hotels you’ll find in places like Rome, Milan, Naples or Florence, but with a noticeable lack of crowds.

Things to do in Puglia

Bari is the main town most people head to in Puglia (a region also known as Apulia). There is a large train station which is a great way to arrive if travelling across the country from Rome, and an international airport only 30 minutes from the centre. This is an excellent place to use as a base for exploring, and it’s easy to continue via train or car. The roads here are a lot easier to navigate than in other parts of Italy, with virtually no tolls on the highways and plenty of parking in the cities.

Serving some of the best (and freshest) food in Puglia, Bari is the perfect place to start a trip to the ‘heel’ of Italy

Make sure you try some of the food as a lot of it is prepared fresh in small eateries right in front of you. Pasta, wine, eggplants and olive oil feature heavily, and if you have a hankering for seafood then you’re in luck as the fishing boats that come in daily will serve the best options, although prepare to try it raw as that’s the way it’s eaten around here.

Lecce is another popular hub, with a cultural feel that makes it a wonderful spot to walk around. Caffe Leccese is an instant pick-me-up for anyone looking to refuel on the go and is a region-wide drink that originated here. A shot of espresso, a few cubes of ice and almond syrup (or milk) are all it takes to create a refreshing concoction that you’ll quickly find to be irresistible.

Further south you’ll notice whitewashed pointy roofed houses known as Trulli. You’ll find a few examples of these local dwellings in the south of Puglia but the best known area is Alberobello, a very popular tourist attraction where you might want to time your visit to avoid the crowds.

You can’t leave Puglia without taking a trip to Matera in neighbouring region Basilicata. The ancient stone city has become well known in recent years for its unique properties that are largely carved straight into the rocks. No Time to Die (2021) – the latest 007 adventure – featured Matera in its most famous scenes and has boosted tourism but you can still get a very affordable place to stay if you look around. It’s a beautiful place to visit at night, when the lights give it a pleasing glow and is popular with day trippers in the daytime, however the best time to explore is in the morning just as the sun comes up and before it gets too hot.

As seen in ‘No Time to Die’, Matera is an essential stop on any trip to the region

Where to stay in Puglia

Away from the cities – and if you really want to quietly retreat somewhere for your holiday – then head to Baglioni Masseria Muzza. This newly refurbished property is perfect as part of a road trip as you can park up and spend a few days leisurely exploring the southern coast or just relax by the pool getting some much-deserved luxury.

The restaurants will serve you the ultimate in local cuisine, which surprisingly comes mainly from the land. You will, of course, still find incredible fish on the menu, but expect wholesome vegetables and red meat too. You can also check out the fantastic spa, where treatments are focussed on the more lengthy approach for complete effect, with a sauna and indoor pool if you really want to avoid the intensity of the sun in the day.

A cool place to stay in Puglia is the Baglioni Masseria Muzza

Another great way of finding out more about the region is booking one of the experiences offered by the hotel. Talk to the helpful staff if you’re not sure, but we can certainly recommend the gourmet tour of Otranto. This will take you to Italy’s easternmost town which boasts a rich mix of history, architecture, fine views and white sandy beaches. Learn more about the magnificent Aragonese castle and Santa Maria Annunziata cathedral with the marvellous mosaic inside.

This takes you to the end of the heel but you’ll also feel like you’ve found the soul of Italy on the way here.

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