With hundreds of miles of coastline, food worth travelling for, and attractive towns to wander around, the southern region of Italy is somewhat of a hotspot. Just because it’s not possible to holiday in Puglia at the moment, it doesn’t mean trips can’t be planned for the future. With that in mind, we’ve put together a mini-guide – take a virtual tour and earmark places to visit in Apulia when it’s safe to travel again…
A week in Puglia is a lovely amount of time, but two is even better. That way you can stay in a few different places and really make the most of exploring the heel of Italy’s boot.
We recommend hiring a car for getting out and about – yes, there is decent public transport, but having your own wheels makes things a lot easier, especially in terms of reaching off the beaten track beaches and villages (of which there are many).
Having said that, if you’re planning on doing little more than relaxing and laying by the hotel pool – and there’s nothing wrong with that – not having a vehicle will matter less.
Where to stay and what to do in Puglia
A short one-hour drive south of Brindisi airport takes you through Lecce and down to the coastal town of Otranto – the home of ancient city walls, a castle, and aqua waters.
Beach bunnies are spoilt for choice in this area, with some of the pearls of Salento close by. Porto Miggiano in Santa Cesarea Terme is a picturesque U-shaped bay surrounded by cliffs (the neighbourhood is also known for its hot mineral springs), while Porto Badisco is a secluded cove south of Otranto – take a picnic, and enjoy it in the shelter of the nearby pine grove.
Peaceful Baia dei Turchi is a relaxing spot too – a sheltered inlet reachable on foot through a forest. And Torre dell’Orso is home to a kilometre stretch of sand, and the ‘two sisters’ rocks poking out of the sea.
Further southwards is Leuca and the tip of the heel – from there, take a boat trip and explore the grottoes before heading up to the west coast’s Ionian waters where you’ll find Pescoluse, aka the ‘Maldives of Salento’. Need we say more?
And then to the walled Old Town of Gallipoli: the historic centre is situated on a tiny island, connected to the mainline by a bridge and flanked by the sandy beaches of Rivabella and the Green Bay.
As your base in the southern section of Puglia, we recommend checking into Palazzo Circolone: located in Poggiardo’s main square, the charming 7-room property is set in a grand old palace and offers an elegant place to eat, drink, and stay.
Palazzo Guglielmo – Albergo Diffuso is also a top choice: an 18th-century medieval palace transformed into an enchanting hotel in the sleepy village of Vignacastrisi. As is Palazzo Ducale Venturi, a characterful and romantic spot nestled in the heart of dinky Minervino, just 10 minutes from the sea and 15 from Otranto.
Leaving the south of Puglia, the west coast is packed with pretty places to discover. Catch a few rays at spots such as Torre Lapillo, San Pietro in Bevagna and Dune di Campomarino, before spending a night or two at Masseria Bagnara. Featuring chic, minimalist design, this 15-room hideaway houses a spa and is 40 minutes from Taranto.
Back over on the east, the whitewashed walls of Ostuni call and the town’s labyrinth of enchanting alleyways. Stay at Relais La Sommita and be greeted by a boutique property sitting in a 16th-century building, hidden away in the historic heart. This chic retreat is also where Cielo – the Michelin star restaurant – is located.
Fancy staying a little out of the bustle? Masseria Montenapoleone is the place for you: surrounded by the Itria Valley yet just 20 minutes from Ostuni, this hip getaway is a picture-perfect agriturismo, and comes complete with a pool and restaurant.
Borgo Canonica is another excellent option: 12 kilometres west of Ostuni, 14 elegant suites are set across sympathetically restored trulli – the quirky stone houses with conical roofs that are typical of the area. And if you’re keen to learn more about the round limestone structures, World Heritage Alberobello is close by.
A day trip out to the coast will take you to the natural beauty of Torre Guaceto – a protected marine area and nature reserve, and a paradise for birdwatching, snorkelling, and hiking.
Hop in the car northwards and you’ll reach Polignano a Mare, a picturesque town made famous by Cala Porto, the small pebble beach surrounded by cliffs looking out to aquamarine waters. Keep an eye out for rock jumpers and lose your stomach as they take the plunge.
Cala Ponte Resort & Spa sits just on the outskirts: soak up your fill of sunshine and spa treatments at this modern hotel less than an hour from both Bari and Brindisi airport.
Let’s not forget the top of Puglia, where you’ll find Gargano National Park. Lay your head at Masseria La Chiusa Delle More, a 10-room farmhouse combining top food with a relaxed atmosphere. And it’s ideally positioned between the sea and olive groves, with views to the 120,000-hectare park.
Activity-wise, take a boat over to the Tremiti Islands with their wild beaches and coves, or head to Baia delle Zagare, where a pair of distinctive rock formations will confirm you’re in the right place.
When to visit Puglia
With a temperate Mediterranean climate, the season for visiting Puglia is pretty broad. On average there are a whopping 300 sunny days in the region each year, and even during the wetter winter months rainfall is quite low. Temperatures start creeping up from the end of April, with May seeing early 20s and June moving into the high 20s, making them top periods to visit.
July and August see Italian holidaymakers flock to the area, and with that things get busier and more expensive. But that also means more festivals, music events and concerts. It’s hotter too, with the thermostat travelling into the 30s, and the Adriatic rising to the 20s.
As September rolls around, the gauge falls slightly to that of June’s levels, making this another popular month – numbers are lower too. And even into October the mercury is still in the 20s.
Food and Drink
Home to an amazing array of produce and passionate, skilled artisans, Puglian cuisine tells a story and offers surprising flavours. Do try pane di Altamura, a bread with PDO-protected status. Made using specific varieties of wheat, plus water, yeast, and local salt, it stays fresh for up to two weeks.
Pasta-wise, orecchiette – meaning little ears – is the most famous; try it mixed with bitter greens such as cime di rapa (broccoli rabe or turnip tops). There’s also sagne (rolled ribbons of fettuccine), troccoli (a thick spaghetti), and capunti (convex and oval, like an open pea pod).
Spaghetti ai ricci is another much-loved dish: super simple, it uses the roe of the region’s sea urchins mixed with white wine, olive oil, garlic and chilli. Mussels are widely eaten too, as are lamb and goat. And with burrata so popular these days, mention should be made that Puglia is the birthplace of the creamy cow’s milk cheese. Where better to sample it?
No stay would be complete without visiting a winery or two: generations old, you’ll get to meet the owners and enjoy tastings of grapes such as primitivo, negroamaro and verdeca. Mottura, Antica Enotria, Tenute Rubino, Tormaresca, and Terra Jovia are just some of the vineyards to choose from.
Puglia is served by two main airports: Bari and Brindisi. From the UK, British Airways, EasyJet, and Ryanair fly to both in around 3 hours.