Top 10 Reasons to Visit Puglia Italy
The Puglia (pronounced pool-ya) or Apulia region as it is known in English, is the most undiscovered and unknown region of Italy. With twenty different regions, Puglia is easily identified on the map as it runs down the east coast of Italy from The Gargano Peninsula all the way into the “heel of the boot”.
Puglia borders the Adriatic Sea and The Ionian Sea and in the south it kisses The Gulf of Toranto and The Strait of Otranto. It has a population of just over 4 million within an area of 19,345 square kilometres.
Interestingly, it is one of the larger and most populated of the twenty regions yet remains an enigma to many outside of Italy. The region is divided into 6 different communes, all of which harbor many reasons to visit making selecting 10 reasons to visit a difficult one for this writer whose love affair with the area began 5 years ago.
The area saw increased interest from foreign buyers worldwide from the 1990s and the percentage of foreign residents now equates to approximately 2% of the population. In no particular order of preference, here are 10 of my favorite reasons to visit Puglia.
1. The Gargano Peninsula
One of the lesser known about places, this peninsula is one of the most important, interesting and varied areas in Puglia with the most stunning vistas. Within the commune of Foggia, this is the most northerly part of Puglia.
Something for everyone, particularly the nature lovers, the peninsula includes The Gargano National Park (Parco Nazionale del Gargano), The Umbra Forrest (Foresta Umbra) and The Tremiti Islands.
The Gargano peninsula has lakes, hiking tracks, protected wildlife, medieval towns, historic sites, stunning beaches, caves and wonderful traditional food. The aroma of citrus is one you will not avoid as hundreds of lemon trees grow in abundance with olive tree groves. Spending a week here is easy and at that you may not see everything.
This is heaven for all orchid lovers with the largest amount of species growing in one place, within Europe. Many varieties are unknown such is the extraordinary amount of these beautiful flowers.
This area is without doubt a must see spot in my opinion and a visit to this former island is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
2. Less Touristy and Less Commercial
The Best of Puglia
- Readers' tips: the best of Puglia | Travel | The Guardian
Down in Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot, readers recommend hotels and restaurants in caves, ancient towns, deserted beaches and to-die-for agriturismos
My reasons to visit here have to include it being less commercial. Yes it has a tourism industry and gets busy in summer but Puglia for me I find to be so much more relaxed, friendlier and less commercialized than a vast many places I have seen.
Everyone is different and wants different things from travelling but I find stepping outside my comfort zone refreshing and so much more beneficial. Puglia has unspoilt beautiful beaches free of commercial businesses such as restaurants, shops, towering hotels and sun loungers.
Very few Italians in this region speak English. The bigger cities and towns will have more English speakers but still not as common as you may expect.
My biggest tip is to be prepared and learn some basics, I know I did and my pocket phrasebook was permanently in my handbag as I explored the region and certainly looks well used! My choice was the lonely planet phrasebook and I find their books on Italy excellent too and a must for getting to know the place you are visiting.
3. Bari, the Capital of Puglia
The capital of Puglia, Bari is the largest city and has an International airport, a major port and has a wealth of reasons to visit.
Situated in the commune of Bari, the city is a seaside city and boasts an Interesting historic centre which is constantly busy with visitors.
Within the historic centre identified by its ancient city walls, lies a wealthy of churches, monuments, piazzas, theaters and narrow cobble-stoned streets.
A highlight includes Basilica di San Nicola or The Church of Saint Nicolas. Regarded to be the resting home for Santa Claus, this is Bari’s top attraction. Built in 1087 to house the remains of the saint, the church features many different architectural styles, beautiful artwork and mosaics.
For shopping enthusiasts, head to Corso Cavour, Via Sparano and Via Manzoni. Bari makes a great base from which to explore the Gargano or venture further south down the coast to Lecce or Toranto.
It also has a busy train network which makes connecting with all parts of Italy very easy. A mere 4 hour train journey west will have you in Rome if you fancy a day trip or dividing your holiday time between the east and west.
Being a port, travel to nearby Greece, Turkey and The Balkans is an ideal opportunity to avail of visiting a new country, so keep it in mind.
4. The Trulli of Puglia
These conical roofed stone dwellings are unique to Puglia. Originating in the town of Alberobello in the 16 Century BC, the trulli spread throughout the nearby towns of Martina Franca, Conversano, Locorotondo and Cisternino.
A most unusual and interesting dwelling made from limestone, Alberobello is known as the capital of the trulli and has over 1000 in existence making it a must see destination.
In 1996 it was designated a world heritage site by UNESCO. I have been inside a variety of trulli, and it is amazing to think entire families would have lived inside these tiny stone houses. Today many are restored and added to in order to make them more functional for modern living.
Properties may have a single cone or be multi coned with up to 10. We looked at different properties to purchase in a trullo style as we love their quirkiness, uniqueness and structure.
If you are visiting Puglia you should avail of the opportunity of staying in one or renting one out for experiencing something you will not find anywhere else in the world.
For further information on the trulli read Alberobello Trulli Trulli Scrumptious.
For holidays to Alberobello, check out Alberobello Places to Visit for Day Trips which lists more great places to visit within easy commuting distance.
Alberobello Transport Options shows the different transport options you have for getting to the area with tips on the area.
History of the Trulli in Alberobello
5. Lecce, Pearl of the Baroque
Another favorite place is the town of Lecce in the south and is part of the Salento peninsula.
Lecce is often referred to as Pearl of the Baroque and Florence of the South due to its staggering amounts of spectacular baroque style architecture. Lecce Italy’s Best Kept Secret and Lecce What to See and Do give more in-depth information on this magical town.
The beauty with Lecce is it has everything.
Unparalleled history, architecture, great food, near an international airport and port in Brindisi, shopping and makes a great base to explore the southern parts of Puglia.
Some of the best beaches in Puglia are located around Lecce and where else can you enjoy a leisurely cappuccino within arm’s reach of an ancient Amphitheater, still partially buried?
It is a place that has attracted many a celebrity to holiday in and Dame Helen Mirren owns a property here.
6. The Rustic Food
The Puglia region is predominantly agricultural based and many of the locals continue to produce their own food and live off the land.
40% of Italy’s olive oil production comes from Puglia and the region is one of the main wine producing areas of Italy. We have 15 mature olive trees that produce the olives suited for olive oil production which I cannot wait to use. My very own beauty product homegrown and an essential cooking ingredient! We even have some grape vines growing on trellises. I would be more than happy with having some grapes to eat never mind a bottle of vino.
With the amount of produce available, most of the cooking is good rustic country based with many recipes being handed down through the generations.
Ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, fava beans, durum wheat, courgettes, artichokes, chilies, peppers, beans, fennel, herbs, lamb and beef are commonly used.
The fishing Industry is big with it being a coastal region and seafood plays an important part of the diet here. Cuttlefish, mussels, anchovies, sea bream, red mullet and sea bass are regularly featured in recipes.
Pasta is naturally a big favorite but in Puglia they take particular pride in their Orecchiette pasta, small ear shaped shells which are made daily by hand by the Italian ladies often on a table outside their home in the towns.
If you wander up a side street in the morning you are bound to see this. Why not stop and have a go? Many will be only too delighted to show the art in making them. Traditional Puglia pasta is made with water, salt and durum wheat flour. No eggs are used.
Homemade bread is another favouite in Puglia. In remote villages communal wood-burning ovens are still used for making breads by the locals and bread comes in many shapes, sizes and varieties and accompanies every meal here.
Altamura, a town in the west of Puglia was the first place in Europe to be granted the prestigious DoP classification (Denomination of Origin of production) for its bread. Interestingly, when McDonalds opened there, the locals, preferring to eat their own bread in dishes, did not visit the mighty chain and subsequently forced the burger joint to close and move on! McDonalds is not something you will find easily in Puglia!
Another speciality in Puglia, particularly in the town of Cisternino is a tradition performed by rosticceria butchers.
You pick out the cut of meat and watch while the butcher cooks it immediately on a charcoal grill or in a wood-burning stove. Definitely worth trying and an ideal time to try one of the locally produced wines.
Deserts feature strongly in Puglia. Friends of ours who are Irish and Welsh get up early to get to go to town and buy fresh pastries for breakfast. We have been at their home for a coffee and the delicious, fresh from the bakery pastries are hard to resist.
Almond based deserts are common as almonds are widely grown here. Ricotta cheese is another ingredient featuring heavily in sweets.
The food in Puglia has opened up our eyes to true authentic Italian cooking. It may not be the most famous throughout Italy but it is full of natural goodness, quality ingredients and age old traditions.
The friendliness we have received has been one of the most charming reasons we love this area. You have not tasted the real Italian cuisine until you eat in Puglia.
Rustic Cooking in Apuglia
- Traditional recipes from Puglia | Think Puglia
Puglia's cuisine is deeply steeped in the region's agricultural tradition and an instinct for self-sufficiency. Here are 15 traditional dishes from Antipasta to Deserts.
Wine and Deserts of Puglia with Antonio Carluccio
Learn about Puglia Burrata Cheese
7. Puglia Beaches
Running along the east coast, it should be no surprise to hear beaches in Puglia are numerous and beautiful. You are never far from a beach wherever you are based, which is a big advantage to this region.
The weather here is hot in summer and often still warm and sunny up to November and December. We have been in November expecting it to be more like our own weather in Ireland and have been pleasantly surprised how warm it was.
In-between Casalabate and San Cataldo down in the south of Puglia, lies a stretch of beach which is rarely busy.
Turquoise waters lap the golden sands gently. Hidden by sand dunes this beach hides a special secret. Hidden in the water 50m from shore, is a sunken shipwreck. The ship was sunk by the British Navy in 1941.
So how cool would it be for you to take a deep breath and dive down to wander around the hull and beams?
The water is not too deep so a great opportunity to do something different and makes a lasting memory.
On the map below are more great beaches highlighted and some places I have found, I have no idea what they were called they were so small and no signs or people visible to ask.
- The best beaches of Puglia: Torre Lapillo Bay and Punta Prosciutto | ThePuglia - Travel House Experi
Some of the best beaches of Puglia are in Salento peninsula: Torre Lapillo bay and Punta Prosciutto in Porto Cesareo are white sandy beaches surrounded by a crystalline sea.
Best Beaches of Puglia
8. The People
Puglia produces more olive oil than any other region of Italy.
As the south is referred to as the heel, The Gargano Peninsula is known as the spur.
Silent film star Rudolph Valentino was from Puglia.
Italian people are passionate, warm hospitable, family orientated and take food very seriously. The Pugli people are no different and love celebrations and socializing which for them usually is done around the table at home or in a local restaurant.
When a family goes out to eat what I love is to see the entire family, all the generations from small children to elderly grandparents included. No matter the time, children are always welcomed and never turned away.
The Piazza’s or squares in all villages, towns and cities are the focal point for many Italians to meet, socialize, and go for their age old Italian customs and traditions of La Passeggiata.
The pub culture many of us are familiar with does not exist in Puglia. It is replaced by cafes and restaurants and I don’t remember seeing one person rowdy, aggressive and stumbling around the streets from too much alcohol.
I love the cafe scene and a Saturday night in Puglia is very different to one spent in Dublin. An example of the local hospitality is the first time we met our new neighbor Grazia (Grat – zee – ah).
As with many rural properties in this area, families own a large amount of land that has been sub-divided into separate properties for the children over the years. Our property was owned by a guy whose sister owned the adjoining property.
One morning as we were cleaning the place I heard someone calling “Ciao”. I looked outside to see a small middle aged lady waving energetically at me. I waved back and walked towards her across our land into hers. She wanted us to come for coffee, all spoken in Italian or charade like gestures as she had no English. So off we went phrasebook in hand, into her small traditional house which turned out to be her “summer house”. She lived 10 kilometers away!
That was to be the first of many memorable coffee’s and lunches we would share with Grazia and her elderly brother. The meals were always freshly prepared with produce she grew or made and watching her zip up pasta from scratch, was very special.
We would often find bags or plates of fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts she had left for us that she has grown.
It has been truly an eye opener into the culture and traditions of Puglia and seeing Grazia is one of the things we most look forward to as we prepare to move permanently.
9. Ostuni – The White City
Ostuni known as The White City lies high up in the hills and is an awesome sight from the coastal road. A mere 11 kilometers from where we will be living, it is a place we love visiting with a wonderful mix of sights, shops and of course restaurants.
We prefer eating off the beaten track and go where the locals eat in Ostuni. Often they are not visibly restaurants to the untrained eye which we found to be interesting.
Once inside though, it is a hive of activity with wonderful rustic cooking, friendly faces, no English spoken and sometimes no menu!
We just say si grazie or yes thank you and see what appears! Sometimes we have no idea what we are eating and sometimes it may not be to our taste, but you know what? It is still amazing and course after course will appear in Italian fashion (up to 9 courses is not unheard of).
We have been in the winter months when tourists are sparse and it is a delight to wander around the ancient cobblestone mazes and find some unexpected memory moments.
Ostuni is popular with tourists and a bus trip favorite venue to stop at. With its hilltop location, it provides breathtaking views across to the Adriatic.
The old historic center is full of beautiful churches, buildings and a very artistic place in my opinion. Wonderful craft shops with locally made crafts are there and well worth a visit.
In the commune of Lecce, in the south of Puglia this town boasts 10 kilometers of beautiful beaches of turquoise blue and well known diving rocks.
Otranto is extremely popular with Italian tourists and a sprinkling of foreign visitors annually, looking for sun, sea a bit of sightseeing and nightlife.
Originally known for its breed of horse, Otranto is also a historic port town which originally saw it as being more important and busier than the close by port of Brindisi.
The Cathedral is worth visiting to see the amazing mosaic floor and like every Italian town; Otranto has a castle, The Castello Aragonese which was rebuilt in the late 15th Century.
Capa Palascia or Capo d’Otranto as it is known as, is the most easterly point in Italy and home to a lighthouse that is one of five Mediterranean lighthouses protected by the European Commission.