The Italian region of Puglia is widely tipped as the country’s hot new destination, despite being a relatively unknown gem. A trip to this region, which is positioned in the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’, rewards visitors with delectable food and wines, beautiful beaches, charming towns and stunning landscapes, all teamed with a warm Mediterranean climate.
There’s so much to see and do in this ideal holiday spot, so here’s a selection of the region’s off-the-beaten-track highlights, as well as some unique insider tips.
Charming Ceglia Messapica
Beautiful Ceglia Messapica is an ancient centre surrounded by four giant fortified walls – each 5km long – which served as a great defence against the Greeks in the 3rd century BC. The town is dominated by its impressive 14th century castle and the surrounding Itria Valley, home to Puglia’s unmistakable trulli (unique, white conical houses) and masserie (giant manor houses).
The town is known as one of the gastronomic centres of Italy with many restaurants serving local specialties. While here, be sure to sample some of the gelati from one of the street cafés and stop into Arrosteria Borgo Antico, a simple and welcoming family-run restaurant specialising in delicious grilled meat.
Beautiful coastal drive
Between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca lies a long stretch of stunning coastal road, which should be top of the list for anyone hiring a car in the region. A favourite with locals and tourists alike, the scenery along this route is some of the most beautiful in Puglia. The road hugs the incredible white stone cliffs of the southern Italian coastline, offering unrestricted views of the turquoise Adriatic Sea. The drive passes picturesque coastal towns, white sandy beaches and affords visitors access to tucked-away sea caves.
Along the way, around 7km north of Santa Maria di Leuca, is Ponte Ciolo with a lovely small bay and a spectacular bridge. Local young people and brave visitors leap from the surrounding rocks, which rise to over 10 metres high, into the crystal blue Adriatic waters. Do you think you’d be brave enough to give it a try yourself?
Tricase is the site of Castello Gallone, a 16th century castle, and the Quercia Vallonea, a huge and famous Valonia Oak tree that is amongst the oldest in Italy. Dating back to the 13th century, the tree is also known as the Quercia dei Cento Cavalieri (the Oak Tree of One Hundred Knights), has a trunk around 1.5 metres thick and is to be found on the road between Tricase and Tricase Porto. Also in this historical town is the 9th century Crypt of the Gonfalon with stunning pillars and Baroque-style altar and the 5th century church with beautiful mosaics and frescoes.
While in Tricase, stop for a bite to eat at Bolina on Lungomare Cristofo Colombo in Tricase Porto. This wonderful restaurant is located in the beautiful harbour and serves excellent seafood dishes and wine.
The charming village of Maglie lies in the heart of the Salento area and has a typical south Italian style. Shopaholics will love wandering through the many chic boutiques selling famous Italian brands. There is a charming piazza, as well as some speciality food shops such as the well-known Pastificio Benedetto Cavalieri for pasta, on Via Garibaldi 64 and Maglio, on Via Giuseppe Mazzini 48 for chocolate and ice cream!
Each year in August Maglie’s four-day Il Mercatino del Gusto (Slow Food festival) transforms the village into a land of food and the piazza is dedicated to wine! Maglie renames each street after local products such as extra virgin olive oil, fried fish and cheeses. This is a great way to experience this charming village, as well as experiencing some of Puglia’s most delectable delicacies!
Where to stay
Whether you’re travelling as a group, family or a couple, a there’s a huge range of Puglia villas, which offer the freedom to really live like a local. Towns such as Alberobello, Cisterino, Locorontondo and Ostuni all have regular markets which are perfect for picking up some fantastic local produce to cook up your own Puglian culinary creations back at home. They are also located quite centrally within the region, so positioning staying in this area means you can easily explore this beautiful area.
Enjoy a taste of traditional accommodation in your very own Puglian trulli, such as I Trulli delle Sette Sorelle. It is centrally located and perfect for exploring the fantastic coastline, historic towns and beautiful villages of the region.
If you’d like to discover more about this incredible region, Think Puglia provides a detailed guide to Puglia on their site, as well an app to download to your phone.