The Perfect Puglia Road Trip Itinerary

With wonderful surprises around every corner, Puglia is Italy at its finest


Street between trulli houses in Alberobello, Apulia, Italy

The heel of Italy’s boot is the perfect place for a road trip. Driving through the region will take you through rural countryside, pretty seaside towns and quaint villages. There are plenty of cultural and historic sights to take in, as well as sun-baked beaches for those days that you just want to chill out. Planning a road trip can be overwhelming, which is why the experts at Plum Guide have collated this comprehensive Puglia road trip itinerary which starts and ends in Bari, the capital of the region. We haven’t put a time limit on this itinerary, so you can spend as much time at each stop as you like. Read on to start planning the most unforgettable road trip of your life.

Stop 1: Bari

Citta Vecchia, the old town of Bari

Citta Vecchia, the old town of Bari

Start your road trip in the vibrant city of Bari. We recommend starting in the Old Town, where you can make your way through the maze of winding alleyways, whipping your camera out to snap architectural delights like the 11th-century Basilica di San Nicola and the Cattedrale di San Sabino. One of the best things to do in the Old Town is to head down Via Arco Basso, nicknamed ‘the street of orecchiette’. Watch the women as they sit at small tables, moulding this pasta into little ear shapes. You can buy fresh pasta, bags of taralli (small crackers for dipping) and other goodies.

Piazza Mercantile and Piazza del Ferrarese are nice spots for a drink or lunch—the latter overlooks the marina and the sea, where you’ll come across the Romanesque Vallisa church, one of the city’s oldest, as well as the remains of the Appia Traiana, a Roman road built in the early second century. Take a walk down the Lungomare Augusto Imperatore promenade to the Mole San Antonio, a fort-turned-modern-art-gallery. Beyond this is another promenade, the Lungomare Nazario Sauro, which runs along the old harbour, the Porto Vecchio.

Stop 2: Itria Valley

Panoramic view of Town of Alberobello, village with Trulli house in Apulia

Panoramic view of Town of Alberobello, village with Trulli house in Apulia

From Bari, drive along the SS100 and the SS172 for 55 kilometres to Alberobello. This should take you 50 minutes in good traffic.

The Itria Valley is one of Puglia’s natural highlights and deserves a stop on your Puglia road trip. This region between the provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto is your classic Italian countryside, boasting verdant olive groves, gently rolling hills and neat rows of vineyards. This area was made for driving, with plenty of stops to take photos and explore the various whitewashed towns.

One of the main attractions is Alberobello. Although found throughout the Itria Valley, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is where you can find the only entire town of trulli in Puglia. These fairytale-like traditional dry stone huts with conical roofs date back to the 16th century when they were designed to be easily dismantled to avoid property tax if a royal inspection occurred. Another popular stop is Locorotondo. Perched on a hill with far-reaching views of the surrounding valley, this whitewashed town is straight out of a storybook. Wander the town’s narrow streets, its charming houses and shopfronts featuring bright bursts of flowers.

Stop 3: Ostuni

Ostuni city at sunset, Apulia, Italy

Ostuni city at sunset, Apulia, Italy

From Locorotondo, take the SP14 to Ostuni. The distance between the two is around 27 kilometres and should take you 32 minutes to drive.

Still in the Itria Valley but deserving of a stop of its own is Ostuni. Nicknamed the White City, the town’s whitewashed buildings seemingly tumble down the hillside. At the very top of the hill is the 15th-century cathedral, which combines Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine elements. Lose yourself in the labyrinth of streets and staircases, ducking under archways and climbing upwards to the very top for breathtaking views out to the Adriatic Sea.

Stumble across shopfronts bursting with colourful blooms and quaint cafes perfect for people-watching, or pop into the Saturday market to pick up some fresh local produce and crafts. Surrounded by solid walls designed to defend the city, a fun activity is to stroll along them, enjoying views of the surrounding olive groves and the sea—sunset is the best time as the whole city is lit up in a golden glow.

Stop 4: Lecce

Roman Amphitheatre in Lecce, Apulia

Roman Amphitheatre in Lecce, Apulia

From Ostuni, drive along the SS379 and SS613 to Lecce. It should take you around 55 minutes to cover the 76-kilometre distance.

Lecce is a magnet for those who admire the architecture. With its striking collection of Baroque buildings, it’s easy to see why it’s been nicknamed ‘The Florence of the South’. A simple walk around the city is enough to spot the intricate details on every street and around every corner. Gaze up at extravagant palaces and beige stone churches—some of the most exquisite are the Basilica di Santa Croce with its gold accents and rose windows, and the Church of Saints Nicolò and Cataldo with its remarkable frescoes.

Lecce is a university town with a lively and friendly atmosphere. The town has several lovely squares to hang out in, and one of our favourites is the Piazza del Duomo. This is where you’ll come across the Lecce Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace and the Seminary Palace, three of Lecce’s most important religious structures. Head to the Piazza Sant’Oronzo to see the well-preserved Roman amphitheatre or relax in the shaded Villa Comunale di Lecce, a romantic garden complete with fountains, ponds and monuments.

Stop 5: Otranto

The coastal city of Otranto with Aragonese castle, Apulia, Italy

The coastal city of Otranto with Aragonese castle, Apulia, Italy

From Lecce, take the SS16 Adriatica and SP48 to Otranto. Depending on traffic, this should take around 40 minutes to cover the 43-kilometre distance.

Overlooking the Strait of Otranto, where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea, Otranto is Italy’s easternmost town. This is a fantastic destination if you want to combine history, architecture and beaches. Over the millennia, Otranto has been invaded by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans and Ottomans, and this rich history is reflected in the architecture of the town. Otranto’s main attraction is its 15th-century Aragonese castle with its thick walls and robust towers which offer great views of the town and the sea.

Another spectacular building is the 11th-century Romanesque cathedral with its dazzling floor mosaic and a rather eerie skull collection. Have a break from sightseeing and enjoy a cold drink down at the promenade, or take a short drive out of town to Porto Badisco, where you can jump into the clear blue waters of the beautiful cove.

Stop 6: Santa Maria di Leuca

Santa Maria di Leuca Basilica and Corinthian Column, Apulia

Santa Maria di Leuca Basilica and Corinthian Column, Apulia

From Otranto, drive down to Santa Maria di Leuca via the SP81. This should take approximately one hour to cover the 52-kilometre distance.

Located at the very tip of Italy’s heel on the Salento peninsula, Santa Maria di Leuca (often referred to as just Leuca) has long been a popular resort for the well-to-do Pugliese. You can see just how grand this seaside town used to be from the Art Nouveau villas which still stand proudly along the seafront. Also along the seafront is Leuca’s impressive lighthouse reaching 47 metres into the sky. Take the coastal path for a pleasant walk up to the lighthouse, taking in the views of the boats bobbing in the marina.

While you’re in Leuca, swap the car for a boat ride along the coast to discover fascinating sea caves like the Cave of the Three Doors, the Devil’s Cave and the Lovers Cave, each of them steeped in legends and myths. Be sure to bring your snorkelling gear, as you can jump off the boat and swim into the caves. If you just feel like sunbathing, choose from the surrounding beaches of Felloniche, Posto Vecchio, Torre Vado and Pescoluse. You’ll find all you need for a relaxing beach day.

Stop 7: Gallipoli

View of the sea and city of Gallipoli, Apulia, Italy

View of the sea and city of Gallipoli, Apulia, Italy

From Leuca, drive back up the peninsula to Gallipoli. Take the Salento Meridionale and the SS274, which should take you around 36 minutes to cover the 46-kilometre distance.

The coastal town of Gallipoli is, in fact, an island connected to the mainland via a bridge. This ancient town was once a strategic port for maritime trade—these days, it’s more of a seaside escape for Italian families. Gallipoli’s defining feature is its 13th-century fortified castle. Almost entirely surrounded by sea, it is now a cultural centre showing various exhibits throughout the year. Another striking landmark is the Cattedrale di Sant-Agata, an ornate Baroque building which is just as breathtaking on the inside as its facade.

Gallipoli is best enjoyed at a slower pace. Breaking up your sightseeing with a stop for a glass of wine or a coffee, having conversations with shopkeepers and watching the fishermen fixing their nets. Visit the fish market and sample fresh seafood dishes, or laze on the Spiaggia della Purita beach.

Stop 8: Taranto

Aerial view of Taranto city, Puglia. Italy

Aerial view of Taranto city, Puglia. Italy

The last stop on your Puglia road trip is Taranto. From Gallipoli, drive along the SP359. The distance between the two is around 94 kilometres and should take about an hour and 10 minutes.

The coastal city of Taranto is a huge commercial and military port and is one of the most important cities in Puglia. Its Old Town is the most interesting part, located on a small island and connected to the mainland by a bridge. Take a walk through the maze of narrow alleyways and soak up the atmosphere of a world bygone. Stop by the Basilica Cattedrale di San Cataldo which boasts ornate marble statues and original mosaic floor tiles, before visiting the Aragonese Castle to stroll across the battlements and towers for views across to the sea and the Isle of Saint Peter. Also located within the Old Town is the Tempio di Poseidon, the remains of a Greek temple dedicated to the mighty sea god Poseidon. For something a little different, or if you’ve had a little too much history, take a quick drive to Palude La Vela Nature Reserve. Enjoy the tranquillity of the reserve, keeping your eyes open for flamingos and storks amongst the reeds and marshlands.

From Taranto, drive back to Bari along the SS100. It’s approximately 87 kilometres between the cities and should take an hour and 15 minutes.

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