17 January 2019 by David Ward
Long overlooked in favour of Italy’s big names, the regions of Puglia and Basilicata are lesser-known gems, two regions hidden away at the heel of Italy’s boot. But, with Matera (pictured above) named a European Capital of Culture for 2019, their time in the spotlight has finally arrived. Here, 7,000-year-old cave dwellings, subterranean frescoed churches and a great Romanesque cathedral form a spectacular tumble backdropped by a rugged ravine.
But, the region is so much more than Matera. Indeed, it’s an Italy in miniature, with Puglia especially offering ancient ruins, extravagantly Baroque church towns and the finest in local food and wines. It’s all wrapped up in a spectacular natural world seemingly custom-built for driving, with quiet country roads bringing you among rolling hills before coastal sweeps see you between pretty beaches.
Puglia's fertile setting has also informed a rich culinary tradition. Of course, the just-caught seafood is impossibly good, while rich cheeses, handmade pastas and an endless array of antipasti add in further favourites. That’s without even mentioning the wines, with gorgeous vineyards producing refreshing whites and full-bodied reds.
And, in terms of sights, there’s everything from walled Gallipoli’s harbour-town charm and Castellanana Caves’ ancient fossils to Bari’s 12th-century castle and Alberobello’s 19th-century trulli – unique, beehive houses. Lecce is a special highlight for its Baroque beauty, spread across gilded basilicas, restored monasteries and a 17th-century cathedral. Puglia really does have it all. Inspired? Take a look at our custom-made itinerary below.
Our top trip: Gastronomy of Puglia
This super-scenic road trip showcases the best of Puglia, visiting all of the highlights featured above. There’s a particular focus on the region’s exquisite culinary delights, with food tours, gourmet dining and a pair of sensational wine tastings all included. And throughout, you’ll be staying in luxury. Think country manors, townhouse palazzos and a restored fortress.