Puglia could be referred to as Italy’s best-kept secret. Covering the whole of the famous heel, only a handful of its delights have been discovered by holidaymakers. The sophisticated Baroque style of Lecce and relaxed island pace of Gallipoli top the lists for most visitors.
That leaves a wealth of hidden gems for in-the-know travellers to explore, along with some of Italy’s most attractive beaches, the finest cuisine and fascinating architecture.
Having been invaded many times in the past, you’ll find stunning archaeological sites left behind by the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Spanish and Norman conquerors. Perhaps the biggest legacy comes in the form of the grand Germanic castles of Emperor Frederick II. Particularly well-known is the 13th century Castel del Monte in Andria which features on the Italian five cent coin.
Puglia’s capital, Bari, is a lively port town that seamlessly blends the old and the new. Its thriving nightlife and trendy bars are balanced by some of the country’s most important ancient buildings. Here you’ll find the Basilica di San Nicola—the grand church housing the remains of Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus, as we know him).
Puglia’s smaller towns hold some of its most unique pleasures. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Alberobello is home to over 1,500 traditional trulli, circular stone houses with distinctive conical roofs that have been found here for hundreds of years.
With a year-round climate as sublime as any Mediterranean hotspot and the longest coastline in Italy, Puglia is quickly becoming a fashionable destination for savvy holidaymakers, with a host of treasures just waiting to be uncovered.
Known as the ‘Florence of the south’, Lecce is a must-see destination in Puglia. The main town in Puglia’s stiletto heel, this showpiece of Spanish Baroque architecture will leave you spellbound. Able to trace its history back 2,500 years, its labyrinthine streets weave from one delight to the next. The young artisans arriving here in the 17th century found the local limestone soft and easy to carve. They let their imaginations run wild and added elaborate facades, festooned with columns, statues and gargoyles to the existing buildings.
Italy’s easternmost town, the charming Otranto sits right on the Adriatic, guarded by towers and a castle. These stand as a testament to the turbulent history of this strategically important, seafront town.
Today, it is an enchanting mix of winding alleys, beautiful parks and sun-kissed beaches. Visit the cathedral in the old town to see the famous ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic, depicting Biblical scenes as well as the tales of Alexander the Great and King Arthur. This is also where you’ll find the skulls of the 800 Otranto martyrs, executed by the conquering Turks of the Ottoman Empire for refusing to convert to Islam.
Not to be confused with its Turkish namesake, Puglia’s Gallipoli sits on the west Ionian coast and has its fair share of fascinating history, stunning Baroque churches and splendid palazzi. While the modern part of town sits on the mainland, the older centro storico sits on a tiny island in the sea, connected by a 17th-century bridge. Here you’ll find the traditional fishing port, ornate chapels and the remains of the town walls. Take a stroll through the web of narrow streets or discover the superb beaches to the north and south.
Brindisi has both Greek and Middle Eastern influences that blend with its native Italian, making Brindisi utterly irresistible. The temperature here is always good, and although it can be busy (particularly in the summer), there is always a feeling of calmness to the place that means visitors feel relaxed and happy. Try the locally produced wine or visit the vineyard to see how it’s made, or wander the winding streets and discover yet more intriguing scenery and architecture. Particular points of interest include the stunning Tempio di San Giovanni al Sepolcro – this is a 12th century church built in the Norman style (unusual for this part of Italy), and the interior is awe-inspiring. The exterior is just as pretty, and certainly makes for a lovely backdrop to interesting walks around the town. Museo Archeologico Provinciale Francesco Ribezzo is always well worth a visit; this museum of local art offers plenty of insight into how the town was built.
Not too far from the coast is the city of Ostuni. This is where visitors come when they want a beach holiday but they also want to experience the excitement of a city. Locals also love Ostuni, so it does get busy, but prepare for the hustle and bustle and you’ll feel right at home. The most famous thing about Ostuni is the white buildings dotted around – it is known as the white city for this very reason. The old town is a maze, but a stunning one, and there is something wonderful around every corner.
The town of Foggia. is famous for olive oil and buffalo mozzarella, and it doesn’t get much more Italian than that. Here you can really experience rustic life as it is meant to be in this quaint corner of the world. And if you need to get back to basics for a while, to recharge and relax, there aren’t many better places to do it than here. Authentically Italian with beaches close by, just take your time and love Italy from here. Don’t miss the Piazza Umberto Giordano which completely comes alive at night, turning from a quiet town square into a fun and lively place for locals and visitors to meet, drink, and be merry. And the Teatro Giordano offers great entertainment from musical theatre to opera to comedy.
Uncover the meaning of the Castel del Monte
Constructed by one of ancient Rome’s most impressive figures, Frederick II, Castel del Monte has puzzled historians for years. Meaning the ‘Castle on the Mount’, it stands on an isolated hill near Andria in central Puglia but doesn’t protect the town or any nearby port. The unique design is a tribute to the number eight; an octagonal tower, containing eight rooms, stands at each point of the octagonal castle’s central courtyard. Not seeming to serve any military purpose, this mysterious castle is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Puglia.
Explore the coastline
On the very tip of Italy’s heel, the marina of Santa Maria di Leuca offers you the chance to discover Puglia’s gorgeous coastline by boat. In the hands of knowledgeable guides, you’ll explore hidden caves and secret beaches, snorkel in the crystal-clear waters and even try your hand at a spot of fishing. For the ultimate romantic evening, you can also take a sunset tour.
The cuisine in this part of Italy is often described as ‘peasant food’ but this shouldn’t put you off. It is a reference to simple dishes made with the most delicious ingredients and classic Italian flair. Much of it is based around the local orecchiette, or ‘ear-shaped’, pasta, traditionally accompanied with a cime di rape sauce—meaning ‘turnip tops’. The region also provides an abundance of wonderful vegetables, including one unique to the area, the barattiere; a cross between a cucumber and a melon.
Long hot summers, mineral-rich soils and bountiful seas make Puglia’s cuisine something very special, even by Italy’s standards. A region of farmers and fishermen, the food in Puglia is genuine and authentic and this is reflected in the menus of its restaurants. Michelin star or family bistro, the food here is Italy’s finest.
A real taste of unspoilt Italy, Puglia has stayed out of the limelight for a long time and is only now starting to be discovered by adventurous tourists. Staggering architecture, stunning beaches and amazing food are all waiting to charm you as you explore this remote region.
Book your hotel and flight together and save on your getaway to Puglia with easyJet holidays.