Stretching 400km from north to south, Puglia’s long, narrow peninsula forms the heel of Italy. Puglia has clean seas and reliable sunshine. This Mediterranean hotspot for good food, stunning scenery and fine weather facing Greece and Albania and always been off the beaten track.
The roads linking Puglia’s main towns, Brindisi, Bari and Lecce, are pretty good and renting a car for your trip gives you the freedom to explore the region at your own pace and on a schedule that suits you. Puglia is a much larger area than you think, and your own car puts all of its remote villages, coastal towns and beaches at your fingertips. Most visitors arrive in Puglia via one of its two international airports, Bari and Brindisi, and car hire is available at both.
Start in Vieste, a coastal town known for its Cathedral and beaches Scialara and San Lorenzo. Try some Pescato (fresh fish of the day) at Panini di Mare for including bluefin tuna, octopus, red prawn, scampi, swordfish and much more.
Drive a bit more to Castel del Monte, a unique piece of Medieval military architecture, included by UNESCO in the world of heritage. This fortress is an octagonal prism with an octagonal tower at each corner.
Driving by the sea, you should stop in the stylish town of Trani. Get your stilettos on and adventure yourselves in the narrow street of this gorgeous location. The promenade is the place to sit back and enjoy Aperitivo – Italians go crazy for it, your pre-dinner snack with a kick of alcohol. Or if you fancy an array of choices for your Aperitivo, Il Vecchio e il Mare’s mixes your favourite tipple with fresh local flavours like mint, rosemary and basil.
Ready for a bit of culture and entertainment? Bari is less than an hour drive away – the perfect hub for shops, theatres, cinemas and a cute small old town. The contrast with modern buildings and Art Nouveau “palazzi” means that the city is changing every day and it almost doesn’t sleep, with restaurants and bars open till late.
Volare literally means “flying” – you don’t need a plane to head to your next destination: Polignano a Mare. Home to one of the most famous singer in Italy Domenico Modugno and his famous hit “Volare”, walk across the town and indulge in some deliciousgelato.
For dinner, Polignano features this really cosy restaurant by the sea called Grotta Palazzese, housed in a natural cave.
The blue sea connects Polignano a Mare to Monopoli. “Monos Polis” means singularly unique. There is a huge contrast between white-washed buildings, blue sky and sky blue water. You will have an array of churches, but there is one you shouldn’t miss: Chiesa Maria del Suffragio, with macabre symbols of death and mummies on display set the tone of this Italian purgatory church.
Leave Polignano behind and arrive in Ostuni, known as the whitewashed old town. Don’t miss Ostuni Cathedral, which combines Baroque, Romanesque and Byzantine elements. But before you start exploring, put your suitcase down and check in at La Sommita’ Relais, with a gorgeus spa, spacious rooms and a stone vaulted restaurant called Cielo.
We are now almost reaching Salento, the heel of the Italian boot and Lecce, its main city. But while driving there, you will be surrounded by a new wave of luxury: resorts, villas, huge swimming pools and olive oil.
We met a young entrepreneur called Spiros, founder of Oilalà, a brand of luxury olive oil with unique packaging and products, and a lover of Puglia. His bottles stand out from the crowd and are like pieces of art because of the lovely Maioliche (traditional patterns), representing different towns in Puglia. Spiros has decided as well to create a small range of products called “La vita e’ bella”, to represent the beauty and the harmonious lifestyle here.
Finally, a visit to Benvenuti a Lecce which is also known as the Florence of the south. Spectacular churches, small theatres and Michelin-starred restaurants are just some of the unique features of this small city, full of gothic buildings.
Italian holidaymakers have been basking in the sunshine here for an age, but only the savviest of UK travellers know Puglia is a must-visit, making it a dream destination for those looking for an authentic taste of Italy away from the crowds.
To discover more about Puglia, visit: viaggiareinpuglia.it
By: Vito Gravinese
Photos courtesy of Angelo Chiariello. Featured image by Massimo Virgilio/Unsplash.