All you need to know about Puglia, Italy’s beautiful “boot heel”

It’s hard to sum up the kaleidoscope of territories, ecosystems and rhythms of life that make up Puglia.

Perhaps that’s why some older Italians use the plural Le Puglie (“many Puglias”) to describe this alluring region of southern Italy. Puglia’s 940km (584 miles) of coastline – which was once part of the Magna Graecia and home to ancient Romans’ mighty flotillas – outlines what is known as the “boot heel” of the Italian peninsula. In the past decade, some areas have made headlines for hosting flashy weddings and celebrities’ summer escapes.

Yet much of the region remains a little-known historical, natural and culinary gem. When you venture into some of its hundreds of small towns, you will encounter a traditional way of life filled with earthy flavors, sharp colors and welcoming smiles.

Intrigued yet? Here’s all you need to know about Puglia.

A boat sails by rocky cliffs in the waters off Torre Sant’Andrea, Puglia, Italy
Hiring a boat to take in Puglia’s dazzling shoreline is a wonderful way to beat the heat in peak season © Stefano Zaccaria / Shutterstock

When is the best time to visit Puglia?

Puglia gets hectic during July and August, when almost all Italians get their mandatory summer vacations. Hotels are pricey and book up months in advance, beaches are uncomfortably crowded and it can get scorching hot, with some days heating up past 40°C (104°F). During this time, nightlife blooms. Clubs in the Salento area blast music until sunrise; music festivals such as Locus and Notte della Taranta draw musicians from all around the world; and town squares fill to celebrate sagre di paese, the much-awaited yearly religious and food fairs. 

Before and after the two central summer months, the region’s mild climate produces 25°C (77°F) days as early as April and into October, making these months ideal if you are looking for peace, charming towns and empty waters. This is also an excellent time to venture into the green countryside and taste some of the region’s wine and olive oil. Hotels are more affordable; what’s more, as the pressures of the high season abate, the quality of food and services improves.

You might find yourself among few other travelers from November to March, when some restaurants and hotels close for the season, and public services wind down. Still, this might be the best time to sit at a neighborhood cafe, drink an espresso and chat with the pugliesi. Many of them will point you to their favorite local restaurant and take the time to explain why their town’s panzerotto (fried pastry), tiedda (Bari’s famous rice-potatoes-and-mussels dish) or grape variety is, undoubtedly and incontestably, the best. 

Women working at a table in the street making pasta, Bari, Puglia, Italy
Pasta making is serious business in Bari © ollirg / Shutterstock

How much time do I need to visit Puglia?

Puglia is not a day-trip destination. How long do you need to visit the region? That depends on the time of the year and what you seek. I would allow a full week to pass through its four main areas, savor what the region offers and take some time to understand its rhythms.

But suppose you only have a weekend to spare. In that case, land in Bari in the morning, have a focaccia barese slice at Panificio Fiore, and accompany it with a cold Peroni beer while checking out the Basilica di San Nicola and the historic city center. Next, drive to visit Castel del Monte, and sleep in a masseria in Valle d’Itria. The following day, visit Alberobello and a coastal city such as Polignano a Mare or Monopoli. If the weather and season allow for it, count on a swim before returning home.

If you can spare a couple more days, consider adding a night in the Alta Murgia area to enjoy a dinner in Minervino Murge. After the day in Valle d’Itria, check out Lecce and its baroque splendors.

Two people pause with their bicycles on a clifftop looking out over the blue sea and the undulating coastline
Renting a car is the best way to explore Puglia – though you’ll see intrepid cyclists and biking groups, too © Andrea Pistolesi / Getty Images

Is it easy to get around Puglia?

Puglia’s two biggest airports, at Bari and Brindisi, are the main gateways to the region. High-speed trains from Rome, Naples and Milan reach Puglia with a reasonable frequency. Brindisi and Bari are also connected with ferry boats to Greece, Croatia and Albania.

For the richest Puglia experience, we recommend renting a car. Even for just a weekend, having your own wheels will allow you to visit different places on the same day without relying on the often unreliable public-transportation system.

Several tour operators organize group cycling trips around the region. In the less-hot seasons of spring and autumn, it’s common to encounter groups of adventurous cyclists on the roads.

Top places to go in Puglia

If you reach Puglia by car from more-northern parts of Italy (that is to say, all of them), do not think, Ah, we have finally arrived once you cross the regional border. You might still have 400km (250 miles) – almost the distance between Paris and Amsterdam – to drive if you aim to reach its deep south in one go. On the way south, you’ll cross Puglia’s four main subregions.

A man hikes on a natural rock bridge in Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy
Along Puglia’s coast and in its hilly interior, hiking opportunities abound © effebi77 / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Gargano peninsula

Promontorio del Gargano, with its mountains passing 1000m (3280ft) above sea level, towers over the rest of the region. In this mountainous land, Foresta Umbra – an ancient forest of centuries-old beech trees – offers a variety of hiking opportunities. Above the peninsula sits the castle-topped Monte Sant’Angelo, whose St Michael the Archangel sanctuary, built inside an old karst cave, is a UNESCO-designated site of pilgrimage.

If you dig panoramic and curvy roads, don’t miss the drive between Peschici and Mattinata, during which you notice old wooden structures leaning forward into the sea. Those are trabucchi, traditional fishing structures of the area. While some lie abandoned, others have been refurbished to host some of the most memorable restaurants in the area. At Al Trabucco da Mimì in Peschici, you can sip a glass of d’Araprì, one of Puglia’s best sparkling wines, in one of these old wooden structures while a band of jazz musicians plays as the sun drops down below the horizon.

Aerial view of the Castel del Monte, Puglia, Italy
The medieval Castel del Monte is an iconic landmark of Puglia © Alexandre G. Rosa / Shutterstock

Alta Murgia

Where the Apennine mountains end, the hilly Alta Murgia begins. This stony land is one of Italy’s last wild steppes. I grew up here, at Biomasseria Lama di Luna, my family’s organic masseria, one of the typical, guest-welcoming farmhouses that delineate the landscape. All around, a dozen towns hide precious city centers, stunning but austere cathedrals – Trani’s cannot be missed – and castles. With its octagonal geometry, Castel del Monte, a medieval castle and another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must-see wonder: make sure you get a guide that will tell you more about its story and legends.

Antonella Urbano, the horseback-riding instructor who taught me how to ride when I was a kid, can take you for a slow, late-afternoon horseback ride through Alta Murgia National Park. The perfume of wild herbs and flowers surrounding you, you’ll be able to see the outline of the octagonal castle on the horizon.

Puglia produces about 50% of Italy’s olive oil, and the town of Andria is number one when it comes to the extra virgin kind. Check out Le 4 Contrade in the surrounding countryside for a walk in the olive fields followed by a tasting with Sebastiano and Valeria, a young couple who make stellar EVOO. Next, try glass of Nero di Troia (the local red wine) at Morasinsi winery in Minervino, where Sveva will tell you all about regenerative agriculture. Stop for a meal at Antichi Sapori in Montegrosso and Mezzapagnotta in Ruvo, both restaurants that have made local recipes based on foraging from within Alta Murgia National Park (make sure you book well in advance).

A couple walks past dome-shaped trulli houses on a street in Alberobello, Valle d’Itria, Puglia, Italy
Alberobello’s trulli – the cone-shaped stone houses typical of the region – will enchant any visitor © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Valle d’Itria

Past Bari, the regional capital, and you’ll hit Valle d’Itria, where your first sight will be a continuous forest of monumental olive trees, so twisted by their age that their branches seem to be supporting the weight of the sky. All around, white towns pop out on various hilltops. With its stunning views, Ostuni, known as the “White City,” claims the prize for the most brilliant. At the same time, Alberobello, yet another of Puglia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, will leave you speechless with its trulli, traditional stone houses with cone-shaped roofs.

If you stop by the medieval town of Cisternino, stop into one of its many butchers and select your set of bombette – “little bombs” of sliced meat rolled and stuffed with cheese and herbs – that they’ll grill for you on the spot. Admire the view from one of Polignano a Mare’s dramatic cliffside terraces – and maybe stop for a tuna tartare and burrata sandwich at Pescaria. If you fancy sleeping in a masseria, Borgo San Marco, Il Frantoio and Masseria Cervarolo are worth considering.

Cathedral Maria Santissima Assunta and St Orontius churces at dusk, Lecce, Salento, Puglia, Italy
Lecce is a treasure trove of baroque architecture © / Shutterstock


As you reach the tip of the region, you enter Salento, the easternmost part of Italy. Its capital Lecce is known as the “Florence of the South” for the stunning baroque architecture and splendid palaces that grace its city center. Each town in Salento has a historic center that brightens up during summer nights, when religious festivals and food fairs take place. In addition to its history, the crystal-clear waters off Salento’s coast set it apart. With choices like Torre Sant’Andrea, Porto Cesareo, Castro, Santa Maria di Leuca, Gallipoli and Porto Selvaggio, you’ll have plenty of options for swimming, or perhaps renting a little boat to cruise along the rocky coastline for the day.

For the past 10 years, a foreign bacteria has devastated the region killing most of its olive trees (those gray trees you’ll see along the road are all dead) – yet a pocket of young farmers is working to revive this vital resource. Tàccaru, for example, is processing the beautiful century-old dead olive wood and replanting young specimens resistant to the deadly invader. Wineries are doing their part for sustainability, too, preserving the area’s old vineyards. At Castello Frisari in Scorrano and Castel di Salve in Depressa, young winemakers will be eager for you to taste traditional primitivo and negramaro varietals. Between glasses of wine, check out La Taverna del Porto in Tricase and Farmacia dei Sani in Ruffano for a hearty meal.

The easternmost lighthouse in Italy overlooking the stretch of the Otranto Channel, Puglia
The drive from Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca offers amazing views © Paky Cassano / Shutterstock

My favorite thing to do in Puglia

My perfect Puglia day involves a drive along the coastal road that connects Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca in Salento. On the way, I’ll stop off at one of the rocky bays with access to the sea for a swim, maybe at Grotta Zinzulusa in Castro, followed by a caffè leccese (an espresso shot with ice and a finger of almond syrup) and sweet pasticciotto at Martinucci. Next, I keep driving until I reach Tricase Porto for another dip in the clean port waters. To end the day, I’ll walk a few stairs up to Caffè d’Oltremare for a glass of negroamaro wine, a handful of taralli and pickled olives. Sitting on the open terrace overlooking the sea lets the blue Mediterranean calm my eyes and reward me for taking the time to slow down.

Friends enjoying a drink and get-together in a street cafe/bar in the city of Lecce, Salento, Puglia, Italy
You’ll find your euro will go far at bars and restaurants in Puglia, especially in the off season © Philip Reeve / Shutterstock

How much money do I need in Puglia?

Puglia is a generally good-value destination, especially compared to other parts of Italy. Food and drinks deliver high quality for fair prices; you can expect pay for coffee with a €1 coin and a sandwich with two more. Puglia is known as “the garden of Italy,” with many of its fruits and vegetables cultivated locally; flavors in most meals will reflect this tradition. Still, be on the lookout during July and August in more popular destinations such as Gallipoli or Polignano a Mare, when suddenly, instead of €2 for a Peroni beer, it can cost three times the off-season price.

A guide to daily costs in Puglia

Hostel room: around €50 per night
Basic room for two: between €80–100 per night
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from €120 per night
Public transport ticket: €1 for a single ride, €2.50 for a day ticket
Coffee: €1 
Panzerotto: €1.50
Sandwich at a bakery: €3
Dinner for two with a bottle of local wine: €70
Beer/pint at the bar: €2

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