An Insider’s Guide To Puglia

Southern Italy’s beautiful Puglia has it all: a Mediterranean coastline, great food and clusters of pretty hillside towns. And who better to show us around than Pasta Evangelists head chef Roberta d’Elia? Here, the Puglia native and food fanatic shares her favourite hotels, places to see and – perhaps most importantly – where to eat and drink.
By Heather Steele /
GABRIELLA CLARE MARINO/UNSPLASH

Puglia is a region where the sun shines all year. Time passes very slowly, people make hospitality their priority and, of course, the land is so rich in resources, with olive trees as the backdrop to the beautiful Adriatic Sea that surrounds the region. I always make sure to visit at least once a year. No matter what happens in the world, I need to unplug and recharge, surrounded by my whole family. 

I come from Foggia, which is in the north. The main city is Tavoliere, known as the ‘granary of Italy’. I think this influenced my passion for pasta, as I always had the best flour available.

I grew up with a large family on an olive tree farm. My most special memories are with them. I remember the ritual of making tomato sauce in August on the hottest day of the season. We were a team, all with very specific tasks and guess what? Nonna was the boss. She was very strict: I’ll never forget when I started making pasta with her. I was really small, so couldn’t hold the knife properly. But my grandmother was very serious about teaching, as if she knew that one day it would become my job.

The one thing I always do when I return is eat. The first thing I do when I land at the airport is find a traditional Apulian restaurant and eat burrata, mozzarella, nodini, cime di rapa, focaccia… whatever is authentic and on the menu.

Ostuni Antique Market
ROBERT KALINAGIL/UNSPLASH
The best GELATO can be found at BALDO GELATO in Lecce. Pistachio & hazelnut is my favourite combination.

SHOPS

For antiques: If I am in Ostuni on a Sunday, I can’t miss its famous antiques market. Year round, on the second Sunday of the month, the market sees thousands of visitors and collectors walk among thousands of antiques and sought-after objects until sunset. The oldest thing I've found is a centuries-old typical Apulian kitchen utensil. It is so precious to me that no one else is allowed to use it!

For olive oil: Puglia was the first Italian olive oil producer, and from the north to the south of the region there are different qualities of extra virgin olive oil to be found. My favourite comes from the Gargano area in the north – Masseria Papone is the place to get it from. It produces the best olive oil, and is in an amazing, pristine area off the road that leads from Manfredonia to Mattinata between the sea and the Gargano Promontory, a beautiful mountainous area by the coast, which is well worth a visit.

Ostuni
DANIEL CORNESCHI/UNSPLASH

For ceramics: You must visit La Contessa Ceramiche Pugliesi in Polignano a Mare. It sells hundreds of ceramics, all typical of the Apulian territory, but you can't miss the Pumo, which represents a bud of the acanthus flower. It is a symbol of prosperity and growth, and it makes the perfect souvenir.

For cheese: If you pass through the small town of Altamura, you must stop at Caseificio Dicecca. It’s a really traditional shop with one of the best selections of Apulian cheese, and the people who run it will feed you the bestquality food, no matter what language you speak.

For gelato: The best can be found at Baldo Gelato in Lecce. Pistachio and hazelnut is my favourite combination.

Polignano a Mare
GIANPAOLO ANTONUCCI/UNSPLASH

RESTAURANTS

For seafood: Ristorante Vecchio Forno in Barletta is where I go every time I arrive in Bari. They don’t have a real menu, which means everything they serve is so fresh – the fish is always that day’s catch. It also has the most incredible selection of antipasti. There are at least 12 and you have to eat them all – you can't choose.

For orecchiette: Osteria Vini e Cucina is a truly characterful place at the entrance of Bari Vecchia (the old town). It’s very simple and no frills, with a true family atmosphere where you can taste the best orecchiette in Puglia. I recommend trying it with the cime di rapa sauce.

For farm-to-table dining: Peppe Zullo is my favourite restaurant in the world. Apart from feeling really at home, I love the idea of tasting local dishes, with seasonal products grown right there. Peppe himself – who is also known as the ‘farmer chef’ – is an expert in ancient flavours. When you visit his estates, it’s not for a simple lunch, but an unforgettable experience.

For a family feel: If you visit my hometown of Foggia, don't miss the historic Trattoria da Italo. It is family run, and they always make you feel at home. The menu changes daily and they only serve dishes typical of the area. You must try the pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans), made by the lovely Signora Irma.

Pasta Evangelists Lobster Tortelloni
Ostuni
JOSEFINA DI BATTISTA/UNSPLASH
If you visit FOGGIA, don't miss the historic TRATTORIA DA ITALO – it's family run, and they always make you feel at home.

BARS

For wine: Cantina Leopardi in Porto Cesareo has a great choice of wine and is the perfect place for a quick aperitivo. The food is super tasty, too.

For cocktails: Don't miss happy hour at Quarantacinque Cocktail Bar in Lecce. I love to try its molecular cocktails. I don’t have a favourite – I order something different every time.

For beer: If you’re visiting Gallipoli, head to Officine Brewer Birroteca Salentina for great Italian beers. They’re the perfect remedy on a hot day.

Bari
JOSEFINA DI BATTISTA/UNSPLASH

PLACES TO VISIT

Alberobello: With a name meaning 'beautiful tree', this Unesco World Heritage Site town is known for its trulli – distinctive white houses made of limestone with a characteristic conical roof. They use dry-stone slab construction, a technique that dates back to prehistoric times, but is still used in Puglia today. They make the ultimate backdrop for an Instagram snap.

Fasano: If you’re in the coastal area of Fasano, the beautiful small village of Masseria Borgo San Marco, south of Bari and towards Brindisi, is a must visit. It is enclosed by 160 acres of majestic olive trees, and is definitely worth a day trip – there’s a lovely pool.

Ostuni: Known as the White City thanks to its plenitude of white-washed houses, Ostuni has a characterful old town, cathedral, archaeological park and dozens of historic churches. It’s also one of the best places in Puglia to enjoy the seaside.

Bari: When in Bari, head to the old town and take a tour through its narrow alleyways to one of its most famous streets, nicknamed ‘strada delle orecchiette’. In this stretch of the city, you’ll find Apulian women making exquisite orecchiette outside their homes, produced strictly by hand. You’re not inside a film set – every day the housewives of Bari produce the delicacy, showing tourists and curious onlookers the craftsmanship of traditional pasta making.

Foggia
SENTIDOS HUMANOS/UNSPLASH
La Fiermontina

HOTELS

For a beach getaway: Five-star La Locanda del Carrubo in Mattinata is a magical place a few minutes from the beach. It’s all about the elegance of the little details. The typical Apulian architecture is so special, and you really feel as if you are in the epicentre of the Mediterranean.

For a traditional stay: Trulli Holiday offers guests the opportunity to stay in unique historical houses, which have been carefully restored and traditionally furnished. An alternative to a standard hotel, the resort has spaces for both couples and families.

For a romantic trip: La Fiermontina in Lecce is a beautifully restored ‘masseria’ farmhouse. It’s perfect for a romantic weekend stay, and features lots of striking modern art, modernist Italian furniture and a pretty pool.

For a true Pulgia stay: The Nina Trulli resort in Valle d’Itria is a charming old masseria farmhouse, ideal for anyone looking to experience the traditional Pugliese village lifestyle. There’s a great, traditional restaurant on site and its food masterclasses are a must if you’re into food and cooking.

Nina Trulli Resort

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