A visit to Puglia is an absolute dream. It's far less famous than Italy's Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, but just as beautiful with much more to see. I'd actually put off visiting Puglia for years. It had always been on my list, but I kept passing it up for more popular destinations like Venice, Rome and Florence. And as it turns out, the heel of the boot is my favorite part of the country. This stretch of the Adriatic swept me off my feet with its flurry of charming towns, beautiful beaches, fairytale trulli, quaint fishing villages and the country's oldest city all within stone's throw of each other. If your visit is part of a larger trip to Italy, I recommend shelling a lot of time out to Puglia. There's so much to see, and you'll need at a week to do it all justice - Alberobello, Locorotondo, Ostuni, Cisternino, Monopoli, Polignano A Mare, Matera and the beaches. Puglia is also one of the country's more affordable tourist destinations, so if you're gonna spend a full week in Italy, this is the place to do it.
Found my dream house in Alberobello.
WHAT TO SEE IN PUGLIA
Possibly the most iconic part of Puglia, Alberobello looks like something out of a fairytale. Crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, the little town is made up of hundreds of trulli, bright white cottage-like buildings with stone conical rooftops. Trulli line the streets, home to boutiques, cafes, restaurants and hotels, and create the ultimate storybook setting in Alberobello. Arrive early and you'll find plenty of metered parking right outside of Old Town.
CAVE OF POETRY
The dreamy Cave of Poetry is a classic Italian hangout spot during the summer for sunbathing, cliff jumping and swimming. A beautiful natural pool on Puglia's coastline in Roca Vecchia village, a short distance from Lecce.
A charming hilltop town that can be explored in a couple of hours, Cisternino is a lovely little maze of white-washed alleys that connect charming corridors, boutiques and restaurants to a lovely central square. Parking is available right outside of Old Town.
Another white-washed town, Locorotondo reminds me a lot of the villages in the South of France. Spend a morning or afternoon wandering the labyrinth of pedestrian streets adorned in blooming flowers, colorful shutters and picturesque doorways.
Technically, Matera is not part of Puglia, but it's close enough to visit by daytrip, or tack on a two-night stay. Matera is incredible, probably the most memorable place I've visited in Italy. It's the country's oldest city, a mountainside town of alleys, steps, inclines, declines and passageways built into the looming cliffs. You need an entire day (or more) to explore the city's sassi, cave hotels, churches and viewpoints - Matera's scale is stunning.
An Adriatic port village with an absolutely charming Old Town. Spend a day wandering the white washed streets lined with churches, outdoor dining and little shops, and then pull up a sunbathing rock outside of the city walls to enjoy the Adriatic views.
Ostuni is a beautiful hilltop Old Town of jumbled white staircases, arches, crooked corridors, cobbled streets and pedestrian alleys. Known as The White City, it's a must-visit in Puglia.
POLIGNANO A MARE
I know, how can every town in this part of Italy be a must-visit? This is why you need at least a week in Puglia. Spend a full day in Polignano A Mare exploring the charming Old Town built onto a rocky outcrop, and soaking in summer on the beautiful beaches Cala Porto and Ponte dei Lapilli. Also, if you're looking to splurge on an experience unique to Polignano A Mare, book a table at Grotta Palazzese, a restaurant set inside an open-air limestone sea cave.
It's my favorite beach in all of Italy. And while Porto Miggiano is a bit of a drive from northern Puglia, this epic setting on the Adriatic is absolutely worth a visit. You'll need Google Maps to find the beach - it sits at the bottom of a cliff where there are no signs, and you can't see it from the road. Soak in the spectacular view from the top before climbing the 100 steps built into the cliff to reach the sparkling Adriatic water below.
Another Adriatic gem that could easily be part of a full daytrip to Porto Miggiano and the Cave of Poetry. Torre Sant' Andrea is a collection of stacked sandstone rock formations where visitors can sunbathe, swim and cliff jump.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUGLIA
BORGO CANONICA (i stayed here)
An upscale boutique hotel located in Cisternino. The property is home to 42 refurbished trullis, the white-washed dry stone huts with cone-shaped rooftops that you'll see when visiting Alberobello. Borgo Canonica is absolutely charming, a hotel with so much character unique to this part of Italy. My private trulli suite housed a sitting room, bedroom, closet and a downstairs bathroom - everything adorned in white. Absolutely beautiful - would definitely stay here again.
GETTING AROUND PUGLIA
Puglia is best experienced by car. The towns and beaches are spread out, and you'll need freedom and flexibility for all the daytrips. I know the thought of driving in Italy sounds intimidating, but the Puglia region is completely low stress when it comes to being behind the wheel. Most of the towns are connected by quiet roads that cut through farmland, and all the routes are pretty straight forward.
GETTING TO PUGLIA
Bari is home to an international airport that connects Puglia to dozens of cities around Europe, as well as a handful of domestic destinations. If your exploring Italy by train, Bari Centrale Train is the easiest entry and exit point in Puglia.
This is my favorite region of Italy, so I recommend spending as much time in Puglia as possible.
Polignano a Mare has one of the most charming Old Towns, filled with charming corridors and colorful corners.
Highly recommend ordering a pizza for a little picnic out at this viewpoint. The view of Polignano a Mare's old town is amazing from these rocks.
Alberobello looks like something out of a fairytale.
The steps carved into the cliff lead down the dreamiest cove here at Porto Miggiano.
Exploring the white-washed alleys of little Locorotondo.
Always prefer the charming towns and villages to the big cities in Italy.
Dreamy views over the quiet cove below.
These cone-shaped limestone structures are known as "trulli" in this part of Italy.
One of my only photos in Matera - we arrived way too late in the day. Set aside a full day (or two!) to explore Italy's oldest city built into the rocks.
We arrived early in Alberobello and had the quiet streets to ourselves.
Happily lost in Locorotondo's maze of pedestrian streets.