Puglia Holiday Planning Guide
Situated at the southeastern tip of the country, Puglia forms the heel on the "boot" of Italy. First colonized by Mycenaean Greeks, the region flourished during Roman times as a major producer of grain and oil. Today, Puglia remains a predominantly agricultural part of the country, though its warm and sunny coastal weather makes it a favorite holiday destination with an ever-increasing number of tourists. The long coastline features attractions like sun-kissed beaches and lively resorts, many of which are overlooked by limestone cliffs. Deeper inland, Puglia is largely flat, a land of charming villages and world-class cuisine. Here, you'll find olive oil, grapes, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, and fresh seafood to give you sustenance as you continue sightseeing. Despite its reputation as a producer of some Italy's best food and wines, Puglia still has numerous rural corners that most tourists have yet to explore.
Places to Visit in PugliaLecce
: Dotted with fabulous Baroque monuments and grand churches, Lecce is considered the Florence of the south. Bari
: Bari has been the subject of an intensive regeneration project, and today the the once-overlooked capital of Puglia is attracting an ever-growing number of tourists, drawn by its medieval architecture and hip nightlife scene. Gallipoli
: Nestled into the shores of the Salento Peninsula, Gallipoli is a city of two halves; its urban sprawl of skyscrapers and shopping centers contrasts with its winding complex of ancient churches and classical plazas. Otranto
: One of the most popular Puglia vacation spots, Otranto delights its many visitors with picturesque beaches, a pedestrian-only historic center, and a pretty harbor area. Porto Cesareo
: Home to white sand and crystal-clear waters, Porto Cesareo has adopted the nickname "Maldives of Italy." Though the majority of its visitors spend their days relaxing on the beach, the town center plays host to a number of interesting historical monuments.Vieste
: An immensely photogenic city, the white-washed buildings of Vieste perch atop rugged cliffs, overlooking one of the region's best beaches.Taranto
: A city of stark contrasts, Taranto serves as a hugely important commercial port, naval base, and hosts Italy's largest steel plant, however, away from the developments of recent decades, visitors can find a medieval center and charming seaside parade. Foggia
: Foggia suffered a severe earthquake in the 18th century and further damage in World War II, reducing many of its historical treasures to rubble, however, it is ideally situated for exploring the delights of Italy's granary region and its imposing 12th-century cathedral makes it a worthwhile stop. Brindisi
: Despite its role as an important port, Brindisi retains a laid-back holiday feel with wide-open boulevards, a well-kept seaside promenade, and a plethora of palm trees. History buffs will want to include the city's castle in their Puglia itinerary, built by Emperor Frederick II. Rodi Garganico
: Part of the Gargano National Park, Rodi Garganico represents one of the region's premier relaxation spots, offering several long beaches with lakes, forests, and mountains just a stone's-throw away.
Things to Do in Puglia
Popular Puglia Tourist AttractionsI Trulli di Alberobello - World Heritage Site
: One of the country's most intact medieval settlements and a World Heritage site, The Trulli of Alberobello is characterised by its rows of charming white, beehive-shaped houses from the 14th century. Today they play host to souvenir shops, restaurants, and quirky accommodation options. Zoosafari
: Combining a drive-through safari, large zoo, and a whole host of theme park rides, Zoo Safari serves as one of the most popular family attractions in Puglia.Grotte di Castellana
: A subterranean complex of caves and passages, a guided tour of Grotte di Castellana reveals astounding stalactites and stalagmites as well as the opportunity to glimpse the native wildlife that live here. Samsara Beach
: Turquoise waters lap gently on the strikingly white sand at Samsara Beach. In the daytime, this picturesque corner of Gallipoli serves as tranquil retreat, but when the sun goes down the volume goes up as party-goers arrive and DJs play live music. Basilica di Santa Croce
: The largest Franciscan church in the world, Basilica di Santa Croce boasts 16 fresco-covered chapels and serves as the final resting place for some of Italy's most famous sons, including Machiavelli and Michelangelo. Jonian Dolphin Conservation
: Carrying out vital marine protection work, the Jonian Dolphin Conservation organization offers dolphin-watching trips with knowledgeable experts in the field.Masseria Brancati
: An organic farm with a rich history, Masseria Brancati provides an insight into Puglia's important olive oil industry with guided tours and tastings.Castel del Monte
: One of the nation's most important historic sites, Castel del Monte is considered a masterpiece of medieval military architecture. The World Heritage site was built in the 13th century and today appears on the Italian one-cent coin. Palude del Conte e Duna Costiera
: Punta Prosciutto represents one of the Ionian Sea's best swimming and paddling spots with an ocean floor free of stones and rocks. The bordering sand dunes offer superb views of ancient watchtowers. Basilica San Nicola
: Constructed around 1,000 years ago and steeped in legend, Basilica di San Nicola is an important pilgrimage destination for both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
Planning a Puglia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Puglia with Kids
Puglia's coastline provides a number of good bases for a family holiday. The area's plethora of seaside cities offer superb swimming opportunities and plenty of space for kids to play. Ancient coastal towns such as Otranto
are good options if you want to diversify your break, as you can intersperse lazy beach days with historical sightseeing in the center. The picturesque Tremiti Islands
are a popular choice, with stunning beaches and opportunities for exciting boat tours between the isles. However, the crowds of Italian tourists during the kids' summer vacation periods can be overwhelming, so aim for spring break.
Things to Do in Puglia with Kids
There is a dearth of tourist attractions aimed specifically at children in Puglia, and you may find yourself having to get creative when organizing fun days out with the little ones. The museums, though fascinating, tend not to be interactive, so you're better off sticking to historical sites if you want your kids to learn a bit about Italy's past on their Puglia trip. Churches may not inspire younger visitors, but imposing castles such as Castello Aragonese
and Castello Dentice di Frasso di Carovigno
will get kids' imaginations racing. The Zoosafari
complex is the best-known child-friendly attraction in the region, but beaches and boat trips are also good ways to keep little ones occupied. Many children will enjoy the underground adventure that Grotte di Castellana
Tips for a Family Vacation in Puglia
Summer in Puglia is hot and dry, which can tire both you and your kids out. Bring hats along and make sure you have plenty of high SPF sunscreen with you. Due to the warm weather, the siesta period in summer is long, lasting in some towns from 12:30 until 4:00pm. The streets become deserted and some smaller attractions, shops, and restaurants close. To prevent your kids from getting bored, use the opportunity to run around in a park or schedule your own family's naps for that time, too. Italians tend to eat late, so unless you want to dine in an empty restaurant you may find yourself doing the same. Including siestas in your Puglia vacation can help kids stay up late without them getting grouchy.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Puglia
Cuisine of Puglia
A region known for its wonderful cuisine and high quality produce, a vacation in Puglia is culinary adventure. The Italian tradition of cucina povera (peasant cooking) is strong here, so dishes tend to be simple, relying on fresh local ingredients for the taste. Fortunately, as an extremely fertile and largely agricultural region, it has a vast number of ingredients to choose from, including tomatoes, fava beans, zucchini, and peppers. Puglia is perhaps best known for its olive oil, producing around 40 percent of Italy's famous speciality, but the region is also responsible for great quantities of wine. As in much of the country, pasta and bread is ubiquitous and often handmade, however in Puglia it tends to be made from local durum wheat. If you visit some smaller villages on your Puglia holiday, you may encounter communal wood-burning ovens. Locals will visit these on an almost-daily basis to bake the bread that will accompany their family's dinner. In 2003, the bread made in Altamura
was granted a Denomination of Origin of Production (DOP), making it the first town in Europe to receive this special status for its bread.
The rocky interior of Puglia provides ideal conditions for sheep and goat farming. You'll find lamb on most restaurants' menus, and it is often served at home. The goats and sheep are also used to produce dairy products, and a number of cheese specialities exist in Puglia. Canestratro Puglies, a hard sheeps' cheese, is another DOP product and often grated on pasta. Fallone di Gravina cheese is made from a mix of goat's and sheep's milk and is eaten on the same day it's made.
Blessed with a long coastline that straddles two seas, it's not surprising that Puglia boasts a strong fishing tradition. Coastal cities such as Otranto
enjoy huge feasts of fresh-caught fish, including red mullet, anchovies, and sea bass. Seafood fans should try Gallipoli's
special fish soup on their Puglia trip, featuring seabream, prawns, and cuttlefish.
If you still have room for something sweet at the end of a traditional Pugliese feast, the desserts are well worth the calories. Many are almond based due to the region's vast quantities of almond trees, but honey and candied fruits are also regularly featured. Try the Pugliese variation of biscotti with your morning espresso.
Shopping in PugliaBari
serves as Puglia's shopping capital and offers a diverse range of shopping experiences. To pick up some interesting vacation souvenirs, head to the city's outdoor markets, where handicrafts and antiques are sold. For an authentic glimpse into local life, browse one of the colorful food markets, packed full of local produce, freshly baked bread, and of course, olive oil. You may need to bring a phrasebook with you, as many vendors do not understand English. Those interested in designer shopping should take a stroll down Via Sprano where you can find high-end stores such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Emporio Armani. If you're interested in finding luxury on a budget, head to the Outlet Village in Molfetta
, just a short drive away from Bari
, where designer goods are sold at discounted prices.
A number of talented artisans live in Puglia, particularly in Lecce
where they make their living selling handicrafts from made from wood, cane, and straw. The city is also famous for its papier-mache figures, far more elaborate and artistic than the papier-mache creations many are used to seeing. The art form called cartapesta is well regarded and a museum
dedicated to it opened in the city in 2009. The figures are available to buy, or even commission, across across the city as a special memento of your Puglia vacation.
Foodies will enjoy picking up edible goodies in Puglia's large assortment of speciality stores, such as butchers, cheesemongers, bakeries, and wine shops. Wine aficionados may want to visit the vineyards themselves for a tasting before buying. Cantine Menhir
offers tours and has a popular tavern-style restaurant.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Puglia
History of Puglia
Boasting a long coastline, strategic positioning, and famously fertile soil, it comes as no surprise that great powers throughout history have wanted to include Puglia in their empires. This complex and varied history makes Puglia one of Italy's richest archaeological regions, with many superb examples on display at the Museo Archeologico nazionale di TAranto-MArTA
Ancient Greeks from Sparta bought the first wave of colonization to Puglia in the 8th century BCE and ruled for many centuries. Taranto
became their most important city in the region and today it hosts the popular Puglia attraction, the Spartan Museum. Their prosperous domination over the region was interrupted by the Romans, who conquered Puglia in a course of wars throughout the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. Under the Romans, Puglia became an important area in the production of grain and oil.
In 476 CE, the Roman Empire famously fell and many centuries of instability followed. Foreign rulers seemed to go as quickly as they came, though each left its mark on Puglia's culture, architecture, and cuisine. Italy, including Puglia, came under control of the Ostrogoths by 488, however, by the 6th century the Lombards had arrived and established the short-lived Kingdom of Italy. The Byzantines also had a great interest in Puglia at that time and succeeded in capturing the region shortly after. They held on to Puglia until the 11th century, despite Lombard revolts and occasional invasions by the Arabs, who occupied Taranto
in 840 and the city of Bari
just seven years later.
By 1059, the Normans had had considerable involvement in Southern Italy and Richard Guiscard, a Norman, was able to establish the Duchy of Puglia. Later that century, the Normans were successful in conquering Sicily and established a power base there, with Puglia serving as an outpost. By 1127, all of Sicily and southern Italy was ruled by one Norman king. During this period, the empire built a number of Romanesque churches, several of which can visited today. Include Bitonto Cathedral
in your Puglia itinerary to witness a fine example of Norman architecture.
Puglia was inherited by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the 12th century and became one of his favorite residences. Though much progress occurred under Frederick's reign, the political climate was extremely contentious as nobles from many dynasties attempted to bend the young emperor to their will. He built a number of impressive churches and castles, including Castel del Monte
and Castello Svevo
. The region was eventually conquered again in 13th century by the influential House of Anjou, and became a part of the Kingdom of Naples.
From the 16th century, Puglia and the rest the Kingdom fell increasingly under the control of the Spanish Empire, and then-King Ferdinand V of Aragon began to fortify towns like Otranto
, and Taranto
due to the growing specter of Ottoman Turkey to the east. While on your trip to Puglia, you will likely notice a great deal of bold Spanish-influenced architecture, a lasting legacy of this important period. In the following centuries, Puglia changed hands multiple times between warring states, passing from the Spanish to the Austrians, back to the Spanish, and then to Napoleonic France before finally becoming a part of the newborn Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
In 1922, Mussolini seized power in Italy and the south became integral to his "Battle for Wheat," an initiative aimed at making Italy self-sufficient when it came to food. Today, Puglia remains covered in wheat fields, olive groves, and fruit orchards. In 1943, the Allied invasion managed to oust German forces from the ports of Bari
, and Taranto
. The coast suffered heavy bombing from both sides of the conflict.
Landscape of Puglia
A flat region by Italian standards, Puglia consists of broad plains and stretches of gentle low-lying hills. Though it has mountainous areas, the Gargano promontory and the Monti Dauni, they do not exceed 1,150 m (3,800 ft) in height. A sun-baked and largely agricultural part of the country, Puglia is packed full of olive groves, many of which have existed for centuries and have grown to such an extent that they resemble forests more than than orchards. A drive of nearly any length in Puglia involves passing these romantic and quintessentially Italian groves that have to be seen to be believed. Forming Italy's "heel," Puglia juts out into both the Adriatic and Ionian Sea, with these waters forming an important part of both the landscape and way of life here. The coastline switches dramatically from jagged limestone cliffs to wide beaches, with miles of sand offered at Alimini Beach
and Spiaggia Baia Verde di Gallipoli
Holidays & Festivals in Puglia
Italy is a Roman Catholic country and Easter is a very special time for the nation, accompanied by a great many festivals. The Holy Week, Settimana Santa, can be a very interesting time to vacation in Puglia as religious celebrations take place up and down the region. On Maundy Thursday, the streets of Nociattrano, near Bari
, are filled by shoeless devotees dressed in habits and crowns of thorns carrying over 100 crosses. In Gallipoli
, a series of processions following statues of the Madonna and Jesus take place on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.
Before Lent, Italy enjoys its carnival season, a period of celebration and gaiety before the petinence of the following forty days. In Puglia, parties and parades are held all over the region, many of which involve costumes and masquerades. Putignano's
carnival celebrations are rumored be to be the oldest of their kind in the world, dating back to 1394. Four parades take place in the town between the 26th of December and Ash Wednesday, with elaborate allegorical floats.
July and August are particularly festive months in Puglia, as more tourists arrive in the region and many music, food, and art events take place. For example, Castello Aragonese
hosts three days of jazz concerts in July and a seafood festival takes place in Polignano a Mare in August. A number of religious celebrations also take place this time of year, commemorating patron saints and historical events. The Festival of the Holy Martyrs, held in Otranto
in August remembers the 1480 massacre that took place when Turkish forces tried to convert the town's inhabitants to Islam.
Puglia Travel Tips
Climate of Puglia
Enjoying a warm Mediterranean climate and an average of 300 sunny days a year, Puglia's favorable weather makes it a good vacation destination nearly any time of year. In spring, the weather is pleasant and full of sunshine, with temperatures reaching the low 20s C (70s F) by the end of April. Summers are long, hot and dry, lasting from around the end of May until September. July and August are the warmest months, with temperatures usually hovering around 30 C (86 C) and most destinations enjoying 14 hours of sunshine a day. The sea also warms up at this time of year, providing ideal conditions for a relaxing seaside dip. Fall is the ideal time of year for a Puglia holiday as the beaches are less crowded but the weather remains warm. Temperatures generally only descend below 20 C (68 F) in December, signalling the beginning of winter. Though winters are wet by Pugliese standards, the rainfall is light and temperatures remain mild.
Transportation in Puglia
For a largely rural region, Puglia boasts an impressive array of public transportation options, however, using it requires some patience and planning. Trains in Puglia are operated by two companies, the national railway company, Trenitalia, which connects the larger cities and a private local train company, Ferrovie del Sud Est, which links smaller destinations. Though a considerable network exists, trains are not frequent and train travel requires thorough planning to avoid missed connections or long waiting times. Alternatively, you can use buses to tour Puglia. Long distance buses provide a cost-efficient way to travel and often service smaller towns. They tend to leave early, so you'll need to be prepared the night before. Moreover, buses can be slow and difficult to navigate, particularly if your Italian language skills aren't up to scratch.
Those who want to visit Puglia's enchanting secluded villages should consider renting a car, as public transportation is more limited in these areas. Roads in Puglia are much calmer than many parts of Italy and driving can be very enjoyable. However, in rural regions drivers will need to prepared for narrow country roads and look out for road bends accompanied by stone walls, which obstruct visibility.
Languages of Puglia
As with all regions of Italy, the official language is Italian. However, Puglia's varied history has led to a complicated patchwork of different dialects and languages being spoken across the land. As is common across much of southern Italy, dialects of the Neapolitan language are spoken in northern and central Puglia. Despite it having some distinct differences from the national language, speakers of Italian will have no problem understanding Neapolitan, as the languages are mutually intelligible. In the south of Puglia, the Tarantino and Salentino dialects of Sicilian are regularly used, though these are very similar to Italian. In Province of Foggia
, a rare dialect of the Franco-Provençal language, called Faetar, is spoken in the towns of Faeto and Celle Di San Vito, and a dialect of Albanian called Arbëreshë is spoken by a small community in a handful of villages. A variation of Greek is spoken by a few thousand people in isolated pockets of southern Salento. As foreign tourism is fairly rare in Puglia, English is not widely understood but don't fret; most people will communicate with overseas guests in Italian rather than their town's dialect. Learn a few greetings and polite Italian phrases to help you on your Puglia trip.