If you are a sun seeker, love beaches and hundreds of miles of coastline with crystal blue-green waters, it’s time to visit Puglia. Located in southern Italy, the “heel” of the boot, where there are ancient farmlands with 65 million olive trees, whitewashed hill towns, fairytale-like villages, castles, and spectacular caves!
With the capital city Bari to the north, and the baroque city Lecce to the south, there’s plenty to explore in between from the Murgia Hills to the Itria Valley and the coastline.
Sharing highlights and the best places to go, stay, dine & spa, from a recent 5-day trip to Puglia or “Apulia” as locals call it.
Good to Note: I traveled at a fast-pace and still didn’t see all of these places mentioned below. Suggest at least 5-7 days in Puglia to see these highlights and 2 weeks to explore the region.
HIGHLIGHTS - WHERE TO GO, STAY, DINE & SPA
OSTUNI: Known as the “White City”, most of the buildings in this town are painted white. The Old Town is charming with winding narrow alleyways lined with churches, baroque portals, shops and cafes. After walking the historical center, continue to the ancient City Wall for amazing views of the valley and coast. The 14th century cathedral at the top of the hill is especially beautiful at night when it lights up the town.
Where to Stay in Ostuni? La Sommità, member of Relais Chateaux
The Relais “La Sommità” is located at the highest point of the Ostuni hilltown. This historic 16th century residence has been restored to one of the few 5-star hotels in Puglia. Each of the 15 rooms and suites are unique with barrel vaulted ceilings, typical of Apulia’s buildings.
My favorite rooms? Ask for a room overlooking the plain of olive trees (Piana degli Ulivi) or Ostuni’s sea.
There are several places throughout the hotel to relax and enjoy the view – the loggias, living rooms, or visit the hotel’s terrace with amazing views! The Belvedere is a great place to enjoy the sunset and enjoy some local wines & appetizers: “CaleidoTapas”.
For a special evening, dine at the hotel’s restaurant – the Cielo Restaurant 1 star Michelin. One of the most elegant dining experiences in Puglia where each dish will enchant and surprise you.
Good to note: The Relais La Sommità’s restaurant offers Tasting and Apulian Cookery Courses, Theme Dinners, Wine and Oil Tasting, Sunday and Corporate lunches, as well as the Lunch and Cocktail bar service with finger food for your social events and Pre-Dinner or After-Dinner drinks.
Don’t Miss! A massage at the Spa at Relais La Sommità and time to relax by the pool, or at the sauna and steam room.
MARTINA FRANCA: This town is famous for its Baroque architecture and many churches like San Martino in Piazza Plebiscito, the church of the Carmine, Porta di Santo Stefano and Palazzo Ducale. If you need to take a rest, stop at Caffè Tripoli and order their famous coffee and a slice of their delicious cream & jam dessert, called “pasticciotti”, and if you want something savory, taste the famous “Capocollo” ham of Martina Franca.
ALBEROBELLO: This fairytale town is known for its hundreds of “trullis” white stone huts with conical roofs. A UNESCO recognized site, you’ll want to spend a few hours walking through the historical area and visiting the inside of a trulli.
LOCOROTONDO: This town overlooks the beautiful Itrian Valley of vineyards, farmlands, olive trees, Masserias and country roads. The Old Town is a popular place for locals and visitors where there are white buildings, shops and cafes.
Where to Stay in the Itria Valley? Masseria Cervarolo is a countryside house that was built in the XVI century and several parts of the Masseria have been updated and lovingly restored. Located in the heart of the” valle d’itria” and just a few miles from Ostuni, Masseria Cervarolo is a farm with trulli (the typical Apulian conical dwellings).
Owners Teo and Patrizia Avelino and their family greet guests with a warm welcome. You feel like you’ve arrived to your Puglia home. The landscaped gardens, pool and terraces offer many places to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings. The rooms are tastefully decorated and very comfortable with fine linens and modern amenities.
The restaurant is located inside a large Lamia with typical Apulian construction. Each night, dinners are a set menu and the local dishes are delicious! In the summertime, dinner is served in the gardens – the orangery and olive trees. Breakfasts are a medley of homemade cakes, biscuits, breads, fresh fruits, local cheeses, freshly squeezed juices and savory omelettes. Hotel guests can also enjoy the cooking classes offered by the Chef who creates local specialties with fresh seasonal ingredients.
A highlight was finding the small church built into the Masseria, with a baroque altar and several original frescos.
Big thank you to Teo and Patrizia for sharing their local insights and helpful tips on where to go and what to do!
Don’t Miss! A visit to the nearby Masseria Brancati, where you will find 2000 years old monumental olive trees, each labeled and recognized as one of the oldest in the world. Visit the underground olive oil mill dating back to the Greek and Roman times, taste a variety of organic olive oils, and buy some bottles to take or ship home. Ask for the owner Corrado Rodio, 7th generation family owner, and you might get a private tour.
TORRE CANNE: It’s easy to find this village since you can see its lighthouse miles away. I woke up early and walked to this small port village on the coast from my hotel at Canne Bianche. Enjoyed watching the town wake up and come to life, as the local fishermen reeled in their “catch of the day”.
Don’t Miss! Tour the Dune Costiere, the Regional Natural Park at Torre Canne in a tiny electrical car or by bicycle.
This is a great way to see the coastal dunes, drive between the ancient Roman walls, visit Paleolithic ruins, caves and see the vast farms of olive trees. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Daniele Pomes at: email@example.com
Where to Stay in Torre Canne? Canne Bianche The minute you walk into this luxury hotel, you feel the breezes of the Adriatic sea and start to relax. I was greeted with smiles and my every need was taken care of.
The eco-friendly contemporary design highlights the Apulian raw white stone to emphasize the brightness of the region. Guests relax under the palm trees at the salt water pool, visit the spa, or walk the beaches.
The rooms are comfortable with Italian marble bathrooms, luxurious beds, fine linens and some rooms have terraces or balconies overlooking the sea.
Restaurant T_imo Chef Quirico Turrone fuses Mediterranean flavors with seasonal products, creating traditional and innovative dishes. I especially enjoyed dining alfresco for dinner, then again for breakfast at the outdoor terrace, enveloped by the Mediterranean landscape of bougainvillea and cactus plants.
The onsite Aqua Spa is a wellness center that offers a wide range of beauty treatments and massages. Highly recommend a massage at check-in to kick-start your vacation.
POLIGNANO AL MARE: Polignano is a picturesque old village perched high above the sea. The historic center is on a towering cliff that overlooks the Adriatic Sea.
Walk the Old Town and visit the small squares, Lady of the Assumption Cathedral. Walk over the the Trajan Way Bridge just north of town that crosses over the Lama Monachile, the famous deep cove that you’ll see on many postcards and Instagram posts.
Don’t Miss! Taste the gelato at “Bar Turismo” or “Mago del gelato”, take a boat to explore the sea caves, and make a reservation to dine in a cave at the famous Grotta Palazzese.
MONOPOLI: This ancient port city is a delight! There’s a labyrinth of alleyways with houses, churches, palaces, squares surrounded by high cliff walls. With 25 sandy beaches and coves along 8 miles of jagged coastline.
Don’t Miss! A visit to the 16th century Castle of Charles V, the 18th century Palazzo Palmieri in the town’s oldest square, the former Town Hall, Castle of St. Stephen, 19th century Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, Piazza XX Settembre, Church of Santa Maria Amalfitana. After walking through the city, take a stroll along the promenade that hugs the sea wall. And be sure to dine at one of the squares or along the waterfront, and order the Adriatic seafood.
Where to Stay in Monopoli? Don Ferrante: Located in the heart of Monopoli’s historical center just above the sea, Don Ferrante is in a beautifully restored building with views of the Adriatic Sea.
Service is excellent and the rooms spacious and luxurious.
One of my favorite places at sunset was on the rooftop where 14 chimneys light up the terrace and you can enjoy romantic views of the sea.
The hotel is named after Don Ferrante, or Ferdinando Loffredo, a Neapolitan nobleman with several titles — First Marquis of Trevico, Lord of San Sossio and Zingoli, Governor General of Bari and Otranto, Lord of Lecce and Dean of the Sacro Regio Consiglio.
BARI: Bari is the main port town of Puglia, and the city where most visitors fly into to visit Puglia. Visit the Old Town, and the harbor of the city, the Lungomare. Be sure to visit the beautiful churches St Nicholas’s Basilica and the Cathedral of Saint Sabino.
CASTEL DEL MONTE: Visit the Castle built in 1240 by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
CASTELLANA: Formed 90 million years ago, the caves of Castellana run almost 200 feet deep with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites filling caves and caverns. A natural wonder in Puglia that amaze visitors.
THE “FLORENCE” of SOUTHERN ITALY…
LECCE: Lecce is the “Florence” of Apulia, filled with baroque architectural masterpieces. Walk the streets, small squares and churches – Piazza del Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Croce, the Church of Saints Niccolo’ and Cataldo.
LOOKING FOR CERAMICS?
GROTTAGLIE: Grottaglie is where you want to go since it’s the Pottery hub for Puglia. This town was built on limestone and the town was named after the several caves dating back to the Paleolithic Age.
OUTSIDE OF PUGLIA….
MATERA – an absolute MUST! Take an easy detour to visit this hilltown. More at – click here!
RESOURCES - PLAN YOUR TRIP!
PLAN YOUR TRIP:
We worked with local experts in Puglia to plan this trip, and recommend these companies to help you plan your visit to Puglia.
Southern Visions Travel This team of experts can help create your tailor-made dream trip to Southern Italy. They build authentic experiences from culinary — burrata making, olive oil tasting, cooking classes, wine tastings, to active travel – hiking, cycling, and educational/cultural daytrips where you can learn about the architecture, local traditions or even dine at the home of nobility!
Antonello Losito is a native of Puglia and the President & Founder, and Alison Pike is Vice-President, has moved from England to Puglia and adopted the Southern Italian way of life.
My excellent driver Carlo is professional, knows the region well and always got me to where I needed to be on time.
Puglia Private Tour: Puglia Private Tour is a tour operator run by locals with 20 years of experience. They organize custom itineraries and specialize in bespoke tours in Puglia to create a dream vacation. They design tours for those interested in authentic and off the beaten path experiences.
I was looking for a tour of Alberobello and the owners of Puglia Private Tour — Natalie Hörner and Onofrio Zonno were quick to respond and they are very professional. With only a few hours to visit this town, they accommodated my request. Be sure to ask for the digital Pocket Guide to “Apulia” they provided – very helpful information and introduction to Apulia.
Global Adventuress would like to thank those mentioned in the article for hosting me during my stay in Puglia. I’ve been to almost every region in Italy, and this one is one of my favorites. Can’t wait to return!