Puglia’s double coastline unfolds in a series of secluded coves, cave-riddled cliffs and dramatically poised villages, while inland, flat expanses cloaked in olive groves and vineyards wrinkle up into breezy hilltop towns. This is a land of simple charms – of long lunches, quiet beaches and charm-infused, cobbled streets – however there’s plenty to see too, from Lecce’s Baroque architecture to trulli-studded Alberobello. Throw in some of Italy’s best cuisine, a blast of warm weather and a wealth of unforgettable places to stay, and you’ve got the makings of a fantastic summer escape.
Small town charm
Threaded through Puglia are a chain of lovely small towns infused with slow-paced Italian life: chipped Fiats trundle along narrow streets, elderly men gather on sun-warmed benches, while the sing-song energy of Italian forms a lulling soundtrack. Inland, the region is speckled with a number of gorgeous white-washed towns, many of which are just a short drive from each other – Puglia is perfect road trip territory after all. Poised atop a hill, little Locorotondo – its centre a tangle of ivory-stone lanes that culminate in a pretty church – makes for a lovely lunchtime stop. For a longer stay head to Ostuni, another sparkling hilltop beauty, where painted shutters and flower-draped balconies bring colour to the town’s maze of white-washed streets. Also inland is Alberobello, whose old town is crowded with over a thousand trulli – curiously conical, ancient dwellings – creating a fairytale landscape that’s made the town a tourist hotspot. And of course, there’s the coastline too, home to the dramatically poised Polignano a Mare, which teeters over wave-lashed limestone cliffs and Monopoli whose sun-bleached centre clusters around a refreshingly local harbour.
Not all Puglia’s architectural charms belong to its small towns. Often dubbed the “Florence of the South”, the city of Lecce is undoubtedly the region’s Baroque jewel. A wealth of intricately carved sandstone churches and ornate palaces pervade the city’s historical core, their facades writhing with Lecce Baroque – the city’s distinctive architectural style, a thrillingly elaborate amalgamation of spiralling columns and fiendishly poised gargoyles. Baroque jewels aside, there’s more to Lecce besides its famed style, history buffs will be drawn to the city’s Roman Amphitheatre, while an abundance of restaurants and upmarket boutique shops provide the perfect respite from sight-seeing.
Food lovers should hot-foot it over to Puglia, the region’s super-local, rustic-focused cuisine alone justifies a trip. And it’s easy to see why: Puglia is home to some of Italy’s richest agricultural land, its copper-hued soils embroidered in a patchwork of sprawling vineyards and age-old olive groves. In fact, Puglia produces more wine and olive oil than any other Italian region. And there’s plenty to pair with your wine or drizzle with olive oil. Puglia’s coastline is dotted with simple beachside restaurants where locals linger over fresh seafood lunches, while village trattorias are the place to try the region’s variety of meats and cheeses – you’ll never tire of the creamy burrata – and to sample orecchiette, one of the region’s pasta specialities.
Unforgettable places to stay
Puglia has a wealth of special places to stay. Ticking all the quirky accommodation boxes are the region’s famed trulli. Scattered across Puglia, many of these centuries-old, strangely cylindrical dwellings have been transformed into magical holiday homes. Another unmissable accommodation option in the region is staying in a masseria, traditional Puglian farmhouses which are often tucked away amidst rolling olive groves or lush vineyards. Staying true to their agricultural roots, homemade and locally sourced food tends to be at the heart of any masseria stay, making this the dream accommodation choice for foodies. Two regional highlights are Manduria’s Masseria Potenti, a white-washed, cacti-dotted 18-room boutique hotel that on occasion morphs into an unforgettable wedding venue, and Masseria Moroseta, near Ostuni, an effortlessly stylish 6-room bolthole encircled by twisted olive groves where guests swap travel stories over lingering, stand-out communal dinners.