Love Puglia | Piece by Piece

Ostuni’s la porta blu. By the Puglia Guys. The most popular selfie spot.

Essential Puglia day trip and road trip guide.

In this companion article to our feature on where to find the best base for vacation in Puglia, we strip down Puglia (and Matera which is not part of Puglia, but a near neighbour in Italy’s Basilicata region) to its essential parts. Here we consider visiting these destinations as day trips, when your chosen base is elsewhere.

You can then fit together the pieces to plan an itinerary that best suits your needs. Whether for efficient day-tripping, making the most economic use of time and distance, or packing in as much of our region as you can during a shorter stay.

While we deconstruct Puglia, keep in mind that in Puglia we embrace a slower pace of life. It is part of our culture, reflected in all aspects of life and daily rituals. Keep this in mind when planning, for a more mindful and restful stay in Puglia’s here and now.

We also suggest some road trips to bring some of these destinations together.

Orientation

Our region, known as la terra tra due mari – the land between two seas – sandwiches between the Adriatic to the east and the Ionian to the west.

From Gargano, a mountainous and verdant peninsula comprising the spur of Italy’s boot, where dramatic limestone cliffs plunge into the deep blue of the Adriatic, to Santa Maria di Leuca at the tip of the heel of Italy’s boot and land’s end, Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae. The 400km in between comprises one of the most diverse regions in Italy. 

The expansive Tavoliere, a plain adorned with durum wheat fields around Foggia, transitions southward into the rolling olive groves of the Valle d’Itria, the sprawling vineyards around Manduria, and the prickly pear-lined vistas of the Salento peninsula.

Architecture.

Discover Puglia’s iconic trulli. Cone-shaped dwellings unique to our region. Ancient masserie, once fortified farmhouses to resist bandits and Saracen invaders, now transform into luxurious boutique hotels.

Visit Puglia’s famous città bianche. White-walled towns sitting atop hillsides whose historic centers, a maze of whitewashed alleys, wind around their impressive cathedrals. It is no coincidence that these towns are reminiscent of Greece. The Salento peninsula was once Magna Grecia, greater Greece. In Taranto’s borgo antico, the remains of a Spartan temple stand proud. Throughout Salento, many towns still carry their Greek names. Local dialects betray Greek origins.

Food

Puglia is the breadbasket of Italy. Our region’s fertile red soil and climate make Puglia one of Italy’s top durum wheat producers. We are the top producer of Italian olive oil, with some of Italy’s best-tasting and most prized oil. We are Italy’s 2nd top regional wine producer. And Puglia gave the world burrata…

Buratta

Slow-food is not a gimmick. It’s a tradition. La cucina povera (literally poor cuisine) serves up simple but inventive dishes using seasonal, locally produced, fresh and flavorful ingredients. Most dishes use only a few ingredients and very little goes to waste. Humble and frugal, the end result is much more than the sum of its ingredients.

Wherever you are in Puglia, good food is easy to find. There are fine dining options, but some of the best meals we eat are at a local trattoria or osteria. Simple, delicious, and inexpensive.

In the guides below we make some #EatPuglia suggestions. However check out our individual city guides for the relevant destination or our main Eat Puglia Guide to Puglia’s best restaurants for more recommendations.

Bitesize Puglia

Suggesting you spend no more than two hours in Alberobello does not mean it only deserves two hours. But if you have a shorter stay in our region or want to spend more time on the beach, you can move onto the next destination without feeling you have missed out on Puglia’s iconic standards.

These are suggestions. You can spend more or less time, and you can swap a morning visit ending with a lazy lunch for an afternoon visit starting with lunch. But bear in mind la pausa. The time from around 1pm – 4.30/5pm when we retreat to the shade or head off to dip a toe in the pool. Many restaurants finish their lunch service around 2.30pm, with shops and businesses closed during the afternoon break (especially in smaller towns).

Bari

A half-day is sufficient to explore wonderful Barivecchia with its confusing orientation. 

The streets of Bari Vecchia by the Puglia Guys.

Arrive in time for an early lunch (12.30pm is not too early). For a snack before or after lunch some focaccia barese is essential. We recommend Panificio Fiore. There might be a long line, but service is quick. They have been baking since 1508, so what’s a 5-minute wait?

After lunch pass through the courtyard of the Basilica San Nicola to the other side of the old town for a coffee in one of the local bars and change of scenery. 

Stroll down the Strada delle Orecchiette (via dell’Arco Basso) where you can watch the ladies of Barivecchia make and sell fresh pasta outside their front doors. The easiest way to find it is to head to the Castello Svevo on the edge of the old town, near the main port and the basilica. 

In the alleyways of Bari vecchia. Photo copyright ©️ the Puglia Guys.

If you have not done so already, pass through Piazza Mercantile and Piazza del Ferrarese. Puglia Design Store is worth a visit for quality Made in Puglia ceramic and other non-food products. Then head across the road to the Porto Vecchio fisherman’s market on Molo San Nicola where Bari’s fishermen sell their daily catch. You can buy a plate of fresh seafood with a hunk of break and slice of lemon for 5€ if you get there by mid-morning. In the afternoon and early evening, grab a panzerotto and ice cold Peroni beer for under 4€ (for both) from the legendary El Chiringuito.

El Chiringuito, Molo San Nicola, Bari. Photo by the Puglia Guys

If you want spaghetti all’assassina for lunch we recommend Al Sorso Preferito, which is just outside Barivecchia on the other side of the old port (many of the old town restaurants only serve all’assassina for dinner). But if you are staying for dinner we recommend you have it at La Locanda dell’Elfo, a local favourite. If it’s not on the menu, just ask!

As a base, you can make easy day trips by car from Bari to Matera (50 mins), Alberobello (50 mins), Monopoli (40 mins) and Polignano a Mare (35 mins). Ostuni is further and takes about 1 hour.

Extra toppings | If you have more time, or would like to make more time, the Puglia Guys recommend taking part in the Free Walking Tour Bari around the old town (called “The First”). The tour is led by a qualified, local guide. At a little under 3km it takes just over 2 hours, and is in English (there is a separate Italian tour as well, as also a separate “The Jungle” tour). At the end of the tour you are invited to pay what you want.

Parking | We always try and park at Molo San Nicola by El Chiringuito. It’s pay parking, and you input your car licence plate (registration) number – so remember to have it handy before the machine! We drive into Bari usually from the south and we come off the Adriatic Highway just as it becomes the Bari tangenziale, for an easy and picturesque drive along the lungomare all the way into the centre of Bari.

More | eat like a local in Bari with the Puglia Guys guide to Bari’s best restaurants | the story of Bari’s must-eat dish, spaghetti all’assassina and the Puglia Guys assassin’s trail for the best all’assassina in Bari | our Bari city guide.

Matera

Take a full day to explore the city of the Sassi in the neighbouring region of Basilicata.

The sassi of Matera. Matera Guide by the Puglia Guys

The trick is navigating the winding alleys and ways and managing the levels as you descend. A wrong turn can take you in a different direction and, although you’ll still come to Via Madonna delle Virtù, eventually, you might end up with an unexpected longer walk. Good luck with GPS – in the warren of Matera’s multi-level alleys it confuses the heck out of us!

We suggest a route covering many of the major sites and attractions in the Sassi of Matera. It can be completed in about 2-3 hours depending on how much time you spend at each location. Note that the streets in the Sassi can be steep and uneven, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Bring water and sunscreen.

Keep in mind 4 key locations, for four parts of the journey:

The rest you can work out between and around them. You don’t need to start at Piazza Vittorio Veneto. We have suggested the main square because of its proximity to the train station (and parking areas). You can start anywhere, and in either direction. If you are staying in the Sassi it might make sense to start at Piazza San Pietro Caveoso and walk up.

On our last visit we visited Casa Grotta nei Sassi di Matera for a fascinating guided visit of life in the sassi and in Matera. The 5€ ticket for adults is well worth it. The audio guide (included in the price) is accessed via your smartphone.

Not to be missed is the gelateria: I Vizi degli Angeli – Gelateria Artigianale. Even better if the lavender ice-cream is in season. If not don’t worry, the flavours are delicious and the ice-lollies are top. Especially the Aperol Spritz flavoured lolly.

Extra toppings | Matera’s city festival happens on 2nd July – if you happen to be there, you will be amazed at the ritual of destroying the procession float. The tradition derives from Saracen occupation when Christianity was prohibited. Rather than have their icons and religious statues destroyed by the invaders, locals thought it was kinder to destroy them themselves. Thus crowds rush and surge to destroy the float at the end of the precession. It’s rather chaotic, and confusing if you don’t know of the tradition.

Parking | We usually head towards Matera Centrale Railway Station for parking. Around here, the parking spaces in the blue lines have a number. Remember that number. You need to input it in the ticket machine (as well as the car licence plate (registration) number. From there it is a very easy walk down Via Don Giovanni Minzoni and Via Ascanio Persio to Piazza Vittorio Veneto where you can get your bearings.

More | discover Matera with the Puglia Guys Matera city guide.

Polignano a Mare

Two to three hours includes eating time without swimming. Allow a half day to include bathing. 

Polignano a Mare by the Puglia Guys

The iconic pebble beach at Lama Monachile is uncomfortable to sit on for any length of time, even with the thickest beach towel. But nothing beats the experience of swimming out between the cliffs and inside the cave under the old town. 

From our Ostuni base it makes perfect sense to do Alberobello (40 minutes) in the morning, Monopoli (25 minutes from Alberobello) for lunch then Polignano (10 minutes from Monopoli) for gelato and a special coffee. This configuration works for us because it’s a very picturesque drive across the Valle d’Itria through Cisternino (20 minutes from Ostuni) and around Locorotondo (10 minutes from Cisternino) to Alberobello (10 minutes from Locorotondo), then onward to Monopoli. 

From Polignano we head home to Ostuni (40 minutes) along the Adriatic highway. 

Do it in reverse for a swim before lunch.

Likewise from Bari, you could combine the same destinations in one day, again heading first to Alberobello.

The key views of Polignano are from Ponte Borbonico su Lama Monachile (the bridge down over the beach), Belvedere Terrazza su Lama Monachile (the terrace that looks onto the beach from the old town end) and Belvedere Terrazza Santo Stefano (Terrazza Santo Stefano, out to the Adriatic from the old town). 

Take the steps (on the other side of the bridge) down to the seafront. Even better, the experience of swimming there. But not for the tender-soled. It doesn’t have sharp rocks or sea urchins, but those pebbles are uncomfortable!

If you choose to eat lunch in Polignano, head to the popular Pescaria | Piazza Aldo Moro, 6/8  (try to get there before 12.30pm or after 2.30pm to avoid a long queue).

For gelato and coffee after lunch head to Mario Campanella “Il Super Mago del Gelo” | Piazza Garibaldi, 22. The special coffee is amazing.

Parking | We try to park around Piazza Aldo Moro (pay parking). Often it is full, in which case head up towards the railway station. We usually find a parking space on the way.

More | the Puglia Guys city guide to Polignano a Mare – eat, swim, walk and shop.

Monopoli

Two to four hours, including lunch. 

Eat at or around the lively Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi. We like La Dolce Vita Ristorante

Follow this with a walk along the porto antico to the Castello Carlo V, then follow lungomare along the defensive sea wall. After the Bastione Santa Maria walk down the steps and along the seafront (asking the Bastione di Babula) to Spiaggia Cala Porta Vecchia, which will take you back into the compact old town if you hear right. Turn left for more seafront. 

Parking | We try and park around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and walk to the old town from there. Blue lines mean pay parking, white lines mean free parking (but check there are no maximum time limits imposed on free parking). From the south we often drive directly to the city beaches and park at Parcheggio Pentima.

More | our Monopoli city guide.

Alberobello

Two hours to soak up all that is Alberobello.

Unprepared for the crowds and the commercialisation of Alberobello many visitors we speak to leave feeling underwhelmed – and sometimes even unimpressed. The authenticity and charm of a long gone way of life has all but evaporated.

Yet no trip to Puglia would be complete without visiting the trulli of Alberobello.

Alberobello is Puglia’s undisputed trulli capital, but it is also Puglia’s most touristic destination | Puglia city guides - discover Puglia’s best bars, restaurants and what to do | Photo © the Puglia Guys.
Alberobello is Puglia’s undisputed trulli capital, but it is also Puglia’s most touristic destination | Puglia city guides - discover Puglia’s best bars, restaurants and what to do | Photo © the Puglia Guys.

Most tourist guides and commentators suggest arriving early to avoid the organised tour groups as Alberobello fills up by the bus load. To some extent trying to avoid negotiating the crowds is impossible, even by arriving early in the morning as more people take that advice on board.  Besides, that is now part of the Alberobello experience.

Arrive when best suits you. Mid-morning (or late afternoon – after 5pm) works for us.

Rione Monti the over-commercial main trulli district should not be ignored. Although it is the heart of the trulli zone, it is no longer the soul. No need to amble – save that for later.  Walk up Monte S. Michele, grab a coffee and delicious pastry at Martinucci Laboratory, via Monte S. Michele, 57. Cross over to Monte S. Gabriele and then onto Monte S. Marco.

Job done. You have seen what most visitors come to Alberobello to see.

Now cross over the Largo Martellotta and head up the steps towards Piazza XXVII Maggio and the rione Aia Piccola. The Aia Piccola district is less crowded, its restored trulli – mostly B&B accommodation – with characteristic original stonework intact. If you dig a little deeper you can discover a secret, hidden space offering a more intimate, close-up experience of Alberobello’s heritage.

Rione Aia Piccola | from Piazza XXVII Maggio head to Via Giuseppe Verdi and enjoy wandering around. If you have time take via Verdi all the way to via Colombo where you will see the splendid Villa Tria. Be sure to walk down Via Galileo Galilei and onto Vico il Duca degli Abruzzi. Keep going to discover some unrestored trulli in their original setting with some wonderful views through the pine trees over the white washed cone topped trulli of the rione Monti. In that instant you will find the Alberobello that inspired Pasolini.

Parking | Try the top end of Via Cavour (pay parking in the blue lines). We turn up Via Cairoli and if we are in luck can find a free parking spot (white lines). Again, check for any time limit restrictions on free parking! At the other end try Parcheggio “Nel Verde” pay car park (also for camper vans).

Moreberobello | Love me Trulli – the story of Alberobello’s unique stone dwellings | Trails of the Unexpected: the Puglia Guys guide to Alberobello’s secret spaces | Alberobello city guide.

Locorotondo

Drive by.

Many of Puglia’s white towns have a similar feel, so there is no need to visit them all. Drive around the front of Locorotondo when passing by to Alberobello or Cisternino to see why it takes that name. 

Cisternino

For lunch or dinner.

Looking over the Valle d’Itria from Cisternino | Photo © the Puglia Guys

Good for a lunch or dinner at one of its traditional Braceria restaurants for bombette. We like Al Vecchio Fornello

If you are there during the day grab a post-lunch coffee and gelato (or morning pastry) at Cremeria History Vignola and enjoy the panoramic view.

Parking | Pay parking on the side of the historic centre is available right by Cremeria History Vignola. Continue down Via Principe Amedeo and circuit back round if you had no luck!

Ostuni

Half a day. 

Start with lunch at the excellent family run Osteria Ostuni Bistrot on the Piazza della Libertà. The restaurant’s external seating area is right next to the seating area for a restaurant now called Petit Bistrot (it was Pizzeria Codice a Barre). Do not confuse the two. Ostuni Bistrot is where we want to eat at. 

Walk up into the centro storico, explore the tangle of streets and head up to the main cathedral. Pass under the Arco Scoppa. Have a gelato at the gelateria on the corner, then walk through the narrow street to the panoramic view over the olive grove, and Ostuni’s most photographed selfie-spot. Not the panoramic view, but la Porta Blu (the house with the blue door, in actual fact a private rental apartment). 

Ostuni’s la porta blu. By the Puglia Guys. The most popular selfie spot.

For a table with a view Borgo Antico Bistrot is nice to sit at for an afternoon aperitivo (and it’s reasonably priced especially given the location). Then continue left (and down) walk round the front side of the old town, through the maze of whitewashed alleys, back onto Via Cattedrale and down to the piazza della Libertà . Alternatively at La Porta Blue turn left and walk down to Chiesa Rettoria di Santa Maria della Stella where you can walk along Viale Oronzo Quaranta which is Ostuni’s old town defensive wall.

Places we avoid in Ostuni

Riccardo Caffè – we were overcharged the prices advertised on the menu and, in addition to paying the usual coperta cover charge, each paid an additional charge for “live music” (the DJ). When we pointed out the overcharge we were eventually asked to leave in a manner that was not the friendliest!

Osteria del Tempo Perso – we ate here only once. We don’t need to eat here again. This is a restaurant for tourists, who then recommend it to other tourists. We can eat food that we enjoy more (at prices that are closer to the prices local residents would usually pay) elsewhere in Ostuni!

Casbah Risto Café – chic trendy bar, but to avoid a nasty shock do not sit here and order without first checking the prices. At 15€ a glass this is the most expensive Aperol Spritz on the piazza. Instead sit on the other side of the Sant’Oronzo column at Caffè Fanelli Bistrot where the Aperol Spritz is just under 5€ (and comes with the same trimmings).

More | the Puglia Guys guide to eating out in Ostuni like a local – Ostuni’s best restaurants | our Ostuni city guide.

Ceglie Messapica

Visit for lunch at a family run trattoria with traditional home-style cooking.

Ceglie has a reputation as a gastronomic destination. See our #EatPuglia guide for specific recommendations. 

Carovigno

For aperitivo and dinner.

A worthwhile change of scenery if you are staying in nearby Ostuni. It has a lovely old town with a selection of restaurants that really punch above their weight.

It also has the very lovely and much Instagrammed Picci Bar.

Picci Bar, Carovigno. Puglia’s most Instagrammed summer 2023 spot. Photo by the Puglia Guys. Eat Puglia with the Puglia Guys guide to Puglia’s best restaurants.

Check out the Puglia Guys Carovigno guide for the best restaurants and bars in Carovigno.

San Vito dei Normanni

For aperitivo, dinner plus an authentic pizzica experience.

Summer nights in Salento have a distinct energy.  In contrast to the sleepy stillness of the afternoon, Salento evenings pulse with the rhythm of pizzica music. 

San Vito dei Normanni remains at the heart of Salento’s pizzica tradition. Experience the San Vito feeling with a visit to Strato bar for free open air pizzica music and dancing. A popular and lively local haunt for aperitivi, serving up decent bar food. It shares the same location as one of our favourite restaurants xFood if you prefer a restaurant dinner menu instead.

Popular pizzica nights featuring local musicians with street dancing regularly take place (usually on Thursday nights) at Antiko Cocktail Bar. They also serve great bar food.

The final night of the Coreutica festival organised by the World Music Academy of San Vito dei Normanni. The festival takes place in and around San Vito dei Normanni in July each year.

San Vito dei Normanni is 15km to the south of Ostuni, between Carovigno and Mesagne.

More | the San Vito Feeling – where to take part in pizzica nights in Puglia.

Brindisi

Half day. 

Once upon a time when Puglia was the center of the known world, Brindisi was one of the great intersections of the Mediterranean. A major center of Roman naval power and maritime trade, Brindisi was once one of the busiest ports in the world. The Via Appia ended here, the Crusaders set off from here. During WW2 Brindisi was Italy’s capital city for 8 months before the defeat of fascism. 

Have lunch and take a walk along the lungomare – Brindisi has a really nice, simple lungomare. It has a couple of interesting museums that show off the history and antiquities. Take a boat taxi to the National Sailor Monument. 

The main boulevard Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi leading from the lungomare feels different from Bari and Lecce, lined with palm trees. 

Try Betty – Gelateria Cafe Ristorante Pizzeria a Brindisi for morning coffee and pasticciotto or afternoon coffee / post-lunch gelato.

Museo Archeologico Francesco Ribezzo by the duomo is a fascinating museum, then we usually take lunch at La Locanda del Porto. 

Brindisi lungomare with the Monument to the Italian Sailor in the background | Photo © the Puglia Guys for the Big Gay Podcast from Puglia, city guides and guides to Puglia’s best restaurants, accommodation and things to to in Puglia, Italy’s top gay summer destination for LGBT travel.

See the Colonne romane di Brindisi, marking the end of the Via Appia. Here once stood Virgil’s home, now marked with a name plate. There is a nice panoramic terrace at the Palazzina del Belvedere-which houses the Collezione Archeologica S. Faldetta.

More | the Puglia Guys Brindisi city guide.

Lecce

Take a day to include a late, leccese breakfast and lazy lunch.

Enjoy the typical Lecce breakfast on the main piazza: pasticciotto and a caffè leccese. If you prefer savoury then take a rustico leccese. Walk around the historic centre. The old town, a Baroque maze within walls built by order of Emperor Charles V in the 16th century to protect the city from invading Turks, brims with good restaurants, busy bars, and some of our favorite boutiques.

New for 2024 is the Up! panoramic lift that takes you up the bell tower by the duomo. We haven’t done it yet, but details are included in our Lecce guide.

Continue along Via Vittorio Emanuele II for the Sant’Oronzo Column, a Roman column that was topped with a bronze statue of the city’s patron saint (the same patron saint as Ostuni, although Saint Orontius of Lecce, the first bishop of Lecce, was born in Rudiae, Lecce), and the sunken Roman amphitheater. An exciting project currently underway aims to restore and give access to the amphitheatre.

If you want to find Sant’Oronzo, the municipality building on via Francesco Rubichi currently houses the removed statue.

Continue to the stunning basilica Santa Croce to admire the sonework.

the astonishing Basilica of Santa Croce. Take your time to contemplate its facade, only recently revealed after years of restoration works. The detail - made possible by the soft Lecce limestone - is astonishing. Flowers, fruits, cherubs, mythical figures, animals and sculpted figures almost seem to form an external altar. Photo the Puglia Guys for the Lecce Guide

Be sure to stay for lunch. Lecce has so many places we love to eat. We list them in the Puglia Guys Lecce city guide.

Grottaglie and Taranto

It is only a 25-minute drive from Grottaglie’s ceramic quarter to Taranto’s borgo antico. Both are surprising and unexpected parts of Puglia that we totally recommend. They may not technically be off the beaten track, but many visitors neglect them. We recommend having a morning coffee and pasticciotto in Grottaglie, then visiting the ceramic stores. Remember they close in the afternoon.

Grottaglie

Grottaglie – half day

You will see ceramics all over Puglia. Grottaglie is the centre of Puglia’s ceramic traditions. Artisan potters (some of whom produce for better known retailers) have workshops where you can buy reasonably priced, useful souvenirs.

We regularly shop at:

FasanoCeramiche srl | Nicola Fasano has distinctive, beautiful pieces. Some smaller items are still good value, but the larger pieces tend to be more expensive, though beautiful and functional | Nicola Fasano website.

Antonio Fasano | we love the green colours of many of his pieces. Still one of the more expensive ceramicists, but again completely worth it for beautiful, functional pottery | Antonio Fasano website.

Cretaglie | very good value pieces. We stock up on coffee (espresso) sets and plates. Choose faces that resemble friends, to give as gifts. Spectacularly good value.

For coffee, we recommend ‘Bar delle ceramiche’, they usually make their own pasticciotti with excellent filling.

Walk around Grottaglie’s old town. Much of it has been renovated, but it still has deeply loved older buildings with history to tell. Thanks to the local art school, it also has very interesting street art.

Stay for lunch. Two excellent restaurants we usually eat at are:

Macchiaviva Bistrot | Serving up traditional cuisine, using ingredients sourced locally from artisan producers. Run by sisters Anna and Loredana who are knowledgable about ingredients and wine. Dessert contributions inspired and sometimes made by their mama | Via Cavour 13, 74023 Grottaglie | +39 099 450 4695

Trattoria la Luna nel Pozzo | Delicious, traditional dishes in the slow food tradition, run by husband and wife team | Via L. da Vinci, 4, 74023 Grottaglie TA | +39 373 784 2289

OR, alternatively head to Taranto’s borgo antico for lunch.

Taranto

A half day to explore Taranto’s borgo antico, including lunch (or dinner).

Wander around the streets of the old town, visit the stunning marble decorated 3rd apse of the duomo and eat cozze tarantine at exceptional seafood restaurants.

Famous for their farmed mussels. Eaten raw or steamed in a simple broth, they have become a taste obsession.

Then there’s the old town itself. Much of it dilapidated. A maze of small shops and restaurants, where whole houses can be bought for 1€. Raw and gritty, yet breathtakingly authentic. Scattered on its edges, a few fine restaurants with exceptional seafood and fish. Fresh and local. So local, you can probably follow the trail of water drips to the boardwalks along the quayside where it was bought from the fishermen who landed it.

Ristorante Al Canale | fish and seafood restaurant popular with the business community. Bright and airy, overlooking the channel between la Città Vecchia and downtown Taranto. A flawless lemon scented insalata di mare served hot in a lemon brodo impressed us. Eat Puglia with the Puglia Guys guide to Puglia’s best restaurants and bars.

For our restaurant recommendations and what to see, see our Taranto city guide: troubled Taranto and the beauty underneath.

Gallipoli

Good for a full day trip and spectacular sunsets. 

Take in the old town, enjoy a lazy lunch (and dinner if you have time) followed by a long afternoon on the beach, under the Salento sun. Gallipoli offers breathtaking sunsets. Savour this daily spectacle with a glass of local wine and olives from a rooftop terrace or on a nearby beach.

Take your time to meander through its winding streets, alleys, and hidden corners. Here you can discover the longtime residents going about their daily business, the fishermen mending their nets or weaving lobster pots and fishing baskets.

Spiaggia della Purità – the city beach, half-way around the old town perimeter, is the perfect place to soak up the sun and sea breeze, and to watch the sun set of an evening.

Spiaggia della Purità: The city beach marks the half-way point around the old town perimeter. A favourite city beach, la purità is the perfect place to soak up the sun and sea breeze, and to watch the sun set of an evening. Photo the Puglia Guys

For lunch or dinner, head to La Puritate, a rustic trattoria known for fresh, top quality seafood dishes, all while enjoying the serene views of the sea. The restaurant is next to the Chiesa della Purità, sitting above spiaggia della Purità. Popular with locals, we suggest linguettine alla Puritate as primo (small linguine with small prawns, thin strips of courgette and cherry tomatoes) followed by the theatrical gamberoni al sale. | Via Sant’Elia, 18 | trattorialapuritate.it

Ristorante Il Bastione is a family run restaurant. It’s terrace offers beautiful panoramic views over the sea, and a perfect sunset | Riviera Nazario Sauro, 28 | ilbastionegallipoli.it

Otranto

Spend half the day on one of the city beaches, enjoy a lazy lunch, and the rest of the day sightseeing.

For coffee, gelato and a morning pastry: Martinucci Laboratorio.

City beaches and swimming: all around the port. Just head to the old town. There are beaches outside the centre but we focus on city beaches here.

Sightseeing: stroll around the old town streets, visit Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata (with its historic tree of life mosaic floor, and the gruesome skulls of the beheaded martyrs of Otranto), the Aragonese Castle (the inspiration for the first ever Gothic novel) and, out of town, the Bauxite Cave (a disused quarry).

Eat: we usually choose LaltroBaffo Ristorante, a fish restaurant tending more towards fine dining.

Puglia Road Trips

Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca

This is our favourite road trip. An absolute highlight of a trip to our region, and one we make at least 3 or 4 times each summer.

The route along the coast is one of the most dramatic in Puglia, sandwiched between prickly pear lined cliffs and shimmering sea. This is not the Amalfi. The drive is leisurely, the pace easy.

Time saving tip | If we have been staying in Lecce we head to Otranto, BUT when we come from Ostuni – probably the furthest away we recommend doing this journey as a day trip – we bypass Otranto and head directly to Santa Cerarea Terme to start the drive along the coastal route from there. To save more time, head directly to Castro and start there.

Otranto | Santa Cesarea Terme

Distance | 18 km

Head south via the bauxite cave (la cava di bauxite), less than a 10 minute drive from the centre of Otranto.

A disused quarry and man made lake (bauxite is the main source of aluminium) returned to nature, creating a vividly coloured landscape of emerald green lake and ferrous red soil, framed by the glorious green trees and Puglia’s endless blue sky.

Park in the nearby car park (3€ fee) it is a short walk of a few minutes along a defined path to the bauxite quarry. The morning and late afternoon sun best compliments the colours.

Look out for the nearby Torre del Serpente, the symbol of Otranto. If the weather conditions are clear you can see Albania on the other side of the Adriatic.

On the road again, further along the coast is the Faro di Punta Palascìa lighthouse, a remote 19th-century lighthouse that marks Italy’s most easternmost point.

7.5km north of Santa Cesarea Terme is Porto Badisco.

Santa Cesarea Terme | Santa Maria di Leuca

Distance | 35 km

Choosing your own pace, decide where you might want to stop off, for sightseeing, for coffee, or for a swim.

Castro. A small Salento seaside town with a picturesque harbor. A public beach with rocky shelves and concrete piers, popular with locals and visitors all summer long. Photo copyright ©️ the Puglia Guys.
Castro
Cala dell’Acquaviva

Hugging the SP358 through Castro (during the summer peak traffic is diverted south of Castro to Marittima and back out at Cala dell’Acquaviva), Porto Tricase (where another one way system will divert you away from the coast towards Tricase ; just follow it – you will return) and by Marina Serra and il Ciolo until the lighthouse at Leuca announces your arrival. Continue to the lungomare. The old port and the art nouveau villas that line the seafront open up along the way.

Lidos sit on wooden platforms along Leuca’s lungomare. Be sure to take some ciabatte – rubber soled shoes – for swimming. These are a necessity for taking to the crystal clear waters lapping over jagged rocks peppered with sea urchins, whose spines present another hazard to the bare footed.

Il Ciolo, Gagliano del Capo - one of Puglia’s most beautiful swimming spots, in a dramatic canyon underneath a bridge | Photo © the Puglia Guys for the Big Gay Podcast from Puglia guides to gay Puglia, Italy’s top gay summer destination
Il Ciolo
Marina Serra’s natural swimming basin | Photo © the Puglia Guys for the Big Gay Podcast from Puglia guides to gay Puglia, Italy’s top gay summer destination
Marina Serra

Grab some frittura at Lido AlbaChiara. There you can enjoy the view over the azure waters while watching local teenagers snorkelling for urchin and polpo to be served at the next meal.

That’s the thing about Santa Maria di Leuca. It all comes back to the sea.

Getting to Santa Cesarea Terme from | Otranto 18 km | Lecce  50 km | Gallipoli 50 km | Ostuni 130 km.

With extra toppings

The drive itself is only 50 minutes, but we prefer to amble and explore along the way.

Sitting on a plateau that plunges into the sea Santa Cesarea Terme will remind you of Polignano a Mare. Bathe in the thermal waters, or enjoy the north African ambiance of the Palazzo Sticchi.

Buy the freshest street food in Castro. Locally caught fried fish from the friggitorie, served up in cartoccio accompanied by a small bottle of chilled white or rosé wine. Perched on cliffs 100m above the sea Castro is Puglia’s balcony over the Adriatic.

At peak summer traffic is diverted south of Castro to Marittima, brining you back out at Cala dell’Acquaviva, a picturesque secret bathing spot.

Stop off for a coffee at Porto Tricase. Watch the bathers taking a cooling dip in the green waters of the small beach at the little harbour, home to the town’s fishing boats.

Caletta del Ciolo some 8km before Leuca is a coastal ravine for hiking, cliff-diving and swimming with scenic views from the bridge over the canyon. Parking can be challenging, and the bathing space is limited, but the views are stunning. Another of Salento’s secret swimming places.

Supersize me

Instead of a day trip, spread this over two days.

Stay the night in Marina Serra. This allows an evening detour to nearby Tricase for a pre-dinner aperitivo at Farmacia Balboa. The old town pharmacy sits on a small piazza and has been sympathetically transformed into a cool cocktail bar retaining many original features. Its co-owner Dame Helen Mirren has a summer house in the neighbouring town of Tiggiano.

A couple of doors down is the Castel di Salve wine shop (their winery/cantina is in the wonderfully named neighbouring town on the other side – Depressa; though we are sure it’s not at all). They have great locally produced wines that taste of the Salento sun. Nothing brings a smile to our face like buying a 15 litre box of their Santi Medici Rosso negroamaro to take home.

For dinner Locanda Del Levante around the corner is our choice.

Be sure to get up in time to watch the sun rise over the rocky shelves that surround Marina Serra’s swimming basin along with the locals taking their daily early morning constitutional.

Valle d’Itria

The drive through the Valle d’Itria is quite beautiful. Rolling olive groves, the white cities. There is no specific route required, it is an incidental bonus when driving between Ostuni to Cisternino and Locorotondo, then onward Francavilla Fontana and Alberobello. From Alberobello it is worth driving over to Monopoli for the views coming downhill.

Bari to Vieste

Distance | 175 km | via SS16

We head north to the Gargano. Situated within the spur of Italy’s boot, it’s a huge forest, with a stunning coast, amazing beaches and the trabucchi. Fishing structures resembling steam punk North Sea oil rigs.

If the Valle d’Itria is the most visited part of our region then the Gargano is the most overlooked. Rising up in the distance as you pass along the salt flats of Margherita di Savoia it feels very different to the rest of Puglia – albeit with similar accents of olive groves and azure waters.

The drive through the ancient oak and beech forest will offer glimpses of a dramatic coastline of coves and caves cut into the white limestone cliffs and long sandy beaches.

Route

As this is a two and a half hour drive, we recommend making the most of this by staying the night in Vieste and returning to Bari after a late lunch in Peschici.

Take the SS16 | 2h29m route shown rather than the default A14 – Autostrada Adriatica (E55) route. This avoids the €6,80 toll and is a more interesting drive through Margherita di Savoia and along the coast.

Route | SS16 | take exit Barletta Nord | merge onto via Foggia and onto SP141 for Margherita di Savoia | when approaching Manfredonia follow the signs to Mattinata/Vieste and merge onto the Strada Statale 89 Garganica/SS89 | stay on Strada Statale 89 Garganica/SS89 to Vieste.

With extra toppings

Stop off in Trani (50 minutes from the centre of Bari) for a coffee and pastry. Head to the Porto di Trani (the Trani Sant’Angelo exit) for coffee and a pastry and a walk around the old port with its picturesque cathedral. Or you can lunch at the Michelin starred Quintessenza Ristorante. Attentive service, without being overly fussy. Food excellence is reflected by price, though not prohibitive | Via Lionelli 62, 76125 Trani BT | +39 0883 880948

Continue the drive through the salt flats of Margherita di Savoia, pull into the side to see the flamingos.

Eat Vieste: try the pepata di cozze (peppered mussels). Served in the shell and a delicious broth it may look similar to moules mariniere, albeit without cream. Unlike moules mariniere the wine and garlic do not overpower the broth, enriched by the olive oil and beautifully fragranced by the black pepper.

Alternatively choose a paposcia from the range of paposce on the menu. Similar to a panini but with a crispy wood oven baked focaccia, made exclusively from olive oil from the ancient olive oil trees of the Vico del Gargano. Named after the slipper shaped focaccia this speciality of the Gargano region going back to the 16th century.

Beach

Spend the afternoon on the beach. Vieste has two long stretches of sandy beach, either side. Both have a selection of private lido clubs and public beach.

The longer stretch is of beach is on the southeast side of the town, where Pizzomunno stands watch. You can park along the lungomare (approximately 1€ /hour). On the northwest side is a shorter but deeper beachfront, again filled with lido clubs. A huge car park sits between the beachfront and the hotels (approximately 1€ /hour).

Peschici

A 30-minute drive along the coast, north of Vieste.

Along the coast of rocky beaches and translucent turquoise waters, between Peschici and Vieste, are the trabucchi.

These … “strange fishing machines, all composed of planks and beams similar to giant spiders” stand like a cross between steampunk North sea oil rigs and sail-less ships. Some double as restaurants where fresh fish and seafood are served up with cold beer, bread and slices of lemon.

Spend the morning on one of the beautiful beaches either side of Peschici before heading to Trabucco da Mimì, a must for lunch (booking essential); the food, the location – one of Puglia’s best dining experiences. We suggest booking a terrace table for 1.30pm. Don’t think about finishing until after 3pm.

Alternatively you can eat at their bar area, though this is a wonderful spot to watch the sunset. Al Trabucco also has amazing accommodation. Serviced cabins. We stayed there on one of our visits. The location is exceptional.

After lunch be sure on the way back to Bari be sure to stop off at Azienda Agricola da Rocco.

It’s a stall on the side of the road just 5 or so minutes from the trabucco, en route towards Vieste.

Rocco has amazing cheese, garlic and chilli peppers. Not to say jams, preserves, delicious stuffed chillis and amazing chilli paste. We filled up, and also sampled his caciocavallo, wine, olives…

Tell him we sent you.

More | our visit to Trabucco da Mimì

Boat trips

We often hire a boat either at Castro Marina or from Santa Maria di Leuca. These allow you to coast along the coast, for a view and scenery we don’t see from the road.

We use Nautica Red Coral at Castro and Piccola Nautica in Leuca.

We enjoy the Leuca hire more because it let us explore the Adriatic, some of the caves before we head up the Ionian and a stop at Torre Vado. We had more variety and diversity of coast to see when we took the boat from Leuca.

As well as boat rentals they both do boat tours, if you are not confident about being your own captain. One place we definitely do a boat tour is when we visit Vieste. We did the Desirèe imbarco Tour Grotte Marine which took us just beyond the spectacular Faraglioni di Baia delle Zagare. Depending on the sea conditions, the boat navigates some tight spots to get into caves and stops off (usually at Spiaggia di Vignanotica) for swimming.

Walking trips

Porto Selvaggio

A little less than 20km north of Gallipoli, Porto Selvaggio is one of Puglia’s most beautiful nature reserves. Covering 1100 hectares it is thick with pine forest.

Our tour took a little under 4 hours, from Masseria Torre Nova down to the main bay at Spiaggia di Porto Selvaggio (a busy and popular beach, despite being all rock and pebble) following the coast up to Torre Uluzzo. The terrain becomes a little more challenging around Grotta del Cavallo and up to Torre Uluzzo with a steep ascent, climbing around some rocks.

Sensible shoes (trainers) and long trousers to protect legs against the scrub and thorns you will trek through are recommended.

More information on tours with Giacomo De Mitri can be found on his facebook page. Tours are in Italian.

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