Fore those who want to experience the deep-rooted southern Italian culture and enjoy a variety of picturesque towns, beautiful coastlines and unspoilt nature, a Puglia road trip is highly recommended
Let’s go back 4 years in time to July 2016. At that time Jan and I were together for one year and we planned our first big trip as a couple, a 14 day road trip through Puglia, the southernmost province of Italy. This was long before the start of our travel blog. But then I already kept a written diary. And today I would like to tell you the story of one of our most beautiful trips through Italy with plenty of tips about which places you should not miss on a Puglia road trip.
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Why should you do a Plugia road trip in the first place?
Puglia is situated in the heel of Italy’s boot and is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination during the European summer. Tourism has increased significantly during the recent years thanks to the many beautiful photos on various social media channels. Puglia is famous for its traditional trulli, better known as those typical little, white houses with characteristic pointed roofs. Taking a picture with a trullo or better staying in one is now high on every avid traveler’s bucket list.
But Puglia has much more to offer than just picturesque, whitewashed villages with pointed houses. This is only a fraction of what you can experience and therefore I can only encourage you to take enough time to explore all aspects of this enchanting region.
The landscape of Puglia
Puglia offers a varied landscape of dazzling nature including two beautiful national parks, azure blue bays, the most spectacular sea caves and impressive rock formations. But also a vast countryside with vineyards, olive and almond trees.
The history of Puglia
History is clearly tangible in Puglia. Several ruling peoples left their mark. You can still discover it today in the medieval villages with winding alleys and many castles, but also in the richly decorated baroque cities such as Lecce. In the countryside you can still find and visit a lot of trulli, which I already mentioned, and masserie which are historic farms.
Culture of Puglia
Besides architecture, you can soak up this deep-rooted Italian culture by observing the daily life of the Puglians. Stroll through the historic streets of the towns and cities and breathe in the scent of freshly washed clothes hanging to dry in between balconies above your head. Be amazed how Italian mothers make their orecchiette from scratch in no time in front of their houses. Enjoy the moment when the local fishermen moor with their catch of the day in one of the many picturesque harbour villages. Admire the wall-mounted crosses and figurines of all kinds of saints in the historic towns. Because yes, the population here is still predominantly Catholic. And above all, taste the local cuisine as much as possible. Immerse yourself in the culture of Puglia.
How can you travel to Puglia?
From Belgium it is best to travel by plane to Puglia. You can also travel by car if you don’t mind driving about 1800 km before you can start your Puglia road trip. Of course, then you could also include other beautiful Italian places in your itinerary, such as the Italian lake district in North Italy, Cinque Terre, Florence , spend a few days in Rome or visit Naples, drive down the Amalfi coast and you can even take the boat to Palermo in Sicily. But then it will be a slightly more extensive trip.
Back to Puglia! International airports can be found in Bari, Brindisi and Taranto. We flew from Brussels to Bari via Alitalia. But I remember that we had a delay. In the meantime we flew with Alitalia again and that was also a big disappointment, so I wouldn’t really recommend this airline company.
You can rent a car from any international airport through various car rental companies. But it’s best to book online before you travel there. We rented a car with Avis and were very satisfied with the service. Here are some useful tips for driving in Italy.
When is the best time to travel to Puglia?
The best time to travel to Puglia is from May to October. Since Puglia has a Mediterranean climate, there is little chance of rainfall and a lot of sun during this period. If you have the chance to travel before or after peak season I would definitely recommend this. During the summer months of July and August, the beautiful coastal cities in Puglia attract many national and international tourists.
Our Puglia road trip
We had 2 weeks to discover Puglia. We already mapped out a route with the destinations we definitely wanted to visit. Although in some places it was sometimes a matter of choosing what we should or shouldn’t do. In order to travel as freely as possible, we had not pre-booked stays and had basic camping equipment in our luggage if we felt like camping.
We decided to visit Foggia, the most northern province of Puglia, first. This because of the beautiful nature and impressive coastline with dazzling bays and impressive rock structures. We wanted to acclimatize for a few days before we went inland. Mattinata was the perfect place for this and also a good base to discover more of Foggia. To keep it adventurous, we chose to camp at camping Vignanotica. Now you already can rent apartments at this campsite. The camping itself was not so special, but the location was especially sublime. It is located in the middle of the Gargano National Park and a stone’s throw from the most beautiful bays I have ever seen. Baia Vignanotica, a beautiful bay surrounded by high cliffs and sea caves with a pebble beach and azure blue water, was only a 500 m walk away. It was so peaceful and the coves between the rocks gave you a lot of privacy while sunbathing. Most important, there was a beach bar to provide you with the necessary aperitivo.
From this campsite various hiking trails started where you could reach some of the most beautiful bays. We walked about 9 km to Baia Delle Zagare, known for the beautiful rock formations that rise from the sea. The hike itself was tough because of the hot temperatures, but the view was great. And frankly, the view during the walk was much more spectacular than in the bay itself.
In baia della Zagare it was significantly busier. This bay is located at the beautiful Hotel Baia Delle Zagare, a must for people who absolutely don’t like camping out, but still want to stay in this beautiful region.
From Mattinata we took a few day trips to the surrounding towns and main attractions nearby. First we visited the cozy city of Vieste. The historic centre of Vieste is super pleasant to walk through. Here you’ll find many spots where you have a fantastic view over the Adriatic sea. Some other beautiful sights are the highest point of the town Punta San Francesco, Castello di Frederico II, Cattedrale di Sante Maria and Museo Malacologico with collection of over 15000 shells from all over the world.
Another must do is the local market with local products, which is located in the modern center of Vieste. Around the city you’ll also find some beautiful beaches to relax during the day. Viesta comes alive especially at night with its many cozy, local restaurants and bars.
If you want your stay in Foggia to be a bit more vibrant than in Mattinata, I recommend you to book a stay in Vieste. Some of my recommendations are the Pizzomuno Vieste Palace Hotel, the Forte 2 Hotel, or the Falcone hotel.
From Vieste we left for Peschici, a small coastal town known for its white houses with domed roofs. On the way to Peschici we saw high structures protruding from the sea which are trabucchi. We learned that these used to be part of an old fishing technique. Some of these trabucci have now been turned into restaurants. If you want to eat delicious local fish dishes, we can definitely recommend Ristorante Il Trabucco.
Peschici is a very small, but cozy town with a harbor. It’s nice to get lost in the maze of small streets with white houses. This town is called the pearl of Gargano because of its pearly white beaches. So besides exploring the picturesque town, you also enjoy a day of sunbathing on a beautiful sandy beach. Peschici can also be a good base to explore Foggia. Here are my recommendations for a wonderful and authentic overnight stay: the beautiful B&B Gli Orti Di Malva and Masseria La Chiusa Delle More.
Vico del Gargano
The road from Peschici to Vico del Gargano is beautiful. You drive through a wooded area with large Aleppo pine trees. When you arrive in Vico Del Gargano it is as if you literally go back in time. The historic center consists of three medieval neighborhoods that have remained completely intact. The town itself is like a maze of small streets and alleys with picturesque houses. It’s also impressive to see that these medieval houses are still inhabited today.
Completely captivated by this town, we got lost and it was not easy to find a way out of the maze. We were exploring Vico del Gargano just after noon during the pauso, so there was no one to be seen at all. Luckily, an old lady walking her dog kindly helped us get out of this walled city.
If you like nature, hiking and cycling then you should definitely plan a day trip or at least stop at Foresta Umbra. This forest with its tall beech trees is called the forest of shade, and for good reason. Here you can enjoy a challenging hike or mountain bike ride in all coolness thanks to the shade provided by these impressive, beautiful trees. It’s best to first stop at an information point to pick up a map of Foresta Umbra. I read everywhere that the routes were well marked, but we didn’t experience at all. We got lost a few times during our hike, but maybe that’s due to our map reading skills. The walking route itself was great fun and we thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful piece of nature.
After our pleasant walk in Foresta Umbra we decided to visit Monte Sant ‘Angelo. This is one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in Europe and is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. So it’s a real important sight that attracts many tourists. We arrived in the early evening when most day-trippers already returned home.
When we arrived at the top of the mountain where the famous sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo is located, our eye was particularly drawn to the beautiful panorama over the Adriatic sea and the surrounding landscape.
Just there, before you enter the historic center of the city, is a village square where the locals meet up to enjoy the sunset together. We decided to do the same. We quickly bought a glass of Prosecco and a beer at the stall in the middle of the square and claimed a front row seat to enjoy the spectacle. This was one of the most memorable moments of our Puglia road trip. After a beautiful sunset we strolled through the historic center of the town and enjoyed a pizza with a delicious glass of wine in a local restaurant.
Another must do is visiting the Tremiti islands. You can reach these islands by ferry from the port of Vieste, Peschici or Rodi Garganico. Unfortunately we were unable to visit the Tremiti islands ourselves due to time constraints. But they are said to be beautiful and absolutely worth it.
Barletta – Andria – Trani
After a great start of our Puglia road trip in Foggia we made our way to the inland of Puglia. But before we could admire the real trulli, we decided to stop in the coastal town of Trani. Trani was a nice change from the small medieval towns in Foggia. It’s a slightly larger city with a modern and historical area. In the modern part you can shop till you drop. In the historic center around the harbor you can stroll through the streets with cozy restaurants, bars and local boutiques. Don’t forget to buy a bottle of delicious local wine in one of the many trani (old inns). In the city of Trani you can also visit some historical sights such as the beautiful Romanesque Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino and the Castello Svevo, but you can also just enjoy the sea, sun and beach.
Trani is the ideal base to explore this area better. After all, some of Puglia’s most impressive sights can be found in this region.
Margherita di Savoia
Only a 20 minute drive from Trani you can find one of the largest salt pans in Europe. Unique is that you can walk around on the salt pans. And with a bit of luck you can spot flamingos in the adjacent salt lakes.
Castel del Monte
The world famous Castel del Monte is only a short 40 minute drive from Trani. Built on a rocky outcrop, the octagonal castle rises proudly above the horizon and is surrounded by wheat fields, vineyards and olive trees. You can visit the castle freely or opt for a tour. At getourguide you will find a wide variety of different tours such as a sunset tour and food tour, which are really worthwhile.
After a night in Trani we made our way to Valle D’Itria, the heart of Puglia. An unmissable destination on your Puglia road trip. The valley extends over the province of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto. Valle D’Itria is best known for its beautiful ancient trulli. The circular whitewashed houses with their pointed roofs that I already mentioned earlier.
Grotti di Castellana
Before admiring the trulli, we decided to visit the Grotti di Castellana. A not to miss activity when traveling through Puglia. The caves can only be visited via a guided tour. Tickets can be obtained at the box office. I remember that we got there for the first tour and that a lot of tourists were already lining up to get a ticket. So be well on time if you want to join the tour at a certain time.
The tours are in group and well organized. You can choose between a long (2 hours) and a short (1 hour) tour. We chose the long tour. Do not forget a sweater, because it’s fairly cold so deep underground. During the high season there are so many visitors. So you can see the groups walking through the cave in front and behind you. But this doesn’t detract from how impressive these underground walkways are. You will be amazed with many ooooh and aaaah moments. And if you think you’ve seen it all, you can admire the white cave as icing on the cake. A real WOW moment
Spend the night in a Trullo
After our visit to the impressive caves we left for Locorotondo where we booked a stay in a real trullo. I was really looking forward to this. The road to Locorotondo was beautiful, we drove through the real Italian countryside and through the narrowest streets with the most beautiful, authentic trulli on either side. When we arrived at our airbnb Trulli Sabrina, a little outside of the center of Locorotondo, we were speechless. The large garden and the beautiful view over the region immediately made us long for an lazy evening enjoying the sunset with a glass of wine.
Sooner rather than later, we drove to the first best convenience store bought wine, cheese, olives and some bread and enjoyed a beautiful sunset in our garden.
Unfortunately, Trulli Sabrina no longer exists, but here are some recommendations for staying in an authentic trullo near Locorotondo: Navolte Trulli e Quiete, Trulli Isago, and Villa Trullo Panorama.
If I can give you one piece of advice, book one with a pool so you can get a little refreshment during the hottest hours of the day.
Locorotondo itself is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It’s also sometimes called the balcony of Valle D’Itria. Locorotondo is located slightly higher, which gives you a phenomenal view over the landscape consisting of trulli, vineyards and olive trees.
The most beautiful and authentic trulli can be found in the village of Alberobello. It goes without saying that this village attracts a lot of tourists during the high season. I would therefore not recommend staying here, but a bit outside the city. Touristy or not, Alberobello is definitely worth a visit. Even to only admire the beautiful view from the terrace of the Belvedere di Manfredi bar.
In the center there are local shops located inside these old trulli so you can easily take a look at how a trullo looks like inside.
One of the most pleasant villages to wander in this region is by far Ostuni. This place is also known as the white city of Puglia. Especially the small, whitewashed houses have something to do with that. In the labyrinth of small streets and even smaller alleys you can walk for hours and hours. Behind every corner there is always another surprise. Here you’ll also find trendy lounge bars and cozy restaurants.
Although Ostuni is a bit more touristy, this place is worth visiting. Like Locorotondo, it’s a perfect base to explore the surroundings. If you would like to stay here, I can recommend the following accommodations: Masseria Grieco, Masseria Salinola and La Dimora di Marco.
You should also visit Martina Franca, the capital of the Baroque in Valle d’Itria. Wander through the centro storica, feast your eyes and enjoy the beautiful architecture and soak up the typical southern Italian atmosphere. Or better, book a private tour with Get your guide and learn all about what happened in this city in the past.
After a few days inland without a refreshing swim, we longed for a day at the beach. I read in a magazine that Porto Cesareo along the Ionian coast is one of the most beautiful beaches in Puglia. This place was not originally on our itinerary, but that is why we love taking a road trip. The freedom you have to choose your own path and to make up a route along the way. So we made the decision to spend 1 day Porte Cesareo.
The beaches of Porto Cesareo are indeed beautiful. Vast sandy beaches with beautiful azure blue water. Unfortunately you have to share this with the many other tourists during the high season. We decided to make the best of it and it was a very nice day despite the crowds. I personally didn’t think the village of Porto Cesareo was that spectacular, so I’d rather recommend you to look for a place to stay in or around Gallipoli.
Gallipoli the pearl on the Ionian coast, but also known as the Ibiza of Puglia because of the many beach bars and night clubs. Unfortunately we were only there in the morning and we could not experience the nightlife. Gallipoli charmed me from the first minute. Again a coastal town with a cozy harbor, a medieval castle and a maze of small streets and little alleys. We found the nicest shops and went souvenir shopping right away. Here you can also eat the tastiest Italian fish dishes. You should definitely try zuppa di Pesce.
After wandering around Gallipoli for a while I regretted that we had stayed in Porte Cesareo and not here. How I would have liked to experience the atmosphere here in the evening. If you are thinking of staying overnight, here are my recommendations: Palazzo del Corso Boutique Hotel, Palazzo Presta or I Bastioni San Domenico. Gallipoli is definitely a great base to explore the surrounding areas. If you want to stay a bit longer, check out this amazing Gallipoli guide.
Our next stop was Andrano. The people who know Puglia a little, will wonder why Andrano? Well, since this town is located approximately in the middle between Marina di Leuca and Otranto, we found it the ideal base to explore the southernmost region of Puglia. Andrano is a quiet village where you can enjoy a wonderfully authentic stay in peace. Some possible options are Casale del Forno, B&b La Balaustra or Agriturismo Salento Pietralata.
We decided to walk to the coast from our agriturismo, hoping to take a dip in the water. And what we found there was fantastic, a small rocky beach for locals with an amazing beach bar. And not a tourist in sight, except for us. We enjoyed a refreshing swim and delicious aperitivo at the beach bar.
Santa Maria di Leuca
Santa Maria di Leuca is the southernmost point in Puglia. Here the Ionian and Adriatic sea come together and you can reach the most beautiful sea caves from a boat. We decided to rent a motor boat for a day to discover the coastline. We sailed along both the Ionian and Adriatic coastlines. At each cave we stopped for a swim and sometimes we decided to float around at nice spot for a while to enjoy the sun. It was great! But be prepared and bring plenty of drinks and snacks.
The city with its beautiful 19th century villas, lively harbor and impressive lighthouse is also worth a visit. If you would like to know more about the history of Santa Maria di Leuca, you can book an interesting private tour at get your guide.
We decided to go for diner in Otranto and visit the city in the evening. This may not have been our best idea. It was so crowded. In the narrow alleys we had to wait in queue to get through the crowd. Searching for a suitable restaurant was difficult as well and when we found something where there was place to sit, it was a real disappointment. We received frozen food and not the tasty, traditional Italian cuisine that we were used to already. After this, we decided to have a drink somewhere, but all the bars were also very busy. We didn’t feel like looking for a place where we could sit. We headed back to our agriturismo in Andrano where we enjoyed a delicious glass of wine before bed.
According to the travel guides, Otranto should be a fantastic city, and I believe that because the city itself is really beautiful, but the crowds detracted from the atmosphere. Would I advise against this destination? Certainly not, we were probably there at the wrong time. Just keep in mind that it can get very busy here during the high season.
Grotta della Poesia
When you’re in the neighborhood of Otranto, don’t forget to visit Grotte Della Poesia at Roca Vecchia. This is the most famous sea cave in Puglia. The rocks have formed a natural swimming pool with beautiful azure blue water. Daredevils can also dive down from the rocks here.
We passed here on the way to Lecce. It was still quite early in the morning and there were only a few people. I enjoyed a refreshing morning dip in the azure blue water while Jan dove in from the rock. It was amazing An hour later, the tourists slowly arrived. So if you want to be able to enjoy Grotta della Poesia in all peace, you definitely should visit early.
This beautiful baroque city is also called the Florence of the south. The city is slightly more compact than the well-known Florence, but this means that everything can be reached on foot. A walk through the city will take you back in time. Visit the Roman amphitheater and admire the beautiful Sante Croce basilica, explore the historical part of the city and, above all, enjoy the delights of this beautiful town.
If you would like to try something unique, definitely check out Getyourguide’s street tasting and walking tour. This is such an original way to explore the city.
Polignano a Mare
The last days of our Puglia road trip, we decided to stay a few days in Polignano a Mare. This way we could relax a bit before returning home and also explore the surroundings. Polignano a Mare is a medieval town built on a steep cliff. These cliffs are known to many cliff divers. Both from the cliff and from below on the pebble beach you have stunning views of the Adriatic sea and the city.
Within the impressive old city walls you’ll find the historic part of the city consisting of a maze of streets, picturesque white houses, local shops, cozy bars and delicious restaurants. There are also some sights such as Chiesa Martrice di Santa Maria Assunta and the contemporary art museum Fondazione Pino Pascali.
We especially enjoyed the sun, sea, beach and good food and drinks. Some recommendations are: Osteria Piga a delicious local restaurant, Hoops Birreria a very nice cafe and Beluga, a bar for tasty cocktails. Be sure to go and drink a Mojito at la casa del Mojito.
In Poligano a Mare you also have the famous restaurante Grotta Palazzese that is often referred to as one of the most romantic restaurants in the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to dine there at the time. Be sure to book a table in advance if you would like to have diner there.
A slightly larger coastal city near Polignano a Mare is Monopoli. It was remarkably quieter here than in the other cities. Monopoli attracts fewer tourists because it is less known. But that’s what makes it so much more fun. In the historic center you can walk around without anyone getting in your way.
Another advantage is that there are no tourist prices. So you can enjoy local specialties at a cheaper prices in bars and restaurants. Monopoli also has some attractions such as the beautiful Romanesque Cathedrale di Santa Maria della Madia and the accompanying archaeological museum Museo e Sito Archeologico Cripta Romanica. In short, Monopoli is definitely worth a visit.
Since we flew back home from Bari, this was the last city to visit on our Puglia tour. Bari is the capital of Puglia and consists of a new and old part. There are many things to do in Bari, but we especially enjoyed discovering the old town where you can still experience the traditional southern Italian culture. Get lost in the maze of small streets and explore the city with your senses.
Enjoy the colors and scents of freshly laundered clothes hanging on the washing wires between the balconies to dry. And watch the real Italian house mothers make fresh orechiette at their front door.
In the modern part of the city, you have to visit champagnerie Bari where you can taste delicious cocktails with champagne. The interior of the bar is completely decorated as in the 1920s.
This was our ultimate Puglia road trip. I hope I have been able to fuel your wanderlust to discover this beautiful region in southern Italy.
Is a Puglia road trip something for you? Or do you have any questions about this Puglia Itinerary? Let me know in the comments.
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