Puglia is the region that sits in the ‘heel’ of Italy and is affectionately called the ‘breadbasket’ because it’s one of the top producers of durum wheat. It’s a more affordable Italian holiday than regions in the north, such as Tuscany or Veneto. It’s also quite diverse with its beautiful beaches, hillside towns and cities steeped in history. And it’s a culinary delight too! But with so many towns and cities to explore, where should you visit in Puglia?
What is Puglia famous for?
Puglia is famous for its olive oil. In fact it produces around 40% of all the olive oil in Italy! Puglia also has the longest coastline of any Italian mainland region, making it a great destination for beach holidays.
Historically, Puglia was one of the poorest regions in Italy so people had to be really resourceful with food and keep their meals simple by using seasonal produce. Puglia is known for cucina povera, which means ‘poor kitchen’ but that doesn’t mean that it’s ‘cheap’ or lacking in quality but rather because it’s about using simple ingredients. Believe me, you’ll eat VERY well in Puglia!
Here is where to visit in Puglia
The two major airports in Puglia are Brindisi and Bari, yet they are only around and hour and a half drive from each other. Depending how long you’re visiting for, you may want to hire a car so that you can explore more of the region.
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The unique town of Alberobello is located around 30 km from the beautiful seaside town of Polignano a Mare and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an absolute must-see!
A trullo or trulli (plural) are traditional Apulian dry stone huts made of limestone with a conical roof. They are specific to the Itria Valley in Puglia and Alberobello is a town full of trulli all clustered together. Some are still homes, some are shops, restaurants and holiday homes. Whilst they are typical to this area, you can also spot trulli more sporadically in other places in Puglia, such as Ostuni and Fasano.
A port city, Brindisi is in the Salento region of Puglia which is know for its beautiful beaches. Brindisi has a fascinating history and was once connected to Roma via a road called Via Appia. Today, the Colonne Romane (Roman Columns) mark where they believe the road ended.
Some of the top things to do in Brindisi include a visit to the cathedral, a panoramic view of Brindisi from the Monument to the Italian Sailor and exploring the 11th century Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
There’s not loads to do in Brindisi itself so I’d recommend venturing out to the beaches and neighbouring towns such as Ostuni.
We’ve been to Gallipoli several times and love the old town, which can be accessed via a bridge. It even has a castle, which was built in the 13th century and was used as a fortress in Medieval times.
Whilst Gallipoli has a really long beach in the new town, as well as a smaller beach in the old town, I’d recommend venturing a bit further out to Santa Maria al Bagno and Punta della Suina – which is referred to as the Maldives of Salento because of the colour of the water. It’s incredible!
Referred to as the ‘Florence of the South’, because of its stunning Baroque buildings, churches, museums and monuments, Lecce is Puglia’s cultural capital. If you’re a history buff or lover of architecture and culture, you will have an amazing time in Lecce.
If you’re not that bothered about the beaches, then Lecce is definitely the city for you. Although, if you’re a beach lover, you’re just a ten minute drive to the nearest beach. Plus, the gorgeous seaside town of Otranto, which has a castle, is only about 40 km away.
Monopoli is a gorgeous coastal town just a short driving distance from Polignano a Mare.
Whilst it’s quite small, there’s a fair amount to do. Visit the Basilica of the Madonna della Madia whose crypt is an archaeological museum with sculptures and ancient tombs. Explore the 16th century Castello di Carlo V, which was a castle and then used as a prison until the 1990s but is now a cultural centre.
The town itself is very pretty to walk around and a great place to go for a day trip and lunch if you’re staying in Polignano a Mare.
Known as ‘the white city’ due to its whitewashed buildings, Ostuni is a beautiful hilltop town around 40 km from Brindisi. It dates back to the Stone Ages! It was built on a hill for protection against invasion and over the centuries it has been under the rule of the Romans, Ostrogoths, Normans, Aragonese and more.
The little winding streets and alleyways are testament to its medieval charm and you can lose yourself just wandering around. There are lots of shops, restaurants and bars to while away the hours.
Be sure to visit the beautiful cathedral, which dates back to the 1000s and is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Be sure to look up when you go inside because the frescoes on the ceiling are breathtaking.
We visited Otranto for a day trip when we were staying in Lecce. It’s a really beautiful seaside town which even has a castle!
It’s a lovely town to have a wander around, have a swim, eat some delicious orecchiette and then visit the castle for some history.
Polignano a Mare
Just 50 km from Bari, is the stunning seaside town of Polignano a Mare. Located on the Adriatic coast, Cala Porto is a picturesque beach that also plays host to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. It’s made up entirely of pebbles and stones so diving shoes are a must!
Polignano a Mare is quite a small town and its main draw is the gorgeous beach. However, you can travel to nearby Monopoli, which is only 8 km away, or the unique town of Alberobello to see the trulli (30 km away) for day trips.