Though it is lined with some truly breathtaking beaches, Puglia is still very much a hidden corner of Italy, Tucked away in the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’, many of the region’s (and even the country’s) best-kept secrets lie in the pretty communities that fill this region. You will find towns and village decorated with stunning architecture ranging from baroque architecture to the famous whitewashed trulli.
We’ve picked eight of the many wonderful towns waiting to be discovered in Puglia, perfect for day trips from our luxury hotels & villas in the area.
A popular small town recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Alberobello is now famous for its signature trulli, traditional whitewashed buildings with conical roofs. Some 1500 of them line the streets! The story as to why the town is full of these buildings is an amusing one – an 18th-century nobleman, Count Acquaviva, decreed that all houses in the town be constructed in this style, normally used for farm sheds. He did this so he didn’t have to pay as much tax, since there were very few ‘houses’ there. We’re told he got away with this trick.
On one side of Alberobello, you will find mainly souvenir shops selling trulli-themed objects, though across the road on Aia Piccola you’ll not only discover real homes but avoid the tourist crowds too. We suggest you do most of your wandering on this side.
Alberobello also has some delightful churches and a number of museums dedicated to daily life in the region – it pays to explore!
Bari is one of Puglia’s largest towns, surrounded by historic walls and jutting out towards the sea. To see
the best of Bari, make sure you navigate your way into the old town, where life is lived out on the charming medieval streets. From dawn ‘til dusk, you’ll see the townspeople playing, working, chatting and napping out on the streets, with the women even creating one of Puglia’s delicacies, orecchiette pasta, for all to see. The clever floor paving also tells you how to navigate through the old town – follow the white limestone to delve further into the maze, or follow the black stone to find your way out.
A must see destinations in Bari is the Basilica di San Nicola, an important pilgrimage destination and where the bones of St Nicholas (otherwise known as Father Christmas) are interred. Another imposing sight is the Swabian Castle, an important Norman castle now used as an art space.
Shoppers will be in heaven in Bari – as a cruise ship destination, the area close to the waterfront is full of high-end fashion boutiques and luxury shopping destinations.
Situated just 8km from the Adriatic Sea, Ostuni is ideal both for a town and a coastal getaway. Perched high on a hilltop overlooking the glittering sea, here you can truly lose yourself wandering the maze-like streets of this dazzling white city. Take it easy and explore the hidden little delights discovered in a narrow alleyway, at a market stall or cafe.
For the curious, Ostuni has a range of sights. The town features a number of towers, not unlike those of San Gimignano in Tuscany. They were built to see off Turkish invaders in the past. There are also palazzos that belonged to the town’s most powerful families during the Renaissance that feature beautiful architecture.
Masseria Salinola is located close to the town, for those who want to stay nearby.
Perfect for some peace and quiet, Locorotondo is a labyrinth of pristinely-kept streets, where the townspeople show the pride they have for their town in the brightly coloured flowers decorating every window and balcony. After a couple of hours strolling, enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the charming cafés or trattorias.
Locorotondo is also the centre of the Locorotondo DOC, makers of a delightful white wine, in both still and sparkling varieties. When driving in or out of the town, you might like to stop at one of the many wineries that offer cellar door tastings and sales – there are many to explore!
Masseria Salinola is a wonderful boutique hotel within easy driving distance of Locorotondo.
Another stunning seaside town, Gallipoli is lined with seafront walls that are perfect for walking and filled with medieval architecture. Connected to the mainland via a causeway, head to the old town, where you’ll come across the impressive Granafei Palace. The palace is home to an original underground olive press which dates back to 1600, giving insight into how workers ground and pressed the olives in often dark and miserable conditions.
Alongside the beautiful medieval churches and buildings of Gallipoli, visitors will be delighted to find a number of nearby beaches and waterparks, such as such Lido Blue Bay, Zeus and Samsara, perfect for both swimming and sunbathing.
Masseria Ceratonia is ideally located, close to the town, for those who wish to stay nearby.
Managing to be both lively and relaxed in equal measure, Lecce is perhaps best known for its stunning Baroque architecture, where churches, cathedrals and palaces are lavished with delicately carved columns, cherubs and gargoyles. Take your camera to take some pictures of the facade of Chiesa di Santa Croce – a riotous display of vegetables and grotesque figures. By night, the townspeople can be seen roaming the streets on their evening ‘passeggiata‘ or evening walk, enjoying a gelato or crepe.
One of the unique sights to be found in Lecce is the Museo Faggiano. This unique and wonderful museum was established after Luciano Faggiano decided to dig a sewer pipe under his trattoria in 2000. He expected it to take an afternoon. Instead, he chanced upon a cell of the Knights Templars, a tomb predating Christ and a warren of medieval tunnels. Today, the city of Lecce has opened the property to visitors, where you can see a cross-section of over 3000 years of Italian history.
Villa Magnolia, Masseria Torre Cocarro and Masseria Torre Maizza are all within easy driving distance of Lecce. Palazzo Guglielmo – Albergo Diffuso is another gem of a boutique hotel close by, located in an 18th century villa.
Palazzo Guglielmo – Albergo Diffuso
Making up part of the Grecia Salentina, Corigliano d’Otranto dates back to the time of the Byzantines and retains a rich Greek heritage. Its medieval castle, built in 1465, is perhaps the main attraction, and stills stands proudly despite facing the Turkish invasion. It has been decorated further since, having had a moat and four round towers added, as well as grand baroque details added as it was transformed into a palace.
Corigliano d’Otranto also has the distinction of being Italy’s ‘most philosophical town’, a legacy of its ancient Greek heritage. Quotations from famous philosophers are written on ceramic plaques around the lovely, historic centre of the town and the town has an official municipal philosopher to dispense advice.
Our pick for Corigliano d’Otranto is Relais Masseria Petrusella only a short distance away.
Located next to an impossibly turquoise sea, the beautiful town of Otranto is in a perfect coastal location and also boasts some stunning buildings. It has a rich history thanks to its prime location, which has made it a key target for a number of invasions, such as the Turkish invasion of 1480, with signs of its multicultural past still seen throughout the town. The cathedral is Otranto’s main landmark – a damaged survivor of past invasions, it still holds the glory of having one of the oldest mosaic floors in Europe.
Otranto is also the base for boat tours up the Salerno coast. This allows visitors to get amazing views of the caves and coves lining the coast that can’t be seen from land. Have a browse online before you go to find one that’s right for you – some can go quite far afield.
Have we missed something special in Puglia? Let us know and we will feature your advice in a future newsletter!