Benvenuti in Puglia - welcome to Puglia
Puglia is the 7th largest and the longest of Italy's 20 regions - around 400km from north to south. You are never far from the coast, of which we have plenty; around 800km of rugged limestone cliffs, rocky shelves punctuated by sea caves and secluded coves, and exceptional sandy beaches. All surrounded by sparking azure seas.
Why? | charming old towns | officially i più bello borghi d'Italia | intimate | the macelleria
It is hard to pick a favourite. Both are picturesque and charming towns. Little separates them other than the 9km lying in between.
Some 16km west of Ostuni, Cisternino has a slight advantage over its sister satellite towns - Locorotondo, Martina Franca and Ceglie Messapica - of being closer to the sea. Both offer a more intimate setting for dinner than Ostuni.
We think Locorotondo is the prettier of the two, particularly when viewed looking up from the Valle d'Itria behind. But only just.
There is no shortage of bars, caffès and restaurants in the centro storico of each. Locorotondo has one of our favourite pizza restaurants, Cisternino has its macellerie, butcher shop restaurants famous for their bombette pugliese.
Ostuni may have more impressive winding alleyways and steps knotted around its centro storico, but with visitors to la città bianca growing year on year, we prefer these less crowded towns.
Nearby | Ceglie Messapica | Martina Franca home of the annual summer opera festival, Festival della Valle d'Itria | Alberobello
Why? | the baroque and roll colours of Lecce | the Basilica di Santa Croce | the best pizza in Puglia | puccia to grab and go | a great base for day trips around Salento
The cream of Lecce's baroque architecture set against the azzurro sky and the faded colours accessorising the palazzi of the centro storico never fail to impress us. The Basilica di Santa Croce has one of the finest and most intricate Baroque facades in Italy, in exquisite detail.
A great choice of food is on offer in Lecce all year round. It has - officially - the best pizza in Puglia - as well as fine puccia, street food at its most honest (and cheapest).
Nearby | the Grotta della Poesia is 30 minutes by car. Just beyond at Torre dell'Orso is the award winning spiaggia delle due sorelle. Soft white sand, crystal clear water and gently undulating dunes dappled with maquis scrub are framed by the pine grove behind. Otranto and Gallipoli, Santa Cesarea Terme, Castro, Marina Serra and Santa Maria di Leuca are worthwhile day trips.
Why? | a vibrant but not (yet) overly commercial bar and restaurant scene | a good base for public transport connections | its authenticity | a raw seafood lunch or some panzerotti at the Porto Vecchio | tiramisù with a twist | la festa di San Nicola
This time last year we would probably have ranked Bari less favourably. But our effusive Baresi podcast team members rave about the culture and nightlife on offer and have convinced us it is Bari's time. Their city is “buzzing”, they tell us.
We love Bari Vecchia - the old town. Wandering around the maze of narrow streets and alleyways you will find that life in the old town carries on as it always has, notwithstanding extensive regeneration that has taken place. The sound of food being prepared and the chattering of families dining together echoes all around; laundry hangs from balconies, drying in the lazy heat of the afternoon.
Just outside the old town is the Porto Vecchio where you can enjoy a freshly caught raw seafood lunch served up by the fisherman returning to port. We recommend sea urchin served with a hunk of bread, a wedge of lemon and a cold beer and El Chiringuito for panzerotti and Peroni. The street food of Bari.
Nearby | make efficient use of your time in Bari as a base to explore nearby towns with outstanding cultural and historical heritage, all easy to reach by train | Barletta | Trani | Bitonto | Andria | or the lesser known but no less lovely towns of Ruvo di Puglia and Giovinazzo | Matera in the neighbouring Basilicata region is a wonderful city to visit, easily accessible by road (and usually by train) and only 64km from Bari; if short of time this always trumps Alberobello | Altamura famed for its bread is en route | Castel del Monte “a unique masterpiece of medieval military architecture” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an easily managed detour.
Why? | the iconic views of Lama Monachile | epic raw, fried and cooked street food | Il Super Mago del Gelo | Volare
No trip to Puglia would be complete without visiting Polignano a Mare. Swimming beyond the cliffs that stand either side of Lama Monachile into the blue painted blue. Grab some of the most amazing street food at Pescaria - the fried octopus and the red shrimp tartare panini with buffalo mozzarella are our favourites. An ice-cream is a must have; Polignano is also well known as the ice-cream town.
Why? | Al Trabucco da Mimì - our most memorable experience in Puglia | accessible city beaches you can walk to | stunning scenery getting there and getting around | the best coast in Puglia | fewer visitors to get in the way
With some of the region's most iconic and best known destinations in the Valle d'Itria and Bari province, it may come as a surprise that our top Puglia destination is in the most overlooked part of our region. It may not be recommended as often as the Valle d'Itria but that does not mean the destinations and adventures on offer are any less rewarding.
Many opine that visiting the Gargano, the “spur” of Italy's boot, will sequester you away from everything else Puglia has to offer (meaning the Valle d'Itria). We consider that this betrays an ignorance of this part of our region. While it is a 2h30m drive from Bari to Vieste there are many beautiful destinations on offer in Gargano, at least as interesting and as inspirational.
It has medieval towns, small fishing villages and it has wonderful beaches with long unbroken stretches of fine sand. Look out for the trabucchi dotted around the coast and enjoy the splendour of the most impressive of Puglia's limestone sea stacks rising up out of the blue.
As the most visited part of our region the Valle d'Itria sets a high standard. But that makes it a well-worn track visitors to Puglia tread. We say be a trend setter instead of a trend follower. Think outside the Valle d'Itria box. Visit Vieste, be imaginative, and enjoy a more exclusive experience in the Gargano.
Nearby | Vieste sits on the futhest point of the peninsula, and makes a perfect base to explore from. The Foresta Umbra, Peschici and Viso del Gargano are all within within a 30–40 minute drive from Vieste. Take a boat trip to Mattinata, the best way to experience Gargano's coast. Take a day trip to Monte Sant'Angelo to see the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo. Take longer to visit the Tremiti Islands - often praised for their exceptional beauty.
A cooking experience at the vineyard begins with Capafresca Spumante rosè as a welcoming aperitif.
Celebrate Christmas Midnight Mass with Pope Francis at ST. Peter's Basilica after enjoying a semi-private 2 - 3 hour tour (max 10 people) of the Vatican Museums including the Raphael Rooms and The Sistine Chapel ending with a privileged entrance to St.Peter's Basilica.