Finally, I checked Puglia off my bucket list! It's a part of Italy I'd wanted to visit for years, but kept passing up for more popular destinations like Cinque Terre, Venice, Rome, Florence, etc. So I decided this was the year I would travel to the heel of the Italian boot, to visit places I'd been dreaming about for so long, but would never hear about from other travelers and never see on Instagram. Well, it was the best travel decision I'd made in awhile. Puglia was absolutely incredible - now my favorite part of Italy, and one of the prettiest regions of Europe. The stretch of Adriatic was beyond picturesque with such a variety of charming towns, beautiful beaches and historic wonders within stone's throw of each other, offering up the perfect setting for a full week of daytrips. With just three days in Puglia, I only had time to visit a handful of spots, and it's easily a place that I could spend two weeks and not repeat a destination. This is a quick guide to the places I was able to visit, but hoping to go back one day soon for Ostuni, Tropea, Lecce, Monopoli and more.
Pinch me! A visit to Alberobello had been a dream of mine for years.
GETTING TO AND AROUND PUGLIA
I flew into Puglia and took the train out of Puglia, so either option is possible, and easy. Bari was my transit city. Home to the airport (BRI), as well as the Bari Centrale train station. And most of the cities where I considered staying while in Puglia were all driving distance from Bari. I finally settled on Cisternino as my home base, and it was an easy 30 minute drive from the airport.
And yes, I rented a car! There were so many places I wanted to visit that were scattered all over the region, and I couldn't have seen anything (affordably) without a set of wheels. Initially, the thought of driving in Italy was a bit intimidating, but I had no trouble on the roads in Puglia. There was hardly any traffic, and with Google Maps the directions were pretty straight forward. The only real challenge was finding parking in some of the busier cities like Matera and Polignano a Mare.
My new favorite beach in Italy - Porto Miggiano!
Borgo Canonica was one of the my favorite hotels EVER - and I paid less than $150 a night!
WHERE TO STAY: BORGO CANONICA
Early on I decided I wanted to stay at a hotel made up of trulli, the white-washed dry stone huts with cone-shaped rooftops. The trulli were completely iconic to this part of Italy, and I wanted it to be part of my experience in Puglia. And when I came across the trulli of Borgo Canonica, I knew I'd found my dream property. The little boutique hotel was located in charming Cisternino, kind of the perfect middle ground to all of the places I wanted to visit in the region - Ostuni, Locorotondo, Porto Miggiano, Matera, Monopoli, Polignano a Mare, etc. The property was a luxurious little gem of 42 refurbished trulli, all overlooking the prettiest sparkling blue pool lined with white loungers and plush daybeds. My private trullo suite housed a sitting room, bedroom, closet and a downstairs bathroom - everything adorned in white. Completely spacious! The dry stone walls reminded me of places I'd stayed in Santorini, only here I paid less than $150 a night. Quite the deal for one of my all-time favorite hotels!
The white-washed alleyways of beautiful Locorotondo.
Alberobello's trulli structures were completely iconic to this part of Italy.
WHEN TO GO: SPRING, SUMMER, FALL
This is completely a matter of preference. Puglia is a place I'd normally visit May to September because I like the warm weather summer vibes of Europe, especially in destinations on the Mediterranean. My happened to be in March, a bit of a gamble with the weather, but I lucked out. Temps were warm and sunny during the day, but definitely cooled off in the evenings. Hotel pricing was very attractive this time of the year, most hotels in Puglia actually didn't open until April 1, so this was definitely shoulder season. Also, the crowds (or lack there of) were completely manageable. I don't think I met another foreign tourist while in Puglia, which is pretty darn incredible.
The water was clear, turquoise and FREEZING!
In love with colorful Polignano a Mare.
Happiness in Italy!
WHERE TO VISIT: ALBEROBELLO
For so long I'd dreamt about visiting the fairytale world of Alberobello. I had seen photos of the town's bright white trulli in an Italian guidebook years ago, my first introduction to the Puglia region of Italy. Alberobello was a 30-minute drive from my hotel in Cisternino, the first stop on a full day of touring picturesque Old Towns in the region. I arrived at 7:30 AM to nab easy metered parking, just steps away from the pedestrian streets of Alberobello. It was early enough to have this part of the city to myself for a solid hour, which was amazing, but Alberobello was definitely cuter later in the morning when all of the little trulli shops open up.
(TIME NEEDED TO EXPLORE: 2 HOURS)
I drove out to Matera for the afternoon, and quickly realized I needed a full day to explore this epic city built into the mountains!
WHERE TO VISIT: MATERA
Technically, I don't think Matera is part of the Puglia region, but it's definitely a must visit if you are staying anywhere nearby. Of all the places I visited on this trip to Italy, Matera was the most epic. And I wish I'd allotted an entire day to explore the city's sassi, cave hotels, churches and viewpoints. The place was absolutely massive, much larger than what I'd gathered from photos. The mountainside town of alleys, steps, incline, declines and passageways built into the cliffs was an absolute maze of a city, and it was a delight to get lost exploring the labyrinth on foot. Think Cappadocia, but on a much bigger scale.
(TIME NEEDED TO EXPLORE: FIVE TO SIX HOURS)
Bought one of these adorable magnets as a souvenir!
The 2-story suites were completely spacious - this was my sitting room. Also had a bedroom, closet, and a roomy bathroom downstairs.
Puglia's dreamy coastline.
WHERE TO VISIT: LOCOROTONDO & CISTERNINO
Both Locorotondo and Cisternino were home to the most charming old towns, tiny enough to be experienced in just a couple of hours. Definitely worth a stop when visiting nearby Alberobello or Ostuni. I spent an hour exploring each of the towns on different days, and then had a meal to round out my visits (Mezzofanti is a wonderful dinner spot in Cisternino). Both Locorotondo and Cisternino reminded me of the Greek Islands and Southern France with their white-washed alleyways, colorful shutters, labyrinth of streets, picturesque doorways and bright flowers.
(TIME NEEDED TO EXPLORE EACH OLD TOWN: TWO HOURS, PLUS TIME TO EAT)
Waiting for sunset in Polignano a Mare.
The charming world of Alberobello.
Bruschetta in Matera - so delish!
Walking down to my suite's private bathroom.
We were only supposed to spend an hour at this beach, but ended up spending half a day here. It was too beautiful to leave!
Pizza with a view!
WHERE TO VISIT: POLIGNANO A MARE
Ah, my favorite coastal town in Puglia. Unfortunately, Polignano a Mare was the last stop on my final day in Puglia, and I only had a couple of hours to visit. Honestly, between the beaches and the cute little old town, I could have spent a full day here. I felt a bit cheated! My first stop was the rocky outcrop where I feasted on pizza, and soaked in the iconic views of old town and the beach. This was a spot I'd love to visit during the summer - I can only imagine how amazing it is in hot August temps with those Euro summer Adriatic vibes. After my pizza feast, I headed into Old Town where I spent the later part of the afternoon zigzagging my way through the adorable pedestrian alleys.
(TIME NEEDED TO EXPLORE: THREE TO FOUR, A FULL DAY IF INCLUDING BEACH TIME)
Quick break in Matera.
Polignano a Mare.
Soaking in the Puglia sunshine.
BEACHES: PORTO MIGGIANO
I found my favorite beach in all of Italy - Porto Miggiano. It was a bit of drive to reach the Adriatic paradise from Cisternino, but completely worth it. The plan was to only spend a couple of hours a here, but that quickly turned into half a day. It was so beautiful, I didn't want to leave. Porto Miggiano is a completely hidden cove that can't be seen from the road. Even with Google Maps, it took awhile to find it. The place is an absolute paradise with a staircase carved into the cliff that leads down to the white sandy beach below. I visited in late March and lucked out with warm weather, but the water completely freezing. Don't let those clear blue sparkles fool you
Getting a little lost was the only way to explore Matera!