While the likes of Tuscany and Rome grab the headlines, sun-kissed Puglia, at the heel of the boot, offers a more understated and – some say – more authentic alternative to the crowds. And, while it's a region host to arguably some of Italy's finest coastal stretches, there's plenty more to enjoy here, too, from standout food and wine to the cultural gems of Bari, Lecce and Alberobello. Trips here also offer the ideal opportunity to hop across the border into lesser-known Basilicata, whose headline act, Matera, was named European Capital of Culture for 2019.
Puglia’s natural beauty
But that’s not to say that Puglia is without its dramatic beauty. With the longest coastline of any region in mainland Italy, you’ll be spoilt for choice for white sands, cerulean waters and charming seaside towns, including pretty Gallipoli and Polignano a Mare whose historic whitewash lines 20-metre-high limestone cliffs.
It’s all the front to rolling hills of olive groves, orchards and vineyards. It won’t surprise, then, that Puglia is especially known for its cuisine with locals eating exclusively, well, locally. It’s all predicated on a strong agricultural history; farmers’ recipes have been honed over the centuries to get the very best out of simple, fresh ingredients
Puglia’s grand cities & ancient traditions
The Baroque grandeur of Puglia’s cities owe a great something to the Spanish – Lecce’s amphitheatre is distinctly Roman and the Normans brought ornate cathedrals, not least Trani’s grand seaside offering. Perhaps most impressive are the medieval citadel-like quarters, built by feudal lords in reaction to this warmongery. Bari’s is particularly impressive.
However, there’s also plenty of beauty of the region’s own. Alberobello’s jigsaw of unique stone huts map its valley contours and, just across the border in Basilicata, Matera’s ancient houses are carved directly from the rock hillside. Many were inhabited by troglodytes some 9,000 years ago. You’ll even be able to stay in converted 16th century farms, fortified with watchtowers and walls to repel would-be conquerors.