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Perfection in Puglia: 5 Destinations for Your Puglia Itinerary

Discovering Unique Puglia Destinations

A Quick Puglia Primer

If you haven’t heard of Puglia yet (also called Apulia), let me give a little intro to this amazing Italian region. It’s not exactly undiscovered: it’s already a tremendously popular vacation destination for Italians (and many Europeans), Italy’s second highest wine producing region, boasts 18 blue flag beaches, and is home to one of Italy’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Alberobello.

Alberobello, a Puglia itinerary must, with its signature cone-topped trulli
UNESCO village Alberobello & the famous Trulli

Visitor numbers have steadily increased, peaking at a little over 3 million in 2019. Of course those numbers dropped in 2020, recovering to about 2.7 million in 2021. 2022 Numbers aren’t in yet, but I’d be willing to bet it was at or even more than 2019 levels.

As more travelers discover this region and explore their own Puglia itinerary, it’s getting a bit harder to escape the crowds. Some of the most famous spots include Alberobello, Lecce, Polignano a Mare, and the beaches in the Salento region in the far south. You may be wondering where to go in Puglia to dodge tourists while experiencing this incredible region.

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links, sending a little income my way (at no cost to you) if you choose to purchase an item or use a service I’ve suggested. 

Where is Puglia?

Puglia is located in the southern part of Italy – in the stiletto of the boot. In the very bottom is the Salento region, known for its stunning beaches. The northern end of the region finishes at the “spur” of the boot, called the Gargano Peninsula. This area also has atmospheric forests and dramatic cliffs with crystalline waters lapping at pebbled beaches.

When to Visit Puglia

Summer is definitely the most popular time of year to visit Puglia. Beginning in June, visitors pour in to the coastal regions. It peaks in August, with the annual Italian holiday season of Ferragosto. If there is one month to avoid the region, this is it. Crowds are at absolute peak, as well as prices.

Puglia is truly an all-season region. If you want a beach-focused Puglia itinerary, May-July and September are the best months to visit Puglia. If you prefer rugged landscapes or just looking at the beaches, spring and fall are perfect times to plan a richly varied Puglia itinerary.

fishing nets under the sun in Gallipoli, Italy in the Puglia region
Fishing nets piled seaside in the old Marina of Gallipoli

While smaller beach and resort towns will be closed from roughly October til April, you may be surprised to know that the winter months in Puglia can still make for a spectacular visit. During the holiday season (early December through mid January), the towns of Puglia put up stunning light displays and celebrations.

Even in February there’s something to see, depending on when Carnival (Carnevale) falls. It’s a raucous time! It is best to base yourself in larger towns (Bari, Lecce), as you’ll find more services open and activities available. If you want to retreat, book a trullo in the countryside and escape the world. The town of Putignano is delightful and well known for its Carnival festivities.

Winters are pretty mild but July and August are the hottest months. You’ll also need to rent a car to fully explore the region, as public transportation options aren’t great. If you’re only going between cities and travel light, it is possible to explore Puglia by train and bus. You will need extra time and patience for this method.

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Cell Service: Getting an e-SIM for Travel

Most cell service providers charge an arm and a leg for foreign cell service. A ten day trip can set you back hundreds of dollars. Since most phones have dual SIM and use virtual e-SIM cards, saving money and getting a local number is a snap. Launched in 2019, Airalo offers e-SIM cards for Italy and 200+ other countries.

Unique Picks for Your Puglia Itinerary

It’s tough to pick just 5! Puglia is best divided into 3 sections – north, central, and south. The north and inland central receive the fewest visitors. The central coast and south areas are definitely the most popular. These hold places like the Val d’Itria (the greatest concentration of famous Trulli & Aleberobello) and the Salento region with Lecce and those incredible beaches.

Without further ado, here are 5 of my top picks. They’re spectacular enough on their own, but even better they won’t be as crowded as some of the most famous places. There’s a little something for everyone among these. Add at least a couple to your Puglia itinerary to enjoy some hidden gems – for now anyway.

Monopoli

Small fishing boats float in the old harbor of Monopoli, Italy
Small fishing boats float in the old harbor of Monopoli, Italy

This charming seaside town often gets overlooked for its more famous neighbor just up the coast, Polignano a Mare. While Polignano is lovely and has some dramatic views, I’d have to vote for Monopoli as my favorite in this little area. It makes for an easy day trip from Bari by car or train.

Narrow whitewashed streets twist and turn, and there is a long seaside promenade to stroll with gelato in hand. It does get quite busy in summer (especially mid-July through August) but is still far less crowded than aforementioned Polignano.

This is an easily walkable town, and would even make a cozy base from which to explore the area. Nearby points of interest include Castellana Grotte, Polignano a Mare, Putignano, and Bari.

Altamura & Gravina in Puglia

Cozying up to the Basilicata region, these rustic gems are ideal for lovers of the outdoors, history, and especially bread. The town is best known for its bread, crafted from a particular strain of durum wheat that has been grown in the region for centuries. Altamura bread has a distinctive taste and texture found only here, making it a must-try for carb-loving foodies.

Altamura is rich in natural scenery and cultural history, such as the 12th century Castello Svevo. It is a lively town, especially during the evening passeggiata, when the streets and squares come alive. Nearby is Gravina in Puglia, a smaller and quieter town perched alongside a ravine with dramatic views.

ancient aqueduct connects ancient ruins with the rustic village Gravina in Puglia
Gravina in Puglia is perfect for lovers of ruins, ancient history, and local shops selling goods unique to the area

The much more famous Matera is nearby, as well as the iconic Castel del Monte alongside the Alta Murgia National Park. It is best to have a car, as bus or train service won’t always be convenient and can be quite slow.

Gargano Peninsula

Well known to Italians (as well as neighboring Europeans), the Gargano Peninsula is not at all well known further abroad. It may not have made it onto your Puglia vacation radar – but you should seriously consider making time for it. It is the “spur” of the boot, in the northern part of Puglia.

This petite part of Puglia is truly unique: cool green forests, stone villages perched high on a hill, dramatic coastline, and white-washed seaside towns. Many of the pristine beaches are best reached by boat – kayak, motor, or sail. For the intrepid, it’s amazing to hike down to the beach and cool off in the crystal clear water and lounge on a pebbled beach.

photo collage showing pebbly cliffside beaches with clear water on the Gargano peninsula of Puglia, Italy
Truly the photos do not do this place justice. Taken on the southern coast beaches of the Gargano Peninsula between Vieste and Mattinata

Even better: off the northern coast of the peninsula you’ll find the Tremiti Islands, one of Italy’s least known but most beautiful archipelagoes. The Tremiti Islands can be reached by ferry or even a surprisingly affordable helicopte, and can be enjoyed on a day trip. However, I would recommend an overnight stay if at all possible.

There are many tours sold at the arrival dock on the main island. These are a great budget option but be aware that in summer they will be full with mostly the same routes and schedule. It’s better to book a private boat – we negotiated with a local at the ferry dock to take us out for 4-5 hours for about $120. We gained access to secret coves and spectacular views, and were often the only people around.

woman in a bikini poses with hands in air and big smile on rocky edge of an ocean pool in the Tremiti Islands of Italy
We spent 120 Euros on a (tiny) private boat to take us to secret spots like this all around the Tremiti Islands. Worth it ten times over!

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Otranto (incl Baia dei Turchi)

Otranto is a charming whitewashed town on the southern coast, in the stunning Salento region. Here, beaches are overlooked from modest but rugged cliffs. Adrenaline junkies can partake in some serious cannonballs, or you can take a private boat excursion to explore the coastline.

Otranto is just 40 minutes from Lecce and a short hop to two of the most spectacular beaches in Puglia. My personal favorite is Baia dei Turchi, a crystalline oasis just ten minutes from the old town of Otranto. At nearly walking distance (just a few kilometers) is Mulino d’Acqua Beach, surrounded by fairytale grottoes.

clear neon blue waters along the cliffs leading to Mulino d'Acqua beach in Puglia
Cliffside paths wind towards Mulino d’Acqua beach. On this walk I saw scuba divers exploring the waters.

Ancient lookout towers and lighthouses dot the coast, and even an Aragonese Castle replete with museum. Otranto is a perfect base for exploring not just beaches but wineries and unusual attractions. Menhir Salento is a fantastic winery just 15 minutes from Otranto or 30 minutes from Lecce. Partake in outdoorsy adventures like horseback riding near the russet-hued Bauxite Caves just outside of Otranto.

Torre del Orso

rocks called le due sorelle jut out of perfect neon blue waters off the coast of Puglia
Neon blue water you have to see to believe.

Not far from Otranto is Torre del Orso, an ideal spot to while a day away with a little light cliff jumping. Swim in the Poet’s Grotto (admittedly IG-famous for a time), drink in the impossibly blue waters by Le due Sorelle, or clamber about Torre Sant’Andrea.

Many of these are connected by cliffside walking paths. Renting a bike or hiring a boat are two other excellent ways to explore this stunning stretch of coastline.

Torre del Orso and its surrounds are definitely a summer destination, as the prime draw is the coast and its beaches. Book well ahead and avoid August – which is generally the way to go for summer beach vacations in Italy.

Mix and Match for a Perfect Time in Puglia

The best course of action is to aim for shoulder season and visit more than just the places that have gained social media fame in recent years. One of the best things about Puglia, is that it’s still possible to visit without being surrounded by other tourists. The right timing, a sense of adventure, and taking the less trodden trail will make a trip to Puglia an absolute dream.

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Puglia Itinerary FAQ

When is the best time to visit Puglia?

If you’re a beach lover, choose June through early July or the first two weeks in September. If beaches aren’t your priority, mid-September to early November and mid-March to early May are the best months to visit Puglia.

Do You Need a Car in Puglia?

If you have more time, travel exceptionally light, and have both patience and a sense of adventure it is possible to explore by bus, train, and even bike. Otherwise, it is best to rent a car as it will give the most freedom and flexibility – just be sure to get the smallest rental car possible.

What is Puglia famous for?

Puglia is best known for its Trulli – the conical shapes houses found in the Valle d’Itria, with the greatest concentration in now-famous Alberobello. Puglia is also known for its beautiful sandy beaches, delectable rustic cuisine, and terrific wines.

What is the food like in Puglia?

Seafood, quality, and simplicity reign supreme. Seafood – especially unique offerings like sea urchin and octopus – is abundant and fresh. Olive oil, tomatoes, herbs, and rustic greens are hallmarks of the cuisine here. But elevated and adventurous dishes have become available too, as chef’s allow their creativity to shine.

Is Puglia expensive?

Puglia offers great value, especially in the shoulder or off season. The greatest expense would be transport, since a car is the best way to explore. Simple rooms can be had for as little as 35 euros per night, but there are also incredible luxury properties like the legendary Borgo Egnazia.

10 Comments

  1. Karen

    I have been to northern Italy and love all the sites there but this area sounds incredible. The color of the water is impossibly blue. I like the idea of renting your own boat to explore.

  2. Danielle

    I’m so excited to see this is your latest post! Puglia is one of the Italian regions I haven’t visited and it looks so beautiful. Plus I’d love to be slightly more off the beaten path.

    • Ella

      Puglia has so much to offer, and even though some towns have gained more global fame in recent years it’s still possible to have an off-the-beaten-path experience there!

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