When you hear of Italy, you may think of the bustling, exciting capital city of Rome, or the fashion capital of Milan. Perhaps your mind conjures up images of the rolling hills of Tuscany, the lovely architecture of Florence, the chocolate and Fiat capital of Turin, the colorful cliffside villages of Cinque Terre, the canals and opera-singing gondoliers of Venice, or the rugged mountains of the Dolomites. But did you know that there is an entire region of Southern Italy waiting to be explored? Often overlooked by tourists, the region of Puglia, located in the heel of the boot of Italy, is usually not the first stop on a travel adventure through this pasta-loving, gelato-eating, passionate country. Puglia is known as “The Italy for Italians”, meaning there aren’t as many foreign tourists as their neighbors to the North (especially American tourists!) Filled with quaint ancient villages, rich with history, and beaches so beautiful your eyes will nearly pop out of their sockets, you ought to experience Puglia before the rest of the world discovers it. Puglia is slowly gaining more international intrigue, but for now it still remains a relative hidden gem, and should be a destination you consider for your next trip to Italy!
If you’ll be visiting Italy, don’t miss my article on 40 Things You Need To Know Before Traveling in Italy.
Sasha and I have spent a cumulative total of two months in this beautiful country, and Italy was country #3 on our six-month Digital Nomad Adventure through Europe. In previous years, we have explored quite a bit of Northern Italy (here you can find all the blog posts in my Italy archives), so we decided to venture to the lesser-known Puglia. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten path destination in Europe, Puglia fits the bill, and what’s even better is that it won’t break your budget! There is truly no other place in the world like Puglia; it’s the only place I know of (besides maybe Greece), where you can visit an ancient village where the Romans once walked, and then just a 15-minute walk to the shore, arrive at one of the most exquisite swimming locations on the sea. In this blog post I’ll cover the best time to visit Puglia, where to stay, how to get around, local foods, and the unmissable beaches and villages that contribute to Puglia’s unmatchable charm.
WHEN TO VISIT PUGLIA
Because Puglia is mainly frequented by vacationing Italians on holiday, the one month I recommend to avoid, is August (which is precisely the month we visited.) 😂 July will also have unbearable heat, so the best time to visit, is May – June, and September – October. Because of its location on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas (depending on whether you’re on the Western or Eastern side of Puglia), the water is very warm and swimmable.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUGLIA
Many people who visit Puglia, opt to do a road trip, moving accommodation every 1 – 2 nights because there is so much to see and lots of ground to cover. There are several towns which act as a great home bases, and the three that I recommend because of their central location and large(ish) towns (meaning restaurants and shops are within walking distance), are:
We stayed in Brindisi at literally the only Airbnb we found that had a fast enough internet connection…which is the perfect segway to the next topic: internet in Puglia!
INTERNET IN PUGLIA – IS PUGLIA GOOD FOR DIGITAL NOMADS?
The honest answer is, no. We almost had to miss visiting Puglia, simply because it was nearly impossible to find accommodation that had reliable internet. I was shocked to find that out of all the homes I searched on Airbnb, approximately 50% of them didn’t even have WiFi! What kind of host offer homes for visiting travelers that don’t have WiFi these days?? Oh, right, people who live in old Italian villages in Southern Italy. 🤦♀️ I was quickly reminded that not everywhere in the world has caught up to the digital nomad age, nor do they want to, and that’s a beautiful thing. Part of the charm of Southern Italy, is that it’s almost frozen in time in many ways, and still 100% authentic, traditional Italian, and I respect that.
Our conclusion is that Southern Italy is a very challenging place to work remotely. Italians are in a hurry absolutely zero percent of the time…except for when they’re driving (if you want to learn more about driving in Italy, you can read this blog post). Luckily we were able to find an outstanding Airbnb in a nice part of Brindisi, which had fast internet, but I had to look through 100 other homes to find this one, and I was ready to give up until I found it. It was a sign from the Universe.
To set honest expectations, you’ll need to have a lot of patience when visiting Puglia, because the lack of organization in this part of Italy is very apparent. Sasha and I love listening to Rick Steve’s podcasts when we travel in Europe, and he did a comparison between the North and the South, and even local folks from Puglia agree that the “chaos” can be frustrating.
DO YOU NEED A CAR IN PUGLIA?
Absolutely, resoundingly yes! If you want to truly see the beauty of Puglia and Southern Italy, you will need a car. We had no problems whatsoever finding parking in the small villages, either free parking on the street, or paid parking in lots (which is inexpensive; usually under €5). Petrol is more expensive in Europe than in the U.S., and there are some tolls, but having the freedom to go about as we pleased, was well worth it.
FOOD IN PUGLIA
The region of Puglia is known for their production of cheese, specifically burrata, mozzarella and stracciatella. Burrata means buttered in Italian, and this is perhaps one of the most magical cheeses you will ever eat. It consists of a mozzarella pouch with a thin outside layer of firmer cheese and a delicate milky-like mousse inside. Think of it like a lava cake in cheese form…only served cold. Burrata doesn’t have a strong flavor, but it pairs unbelievably well with ripe tomatoes, basil and olive oil…a predestined match made in cheese heaven.
Bread is also one of Puglia’s emblematic products, as well as orecchiette (“little ear”) pasta. Puglia also produces a large percentage of Italy’s olive oil and durum wheat, so we can thank Puglia for all the delicious pasta throughout the country!
TIPS FOR VISITING PUGLIA BEACHES
- Bring water shoes or flip flops; most of the beaches are rocky, so getting in and out can be painful barefoot
- There are usually “free” sections of beaches that are not roped off and don’t have umbrellas or bed chairs, however, these sections are usually quite small, because visitors are encouraged to purchase umbrellas and chair beds for the day
- Unlike beaches in Northern Italy (such as Cinque Terre), you will not see any topless women on the beaches in Puglia
10 UNMISSABLE VILLAGES & BEACHES IN PUGLIA
Without further ado, let’s get into the meaty section of this blog post! There are of course, far more villages and beaches to visit, but here were our top 10:
- Matera (not technically in Puglia, but a must-see)
- Polignano a Mare & Lana Monachile Beach
- Marina Di Pescoluse – “The Maldives of Italy”
- Torre Sant’andrea
- Otranto (Bauxite Quarry)
- Santa Cesarea Terme
Alberobello is probably the name that most people know in Puglia (if they’ve ever even heard of Puglia at all!), and is one of the most visited villages in this area. It is known for its trulli, or whitewashed conical huts, reminding me of a wood fire pizza oven. The reason these trulli were constructed with dry stones and without mortar, was a way of avoiding paying taxes to the Kingdom of Naples. It’s really incredible to think that these trulli were constructed to be able to quickly disassemble them, and that they are still standing today!
Though not technically in Puglia, Matera is in the region of Basilicata, which is in between Puglia and the Amalfi Coast, but it. isa must-see day trip from Puglia and easy to get to. Matera is a fascinating village with history that has carried through until as recent as the 1950’s! In the 1800’s this was one of Italy’s poorest villages; riddled with disease, terrible working conditions, and poor sanitation, the population was finally evacuated to better housing in 1952. The cave dwelling buildings were left abandoned until 1980 when restoration began. Now it is one of Southern Italy’s most coveted destination for visitors eager to learn about the history and experience the unique landscape. Similar to Alberobello, the buildings have been turned into restaurants, shops and B&Bs.
Ostuni is known as “La citta bianca”, or “the white city”. This town atop a hill is painted almost entirely in all white, with splashes of sage green trim along doorways and windowsills, making it feel like a little Greek town. Each time we visited a new village, Sasha and I turned to each other and said, “okay, this is the most charming one we’ve seen!” and we kept saying that for each one – they’re all uniquely quaint and charming in their own ways, and each village has its own vibe.
Whilst in Ostuni, have a snack at Drogheria Pugliese. They serve tasty sandwiches with local, natural ingredients on their various home made breads (such as turmeric or basil).
4. POLIGNANO A MARE & LANA MONACHILE BEACH
Polignano a Mare contains one of the most famous beaches in all of Puglia (and also the most crowded in the summertime!) called Lana Monachile. This was the site of the 2019 Red Bull Cliff Diving Competition, and is a great spot for adrenaline junkies.
5. MARINA DI PESCOLUSE (“THE MALDIVES OF ITALY”)
At the very bottom Southern-most tip of Italy, is a wonderful place known as “The Maldives of Italy” for the light turquoise water resembling an aquamarine gemstone.
6. TORRE SANT’ANDREA
This swimming spot was the most memorable, as the waters were crystal clear, and there was endless space to swim. Be very cautious, as the rocks are slippery when wet. We saw an elder gentleman fall and nearly hit his face when he got out of the water.
The unique thing about Otranto, is that the sea is literally right smack in the center of the town, and it looks like a giant swimming pool. This swimming area is great for kids because it’s shallow and easy to get in and out of.
If you’re getting tired of seeing beautiful beaches with crystal clear turquoise waters (is that even possible??), check out Bauxite Quarry just outside the town of Otranto.
8. SANTA CESAREA TERME
This beautiful cove is a great place to spend a whole day. Here you’ll see families with kids, older couples, and people of all ages, spending the entire day sunning themselves, going for swims, playing on the inflatable slides, jumping off cliffs, enjoying a snack at the beach’s restaurant, reading a book, or doing a crossword puzzle. The cost for a day’s rental is €35 (if you think that is expensive, we saw even higher prices on the Amalfi Coast!)
Lecce is a province of Puglia on the heel of Italy, and many of the above towns that I mentioned are in the province of Lecce, but there is also the city of Lecce, which is a wonderful place to take an evening stroll. The churches are lit up, and families stay out late, strolling the plaza and enjoying an Aperol Spritz.
Brindisi is off the beaten path of tourism, and is mostly a local town. We based ourselves for our 9-day trip in Puglia, in the town of Brindisi because it was the only Airbnb we found with fast internet. Historically this city has played an important role in trade due to its position on the Peninsula and natural port on the Adriatic Sea. To this day, it’s still a major port for trade with Greece and The Middle East.
So there you have it. 10 of the top most spectacular villages and beaches in the region of Puglia. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, a visit to the South is a must!
**PIN THIS POST!!**