Puglia has more than 800 kilometres of coastline. A pleasure to explore, the coast has dramatic cliffs, numerous beaches, fishing villages and larger bustling ports. All overlooking the blue, crystal clear sea. The region’s capital is Bari, this vibrant city is directly on the coast and has a wonderful old harbour where visitors can sit in one of the harbour front cafes and watch all the fishing boat activity. Towards the very south of the Puglia region and right on the very tip of the ‘heel’ is Salento, known for rugged coastline and some of the country’s best beaches.
It’s a great idea to hire a car to go off the beaten track and explore this wonderful region. Puglia is the flattest region in Italy and home to Europe’s largest salt flats which are pink in appearance as the sun sets. Not only a huge producer of tonnes of salt each year, but this is also a great place for birdwatching. Flocks of migrating birds visit the Margherita Di Savoia each year on their way to warmer climates. Binoculars are recommended to spot mute swans and even pink flamingos.
Puglia has so many Roman and European influences, the region’s town and cities feel spacious and laidback and are simply a delight to visit while on holiday. With, on average, less tourists that many other Italian cities, Bari, Lecce, Taranto and Gallipoli all have great character and are small enough to easily explore on foot. Piazzas, churches and museums are in abundance in these towns with much celebration of their maritime roots. These towns can all be accessed by local train.
The ‘Grotte’ or Caves of Castellana are well worth a visit during a holiday in Puglia. This extensive network of underground tunnels and caves is close to the town of Bari and is a sight to behold. The caves are thought to have started forming over 90 million years ago. Meander through the vast caves where superb stalagmites and stalactites of all shapes, sizes and colours have formed over the years. An incredible three kilometres of caves take visitors more than 60 metres underground. The White Cave is perhaps the most impressive sight with its stunning white and translucent formations – absolutely breath-taking and nature at its best. There is also a museum alongside the caves which explains how the caves were first discovered and how they preserve them for future generations to enjoy.
Known as the ‘Florence of the South’ due to its elaborate architecture and Roman ruins. Spending time just wandering the streets and taking in the culture is a pleasure. A visit to the Basilica di Santa Croce is a must with its intricate façade. This impressive church dates to the 17th century and took over one hundred years to complete, such is the level of detail and precise craftsmanship. Lecce is also home to an impressive Roman amphitheatre which was discovered after the 2nd World War. Thought to date back to the 2nd century, it had been completely covered by building and development. Almost two thirds of the amphitheatre has been now been uncovered by archaeologists. Nearby, Lecce’s old town has a wonderful café culture where visitors can while away the time and watch the world go by.
Alberobello is home to numerous trullo houses, small white houses built from local limestone. These unique houses were originally cheap, self-built houses constructed by farmworkers and peasants. The trulli are drywall buildings and have no cement or mortar. They were built this way in order for the land owner to avoid having to pay any taxes to the King – if any inspectors came, they would simply dissemble the houses and then rebuild them when they had gone! The trulli have conical, stone roofs many of which have a symbol painted on to them. There are many trullo houses around the Puglia region but Alberobello is the finest example of a village. The houses here are still inhabited with their main source of income now tourism. Locals can be seen making mini-trulli from limestone for tourists to buy as souvenirs.
Puglia is largely a farming area due to its flat landscape, therefore vegetables and cereals dominate the cuisine. Enormous quantities of wheat mean that the finest pasta can be easily made. Orecchiette pasta is a favourite and is shaped like small ears. This is traditionally served with green seasonal vegetables from the region or broccoli – simple and delicious. Due to its vast coastline, Puglia is also well known for its fish and seafood with seabass and swordfish being regulars on the menu. The peninsula of Salento offers the freshest seafood which is second to none.
Puglia boasts a Mediterranean climate which makes for a pleasant all-year round destination with 300 days of sunshine a year on average. Summers are long, hot and dry, typically lasting from the end of May through to the end of September. The spring and autumn are when you’ll experience warm weather and less crowds while winters can be mild but with some rainfall.
If you are a British citizen, you don’t need a visa to enter Italy but you must have a valid passport. For the latest information on European travel regulations, visit https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/italy.
In Puglia, the currency used is the Euro (EUR).
In Puglia, the language spoken is Italian.