Puglia Holidays

The not-so-Achilles heel

The heel of the boot of Italy, the crystal-blue shores of Puglia are where many Italians traditionally go on holiday. Fort towns Gallipoli, Bari, Monopoli and Brindisi are steeped in Byzantine, Roman and Baroque history. They come alive during summer evenings, which can be whiled away strolling around ornate churches, getting lost in the labyrinthine streets and enjoying long, languid al fresco meals.

There’s more to Puglia holidays inland. Way uphill, Ostuni is a whitewashed delight, and Alberobello is home to an array of unique homesteads. Lecce is a delicate beauty, its ancient Roman amphitheatre hosting classical and contemporary concerts to this day. Along the shore, take your pick of the west coast’s lively beach bars, or seek out the more chilled beaches, such as Polignano a Mare’s majestic cove, where you can plunge into the cool waters where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. In rural areas, stay in ‘masserias’ – working farms – that double up as hotels, and gorge yourself on their local produce. This area is renowned for its olive oil, and generous portions of food will leave no one hungry. So there’s no need to dig your heels in for one thing or another – holidays to Puglia offer something for every type of sun-seeker.

Three tips for a top trip

Use your Sunday

If you’re planning a long road trip, Sundays are ideal, as local, religiously observant residents prefer to take a day off from driving on the highway.

Stay up all night

Expect evening meals to stretch late into the night, especially in the height of the balmy summers, where entire families hang out until the small hours.

Eat like a local

Specialities from the Puglia region include ‘orecchiette con cima di rapa’ – ear-shaped pasta with bitter broccoli – and ‘pasticciotti’ – moreish oval-shaped pies filled with sweet custard.

Best attractions to see in Puglia

Festa di Santa Domenica

Tiny Scorrano transforms into a day-glo spectacle of neon for a week-long festival of light every July. A food market serves up delicious snacks, too.

Matera town

This hillside town in Basilicata, comprising abandoned caves, is awe-inspiring. Explore the Unesco-listed Paleolithic limestone ‘Sassi’, some of which have been transformed into understated hotels.

Alberobello

A canny tax fiddle from the 14th century gave rise to stunning ‘trulli’ – houses with deftly stacked stone roofs. You can even stay in some of them.

Your Puglia questions, answered

Rural areas are tricky to reach without a vehicle, but a good train service links the main cities and towns, providing spectacular views during your journey.
Shh, don’t tell anyone, but Puglia is relatively unspoilt. Gentrification is creeping in, but you can still enjoy Italy’s beautiful food and wine on a budget.
Many Italians from the north have holiday homes in Puglia and descend en masse in the summer months. Expect it to be busy in July and August – but also expect to still be able to find your own piece of beach. Off the main tourist route, you’ll find plenty of quiet, undisturbed towns to investigate. Autumn is a perfect time to visit and a drive down the east coast in the spring means blue seas on one side and fields of wildflowers on the other. The winter is quieter, wilder, and perfect for nights in cosy bars.
The locals will tell you these are the best beaches in Italy and they probably wouldn’t be wrong. There’s everything from pocket-sized white sand beaches, tucked away in the jagged limestone cliffs, to the six-kilometre long sands of Santa Maria de Leuca. The beaches at Rivabella make you think you’re in the Caribbean. Around Gargano, you’ll discover white cliffs, pine forests, and bright white beaches. Whether you want a beach club with sun loungers, umbrellas and waiter service or your own private patch of sand, you’ll find it in Puglia.
English isn't as widely spoken as it is in some of Italy’s tourist destinations, so a ‘per favore’ or a ‘grazie’ will always be appreciated.
Puglia is somewhere you should really consider renting a car, so it actually doesn’t matter where you stay. It’s a very drivable region, with motorways a rapid alternative to the scenic coastal roads. There are party towns like Gallipoli, tourist favourites such as Ostuni, or find a place hidden in the valleys and enjoy complete peace and quiet in the middle of an olive grove. Wherever you stay, you’ll find historic sites, wonderful food and drink, and welcoming, friendly people.
Some people say the food in Puglia is the best in Italy. You can eat fish just metres from where it’s been plucked from the sea. And with olive oil key to the Mediterranean diet, Puglia’s endless olive groves provide the best of that. Fresh pizzas and pasta are everywhere and gelato is almost essential at the height of summer. If you like Italian food, you'll love the simple, clean freshness of Puglia’s dishes.
Fly into Bari in the centre of Puglia to start your holiday.
Italians love their children and make them part of everything in their lives. You’ll see tiny children running around in piazzas late at night while their parents sit and drink and chat. Puglia is one of the easiest places to bring children as everywhere is so family-friendly. Many of the beaches have lifeguards and areas designated for even the smallest toddlers. Because everything is so close together and there’s so much to see, there are no long, boring car rides for kids to put up with. For family holidays, Puglia is a great choice.