If you’re wondering whether you should visit Puglia, the answer is yes!
Puglia is a region of art, beauty, and tradition. Its charm lies in its mosaic of vivid landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture and cuisine.
Puglia is home to a stunning coastline with pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters. The region’s countryside is dotted with ancient olive groves and vineyards, producing exquisite olive oil and wine.
Architecturally, Puglia is known for its distinctive trulli houses in Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its elegant Baroque cities like Lecce.
Puglia is located at the heel of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. The capital of Puglia is Bari, which boasts maze of ancient streets in Bari Vecchia.
Puglia’s history is one of colonization and domination. The Romans, the Byzantines, the Normans, the French, and then the Spanish all controlled Puglia. They all left their imprint, giving the region a richly layered culture.
In this guide, you’ll find all the reasons that make Puglia a must-visit in Italy.
Why Visit Puglia
First, Puglia’s has some unique architecture. Among other things, you’ll find the Castel del Monte, Apulian Romanesque cathedrals, and Baroque buildings.
The Castel del Monte, built in the 1240s, is the standout architectural gem in the region.
It has fortress-like appearance, but lacks typical defensive structures such as a moat or drawbridge. This led historians to speculate that it served as a luxurious hunting lodge for the Holy Roman Emperor.
The castle is octagonal in shape, with matching octagonal towers at each corner. Inside, there are two floors, each containing eight rooms, showcasing a remarkable symmetry.
Tip: The castle can only be visited by reservation. No more than 30 people are allowed inside at one time. Click here to book a tour of the monument.
Puglia is also known for its trulli houses. You’ve never seen anything like them. They look like they’re out of Lord of the Rings. There are 1500 of them in Alberobello alone.
What are they and what was their function? A trullo is a traditional Apulian whitewashed dry limestone hut with a conical roof. They were initially built as low cost housing. Now, they are a tourist magnet.
Tip: For a unique experience, you can stay overnight in a trulli hotel. We stayed at La Mandorla Luxury Trullo, a beautifully restored trullo with vaulted ceilings. Very cool!
Puglia is home to some of Italy’s finest Romanesque cathedrals. You will see them in Bari, Trani, Monopoli, Ostuni, Molfetta, and Conversano.
These cathedrals are distinctive for their rather austere limestone facades, intricate portals, and square bell towers.
Second, Puglia is full of adorable towns. With their winding cobbled stones and flower pots, they are extremely photogenic.
Polignano a Mare
One of the most striking is Polignano a Mare. It’s a natural beauty, built on a limestone promontory atop the bluest of blue water.
The old town is a sight to behold, exuding charm and history at every turn. Polignano is also renowned for its breathtaking sea caves, ravines, and beaches.
Tip: For a unique experience in Polignano, reserve lunch or dinner at the Grotta Palazzese restaurant. It’s set inside a natural cave overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
Ostuni is a beautiful hill town. It’s known as the “White City,” for its white buildings and tiny winding lanes.
They are a striking contrast against the backdrop of a blue seascape. Indeed, the urban setting is the artwork here. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Greece.
Ostuni has a lovely cathedral, picturesque streets, and some killer eateries.
You can potter around the town by yourself or go on a guided walking tour.
Monopoli is a charming coastal town known for its picturesque beauty, historic charm, and serene beaches. The town has an old harbor, filled with colorful fishing boats
The medieval old town is well-preserved with narrow streets and whitewashed buildings.
Monopoli also has an impressive castle, the Castello di Carlo V and the stunning Romanesque Cathedral of Santa Maria della Madia.
Otranto might be my favorite of all the town in Puglia. The town is renowned for its well-preserved medieval architecture and beautiful beaches.
The town’s most notable historical landmark is the imposing Castello Aragonese, a fortress that encapsulates the region’s turbulent past.
Another significant attraction is the Otranto Cathedral, known for its intricate mosaic floor depicting scenes from history and mythology, and the bones of the martyrs of Otranto.
This is arguably the most well known city in Puglia. It’s the most elegant place in Puglia in terms of art and architecture.
It’s called the “Florence of Puglia.” Knowing how beautiful Florence is, this moniker may make you skeptical. But Lecce deserves the hype.
The city has a lovely Baroque cathedral, made of the special local limestone. It’s also home to one of the most incredible churches you’ll see in your life, the Basilica of Santa Croce. Designed by Italian architect Riccardo Zimbalo, the facade is crammed with goddesses, lions, angels, and sea creatures.
It’s an exceptional example of what is called the “Lecce Baroque.” Lecce had a more peculiar approach to the era, an explosion of the senses.
They worked with a special material almost like tufa, called pietra leccese. It’s durable but malleable. You can carve into any shape you want. So, it results in incredible relief sculptures with putti, garlands, and whimsical touches.
Sun-kissed Puglia is celebrated for its diverse and stunning landscapes. The region stretches along the Adriatic and Ionian seas, boasting a long coastline that features a mix of rugged cliffs, pristine sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters.
Inland, Puglia has vast, rolling plains and fields. They’re dotted with ancient olive groves and vineyards that testify to the region’s rich agricultural heritage.
Puglia is mostly flat, though gets hillier inland. It’s a easy place to drive or bike.
If you are driving, you can pick fresh fruit straight from trees in public spaces. In summer, you’ll find an abundance of figs, cactus fruits, olives, and citrus fruits. Even pomegranates in the fall!
Puglia boasts the longest coastline in mainland Italy. It’s home to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.
Pescoluse Beach outside Lecce is often referred to as the “Maldives of Italy.” It features fine white sand and turquoise waters.
Monopoli is also known for its beaches and makes a great base in Puglia. Highlights include Cala Porta Vecchia, close to the old town, the vibrant Lido Santo Stefano, along with the serene coves of Porto Verde and Porto Ghiacciolo.
The coastal town of Vieste, in the Gargano, also boasts both sandy and rocky beaches. They’re sandwiched between coves and landscapes, some almost hidden. Castle Beach is the most famous.
The entire Salento region in the south is renowned for its beach on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Otranto, in particular, also has gorgeous beaches.
With its extensive coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Puglia is ideal for water sports such as sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, and sea kayaking.
The clear blue waters also make it a great spot for snorkeling and scuba diving, offering a chance to explore the rich marine life.
If you’re into cliff jumping, Polignano a Mare hosts the extreme Red Bull Cliff Diving competition. This is also a great place to take a boat tour of the coastal caves.
Food & Wine
Another reason to visit Puglia is that it’s an amazing foodie destination. It’s serves up what is known as “peasant food.” It’s simple, with just a handful of ingredients, but delicious. Everything is locally grown and so fresh.
The pasta speciality is orecchiette, and it’s served in many ways — with tomato sauces, rich ragouts, or sweet broccoli rabe.
In Bari, on Strada Arco Bassa, you can actually see nonnas sitting out in the open making brightly colored orecchiette.
Frese is another local goodie. It’s a bread that’s cooked twice and served with olive oil, oregano, and tomatoes.
Another delicious snack is the focaccia barese. It’s crispy on the outside and soft inside. It’s topped with olive oil, tomatoes, black olives, and onions.
Puglia’s burrata is some of the best I’ve ever tasted. And, come on, this is one of the world’s best cheeses. It’s so creamy and delicious.
You can also feast on seafood in Puglia — fish, shrimp, mussels, and octopus.
Puglia is also known for its wine production, second only to Sicily for the extent of its vineyards. It’s mostly known for its intense reds, a number of roses, and some white grape varieties.
The most popular wines are Primitivo and Salice Salentino.
Tip: A good place to sample it is at the Gianfranco Fino Winery in Manduria. In 2010, Italy’s equivalent of the Wine Spectator voted it the best winery in all of Italy. Another great choice is Castello Monaco Winery, where you can tour the wine cellars and wine museum.
Puglia also has amazing olive oil! It’s the largest producer in Italy — organic, cold pressed, and unfiltered. While it may not be quite as good as the oil in Tuscany, it excels in both quality and quantity.
The older the tree, the better the olive oil. I saw 2000 year old olive trees (with GPS tag) and had an amazing lunch at the organic olive farm and agriturismo, Masseria Il Frantoio
While not technically in Puglia, most people include a visit to UNESCO-listed Matera on their Puglia itinerary. It’s not that easy to get to otherwise, kind of in the middle of nowhere in the Basilicata region bordering Puglia.
Matera has really grown in popularity as of late, helped along by popularity of the James Bond movie No Time To Die and Gibson’s Passion of Christ.
The stoney town is absolutely stunning! It’s made up of man-made caves, windowless dwellings, that were carved into cliffs.
They’re called sassi and have been there for 9,000 years. It’s the oldest inhabited area of Italy.
Today, the caves have been renovated and some turned into luxury hotels. I stayed in uber romantic Sextantio Le Grotte. It’s like it was designed by a high end decorator channeling the Flinstones!
I highly recommend booking a guided walking tour of the sassi.
Tip: You can learn about Matera’s history and the sassi by watching the 30 minute movie in Casa Noha near the cathedral.
Staying in a masseria offers a truly authentic and unique experience that captures the essence of Puglia.
These historic farmhouses, dating back to the 16th century, were originally established as fortified farmsteads in rural Puglia.
They were designed to provide both self-sufficiency and protection for their inhabitants. They had thick whitewashed walls, high walls, and watchtowers as a defense against invaders.
In recent years, these rustic farmhouses have been lovingly restored and transformed into charming boutique hotels, cozy bed and breakfasts, and luxurious accommodations.
They’re set in beautiful Puglian landscapes, often amid olive groves and vineyards. Many masserie are also agritusimos, serving exquisite local cuisine.
Here are some of the best ones. I stayed in both the Melograno and San Domenico and loved them.
Borgo Egnazia: This is a mini village hidden in a natural setting with prickly pears and olive trees. You feel like you’re traveling back in time, but it’s the height of luxury. While it’s probably out of reach for most of us mere mortals, the price drops drastically off season.
Masseria Il Melograno: This is a beautifully restored 17th century fortified farmhouse. It’s surrounded by olive groves. It has large luxe rooms, a spa, and a pool.
Masseria San Domenico: This amazing hotel was one of my favorite stays in Puglia. You’ll feel like you’re staying on the grounds of a castle. And, in fact, its watch tower belonged to the Knights of Malta. It has a spectacular pool.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my reasons for visiting Puglia. You may find these other southern Italy travel guides useful.
- One Day In Naples Itinerary
- 3 Days in Naples Itinerary
- 2 Days in Ravello Itinerary
- 2 Days in Capri Itinerary
- One Week in Puglia Itinerary
- One Week Amalfi Coast Itinerary
- 5 Day Amalfi Coast Itineraries
- 10 Days in Southern Italy Itinerary
- 2 Weeks in Sicily Itinerary
Pin it for later.