Puglia Guide, 13 Best Sites & Bites

Guide to Puglia, Italy. When to go, where to stay, what to eat, and 13 experiences that'll make you fall in love with Italy.
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See why celebs and budget travelers alike love Puglia, Italy! When to go, where to stay, what to eat, and 13 Puglia guide experiences that’ll make you fall in love with Italy.

Madonna, Mick Jagger, John Malkovich, George Clooney, Jude Law, and David Beckham have all been spotted vacationing in Puglia, Italy. Helen Mirren is said to have fallen head over heels in love with her home near Lecce in Puglia. Helen is not the only celebrity who fell in love with Puglia enough to buy a home there. Fellow celebrity homeowners include Meryl Streep, Gerard Depardieu, and Francis Ford Coppola. Know who else loves Puglia? Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. Not only did they get married there, but in 2022 they renewed their vows in Puglia for the 10th anniversary. How romantic!

Despite the many famous faces gracing the cities and shores, above all else Puglia can be affordable for everyday travelers like us! We’re Paolo and Brandy. Together we have been traveling across Italy for over a decade. After becoming dual Italian American citizens we moved to Italy to live out our early retirement dreams. Now we travel to Italy’s most popular destinations and explore hidden gems full-time from our home base in the Italian Alps.

Puglia Guide

In this Puglia guide we’ve included the experiences that made us fall head over heels in love with Puglia just like Helen Mirren (boy was that fun to type!) We’ve included tips on how to get to Puglia, the best time to go, a map of Puglia’s top sights, and a taste of what to eat in Puglia.

Puglia Guide
Puglia Guide Video Playist

Why Visit Puglia?

The first thing a good Puglia guide will point out is how time moves slowly here, even by Italian standards. A feast for the eyes, the whitewashed cliffside towns of Puglia smile over the azure waters of the Mediterranean sea. Soft breezes cast warm sea air down ancient streets dating back thousands of years.

Over time, Puglia has absorbed a beguiling mix of cultural influences to become one of Italy’s most welcoming destinations. Greeks from Sparta arrived in Puglia in the 8th century BCE. Influences from the Roman Imperial age, the Renaissance, and Italian Baroque can still be seen today in the homes, churches, arts, foods, wines, and traditions of Puglia. To visit Puglia, Italy is to fall in love with the Italian way of life. To be able to define la dolce vita for oneself. Back to top

What Puglia is Famous For

While Puglia first became famous for its wheat, olive production, and robust olive oils near-perfect year-round weather and 540 miles of coastline have made it the perfect Italian beach destination. A few fun facts about Puglia?

  • Despite climate change, Italy registered a 15% increase in oil production in 2022 thanks in big part to Puglia which produces nearly 40% of Italy’s olive oil.
  • After WWI Mussolini’s “Battle for Wheat” ramped up wheat production in southern Italy in an attempt to make Italy self-sufficient. As a fertile region with ideal growing conditions, Puglia became a major wheat producer in Italy earning it the nickname “The Breadbasket of Italy.”
  • Puglia is home to Orecchiette Italy’s famous ear-shaped pasta and Caciocavallo one of the world’s most expensive cheeses.
  • Puglia is one of Italy’s 20 regions, with a population of nearly 4 million people and its capital city is Bari. Back to Top

How to Get to Puglia

The easiest way to reach Puglia is to fly into one of the four main airports in Puglia including Foggia, Bari, Brindisi, or Taranto. Bari International Airport-Karol Wojtyla is the best international airport to explore northern Puglia while Brindisi Airport, also known as Salento Airport is best for exploring southern Puglia. Here are the Airlines that fly into Brindisi and the Airlines that fly into Bari International Airport.

While Puglia feels like an island, it’s very well integrated into Italy with highways far easier to navigate than the Amalfi coast. Trains are convenient in Puglia as well opening up easy travel to countless European destinations. There are high-speed Frecciargento trains from Rome to Bari that take just under four hours. Bologna to Bari takes about five hours by train while Venice to Bari takes around 7 and a half hours.

Once in Puglia, there’s a lot to see. In order to get a good taste of what Puglia is famous for, consider renting a car and enjoying a coastal drive. American driving in Italy for the first time? Be sure to get an international driver’s license before driving in Italy. Back to top

Best time to Visit Puglia

Most guides to Puglia note the best month to swim in the sea is August when waters hit 78°F, however, it’s also the most crowded thanks to Italians and Europeans who traditionally vacation in August. Instead, we recommend considering July when Puglia gets both the most hours of sun and the warmest temperatures of the year at a near-perfect 75°F daily. On the other hand, introverts who prefer avoiding crowds altogether might instead opt for the off-season. While Puglia sees the most rain in November, come January temperatures average 48°F. Grab a jacket and you’ll have some of Italy’s most romantic beaches to yourself at sunset. Back to top

How to Pronounce Puglia

Puglia, Italy is pronounced poo·lee·uh. Apulia is English for the Italian name Puglia. So unlike many regions of Italy known internationally by their English names, Apuglia is more commonly referred to by its name in Italian, Puglia. Want to make sure to pronounce Puglia like an Italian? Check our Puglia pronunciation tips to ditch the accent and sound like an Italian. Plus, find out why pronouncing Italian words with “gli” is tricky for native English speakers. Back to top

Where to Stay in Northern Puglia as a Base of Exploration

Named by CN Traveller as one of the 10 Prettiest Towns in Puglia, Vieste is our Puglia guide pick for the perfect base for exploring northern Puglia. Known as “The pearl of the Gargano” Vieste is located in northeast Puglia on the Gargano Promontory, halfway between Peschici and the coast of Mattinata.

Our pick for the best place to stay in Vieste on a budget is Residence MareSol. Just outside the heart historic of Vieste, Italy, this hidden gem offers rooms with a view of the sea starting at 110€ a night. There are luxury five-star hotel stays in Vieste, Italy as well including La Locanda del Carrubo Resort & Spa Hotel and the five-start Hotel Pizzomunno Vieste Palace Hotel located in the heart of Vieste. Back to top

Puglia Guide

Where to Stay in Southern Puglia

Lecce is our Puglia guide pick as the perfect city base to explore southern Puglia. Nicknamed the “Florence of the south” Lecce is an elegant city with Baroque architecture, a Roman Amphitheater, smooth stone streets, and easy access to Otranto, Brindisi, and Gallipoli.

Lecce boasts many luxury hotel options in and just outside the city including Castle Elvira which opened in 2022 to rave reviews thanks to its hilltop location in a castle itself. Local legend claims Castle Elvira was named after the daughter it was built for in the early 20th century. Brokenhearted her Neapolitan family left the castle abandoned. Over 100 years later a British couple bought Castle Elvira and renovated it to its former glory with a 21st-century take on the interior design.

Inside the heart of Lecce luxury hotel Palazzo Bozzi Corso is an ancient Masseria (a fortified farmhouse found on the estates in the Puglia region) that was transformed through into a luxurious hotel in 2015. Four-star accommodations for less than 100€ a night do exist in Lecce including Hotel Signuria Dimora Esclusiva which is located in the historic city center of Lecce. Back to top

Puglia Map of Destinations

Our guide to Puglia focuses on some of the most beautiful places along the coast in Puglia like Vieste and Otranto. We’ll also go inland past Puglia’s centuries-old farmland to UNESCO World Heritage sites like Castel del Monte and the famous Trulli of Alberobello all of which can be found on our map of destinations in Puglia, Italy below. Back to top

13 Best Things to Do in Puglia, Italy

Ready to plan a trip to Puglia, Italy now? Be sure to add a few of the most breathtaking experiences Puglia has to offer to your itinerary! Our Puglia guide list of the best things to do includes mysterious and quirky architecture. Splurge worth once-in-a-lifetime dining experiences, and authentic budget friendly street food. Plus, tips on where to see stunning (and free) art, views, sandy beaches, and more.

Although the list is numbered, each of the experiences listed as one of the best things to do in Puglia corresponds to the number on the map of Puglia above moving from north to south. So don’t miss some of the tastiest and most breathtaking parts of southern Puglia at the end of the list. Back to top

1. The Best Cliffside Restaurant in Puglia

Peschici is part of the stunning Gargano National Park (which is also featured in our list below) making it a popular destination for travelers in the Gargano. A disarming fishing village, Peschici is famous for its blue flag beaches, luxury resorts, and love locks with epic views.

Not to be missed in Peschici is the breathtaking experience of pairing cliffside views of the Mediterranean with the tasting menu at Porta di Basso. Here are three reasons this immersive fine-dining experience is on our list of the best things to do in Puglia, Italy.

One, the location offers unparalleled cliffside views. Two, the balcony has just a few tables making it feel like a private affair. Three, the food! Think bright flavors of fresh seafood grounded by Apulian ingredients from the land. Panzanella to Tuna. Seared Cuttlefish to Turnips. Podolico beef to Polpo. Dining at this Michelin-recommended cliffside restaurant in Italy is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s absolutely worth the splurge. Back to top

  • Cliffside Restaurant Italy Porta di Basso Anchovy
  • Cliffside Restaurant Italy Porta di Basso White Dancer Dish
  • Cliffside Restaurant Italy Nearby Brandy View

2. Vieste Promenade & Historic City Center

Vieste’s medieval historic center is a graceful maze of white-washed streets, steep stairways, and thin arches each leading to the sea’s dramatic cliff views. Points of exploration in the historical city center include The Swabian Castle, the Romanesque Cathedral of Assumption, piazza Garibaldi and piazza Kennedy which leads to a seafront promenade. Back to top

  • Puglia Guide Vieste Promenade
  • Puglia Guide Historic Streets of Vieste
  • Puglia Guide Best Things to do Vieste

3. Try Italy’s Most Expensive Cheese

Head to La Massaia cheese shop in downtown Vieste and see a man about a cheese. Not just any cheese. Caciocavallo Podolico Italy’s most expensive cheese. Demanding upwards of $50 a pound Caciocavallo Podolico is made from the milk of a rare breed of cow that thrives on wild herbs, and very little water. The result is an intensely aromatic flavor of wild fennel, licorice, and myrtle. Back to top

  • Puglia Guide Caciocavallo Podolico
  • Puglia Guide Caciocavallo Podolico

4. Vieste Boat Tour

Taking a boat tour around Vieste inside the sea caves of Gargano National Park is a unique way to experience the colorful region. Cliffs of chalk-like white limestone, take on rainbow hues near the shoreline thanks to layers of flint. Here’s a little “home video” that shows why taking a boat tour in Vieste is one of the best things to do in Puglia. Back to top

Puglia Guide
Vieste Boat Ride Video

5. Scialara Beach

20 beaches including 15 Blue Flag beaches stretch 18 miles of coastline, making it Vieste one of the best beach towns in Puglia. Arguably the most popular beach in Vieste is Scialara Beach thanks to its soft sands and white limestone rocks. During day the local legend of Cristalda & Pizzomunno breathes life into a giant limestone monolith known as Pizzomunno. At night, a romantic quality sets in as the warm glow of sunset reflects off flecks of pink, purple, and green in the white limestone cliffs. It’s the perfect way to end the day before slowly walking back to the historic center of Vieste for a romantic dinner. Back to top

  • Scialara Beach as Seen from Vieste
  • Pizzomunno Monolith on Scialara Beach in Vieste, Italy
  • Soft & Sandy Scialara Beach at Sunset

6. Explore Gargano National Park & The Umbra Forest

Explore the wild side of Puglia at the Gargano National Park where Aleppo pines over 700 years old stand 800 meters above the sea. The Foresta Umbra Nature Reserve is the green lung of the Gargano National Park and has the largest deciduous forest in Italy including 2,000 plant species. Back to top

Puglia Guide
Gargano National Park Video

7. Pugliese Focaccia

Pugliese Focaccia (aka Focaccia Barese meaning from Bari) is what tourists see locals snacking on at the beach, then go searching for immediately after. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside Pugliese Focaccia is a stratospherically delicious street food in Bari. Although every bakery in Puglia has it Panificio Fiore is widely recognized as the best place to eat Focaccia in Puglia.

Some of our curated Puglia guide videos are in Italian. However, YouTube offers auto-translation! To activate, turn on the video captions and enable the Auto-Translate feature (click the gear icon at the bottom of the video.) Next, select captions in the small pop-up window. Finally, select Auto-Translate and the language. Enjoy! Back to top

Puglia Guide
Puglia Guide, Video Focaccia Barese at Panificio Fiore

Hungry for more authentic Italian cuisine? Here’s our pick for where to eat in Vieste.

8. Puglia UNESCO Site Castel del Monte

According to the official UNESCO World Heritage website, Puglia has three UNESCO World Heritage sites including the world-famous Trulli of Alberobello, The Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo, and the mythical Castel del Monte. The following video highlights each of Puglia’s three UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Puglia Guide
Puglia Guide Video UNESCO Sites in Puglia

Two and a half hours drive from Vieste sits the perfectly octagonal Castel del Monte. Certainly Puglia’s most mythical UNESCO world heritage site. With an astronomically precise location Castel del Monte is as beautiful as it is mysterious. To visit is to wonder. Why is this seemingly perfect castle here? More importantly, what would it watch over, and defend? Moreover what secrets do those eight octagonal towers keep? In other words, Castel del Monte is worth the drive from Vieste for a unique travel adventure in Puglia. Back to top

9. Puglia UNESCO Site Trulli of Alberobello

The Trulli of Alberobello became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996 and has been world-famous ever since. These white limestone homes have whimsical conical-shaped roofs. The technique behind their dry stone slab construction dates back to prehistoric times, and is still used today in Puglia. Yes, the Trulli of Alberobello are absolutely adorable, but a visit is often shorter than one might think. It only takes an hour to walk between Rione Aia Piccola (the most authentic section) and Rione Monti (where most of the gift shots are located.) Back to top

  • Best things to do in Puglia, Rooftops of Trulli of Alberobello
  • Best things to do in Puglia Charming Streets of Alberobello
  • Trulli of Alberobello
  • Best things to do in Puglia, Trulli of Alberobello

10. Orecchiette, Puglia’s Most Iconic Pasta

One of Puglia’s most iconic dishes is Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa (Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe). Though it might sound simple, fresh hand-made Orecchiette is the kind of Italian food that brings visitors back to Italy time and time again. The best place to eat Orecchiette in Puglia is at the critically acclaimed restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E.

Half an hour outside the city of Bari in Ruvo di Puglia, U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E is where rustic meets refined. Exposed stone walls, frescos, and a wine list 650 bottles deep. The food? Regional, seasonal, simple, yet sublime. As Italians would say U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E is “è vale la pena” or “it’s worth it” because getting outside the typical tourist stops opens up the world of authentic Italian Cuisine. Restaurants like U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E are what the collective dream of “eating your way through Italy” is all about. Back to top

  • Puglia Guide, Best things to do in Puglia Restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E. Orecchiette
  • Puglia Guide, Best things to do in Puglia Restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E.
  • Puglia Guide, Best things to do in Puglia Restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E. menu
  • Puglia Guide, Best things to do in Puglia Restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E. Truffle
  • Puglia Guide, Best things to do in Puglia Restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E.
  • Puglia Guide, Best things to do in Puglia Restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E.
  • Puglia Guide, Best things to do in Puglia Restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E.
  • Puglia Guide, Best things to do in Puglia Restaurant U.P.E.P.I.D.D.E.

11. Passeggiata in Lecce

There are few things more Italian than “la passeggiate.” La passeggiatta is a pre-dinner stroll through town to see and be seen. In Italy, this social evening ritual is at its best in Lecce. Here generations of Italians have worn the stone streets of Lecce to a shine that glows at night during the passeggiatta. Back to top

Puglia Guide
Puglia Guide Video, Passeggiate in Lecce

12. Otranto, Puglia

In Southern Puglia, Otranto with its charming cobble-stoned streets is a beloved stop among Italians on holiday. Being the most easterly point of Italy, Otranto overlooks the intersection of the Adriatic and Ionian sea. Sights include the Punta Palascìa lighthouse, medieval Castello Aragonese, vivid frescos inside the Church of Saint Peter, Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata and naturally, the boardwalk for a relaxing stroll or lunch by the sea.

One of the I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia, the ancient walled city of Otranto is a fun, lively city. Scheduled events throughout the year include the Otranto Film Festival, Mediterranean Journalists in September, and L’Alba dei Popoli during the Christmas holidays.

  • Puglia Guide Clear Water in Otranto

What puts Otranto on our list of the best things to do in Puglia is the brilliant blue water filling its historic port. So blue it inspired pieces in Paolo’s fine art collection featured below at the end of the post. Back to top

Puglia Guide
Puglia Guide, Video of Otranto, Puglia

13. Gallipoli, Puglia

Taking a road trip across Italy is a little like reading Cliff Notes. Deep down you know there is so much more you need to see! Take for example a stop in Gallipoli, the last stop on our Puglia guide. In just a few hours one can explore hiking trails near Punta Pizzo Beach, or walk ancient old town walls beyond Purity beach. Belly up to the catch of the day and then walk off lunch exploring the Baroque-style architecture and breathtaking art inside the Gallipoli Cathedral, also known as Saint Agatha Cathedral. Back to top

  • Best Things to do in Puglia, Hiking Costiero Punta Pizzo in Gallipoli
  • Best things to do in Puglia, Purity Beach Gallipoli
  • Best Things to do in Puglia, Fish Market Gallipoli
  • Best things to do in Puglia, Virgin and Child by Catalano Cathedral of Gallipoli
  • Best things to do in Puglia Inside the Cathedral of Gallipoli
  • Best things to do in Puglia

Art Inspired by Puglia, Italy

ALOR stands for Art of Living on the Road. As we travel throughout Italy, Paolo is constantly creating art inspired by what we see. Paolo’s Fine Art is on sale online at VSUAL. All Puglia, Italy art prints seen here start as low as $23.99 and come either unframed or with customizable framing. Click an Art Print for more details. We’re also here to help. Email Paolo@ALORConsulting.com for more details.

Puglia Guide Conclusion

To sum up, Puglia has the perfect mix of options for every traveler. Beaches to relax on, coves to swim in. Forrest with cliffside hiking. Ancient towns with excellent shopping. Culinary traditions that are known around the world and inexpensive food markets to keep a vacation budget in check. Puglia can be as luxurious a travel experience as one can afford or affordable for budget travelers.

In short, Puglia is the kind of laid-back vacation destination that says “welcome, make yourself at home.” Fair warning, Puglia is so enchanting before you know it, you just might want to call Italy home like we do.

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Planning your first trip to Italy? Here are a few of our most popular resource articles with tips on navigating some of Italy’s unique cultural quirks.

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Puglia Guide Blog Posts

Explore all of our articles about Puglia, Italy.

References

5 Comments

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  1. Pugliaaaaaa I recently came back from Bari and it was absolute bliss. I stayed with another expat I met through IG (one if the few good things from IG, lol). I also visited some other small towns like Alberobello, Monopoli, Pogliano…. Ugh, so amazing, even in the winter

    • Hi Pree! I remember you said you were going. Puglia is a little piece of magic in Italy. I’m so glad you were able to see it. We went in winter as well and found it the best time to go honestly. Fewer crowds and surprisingly comfortable temps. It’s been lovely to revisit this trip putting together this little guide. Any plans for upcoming travel this winter?

    • I have no idea if you meant this, but I totally heard a Chandler Bing “could that BE…” on that one! So fun. It’s a lovely corner of Italy. Thank you for coming by! Sending you a little personal update on your side. Cheers my friend.