Last week I set off for a week-long exploration of the long heel of Italy’s boot in search of sights, tastes, and gorgeous seascapes…
Great food, amazing landscapes and welcoming people – this is what Puglia is about! This sun-kissed region in the south of Italy is the perfect place to enjoy a break and experience la bella vita. That’s why I took advantage of a late-April bank holiday and flew to Bari to enjoy the pleasures that Puglia has to offer – including picturesque coastal towns, UNESCO sites, saltworks and lots of trulli (the traditional houses with conical roofs typical of the Itria Valley).
Puglia is quite a vast region and you could easily spend weeks exploring its attractions. But if you are short of time, this one-week itinerary offers a good taste of the region and some of its best spots. You could combine it with an additional 4 days in Salento, Puglia’s most southern area, for stunning natural spots and charming coastal towns (I wrote about it here).
Day 1: Bari Airport > Giovinazzo > Molfetta > Trani
Day 2: Margherita di Savoia > Siponto > Barletta > Trani
Day 3: Andria > Castel del Monte > Martina Franca
Day 4: Alberobello > Locorotondo > Cisternino > Ostuni > Martina Franca
Day 5: Polignano a Mare > Cala Incina > Martina Franca
Day 6: Monopoli > Bari
Day 7: Bari
This itinerary is based on renting a car. It may not be the cheapest option, but it definitely is the best way to travel the region, giving you the freedom to go where you like, at your own pace, including detours in beautiful back roads. Another reason is that public transportation can be slow and often indirect, especially in low season – have a look at the Ferrovie del Sud Est website to get an idea of bus and train connections and how often they run.
Where to stay
These days there are so many lodging options in Puglia that it’s really hard to choose where to stay. The most atmospheric option is staying at a masseria (old farmhouse turned into an elegant retreat), but if you are a solo traveller like me the whole experience can be quite costly. Hence I opted for B&Bs and, lucky me, I found some real gems that I want to share with you:
- for the first two nights I stayed at Agorà in Trani, a charming bed and breakfast run by the lovely Celeste. It’s an elegant apartment with bright, spotless rooms and delicious breakfasts, only 5-minute walk from the old town and with plenty of parking space. Celeste has the ability to make you feel at a friend’s place the minute you open the front door, and can provide you with the best tips to explore the area.
- I then stayed three nights at Savito B&B in Martina Franca, the town I used as the base for exploring the Valle d’Itria. This was a real find – a family-run trullo in the heart of the town! The place is only 10-minute walk to the historic centre and offers super-cosy rooms. And then their breakfast… probably the best I’ve experienced in my travels so far, with an amazing selection of home-made cakes, biscuits, as well as fresh mozzarella cheese and panini.
- My last night in Puglia was spent in the heart of Bari Vecchia, at 62 Marinai B&B. The place is run by Armando, the most helpful host, and is literally in front of the Basilica San Nicola – great place in an unbeatable location!
When to go
It mostly depends on the type of trip you are after but I strongly suggest to visit either in spring or early autumn. Yes, perhaps it’s a little too cold to swim but temperatures are mild and you can fully enjoy a more authentic experience without the tourist hordes that invade the region in the summer months. My late-April trip allowed me to explore Puglia’s inland charms with its lush countryside in full bloom – olive groves, poppy fields, blossoming fruit trees… a true feast for the eyes and the soul, believe me!
First of all the food. If it’s true that we are what we eat, then Puglia inhabitants can be easily defined as genuine, hearty and generous, just like the incredible dishes produced here. The Pugliese culinary tradition is based on the products of its land and its sea, with recipes passed down from generation to generation.
Whether you are a seafood-addict or a meat lover, have a passion for veggies or a sweet tooth, in Puglia you will have plenty of options to please your belly!
My favorite dish is fave e cicorie, a fava beans puree with chicory, which is served both as a bruschetta during aperitivo and as a main course.
Itria Valley is particularly renowned for its meat, with plenty of butcher shops where you can choose the meat, wait for the butcher to grill it and then eat it right there.
And the home-made orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) made by the orecchiette ladies in Bari? Simply to die for!
The list could go on forever, but I’d rather sharing with you some pictures (they are worth a thousand words!) and some addresses…
Here’s a selection of my favorite eateries:
- Pescandalo in Trani, an heaven for fish-lovers
- Peschef in Trani, for amazing fish sandwiches
- Terra Terra in Martina Franca – very nice setting and scrumptious food in huge portions
- Macelleria Centro Storico in Martina Franca, a little butcher shop near the Basilica of San Martino, for delicious locally-sourced meat
- Caseificio Gentile in Martina Franca, for mouthwatering panini with capocollo and burrata cheese and a fresh beer overlooking the beautiful piazza Maria Immacolata
- Mint in Polignano a Mare – you will love the food, as well as the adorable location
- Le Arpie in the heart of Bari Vecchia, for authentic, nasty food and very friendly staff
- Panificio Fiore in Bari Vecchia, for their famous focaccia
And don’t forget that some of the best Italian wines are produced here…
Puglia is home to incredibly talented craftsmen – from pottery to lace products, from beautiful jewelry made of papier-mâché to unique design objects and sculptures created using local stone, this region is a real treasure trove.
During this trip I had the good fortune to stumble upon two amazing artists, quite unique in their own way:
Croci Sisinni, who engraves incredibly beautiful scenes of Ostuni and the surrounding countryside onto pieces of white stone. You can find him at his Bottega d’Arte on via Cattedrale in Ostuni – the cutest workshop ever! Besides being a brilliant artist, Croci is also a lovely person and will engage you in the most interesting conversation
Ignazio Amodio (nicknamed Ziett), a former fisherman turned artisan, who creates the cutest models of the blue and red gozzi, the traditional boats that dot the harbor of Monopoli. You will find him in his tiny workshop on via Argento
I hope these tips will be handy on your next trip to Puglia, a place that I’m sure will steal your heart!
Until next time,