The Most Exciting Things To Do In Puglia
Previously underexplored, Puglia is slowly seeing the recognition it deserves. Here's what's on offer
From idyllic countryside to lively towns and pristine beaches, Puglia is a dream destination. Its rich historical and cultural heritage (and exquisite wines) have a way of pulling you in, and it’s not difficult to fall in love the moment you arrive. Yet, surprisingly, up until now, it’s remained relatively undiscovered and off the radar. Not for us, though. Our travel experts at Plum Guide have visited this beautiful region often, collating our favourite places to explore in the heel of Italy’s boot. So before you book your flights, have a read of the best things to do in Puglia.
Citta Vecchia, the old town of Bari
The capital of Puglia, Bari, is the ideal starting point for your Puglian adventure. It’s a city where old and new come together, and gems are to be found both in its Old Town of Citta Vecchia and the more modern Murat district. From the Old Town, wander through the maze of narrow alleys, taking in architectural highlights like the 11th-century Basilica di San Nicola and the Cattedrale di San Sabino. Next, stop by the two main squares of Piazza del Ferrarese and Piazza Mercantile for a drink before heading to the Murat district for its fantastic range of restaurants and lively nightlife.
Marvel at the Castellana Caves
The Castellana Caves in Bari, Apulia
Over 100 metres deep under Puglia’s surface lies one of its most spectacular natural wonders. The Castellana Caves are a karstic cave system dating back 90 million years, made up of large canyons and caves filled with fascinating formations like stalactites, stalagmites, concretions and fossils. A guided tour will take you to depths of 70 metres, where you can venture into a world that appears to come straight out of a fantasy novel. Even the caves’ names are intriguing—’Wolf Cave’, ‘Owl Cave’ and ‘Desert Corridor’. One of the highlights is the Grotta Bianca (White Cave), named after the shiny whiteness of the cave’s alabaster. We recommend you take a nighttime tour for an even better experience.
Taste your way around an olive farm
Puglia is Italy’s top regional producer of olive oil, producing up to 40 percent of Italy’s annual olive oil output. So, what better way to see this in action than to visit an olive farm? There are countless farms to choose from, many of which have been producing olive oil for centuries. Take a stroll around the ancient olive groves, learn about the oil-making process and partake in a tasting of the delicious golden liquid. If you visit Puglia between October and November, you can see how the olives are harvested.
Step back in time at Otranto
The coastal city of Otranto with Aragonese castle, Apulia, Italy
Leave the bucolic olive farms behind and head to the coastal town of Otranto. Established by the Greeks, it later became a major trading port for the Romans before coming under Byzantine, Norman and Ottoman rule. The influence of multiple empires over the centuries means that Otranto is full of fascinating architectural styles. In fact, the city is pretty much an open-air museum where you can spot buildings like the 11th-century Romanesque cathedral with its elaborate floor mosaic and eerie skull collection, the 15th-century Aragonese castle, and the 10th-century Church of San Pietro, which is embellished with magnificent Byzantine frescoes.
Enjoy nature in Gargano National Park
One of the best things to do in Puglia for nature lovers is to visit the vast and beautiful Gargano National Park. Covering over 120,000 hectares on the spur of Italy’s boot, the national park features a diverse variety of landscapes. Hike its rugged, mountainous interior, cycle through its shady Aleppo pine forests or relax on its idyllic sandy beaches. There are also a handful of picturesque towns, such as Monte Sant’Angelo and Peschici, making the perfect stop-off for a scenic drive through the park.
Island hop in the Tremiti Islands
Tremiti Island of San Domino and Cretaccio, Apulia
Also a part of the Gargano National Park is the beautiful Tremiti Islands. This archipelago in the turquoise Adriatic Sea is composed of the five small islands of San Nicola and San Domino, as well as the uninhabited Capraia, Cretaccio and Pianosa. Their surrounding waters are teeming with marine life, and snorkelling and scuba diving are a must. A boat tour is the best way to explore the coast, where you can stop at amazing caves like Grotta delle Viole and Grotta del Bue Marino. Then, back on dry land, take in the impressive architecture and dine on fresh seafood at the many restaurants at San Nicola and San Domino.
Admire the baroque architecture in Lecce
The Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce, Apulia, Italy
Nicknamed ‘The Florence of the South’, the city of Lecce is renowned for its striking collection of baroque buildings. From its honey-hued churches to ornate palaces, the best way to see it all is to take a walk through the city to see what you come across. Keep an eye out for the Basilica di Santa Croce with its gold accents and rose windows, as well as the Church of Saints Nicolò and Cataldo with its exquisite frescoes. Then, head to the Piazza Duomo to admire Lecce’s most important religious structures—Lecce Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace and the Seminary Palace. While you’re here, don’t forget to catch a play or concert at the Roman amphitheatre.
Tuck into Puglian food
With all that exploring, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Each region in Italy is home to its own style of cuisine, and Puglia is no exception. Indulge in local delicacies such as orecchiette con cima di rape (‘little ears’ pasta served with broccoli rabe), panzerotti (deep-fried dough stuffed with tomato and mozzarella), baccala alla Salentina (Salento-style salt codfish baked with potatoes and tomatoes) and caciocavallo (a type of cheese and the perfect accompaniment to bruschetta). We’re strong believers that you should never skip dessert, so finish strong with pettole (sugar-dusted fried dough balls) and pasticciotti (shortcrust pastry tartlets filled with cream and sour cherry).
Sip your way through Puglian vineyards
Now that you’ve tried Puglia’s culinary delights, the only thing missing is something to quench your thirst. Luckily, you’re in the right place to enjoy a glass (or five) of vino. Oenophiles searching for things to do in Puglia won’t miss a visit to one of Puglia’s hundreds of vineyards. Unless you plan to dedicate your entire trip to visiting them (nothing wrong with that), some of our favourites include the historic Terra Jovia, which produces a Primitivo and Primitivo Riserva, Amastuola for its organic range, and Polvanera, which does everything from whites and rose, to reds and sweet wines.
Relax on the beach
Beach in the town of Polignano a Mare, Apulia, Italy
If you’ve had too much wine and all you want to do is lie on a beach, then you’re spoilt for choice. Puglia’s sparkling coastline stretches over 800 kilometres, made up of white sandy beaches, bright blue waters, hidden coves and natural swimming pools. Whether you’re looking to try watersports, curl up on the sand with a book, or tan in your birthday suit, there’s a beach for everyone. Head to Vignanotica for stunning views of limestone cliffs, Grotta della Poesia (Cave of Poetry) for a blissful dip in a natural pool, and Baia dei Turchi for warm, shallow waters backed by pinewood forests.
Cycle the Itria Valley
One place you shouldn’t miss off your Puglia itinerary is the Itria Valley. This stunning region between the provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto is a spectacular landscape of olive groves, vineyards and bright red soil typical of the area. Slow things down and cycle along the narrow winding lanes through the valley, stopping at the whitewashed towns like Ostuni. Known as Puglia’s White City, this fairytale-like town is a labyrinth of stairs, alleyways and cosy squares. Locorotondo is another lovely pit stop, perched on a hill with magnificent views of the surrounding valley.
See the trulli in Alberobello
A narrow street with Trulli houses and colourful plants in summer, Apulia, Italy
Although still located in the Itria Valley, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Alberobello deserves its own place on this list. This historic town is famous for its large concentration of trulli, traditional dry stone huts with conical roofs specific to this area of Puglia. They date back to the 16th century, designed to be easily dismantled to avoid property tax should a royal inspection occur. Built along winding cobblestone alleys, these whitewashed huts are straight out of a children’s picture book, where you would imagine elves and fairies live. It’s worth spending a day living out your childhood dreams here.
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