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Puglia, Italy: The Perfect Fall Travel Destination

This Italian region of Puglia is home to some of Italy’s most stunning beaches, charming whitewashed villages, and phenomenal food and wine. You also may have heard it called Apulia, which is simply the anglicized version of its proper name.

Where is Puglia Italy?

If you’ve not yet heard of Puglia (Pool-yah), you’re missing out! While it’s rapidly becoming more popular, a common question from travelers is “where is Puglia?” Puglia is located in the stiletto of Italy’s boot.

Puglia is where you can find the slow life as well as rich history and culture woven in with its other charms. Its most famous cities are UNESCO site Alberobello, Ostuni, Lecce, and Bari. The majority of visitors come to Puglia in summer, flocking to the enchanting beaches of the Salento region of the peninsula.

Whitewashed trulli and their conical roofs in Puglia, Italy
The iconic conical roofs of traditional trulli, seen here in UNESCO site Alberobello, pepper the Puglian countryside

While popular for the aforementioned beaches, Puglia is often overlooked as a perfect fall travel destination. From mid-September to early November, the crowds have thinned, and prices drop.

In addition to elbow room and more bang for your buck, it’s much easier to explore when not worried about heat stroke! After September it’s a bit too chilly for swimming in those crystalline waters, but there is so much to explore and enjoy well into the season.

What to do in Puglia in the Fall

Wine & Food

Puglia is Italy’s second largest wine producing region (after Veneto, in the north), and of course has spectacular food to go along with it. There is no shortage of wineries to visit, which you can do independently or with a tour. Some of the most common varietals are Primitivo, Negroamaro, and Aglianico. Of course other varietals are grown as well, often used in blends. 

winery Tenuta di Bocca di Lupo in Puglia set amongst olive trees under the midday sun
One of my favorite wines is Tormaresca – this is their Tenuta di Bocca di Lupo estate about an hour from Bari

Active Adventures & Back Roads

Puglia offers so much more than beaches and whitewashed beach towns. Active travelers can hike, bike, horseback ride, golf, or adventure on ATVs. Multi-day bicycle tours are quite popular. More upscale lodgings will often be able to assist in making activity arrangements.

The region is also perfect for back road explorations. The landscape is rugged, rising to hills as you go inland and north. In the south, sweeping olive groves are criss-crossed by stone lined lanes – be sure to rent the smallest car possible! Further north you’ll find forests and dramatic coastline drives.

While many of the little beach towns will be all but completely shut down after the chaos of summer, you can still visit some of the beaches as they’re no less beautiful just because the water is a bit brisk. There won’t be services available, but on warm day it’s nice to have it all to yourself and enjoy some sunshine. 

Explore Coastal Towns & Inland Villages

There are no BIG cities here, though Bari and Brindisi (on the eastern coast) are bustling for sure. Both have busy ports, with ferries coming and going to the likes of Greece and Croatia. Small villages, often perched on little hills, are surrounded by countryside homes and estates.

While there are of course highways, the best way to explore is by avoiding those (unless you need to get somewhere faster) and take the scenic route. Puglia is a perfect region for slow travel and going where the wind takes you.

whitewashed homes in locortondo italy
Signature whitewashed homes in Locorotondo, one of Val d’Itria’s most charming villages

In the southern half of the region, you’ll see the signature Trulli – cone shaped stone roofs on white washed cottages. The greatest concentration is in the Valle D’Itria, where you’ll find the famed Alberobello, a UNESCO world heritage site. Many of the Trulli have been lovingly restored: some as bed and breakfasts or Masserie. Others you can rent the entire property for your own private retreat.

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How to Get to Puglia

The easiest way is to fly into Bari or Brindisi. Many budget airlines offer flights from within Europe or it will be a layover (1-2 stops) journey if you’re coming from further afield. You can also take the train from Rome or Naples, a journey of 5-6 hours. If you are spending time in Greece or Croatia beforehand, look into the ferries that bring you to Bari or Brindisi.

While it is possible to visit the region by train or bus, unless you’re doing a bike tour, renting a car is by far the best choice for exploring. Not only is it far more efficient, but there will be areas not well served by public transport methods.

Narrow lines criss-cross the region, making for endless exploration

You can choose to either rent in a city like Rome, or once you arrive in the region. If driving from further away, keep in mind that tolls add up fast and make sure you have a mix of cash, change, and your card at hand. 

The last time I went I drove a Prius, which more than once barely fit down some of the narrowest lanes! Be sure to choose the absolute smallest car you can manage, as it will definitely make your life much easier. It also means you too can squeeze into impossibly tiny parking spots like the locals do!

Where To Go for a Fall Vacation in Puglia

Puglia is not massive but it is absolutely packed with choices. It’s a tiny bit easier when planning a vacation this time of year, as you won’t be lounging the days away beachside. Even so, I’ve divided it into three sections and highlighted a few choice spots in each.

Southern Puglia – Salento and Valle D’Itria

In the far south is the Salento region, which is where many of those beautiful beaches can be found. It’s anchored by the town of Lecce (Leh-cheh), which is referred to as the Florence of the south. From here you can explore seaside Otranto, unusual sights like the Bauxite Caves, and beaches like one of my personal favorites at Baia dei Turchi.

sunrise at grotta della poesia, a swimming spot in Puglia, Italy
Grotta della Poesia – a leisurely 30 minute drive from Lecce and close to other area highlights
ostuni's iconic white buildings viewed from the lower city center

Just a bit north lies the picturesque Valle d’Itria, where more of the Trulli begin to appear. While it may not be possible to visit them all, key towns here include Martina Franca, Locorotondo, and Ostuni (known as the Citta’ Bianca, or White City) – though there’s certainly no shortage to choose from.

Alberobello is arguably the most famous, and can feel a bit Disney-ish during the day. This leaves some wondering if Alberobello is worth the hype. It’s certainly unique, and worth a brief detour.

The best solution is to arrive as early as possible to explore the fairytale village before the day trippers descend. Alternatively, stay well into the evening when they have continued on. Either option allows enjoying its charm and atmosphere.

Central Puglia

the tiny beach of polignare a mare in summer
One of the most photographed – and crowded – scenes in Polignano a Mare

Along the coast you’ll find bustling Bari, which sometimes gets overlooked but the old town is absolutely worth exploring. Pop south along the coast for famous Polignano a Mare, which will be much less crowded now and has an almost rustic Positano-esque vibe. 

There’s some good shopping to be had in Polignano, with a lean towards independent and contemporary artists. There are multiple view points of the cliffs surrounding Lama Monachile, one of its most photographed scenes. If the sea is calm, you can book a tour by boat to get a completely different view on this beautiful Italian seaside village. 

Just south is my personal favorite, Monopoli. It has a wonderful genuine charm and is easy to access. There’s also a beautiful seaside promenade to stroll before or after dinner. One of the best meals I had in all of Puglia was in Monopoli – make a reservation at Gaia Osteria Popolare for some gloriously inventive dishes and fantastic service.

modern Italian cuisine at Gaia Osteria in Monopoli, Italy

In the western area of central Puglia, villages are hillier and built from tawny stone. With a warm, rustic energy it may be one of the least touristed areas in Puglia.  Explore towns like Altamaura, famous for its bread, or Castellaneta with beautiful views across the wild landscape criss crossed by wooded ravines. I also had some wonderful meals here as well, which you’ll find listed below.

Not much further is Matera, which is technically in Basilicata and possibly more famous than Alberobello. Residents lived in the caves until the 1970s, after which they were moved as conditions were unsafe. It is definitely a can’t miss town – and fall is the perfect time to visit.

pano of ancient city of Matera in Basilicata Italy
The Matera skyline has become quite well known in recent years

Not only will crowds be more manageable, but it can be unbearably hot in the summer. I do recommend staying overnight – much like Alberobello day-trippers will have departed and it’s much calmer.

Northern Puglia

Up north you’ll find the Gargano Peninsula, which is the spur that sticks off the back of the boot. It’s generally much less crowded, as there are fewer accessible beaches and it’s not nearly as well known. In the center is the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, with beautiful forests to explore and picnic in. The coastline is dramatic, and makes for a fabulous drive. 

Many beaches must be reached by boat or by carefully climbing down rocky, steep paths. Its main towns are Vieste and Peschici, and either makes a good base if you prefer to be in a village with shops and restaurants around. 

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How Long Should You Spend in Puglia?

No matter the time of year, when visiting Puglia I recommend at least a week. This will let you explore at a leisurely pace, and discover more than one area. Since Puglia is easily reached from multiple points in Italy and parts of Croatia and Greece, it’s easy to make it part of a grander itinerary.

Puglia Itinerary Ideas

10 or More Days in Puglia

To sample the whole of Puglia, you’ll want to dedicate 11-14 days. Depending on your exact interests, you can base yourself in 3-4 location for 3-4 days at a time. Many towns and areas can easily be visited on day trips from each other.

It’s easy to make a thorough yet leisurely exploration of Puglia this way. It’s amazing how much diversity is packed into such a small area. Rugged ravine-crossed inland villages, breezy coastal towns, sandy beaches, cool forests, AND dramatic cliffs? Chef’s kiss!

A week in Puglia

Of course not everyone has quite that much time. If you have just 6-9 days, choosing two or three bases works well. Valle d’Itria and Lecce are an absolute can’t miss. Allow a full 3-4 days here, which can include leisurely visits to Monopoli and Polignano a Mare.

Otranto and Torre dell’Orso (a scenic beach with intense blue water) are near Lecce too. Alberobello, Locorotondo, and Martina Franca are easily explored in a day as they are quite close to each other. 

Take yet another day to visit a couple of wineries, then finish in Ostuni – La Citta’ Bianca. If extra time can be found, add in Matera (which is in neighboring Basilicata) and surrounds or head up to the Gargano area. Allow 2-3 days for either of these.

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Know Before You Go

Getting Around Puglia

While most of Puglia has quite good tourist infrastructure, English is not widely spoken so download Google Translate to use offline. I had few issues with cell reception, but of course it’s rural so there will be times when it’s spotty at best. Download offline maps as well, so that you don’t end up stranded when you can’t load up Google Maps.

Driving in Puglia

Be careful driving if you haven’t done much of it in Italy or southern/coastal Europe. While I don’t think it’s quite as terrifying as people make out, it does require some extra attention. Unless you’re passing, stay out of the left lane. If you forget and dawdle along, faster drivers will ride up right behind you and flash their brights to remind you. 

Gas stations are often closed on Sundays, though at many you can still fill up by paying at the pump. You may find it easier to just fill up on other days and not worry about it. I sometimes had trouble with my credit card, so having a debit card and cash available will avoid problems on that front.

Watch out for the ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitatato) signs in the towns: sometimes it’s a regular sign, sometimes they’re electronic. When you see these, don’t drive through as it’s a restricted zone. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled as Google will often try to take you through these zones and you can get quite a ticket for going through.

Food & Dining Out in Puglia

If you aren’t used to pasta al dente, you may find it a bit … firm to the taste. I’ve found that in Puglia it’s quite al dente (compared to other regions), so you can always ask if they wouldn’t mind cooking the pasta a tiny bit longer.

Fresh seafood is easily found throughout, and don’t be surprised to find raw shrimp on the menu alongside the fish, mussels, and oysters. Shrimp is also often served still in the shell, whether as an antipasto or in a complete dish. If you’re a seafood lover, this is the place!

If you have your heart set on a restaurant, make a reservation even in shoulder season. Many restaurants are quite small so may be sold out, particularly on a weekend.

Are credit cards accepted in Puglia?

Credit cards are generally accepted almost everywhere. But it’s still wise to carry some cash just in case, especially for small purchases. Some lidos (where you rent chairs at the beach) only take cash as well.

If unsure just ask before sitting down at a restaurant, though usually there will be a sign by the entrance. There were also a couple instances where my card didn’t work at a gas station and I was glad to have cash on hand.

Other Important Puglia Info

The midday pausa is real – most shops and services will be closed from roughly noon til 4 in the afternoon. Many restaurants also close between lunch and dinner, so don’t expect to always have tons of options if you want to eat at odd hours.

Try to stay in a masseria or trullo (sometimes these are combined) at least once. A masseria is much like an agriturismo, and many of the previously derelict trulli have been restored into elegant vacation accommodations. It’s unique and almost always locally owned, and a great way to contribute directly to the local economy.

Where to Stay in Puglia

Views of Locorotondo from my porch

As I was traveling solo most of my most recent visit, I sought small, simple spaces. I did however make a point of researching or visiting a few properties that I would love to stay in another time.

I must make special mention of my little retreat in Locorotondo. Not only was it a perfectly convenient location for exploring the area, it had a beautiful view of the town.

The hosts were available on-property (they live next door) and were helpful but it still felt private. It might have been my favorite stay of my summer in Puglia!

In Salento is the fairly new Naturalis Bio Resort & Spa. The property is stunning and the staff is so kind! They are highly rated: 9.7 on Booking.com and 4.8 on both TripAdvisor and Google. It’s the perfect place for eco-conscious seclusion and luxury.

shady veranda overlooking the lawn and greenhouse at Naturalis Bio Resort and Spa in Puglia, Italy
There are numerous shady places to relax and soak in the countryside views

If you prefer a bit of nightlife and varied dining, look to stay in one of the larger towns like Lecce, Ostuni, Monopoli, or Bari. If you’d like quiet and to cook for yourself (or don’t mind having just one or two options), a private apartment or room at a property is a great solution.

Masserie and agriturismi – often in restored Trulli – are working farms. Most are very small, and may have an on-site restaurant serving food from the farm. These will of course be out in the countryside. They range from rustic to luxe.

Look for places with on-site parking options. If it’s in a historic center aka ZTL you may have to park further away and carry your bags, though many lodgings can come fetch you in a golf cart. Just be sure to clarify before booking.

If this all seems like a lot….

But you’re not a “tour person”, get in touch. I offer travel services from hourly coaching sessions to complete itinerary creation! This way you get to enjoy all the wonderful parts of a vacation in Puglia without worry or spending hours researching. 

Wineries & Beaches of Puglia

Puglia is best known for its beaches and wineries. It’s for good reason – both are spectacular. As this is a particular interest of mine, of course I’m sharing some highlights here.

Wineries to Visit in Puglia

Tormaresca is one of my favorite wines in the world and they have multiple estates. We visited Tenuta Bocca di Lupo, which is convenient to central and even northern Puglia.

In Valle d’Itria – very close to Locorotondo – is I Pastini. The tour was interesting and informative with the tasting in a lovely location. 

Deep down in the Salento, Menhir Salento was truly delightful. After what ended up being a private tour of the vineyard (lucky me!), I enjoyed a sampling of their fantastic wines and a lovely pasta to cap it off.

Puglia Beaches

I could easily list a dozen or more. On my last visit it was summer, so I selflessly dedicated myself to finding the best of the best. If you’re going in the first half of September, you may well find it just warm enough to go swimming still!

The most popular beaches in Puglia (and busiest) are in the southern part, called the Salento. Many are reasonably accessible from Lecce or Otranto, either of which make a lovely base for the region. Alternatively, Gallipoli is also a good spot for the beaches on that side of the peninsula.

Some of my favorite beaches include: Torre Lapillo Pescoluse, Baia dei Turchi, Punta Prosciutto and Torre dell’Orso. Most beaches are fairly small, but if you’re going in early September they won’t be nearly as crowded.

The insanely clear and shallow water at Pescoluse beach

There are also excellent beaches just off Gallipoli and Monopoli, plus little coves and sea caves that can be explored by boat all around much of the coast. Some beaches can be rocky or off little cliffs, so water shoes and a chair are recommended.

The spectacular Gargano peninsula is largely overlooked by foreign tourists. While the beaches are more challenging to reach (requiring a boat or descending steep paths), with white pebbles and brisk crystalline water they are still spectacular.

photo collage showing pebbly cliffside beaches with clear water on the Gargano peninsula of Puglia, Italy
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Recommended Restaurants in Puglia

These are restaurants that I really enjoyed – I’ve put stars next to the ones definitely worth going out of the way for

* Gaia Osteria Popolare – Monopoli

It’s a newer restaurant and is in such a charming setting but the food and service live up as well. The octopus might be the best I’ve ever had. The pricing is also extremely fair!

modern Italian cuisine including octopus, squid, fish, and pasta at Gaia Osteria in Monopoli

* Aquae Seaside Restaurant & Bar – Trani

Just a bit north from Bari, and Puglia is known for its incredibly fresh seafood. We had lunch here, dining on all manner of mussels, shrimp, sea urchin, and similar oceanic delicacies. It’s a beautiful restaurant with a terrific view over the sea.

Piazzetta Petrone – Vieste

In this charming whitewashed piazza with sea views and bougainvillea draped trellises, we got a little fancy. It gets quite busy so even in fall it may be worth making a reservation, especially on a weekend.

Pizzeria Ninet – Altamura

Altamura has some great food! This was recommended to me by a local and I ended up eating there twice. There’s a sense of fun and flair to some of the choices, and the service was also very good.

TanaMatta – Altamura

This is a great, lively spot for drinks and snacks. Perfect for aperitivo hour or after dinner cocktails.

* Scinua – Putignano

One of my favorite meals! Fantastic execution of classic yet refined dishes, friendly service, a beautiful setting, and I paid a mere 43 euro for 3 courses, 2 glasses of wine, and a double espresso!

* Enococus – Ceglie Messapica

If you are in the mood for some amazing steak – do not miss this restaurant! I made a reservation – wise since it’s very small. After a nice bourbon around the corner, I enjoyed a leisurely meal capped off with one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. They really know their stuff and genuinely care. I would go out of my way to go back! I don’t remember what I paid but it was definitely reasonable!

La Drogheria – Lecce

Not in the historic center, and a tad pricey anyway, I enjoyed a wonderful pasta with ricci di mare – sea urchin. Also a great gin selection and very stylish surrounds.

Vico del Cuciniere – Lecce

This tucked away restaurant plays with its food, making for some fun combinations. If you like a bit of adventure in your culinary explorations, come check it out.

* Le Macare – Alezio

An elegant restaurant in an unassuming town not far from Gallipoli, enjoy refined classics and un-stuffy yet attentive service. You even get a choice of olive oils to enjoy with your bread!

Ristorante Bar Costamarina – Peschici

I’m including this one because I enjoyed the view so very much. While the food was good but not amazing, to me if you want one meal with an especially lovely view while in Peschici it’s worth that bit of compromise. You can also stroll the marina afterwards, which was quite nice.

Is Puglia a good choice for all kinds of travelers?

Indeed Puglia’s main draw is the food, wine, and beaches. But there’s definitely more than those, especially on a fall vacation to Puglia.

Active adventures abound. Cycling, horseback riding, and ATV excursions are popular pretty much year-round. In warmer months, surfing and scuba diving are also popular. There are even golf courses now that are well rated scattered along the region.

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Puglia has a rich cultural history, which can be seen especially in the inland areas near Matera. There are small, unique museums all over as well. I was thoroughly impressed by the archaeological museum in Taranto.

There are many artisans in the towns, crafting both traditional and modern items. From clothing to home decor, many are surprised to find diverse shopping appeal in Puglia. In fact, my dad’s hometown of Grottaglie is famous for its ceramics.

No matter what one is seeking – adventure, relaxation, indulgence – it can be found in Puglia. Except maybe subways or skyscrapers.

pinterest pin image for puglia fall travel ideas
puglia for everyone pinterest pin image

6 Comments

  1. Terri

    I loved my week in Puglia hiking. The food was incredible. If you are vegetarian, it is a delight to taste the regional dishes.

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