What is there to see and do in Puglia? No single web page can cover it all, but we'll give you lots to think about.
Puglia, or Apulia, is the least mountainous region of Italy. It's got everything tourists might want: the flat lands are perfect for biking or walking, the warm, dry climate makes the season a long one, and the miles of Adriatic and Ionian coastline beg for swimmers and holiday makers.
Puglia is rich in cultural layers laid down by passers-by through the centuries. First the tribal Messpii speaking Messapian, then Mycenaean Greeks. Ancient Greeks arrived by the 8th century BC around Taranto, and there still exists a cluster of small towns in southern Puglia called the Grecia Salentina in which a dialect of Greek is spoken and still taught in schools.
The ancient Romans trumped them all, of course, and soon were building roads in the area, like the Via Traiana, a coastal alternative to the Via Appia built by Emperor Trajan in 109 AD.
Suffice it to say there are plenty of archaeological remains around for the budding archaeologist to visit, especially those interested in the cultural layers of a long-inhabited place.
But let's stop here and get our bearings. We'll start with the provinces.
As you can see, the five provinces are based around the major cities of Puglia, Foggia, Bari, Taranto, Brindisi, and Lecce. Bari is considered the capital of Puglia itself. There are two other marks on the map, purplish blobs marking the Foresta Umbra, a high forest in the spur of the boot called the Gargano promontory, for which we've prepared a touristic itinerary: Gargano Itinerary.
North of the Taranto label is that area marked by the circular dwellings called Trulli centered on the town of Alberobello. The town's popularity with tourists has led to an evolution of its cuisine, which you can read about: In Alberobello, Cucina Povera gets an upgrade.
No doubt you've heard of towns like Alberobello in the province of Bari, famous for its trulli, many of which are still occupied today. The Trulli make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Salento Peninsula is the southeastern part of Puglia, taking in the Lecce province as well as much of the Brindisi and Taranto provinces.
Click or tap the markers on the map below to show descriptions and links to content on the city or place. You'll find many of our discoveries on this map, from hidden monasteries to extraordinary cities and attractions.
The map is not a comprehensive guide to every attraction in Puglia; it's what we've found interesting over the years we've traveled in the region. Explore the possibilities--there are too many to be crammed into a map of this size.
Trabucchi are fishing machines set out on promontories. A series of nets set with long poles made of the local Aleppo pine can be manipulated to catch fish feeding in the area. The idea is believed to have originated with the Phoenicians, making fishing safer than doing it from small, primitive boats.
The family-run trabucchi are no longer as profitable as they once were; modern fishing boats scour the sea and relieve it of its inner life much more efficiently. Today the trabucchi are protected as historical monuments. They still catch fish, and the families often run restaurants on the premises. If you like fish, don't miss the experience. You won't likely eat fish fresher then you'll get at lunch on a trabucco. See: Il Trabucco di Monte Pucci - Where to Eat Fish in the Gargano.
Abbeys and Monasteries tucked away in hidden spaces reflecting Greek and Byzantine spirituality are another rather unique characteristic of Puglia. Abbazia Santa Maria di Pulsano was founded in the 6th century and destroyed in 952 by the Saracens, but rose again and again to become one of the most powerful monasteries in Italy.
Many have heard of the Sassi, the cave dwellings of Matera in the region of Basilicata, but may not know that the architecture isn't limited to Matera or Basilicata. Cave churches are a feature of the delightful town of Gravina in Puglia, which is a half hour drive or bus ride from Matera and a twenty minute drive or bus ride from Altamura, where Italy's only DOP bread hails from. You will eat well for little in Gravina, which makes a fine base in Bari Province from which to explore these compelling tourist destinations.
There is even a special dance of the Salento, the Pizzica Salentina, which is a special subset of the tarantella dances of the south and especially Sicily.
There are also some unique places to stay in Puglia, from the sometimes fortified family farms called Masserie, many of which have been restored into fine places to stay,to the humble domed dwellings called Trulli found around Alberobello.
In place of what you might call a "villa" in Tuscany, Puglia offers the Country House. Owners have restored large estates to be elegant once again, this time with the kinds of bathrooms folks expect.
All of these lodging options give you a chance to be part of the Puglian social environment, which you'll find to be friendly and open. While you might choose a hotel in a city, the rural side of Puglia should not be missed. Check below for our specific lodging recommendations for Puglia.
Hop in your car and rumble down the Via Traiana, an alternative to the Via Appia built by Emperor Trajan in 109 AD.
Puglia's Mediterranean climate means that spring comes early--and the wildflowers in April can be stunning. By the beginning of May, the weather is starting to become warm enough for you to feel comfortable in short sleeves in the day time.
Don't entirely shun "bad" weather. Sometimes the rain clears and amazing things happen to the light.
Summers are warm, but not blistering hot. And all that beach access and the warmth of the water makes summer a decent time to come to Puglia. Mild winters with a little rain round out the package. To see how this all fits together, see our pages on the top destinations in Puglia:
Just in case you don't know which season to travel in, here's an argument for springtime.
Puglia is a rugged agricultural region. Sure, there's lots of coastline and you know the seafood is good and plentiful. But if you want citrus fruits and vegetables, Puglia is also where you must come. The sun is kind to things we like to eat: tomatoes, artichokes, fava beans, arugula, zucchini, beans, fennel, peppers, onions, and table grapes are all produced in abundance here. Agrumi, citrus fruit, was once a huge industry, especially around the Gargano peninsula; the climate there allows for two harvests every year.
Oranges can show up on a plate in unexpected ways, as in a salad that consisted of anchovies, olive oil, pepper and orange slices. And you want different? Then you must try Lampascioni-- pickled wild hyancinth bulbs that were once the food of the very poor, who foraged for them. Now trendy and sold in markets, the bitter taste isn't to many American's liking--but I think they're one of the most perfect "appetizer" foods ever.
Puglia is sheep territory. You'll find fantastic sheep cheeses. You'll find an exception to sheep dominance on the Gargano peninsula in the local Podolica cattle, sturdy beasts which can graze on shrubs, stubbles and thickets and withstand a harsh climate to give a very rich milk used to produce the region's classic caciocavallo cheese. The cheese has only a small relation to the cavallo (horse) in its name, pairs of cheese are strung with a rope making it easy to transport; the name refers to saddlebags.
The pasta shape you'll encounter most often is orecchiette, little ears produced by hand from hard wheat and water. Eggs were a luxury, so the cucina povera has come to prefer an eggless but easily handmade pasta.
Puglia has some of the best bread in Italy. It's the thing I miss most when I'm away. Italy's only DOP bread is found in Altamura, marked on the map.
The cured meat that amazed me in Puglia was the Valle d'Itria product called Cappocollo di Martina Franca. It melts on your tongue. Meat lovers, don't miss it.
Need rustic and stick to your rib goodness? When you're in a restaurant that serves traditional food, try the dish called Fave e Cicoria, fava beans and potatoes boiled together, then whipped with olive oil and served with bitter greens.
There is, of course olive oil and wine, now celebrated for their quality. It wasn't always like this. Twenty five years or so ago we did a very extensive archaeological survey of the Salento, and beneath the olive trees we came across, the ground was usually raked like a Zen garden. The olive harvest procedure was this: olives would simply fall off the tree and get scooped up once in a while. While this production method was easy, the contact with the ground not only bruised the olives but began to ferment them, producing an inferior oil. Recently the production methods have been modernized and now the olives are shaken off the trees into nets and immediately put in boxes bound for the press. It's great oil, some of the best in Italy. If you're used to "extra virgin" olive oil from a US supermarket, you're in for a real surprise.
The wine, likewise, was inferior in those days. Puglia produced a deeply-colored, and rather harsh, high-alcohol wine the people up north used for blending, especially in years when their own grapes had trouble ripening. Today the Salento produces one of my favorite wines, Primitivo di Manduria. If you visit the town of Manduria, be sure to visit the little wine museum. If you are lucky enough to be staying a while, you can buy bulk wine from pumps by the liter. Then head over to the compact Archaeological Museum and ring the bell to see if they will let you in.
The picture on the left above shows a specialty bread being made with dough, olive oil, and whatever vegetables are in season. It's a favorite of everyone who takes a cooking class at Masseria Provenzani just north of Lecce.
Puglia, like other regions of Italy, has many festivals and musical events. Puglia has a fantastic site for you to check what events might be on when you're in Puglia: Puglia events.it.
Just in case they missed some, it's best to ask at your hotel or place of lodging--or a barista.
There are two major airports in Puglia, Brindisi and Bari, with Bari having the largest airport as well as being the more intersting destination. There are no flights to Bari from the US, but you can fly while you're within Italy. See the booking box to the right to check prices on flights to Bari.
The Foggia to Lecce rail line (see our Italian Rail Map) gets you from north to south in Puglia in 2 1/2 to three hours, depening upon the speed of the train. It costs about 10 euro to ride. There are many compelling coastal cities to stop at along the route. There are some private rail lines in operation in Puglia like the Ferrovie Sud Est, which serves small towns on the peninsula and has a station in Lecce.
You can check all the options on getting around Puglia by using the box below and entering a start and end point. It will give you rail, airline, bus and even carpool information in return--and you can buy tickets if you like them in advance.
We like the idea of staying in a Masseria. Some are working farms, others are totally made for lodging like a hotel or B&B. We have a couple of suggestions on our Recommended self-catering page.
Tenuta del Barco is a masseria with a Chef, and if you like good food you might like a small apartment there. There is a new winery on the premises, and wineries take some serious water to run, especially at harvest time and the owner has come up with a very ingenious way to filter the rain water collected from the roof and parking lot of the winery--using papyrus. See: Water into Wine - Ancient Egyptian Solutions to Puglia's Water Problem.
For those of you who'd like to stay in a vacation apartment or beach house, Lecce Province has the most availability in the popular HomeAway website. A good percentage of them are found in one of our favorite cities, Gallipoli.
If you'd like to live like an Italian, even if only for a few days, Pizzicato Eco B&B in Vico del Gargano, is a fine choice. The mastermind behind the operation is Giuseppe Romondia, who speaks English fluently and will attend quite nicely to your needs. The idea is a sort of "holiday vacation homes and apartments diffuso," places to stay spread out over the city and centered around the best bar in Puglia, the Pizzicato. The "Eco" in the name refers to the biological produce produced by the family farm, which isn't too far from Vico's public beach. Highly recommended.
Masseria Posta Santa Croce is a perfect place to stay for those of you interested in cooking, visiting nearby Castel del Monte, or looking for a rural paradise with easy access to the sea. The kitchen comes equipped with food for a first night traditional dinner if you've arrived late and just need something to eat and a little local wine.