All you need to know about the Puglia region in Italy

An in- depth and honest guide to vacationing in Puglia

Dreamlike bays, stone villages, olive groves, wilderness, unique architecture and four UNESCO sites, one more fascinating than the other. Puglia is unrivaled, and it's no wonder that prestigious magazines - National Geographic, Lonely Planet and The New York Times, just to name a few - have awarded it the title of "most beautiful region in the world". A walk around the places now famous for tourism around the world, is enough to understand why. We, however, want to help you discover the understated corners of the region.   Scattered across the enviable seashore lie cathedrals, castles, whitewashed houses and flowered balconies…where to stay, where to eat, and the best ways to hit the beaches.

Salento

SalentoVacations in Salento are the trip to Puglia par excellence. We’re talking about the real Puglia, about a sun that burns and a sea that enchants.  Think juicy tomatoes, capers and basil, or handmade pasta with burrata.  The people of Salento, like all Pugliese, are proud of simple and real flavors, in love with the place where they grew up.  As soon as you arrive you feel that authentic love and respect and the deep-rooted values. The locals welcome you as if you were "home". Just outside of the historic center of Lecce, Salento’s baroque city,  you will find the refined Palazzo Belsanti.  After a night here, drive to the Melendugno beaches.  Familiar to both Pugliese and tourists alike, one is more beautiful than the next. San Foca, Torre Specchia, Torre Sant'Andrea, and Torre dell'Orso have always been seaside resorts. The jewel in the crown, though, is Roca. Archaeology is just a stone's throw away, but above all, Roca is where you find the Cave of Poetry (Grotta della Poesia), as beautiful as it is fragile (in 2019 it was necessary to limit access)."Remember, we are in Puglia, you can go down to the sea in a bathing suit and flip- flops", is a general refrain of any host. Choose a place with a large terrace overlooking the sea in Torre Suda. It is the perfect base from which to easily explore towards San Giovanni and Pescoluse, and then further down to Capo Leuca, or, on the opposite side, Gallipoli. Pick up some fresh bread at Francioso's bakery in Racale and pair it with some local organic olive oil before heading to your lodgings.

Where and what to eat in Salento

Eating at home: All you need to do is buy some artisanal orecchiette (kneaded with Senatori Cappelli wheat if possible) and prepare a quick, fresh sauce of cherry tomatoes and basil. Pick up fruits and vegetables from the producers you meet on the street, their vans packed with colors and smells.  An excellent destination for fresh ingredients is in Ugento, at I Contadini, a family-run farm where the vegetables grown are hand-picked, sun-dried and preserved in jars with oil, lemon juice, whole grain salt and apple cider vinegar. The shop is open every day until 8pm. A drive south along the coast road for a couple of kilometers to Marina di Racale will land you at the Pescheria-Friggitoria Da Rino. In addition to what you can barbecue or buy to eat raw (the pink shrimp of Gallipoli, for example, are excellent with just a splash of lemon), they  also have ready-to-eat fish dishes to go that you can bring to the beach. And when you don't feel like cooking, all you need is a plate of cheese and cold cuts, which are also the best choice for your everyday picnic on the beach.Eating out: the seawater pizza at Frisara.  Frisara is a small restaurant overlooking the sea, three kilometers from Torre Suda, in Capilungo - Alliste. The owner assures us that there is no "mysterious" ingredient, but perhaps the long leavening process and the self-produced olive oil has something to do with it. To get an idea of the quality, just take a look at the awards the pizzeria has received over the years.Aperitif: While vacationing in Salento, drink local wines. They have a unique taste because the sea provides a healthy temperature range for vineyards. The Torre Ospina winery has a great selection, let them guide you. 

Sunset Café is undoubtedly the best spot for sunset cocktails in Salento, just south of the Gulf of Gallipoli. Actually, the Sunset Café opens in the morning for breakfast and closes late at night, but if you’re looking for an enchanting setting head there around 6pm.

Young people will definitely want to stop in Gallipoli, not so much for its famous marina as for Baia Verde, an area known for its clubs, discos and beaches dedicated to partying.  A word of advice: if you don't like crowds, avoid Gallipoli on weekends and holidays. Go there, because it is beautiful and has its own charm, but possibly in low season.

Beaches of Salento

Salento Beaches Locals will tell you that vacationing in Salento has changed drastically in the last ten years, with rising prices and crowded establishments.  Maybe the best way to experience the beaches is how it was traditionally done, by tying an umbrella to a rock, with a towel and a cooler.  Really, that’s all you need to enjoy the free sandy beach of San Giovanni (next to the hotel Astor), or the rocks of Punta della Suina. If you’re dreaming of the “Maldive del Salento” (Maldives of Salento), call the day before and book a gazebo for a half - day.  For an acceptable 20 euros they will provide two sunbeds and a table at the edge of the water.  We do not, however, recommend eating at the bar.

Salento by boat

To go out on a boat, you must make the journey to Torre Vado, but it's worth it because the sea is heavenly. Torre Vado is also the perfect place to leave for a boat exploration among the caves of the Ionian Sea. One of the most popular destinations is the suggestive Grotta della Zinzulusa. In addition to the tropical colors, the local fisherman will regale you with fanciful legends of the area along the way.  We recommend a half day boat trip in the afternoon if you’re on a budget (for info try Salento Blu). 

Bari

BariDon't run from the city straight away. Savor it, stroll along the seafront, devote some time to its good food immersed in the maze of alleyways.  Because Bari is above all a city to be lived, breathed and listened to.  There are arches everywhere, portals that lead to small squares, underpasses from which endless shrines sprout.The ancient soul of Bari is a succession of narrow alleys on which open the doors of the small houses on the ground floor: from kitchens come the smells of sauce cooking on a low flame, the voices of ladies intent on exchanging gossip. In the eighties and nineties living here was difficult and there was not even a shadow of tourists. Today, walking around Bari Vecchia is not dangerous, even at night, people are spilling out of the clubs in the historic center and the little squares are full of life.

Where to eat in Bari

Along the shore, in front of the Margherita Theater, in the cultural symbol of Bari called Nderr La’Lanz (“at the food of the boat)”,  tables are lined up for lunchtime everyday.  The fishermen have just come in with oysters, prawns and mussels and you can order a plate of the freshly caught delicacies right there.  Another of our favorite things to eat in Bari is pizza.  More specifically, the pizza, panzerotti and pucce at Pizzeria Di Cosimo Mauro in the middle of a distinctive piazza.

Where to stay in Bari

Located in the historic area of Bari, the B&B Murex is comfortable and picturesque.  In the summer the rooftop offers fantastic views of the Old Town.

Polignano a Mare

Polignano a MareWhen the beach starts calling your name, just drive a few miles south to reach Polignano a Mare.  The city of Italian songwriter and senator, Domenico Modugno, snatched a Blue Flag recognition with a series of beaches: San Vito, Cala Paura, Cala San Giovanni, Ripagnola/Coco village, and Cala Fetente.Once again the Adriatic provides rocks and coves, where it is easy to hide from the crowd and live out the summer in peace. Tourists know Lama Monachile beach, undisputed king of souvenir photos and Red Bull Cliff Diving, but the real challenge is to find the most hidden cove, perhaps near Costa Ripagnola, which should soon be declared a protected park.

Giovinazzo

Halfway between Trani and Bari, Giovinazzo is an enchanting village overlooking the Adriatic Sea, not to be missed if you love walks along the seafront, small ports with colorful boats and culture. Its streets, in fact, guard precious historical buildings such as the Arch of Trajan, the ancient gateway to the village, the Aragonese walls and tower, palaces and numerous churches, including the Romanesque cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta embellished with Norman and oriental elements that stand out along the city skyline.

Tremiti Islands

Tremiti Islands 

The Tremiti Islands are the most recent beaches to receive a Blue Flag rating: they are the icing on the cake of Puglia, an archipelago of five islands that have been inhabited since the stories of ancient gods were created.  However, the crossing from being considered a place of confinement during Fascism, to pearl of the Adriatic was long.  But it had more to do with history than the sea.  The waters of the enchanting Tremiti Islands are part of a marine reserve. Their wildlife is spectacular, and diving enthusiasts know it well.  Bring decent hiking shoes for wandering the trails and climbing down to coves.  

Trani 

Margherita Di Savoia

This is the only city in Puglia to earn a Blue Flag recognition with the specification "Urban Center / Canna Fesca". In addition to being named after the queen consort (of Umberto I) and being considered the city of flamingos, Margherita di Savoia is known for its immense salt pans - the largest in Europe - and also for the spa, whose waters seem to have been very popular with Hannibal (the Carthigianian general who led elephants across the alps to fight Rome). The popular beach resorts with pools and facilities for children are one on top of the other, but the beaches are spacious and sandy.

Valle d'Itria

Egnazia

Have you ever happened to take a swim with buried treasure? Well, it’s possible in Puglia. Egnazia is an ancient city overlooking the Adriatic Sea, whose origins are lost in time, up to the Bronze Age. Traces of historic settlements reach as far as the shore, the archaeological park is always worth a visit, and those who want to respect the Blue Flag guidelines should stop at the nearby white houses.The area is in the middle of Valle d'Itria, a favorite destination for tourism and celebrities from the entertainment world. Diving in the Archeolido Penagrande area is like a film, swimming around the remains of the port of the old Egnazia, which is almost totally submerged.  If you are staying in Monopoli, book a gazebo at one of the beachside resorts in Egnazia for a day.

Monopoli

Monopoli is a delightful old town forty- five minutes from Bari, and less known among tourists, with excellent restaurants. For a true southern Italian experience, stroll through the historic center or sip a chilled glass of white wine in a beautiful piazza and watch life unfold. It lands in the region of traditional masseria farmhouses, and we highly recommend staying in one if you are traveling as a family (one of our favorites is Masseria Torrepietra).  Head to the Calamarena beach in the morning and snag a sunbed, and later a refreshing Aperol spritz.

Alberobello

Trulli of AlberobelloAlberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage site where you will find a unique landscape dominated by trulli. It is a must- see in Puglia, despite it being touristy.  Spend a morning, before the crowds arrive, photographing the picturesque streets, eating the infamous Pasqualino Sandwich, and shopping for trinkets.  The town survives on tourism so if you can make a small purchase from one of the artisans it will go a long way toward preserving this unique corner of the world.

Taranto

The province of Taranto boasts three Blue Flag resorts: Maruggio with Commenda, Campomarino and Acqua dolce. Passing by on the Ionian Sea, the transparent water steals the show, but the wide beaches and the almost intact dunes are an excellent side dish. It is a special piece of Puglia for a number of reasons. Despite the influx of tourists, it is easy to find a less frequented corner of paradise here, for example in the area of Monaco Mirante.Moving a little further south you can reach the famous 'sarcophagi of the king' (near the nature reserve of the mouth of the river Chidro), and even further down there is Torre Colimena, with the Salina dei Monaci so loved by migratory birds, including flamingos.

Beaches of Taranto

Located along the Ionian-Tarantino-Salentine coast, Campomarino is known for olive groves and sand dunes.  In this corner of paradise, places of interest include Porto Cesareo (one of the main destinations of summer tourism) and Manduria, famous for its Primitivo wine.Tuareg Lido is a strategic beach club in the area, with typical Puglian hospitality and everything you need for a relaxing vacation. The sea is extraordinary, a real jewel of nature set among the sand dunes.

Close by you will find an ancient tower invaded by salt from the Mediterranean and fig trees. A spring water source (River Chidro) flows into the Ionian Sea a few meters from another popular summer tourist destination and seaside resort of Puglia, San Pietro in Bevagna. It is an incredible destination for swimming because of the clear and clean water.  

Useful tips

People of PugliaPh: LauraVl / Shutterstock.comPuglia is a very large region. Considering its more than 400 km long, exploring the entire region in a week or so is definitely impossible. Getting around with a car will make traveling through Puglia much easier.  In fact, we would encourage renting a car rather than attempting to traverse the region by train or bus. If you plan on flying to Puglia, Brinidisi and Bari are the two main airports and have rental cars available.The best time to visit Puglia is either in June or September.  Italians have their summer vacations in July and August and Puglia is a popular destination for both young people and families.  If you’re imagining discovering a hidden cove on a beach somewhere, your chances of living out that dream are higher in mid- September.While traveling to Italy is often accompanied with a long list of restaurants and dishes to try, in Puglia it really makes sense to prepare meals at home if you can.  The ingredients are incredibly fresh and the production processes haven’t changed in centuries, and it’s a great way to indulge in the slow - paced Pugliese lifestyle.  Not to mention you will avoid extra fees, or the “coperto”, at restaurants which tend to serve the same menu throughout the region.There are so many places to visit in Puglia. The region offers everything a visitor could wish for: from the sea to the countryside, from cultural centers to national parks, from picture-postcard villages to archaeological sites. But, in the end, what makes Puglia so special are its people. Their welcoming nature, combined with their food culture and their constant invitation to try the local specialties, is something rare and to be enjoyed at least once in a lifetime.