Puglia, Italy is one of those unreal kinds of regions, where you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale almost immediately after arriving. Pristine beaches, adorable towns with limestone and narrow streets, and of course, unbelievable food are just some of the elements that make this region so amazing. Each town has its own unique charm, of course, but it’s not always easy trying to pack everything in! Our guide to Puglia features some of the unmissable places that need to be on your itinerary, the best beaches for relaxing and enjoying the sun, and where to stay.
Towns you should visit
Ostuni, or the famed “White City” is one of the most well-known cities in the Puglia area, and for good reason. With sweeping olive trees and labyrinth-like alleyways, staircases, and arches, it’s easy to get lost exploring the city. Dating back hundreds of years, you’ll find yourself roaming through narrow streets and gardens, catching little peeks of the ocean, and feeling lost in the moment. Each time you venture out, it’s easy to find new places to explore, making it perfect to stay for a few nights.
Ostuni is best enjoyed over the course of a few days rather than a rushed trip. If you’re trying to escape the crowds (and summer heat) the low season is a great time to visit. It’s less packed and gives you more room to explore. There are a lot of great trattorias and restaurants to enjoy during the trip where you can get a great view and a great meal. And don’t forget to check out the gorgeous 15th-century Gothic cathedral that is quite literally breath-taking.
Literally translated as “beautiful tree,” Alberobello is most well-known for its unique trullo buildings, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996. Alberobello also boasts a long history with its founding in the early 16th century, and that history can still be seen today.
Trullo houses are unique because they were built with dry walls without the use of mortar. And these are a remnant of Alberobello’s historic past. The reason for the dry stones? The count who led the town was trying to avoid taxes on certain materials, so residents had to use dry stones instead. These limestone dwellings are definitely unique, and they make for a spectacular sight. Alberobello makes for a great day trip as you explore the Puglia region, and provide a little more historical context and insight into how the region has developed over time.
Polignano a Mare
Polignano a Mare is about 30 minutes away from Bari, one of the main transport hubs in Puglia. Its location makes it perfect as a base to start your exploring, and there’s enough to do and see that you can spread your visit over a few days or just pass through as you travel through the region.
The Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II is a busy town square with plenty of yummy food and coffee to enjoy as you relax. Or if you’re looking to do a little more exploring, the contemporary art museum Fondazione Museo Pino Pascali houses some great pieces and some great views since it overlooks the ocean. And if you want an unforgettable dining experience, the Grotta Palazzese needs to be on your itinerary. Nestled in an ancient cave, it dates back to the 1700s and boasts spectacular views of the ocean. It’s on the pricier side, but definitely worth trying.
Remember that fairytale feeling we mentioned earlier? If you want to experience that full-throttle, Matera has to be on your list. Part of the Sassi “stone” districts, the city is built on natural caves that have been excavated and extended for thousands of years. Enter the city and you’re greeted by limestone buildings and houses rising above the caves, against a cliff and it’s just magical. Whether you’re here for a day or for a few nights, Matera will leave you stunned. The rock churches or the chiese rupestri are dotted across the city as well as further out towards the river. The Chiesa San Pietro Barisano dates back to the 12th century, and its interiors are completely carved out of rock – definitely a must-see. The Palombaro Lungo is another sight to add to your list. A water cistern manmade and dug into the rock, it dates back to the 16th century and is truly stunning. Fun fact, Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ was filmed here in 2004.
History and artisanship collide in Grottaglie, with its picturesque views and handmade ceramic industry. Dating back to the medieval times, Grottaglie has that quintessential Southern Italy charm with gorgeous natural beauty to top it all off. The town is dotted with its famous workshops which are dug into soft stone in order to form grottos. Strolling through this town you’ll find artisans specializing in ceramics, so you’ll be able to take a piece of Grottaglie back with you. The workshops are filled with artists creating works of art ranging from pots and jugs to statues, among other ceramic creations. There’s a special joy as you explore the city to witness this. As you take a walk through the main square, you’ll see the works of art coming to life in front of you as the artisans craft their work.
No trip to Puglia would be complete without some beach trips! There are many, many to choose from so we won’t try to list them all. However, if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, here are some gems that are worth exploring.
Torre Guaceto, Brindisi
Located in Brindisi, near Alberobello, it’s a vast and beautiful beach that is perfect for relaxation. A protected marine area and nature reserve, this is the perfect beach for when you want a nice private sandy spot to call your own. And if you’re a fan of snorkeling, you can also discover gorgeous coral reefs and seagrass at this beach for even more fun!
San Pietro in Bevagna Beach, Maruggio
This is the perfect beach if you want a nice and peaceful experience. A protected beach, it’s usually quite empty so you can spend the day totally relaxed just by yourselves. If you like to people-watch a little though, have no fear! Some parts of the beach are serviced so you’ll still be able to get the comfy private beach experience, but with some loungers and drinks too.
Dune di Campomarino Beach, Maruggio
Another beach in Maruggio, this one is also a deserted and more private beach, but with a little extra. A sand dune beach, it’s more on the empty side in terms of people and food/drink…but that’s what makes it a great pick for nature lovers! Enjoy crystal clear water and of course, the gorgeous shrubbery and vegetation. You’ll even find some cool plants and herbs to discover like juniper, lavender, and thyme as you explore the beach.
Places to stay
The great thing about the Puglia region is that there’s no shortage of places to stay! Each hotel and B&B have their own charm and luxury, and it really feels like a personal experience. You can get something a little more on the luxurious side, or go for something rustic. But no matter what option you go for, it will be an unforgettable stay – and there’ll be lots of yummy food involved! Here are some of our favorites places to stay:
Want to feel like you’re staying in a candle-lit castle? Borgo Egnazia will definitely give you those vibes. Modeling after a traditional village (borgo), it has a lot of amenities and extras to make your stay even more comfortable. You’ll feel like you’re in a Moorish castle as you explore the court and piazza, and the romantic yet rustic rooms. Borgo Egnazia boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, championship golf course, two beach clubs with private beaches – one sandy, one pebbly. And even better, it hosts an amazing spa! The treatments are all based on ancient Puglian rituals, so you can relax and enjoy some of the traditions of the region.
Amazing food, beautiful landscapes and gorgeous architecture are just some of the reasons why Masseria Moroseta is so special. You’ll find a courtyard filled with arches, painted sandstone walls in calming white and limestone floors as its signature features. Masseria Moroseta is modeled after “Pugliese” farmhouses, but with some modern touches. Enjoy the rustic charm of a typical farmhouse in this region as you stay here.
The modern touches come in its eco-friendly approach since the Masseria is powered by solar power and features green building techniques and energy-saving insulation. You can drink in the views of Ostuni and the ocean as you stay here, and enjoy wandering around the organic olive fields that surround it. Masseria Moroseta is a gorgeous balance of traditional and modern, where you’ll enjoy the rural simplicity and tranquility, but with a little bit of luxury.
A former watchtower of the medieval Knights of Malta, Masseria San Domenico dates back to the 15th century. A five-star hotel now, it offers an amazing sea-water lagoon pool, as well as lush gardens and courtyards covered in bougainvillea and jasmine. And if you’re looking for some more relaxation, don’t forget to check out some of its amenities. Most notably, Masseria San Domenico is also known for its wellness center, which specializes in Thalassotherapy – i.e. seawater therapy.
Heralding back to the 16th century, Masseria Potenti is steeped in history. Located in a 30-hectare country estate, the masseria is surrounded by peaceful olive groves and vineyards in the western part of Puglia. Owned by an Italian couple from the nearby Manduria, Masseria Potenti strives to create an experience for its guests. Blending the rural countryside with luxurious amenities and gorgeous views, Masseria Potenti is a charming estate to stay at. Enjoy their homemade jams and pastries for breakfast, as well as the traditional Mediterrenean fare with seasonal produce to really get the real masseria experience.