Ciao Puglia, can I stay with you forever? I spent a month in Puglia in 2021, here’s my love letter.
So, it finally happened. After talking about it for years, I finally got to visit Puglia in 2021 – the heel of Italy’s boot. Not for a week or two but an ENTIRE MONTH. I sure am glad that I married a half-Italian.
A little background, my husband’s father’s family is from Salento in Puglia and they even have a place to stay there on the beach. After hearing about this place ever since I got married, I ended up visiting six years after being married to San.
Honestly, it wasn’t my first time in Italy. I was in the Trentino region before but most of the Italians told me that “the real Italy only starts from the south of Rome”. Really? I thought that was a snobbish thing to say.
Anyway, I was all set to have a very “average” experience in south of Italy in every sense but I was in for a surprise. It’s because I have visited a lot of amazing beach destinations and paradise islands, moreover, I have also visited countries that are known for their amazing food and I thought I’d find Italian food very “plain and basic” – but hey, I was wrong.
So, Where is Puglia in Italy?
Ever seen the map of Italy? It looks like a high heeled boot. Being in the absolute south of Italy, Puglia is the heel of that boot. So, it has coast on two sides so it means plenty of sun (and fun).
To make things confusing, Puglia is also sometimes called Apuglia.
Reasons to Visit Puglia, Italy
1) Puglia’s Coastline is Massive
Puglia has the longest coastline if you compare it to any other region of the mainland Italy. There’s the Adriatic sea, the Ionian Sea, gulf of Taranto and the Strait of Otranto on all the sides, so it means plenty of beach time.
No doubt there are many other things to do in Puglia, but beach-ing is something you will end up doing the most while you’re here. I don’t know about you but when I go for a beach vacation, then I don’t want to go to the exact same beach every single day. If you’re like me then you will be spoilt for choice in Puglia.
In fact, Puglia’s Salento region has so many beaches that I couldn’t even visit a fraction of them in one month. I visited many of them but I had to leave many others on my list for my next visit. But hey, Puglia’s beaches aren’t just your typical sandy beaches. There’s a lot of other stuff going on, read on!
2) Cliffs, Arches, Caves – the Coastline has More Than Just Beaches
Puglia’s coastline will give you more than just beaches. You will see other amazing natural wonders like arches, caves, cliffs, and insane rock formations that will stun you.
When I saw the rock formations in Sant’Andrea with stunning arches and I swan in the caves of Porto Selvaggio, I wondered why aren’t these places more famous than they are? Maybe it’s a good thing!
I have seen the arches of Étretat, France, Rugen Island’s high sea cliffs, insane rock formations of Zumaia in Spain and also Ireland’s Achill Island stunning sea-cliffs but I actually got to witness something way more spectacular in Puglia. And what’s insane is that in Puglia, all these stunning places with amazing rock formations that are so different from each other are in the same region.
See the picture of Vieste in Gargano National Park. It reminded me of Thailand’s famous Phra Nang cave beach with limestone formations.
The beach that we visited everyday ion Porto Cesareo had multiple freshwater springs in the shallow part of the water near the shore, it was an amazing experience to cool off in them.
3) Puglia’s Culture will Amaze You
If there’s one country that’s so culturally powerful that everyone has to experience it at least once, it has got to be Italy. What’s better is that everything gets highly exaggerated as you move further South.
In terms of culture, family, food, art, architecture and music – they all play an important part individually and collectively. This is something you will witness at every step, every bite, every sip and on every face. Italians take pride in their culture
It is hard to describe how it is to experience a new culture. I come from a country where culture plays a very visible part (India) and I felt something similar in Italy. Even if you arrive in Italy with a closed mine, over time the country will win you over because you can’t help but fall in love with it.
4) Puglia’s Food will WOW You
I did experience the country’s food scene in North Italy and I was definitely aware of the fact that the food gets even better as one moves to the South from Rome. I love seafood and I usually prefer asian food over European any day. So, I didn’t expect to fall in love with Italian food in a way that I did.
Italian food outside Italy is highly altered with loads of cheese, cream and butter. In reality Italian food in Italy is much lighter, even the pizza. One might say that the best Italian pizzas can be found in Napoli, but the best food overall definitely comes from South Italy.
If you’re used to the typical “creamy” Italian food and if that’s what you’re seeking, then you will be disappointed. But if you’re ready to experience food that’s made with just a handful of simple ingredients and yet tastes divine, then Puglia is the place for you.
Some of the local specialities that I loved are:
- Cozza Gratin (mussels baked with parmesan on top)
- Pulpetti (Meatball)
- Pulpo (Octopus) – Italians make the tastiest octopus
- Handmade Pasta
- Frutti di Mare Pasta or Fruitti di Mare risotto (Fruitti di mare means fruit of the sea, or seafood)
Honestly, I was knew I’d like the food in Italy but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. I normally prefer complicated Asian dishes with a lot of spice but shockingly loved everything in Puglia.
5) Puglia’s Trullo (or Trulli) in Alberobello – UNESCO World Heritage Site
If you’re active on Instagram then you’ve surely seen pictures of Puglia’s Trulli. Most likely the location of the picture was Alberobello.
A Trullo is a traditional dry stone hut that can only be found in the Apuglia region of Italy. Trulli is the plural term of Trullo. Trulli are protected under UNESCO World heritage law.
Some Trulli were built as early as the 17th century as a temporary shelter by farmers and labourours. Some were also built as a permanent place to live.
Trulli aren’t just found in Alberobello, but also in Locorotondo, Fasano, Ostuni, Cisternino, Martina Franca, and Ceglie Messapica. The ones in Alberobello are the most famous ones because there are many of them together and are highly photographed.
Can you rent a trulli and sleep in it? Sure, you can in Alberobello. Once upon a time a local bought a lot of abandoned Trulli, renovated them and started renting them out to visitors. The locals in Alberobello still live in their Trulli and have converted some to host others.
6) Puglia Has a Lot of Historical Landmarks
Puglia has a lot of history, and you don’t have to visit just the famous Historical Towns like Lecce, Ostuni, Otranto, etc – but even the smaller towns have a lot to offer.
No doubt the famous bigger towns are spectacular but I found some of the similar-looking buildings and landmarks in the smaller ones without any tourists.
Did you know that Lecce city in Puglia is called the Florence of the South? Broadly speaking, it is in the Salento part of Puglia. Lecce is also a province and a city. We’re talking about the city here.
Lecce city boasts a stunning old town with Baroque architectural buildings. The buildings here are made with a famous limestone that’s called “Lecce stone” and is sold all over the world for sculptures. It also has a Roman amphitheater that dates back to the 2nd century.
Another notable historical town in Puglia is Martina Franca, which is also in Salento. Martina Franca has a beautifully preserved baroque old town with stunning gates, narrow streets, Piazzas (the squares), and palaces.
Imagine seeing the charming historical buildings next to the beach! Yes, most of the beach towns have historical buildings. No matter where you go, you will most likely see a historical tower (Torre) near the beaches in Puglia.
7) Puglia’s Streets Are Stunning
I have this thing for streets. I love photographing them, love walking and getting lost and discovering more in the process. If you love streets as much as I do, then you’re going to adore Puglia.
Some of the streets that I walked on in the old towns of Lecce, Leverano, and Copertino are said to be 1000 years old and were built during the time of the Roman Empire.
Cobbled streets that are lined with hold houses on each side with a lot of landmarks, it made me feel like I was walking around in a museum city. What is even better is that most of these streets were fringed with flowering vines like bougainvillea.
The above are just some of the 100s of street photos that I clicked in Puglia. When I came back to Germany after Italy, I was shocked to see I had so many street photos. Even more than the beaches!
8) Coffee Lover or Not, You Will Love the Coffee
Strangely the cafes in Italy are called bars. Even if you love coffee or hate it, you will LOVE the coffee culture in Italy. Now before you say that this point is true for most of the Italian destinations, well here’s more. Puglia’s cafes (or bars) have some interesting things that can just be found here and not in other parts of Italy.
Most of us know about espresso – the little Italian coffee which is the base of cappuccino. I normally drink cappuccino back home in Germany but in Italy I fell in love with so many different ways to enjoy espresso. I’d like to mention a few that I regularly ordered:
- Caffè ghiacciato – espresso with ice. Some will add a bit of almond syrup for sweetness and I enjoyed the marzipan kind of flavor.
- Caffè granita – it is the normal slushie but it is made with coffee. YUM and super cooling.
- caffè mousse – even though they called it mousse, but the texture is more like a softie ice cream. Some bars make it in coffee flavor and others in vanilla flavor and add cold espresso on top. This was my favorite.
- Gelato Coffee flavor – this gelato that has a decent amount to get anyone caffeinated. I loved having my coffee in this form on some days.
You know what goes well with coffee? Breakfast of course. Italy with its elaborate meals has somehow a simple breakfast – pastry with coffee. I love how the cafes are full every morning till mid noon with people who visit for early to late breakfast. The most popular breakfast pastries were Pasticciotto and Cornetto.
If you don’t like sweet breakfast (like me at the beginning of my Italy trip) and want something salty, then ask for “rustico”. It is a pastry that’s stuffed with mozzarella and tomato. This is usually hidden in a very small section because most of the people order something sweet.
The cafes aren’t just open at breakfast time but till late at night. You can also order “aperitivo” and beer. Many places will also give you a few snacks (free) with aperitivo.
9) Puglia Has an Abundant Local Produce – Olive Oil, Wines, Figs
Why does everything taste better in Italy? A lot of that is because of the country’s abundant fresh produce. Tomatoes, olives, figs, lemons, oranges, apples, grapes, cactus-fruit, garlic, chili-peppers, lettuce, extra virgin olive oil, wines, breads and so many other things are freshly produced right here in Italy.
Guess what, Apulia has one of the highest concentration of fruits and vegetable production in Italy. You can taste the freshness in the food and the richness when you buy them from the supermarket to cook at home. Not just the fruits and the vegetables, even the fresh seafood and meat tastes much better here than the rest of Europe.
Things like olive oil, Primitivo red wine, cookies, handmade pasta make excellent gifts for your family and friends after your visit to Puglia. Don’t forget to buy these things for yourself too before you leave.
If you drive around in Apuglia, be ready to pick fruits from trees that are growing in public spaces and have fruits that are ready to be picked. We picked a lot of figs and cactus fruit, which were growing everywhere in summer. They tasted much better than the ones in the supermarkets.
If you’re picking your own cactus-fruit (prickly pear) then you need to be extremely careful. Make sure you wear the thickest gloves.
10) Adventure Lovers will Love Puglia
Cliff Jumping, Scuba diving, canyoning, snorkeling, kayaking – you name it, you’ve got it. Puglia has it all to keep adventure lovers entertained.
Puglia not only has sandy beaches but high sea cliffs too. There are some spots that are perfect for cliff jumping. The water clarity is impressive and with just swim goggles, we had a memorable experience in one particular location that reminded us of snorkeling in the Philippines.
Did you know that Puglia is also the location for Red Bull Cliff diving tournament for 2021? Those who follow the tournament love the location. The exact location for the Red Bull Cliff Diving 2021 is Polignano a Mare near Bari in Puglia. No doubt it is stunning but it isn’t even the most amazing cliff jumping spot that Puglia has to offer.
There are places on Puglia’s coast where one can find caves (or grottos). You can literally cliff jump, swim and go inside the grotto. We did that in Porto Selvaggio in Salento.
He is an excellent swimmer and diver, so what went wrong? Even the slightest wrong entry while cliff jumping can have dangerous consequences. This is a warning to all my adventure lover friends, please be careful and don’t do cliff jumps from higher than 10 meters (he did from 20 meters). If something doesn’t feel right then there’s no reason to push yourself to do it.
11) Puglia has Warm Weather = Real Summer
Living in Germany, I miss real summer when one doesn’t need to carry a light jacket, just in case it gets chilly. Thankfully Puglia’s summer reminded me of India’s summer, where summer meant warm weather every single hour of the day or night.
Summers season in Puglia is long and one can expect sunshine almost every single day. Yes, it does rain and when it does, then it rains a lot. But then again, the sun shines the very next day.
12) Puglia is a Shopping Heaven
One of the things that I crib about after moving to Europe is about shopping. I love flea markets and handmade things, and I found a lot of amazing dresses, shoes, bags and home decor for cheap in Asia, but never in Europe. Even though I did find flea markets in Amsterdam and vintage shops in Hamburg, but nothing was affordable at the same level as Asia.
Guess what, there’s a weekly market in most of the towns in Puglia where one can get everything – clothes, shoes, food, household things, etc. I didn’t think I’d buy anything and my visit was purely for photography purposes but I came back home with 4 bags.
Imagine my surprise when I found amazing dresses for 7 Euros and shorts for 1 Euro. Yes, just ONE Euro. The Italians are known for their amazing sense of style and I found some amazing clothes even in the small town markets.
13) Puglia’s Beauty Salons are Awesome (and CHEAP)
Who visits a salon on a vacation? I did because it was a month long vacation. Also, I will do so again even if it is a short trip because the beauty salons in Italy are amazing and ridiculously cheap.
Living in India, I visited salons for things like haircuts, styling, waxing, etc, monthly. I don’t in Germany because they are crazy expensive (and most aren’t good). Believe it or not, I paid just 45 euros for a haircut & color and just 30 euros for waxing. Insane!
14) The Festivals of Puglia
We visited Puglia in August and got to witness a few festivals. We witnessed San’t Lorenzo, Ferragosto and San’Rocco and all of them involved fireworks. The locals came out of their homes and sat all over the beach in groups. The town centers were lit up and some of them also had elaborate stalls that were set up.
I did mention in my earlier point about Italy’s culture and I’d like to mention how strongly it shone in front of our eyes when we saw people celebrate.
15) The People
There’s definitely something about the weather effecting the mood of the people, and it is always evident when one visits a warm country. I felt this the first time when I traveled to Portugal and Spain after spending a month in colder parts of Europe, and I definitely felt it in South Italy.
The people of Puglia are extremely warm, friendly, expressive, lively and most of all – approachable. They don’t shy away from a conversation after finding out that one doesn’t know their language, they still find a way to communicate. My little girl made more friends in our one month in Italy than she has ever made in Germany (and we live here!).
Locals who saw me on the beach everyday came up to me eventually to introduce themselves and to chat a little, even if we didn’t speak the language. By the end of my second day in Salento, I was saying Ciao to everyone who lived around our apartment (and there were many). They are all just so approachable, friendly and they acknowledged me each time I walked by.
What’s the Best Time to Visit Puglia
Puglia’s summer months are long so you can visit from May to September. The beaches get crowded in August but in terms of weather, that month is really good. Also, if you want to experience Puglia’s lively culture then August is the time when most of the festivals and celebrations happen.
August is the month when most of the European countries go for their summer vacation. Puglia is a very popular destination for Italians, hence you may not find an empty spot for your mat on the popular beaches. To avoid crowds, visit Puglia in the months of May, June, July or even September.
I have been told by my husband’s family that Puglia’s towns feel completely dead in the winter months and most people stay indoors. The liveliness of summer and staying outdoor ends when winter arrives. Of course the whole culture of restaurants with outdoor seating ends but they still remain open with indoor seating.
Airports in Puglia
There are two airports in Puglia – Bari and Brindisi. Bari is served by more flights and a lot of budget airlines too. Brindisi is served by fewer airlines. Brindisi is closer to Salento – the gem of Puglia. That’s where everything is – the best beaches, the stunning old towns like Lecce because that’s the Southmost province.Check Car Rental Prices in Italy
If you can’t find a flight to Bari or Brindisi for Puglia, then you should know that some people fly to an airport in Tuscany instead. From there they rent a car and drive to Puglia.
Where to Stay in Puglia as a Base
A lot of first timers stay in Bari and drive to the nearby beaches but honestly that’s like just like viewing the top layer. Sure, Bari is lovely but if you want to experience the best of Puglia, then you have to make your base somewhere in Salento.
Porto Cesareo was an amazing base for us because we were right on the beach. We could see it from our balcony and went there at every opportunity. Porto Cesareo has an amazing stretch of sandy beach
Also, from Porto Cesareo we could just drive to all the famous landmarks, towns and beaches in just an hour (mostly). The city centre does get extremely crowded in August, but the trick is to stay away from the centre.
Lecce is also an amazing place for a base for those who don’t need to wake up on the beach. Lecce has the best food, the most amazing historical landmarks and you will feel like you’re walking in a museum. Lecce is literally in the middle of Salento so you can drive to the east coast, the west coast or the absolutely Southern tip from here.
To experience Puglia like a local then find base in a smaller town like Leverano or the nearby Copertino. These towns aren’t on the beach but they are just 15 mins drive away. Both these cities have a stunning old towns and you can create some magical photos without crowds. Here the restaurant scene is even better because there are just locals. Of course, it helps if you can speak a few words of Italian.
How to Travel within Puglia?
By car. Really there isn’t a better way because not everything is connected well with public transport. If you live in Europe then you can just drive to Puglia from your place of residence. We did from Germany. Yes the duration was crazy long but it can be a fun road trip with stops.Check Car Rental Prices in Italy
A better option would be to arrive in Puglia by air and rent a car (click here to check the prices) from Bari or Brindisi airports. The car rental prices shoot up very high in August, so it is better if you in a group of 3 or 4, so that you can split the cost.
How Many Days do you Need for Puglia?
A lot. I spent a month and I still didn’t see all the famous spots. If you want to see at least some of them, then spend no less than two weeks. If you just have a week then don’t stress yourself in trying to do too much. Focus on a handful of places and do them well.
Is Puglia Crowded or Touristy?
The answer depends on when you visit and where you visit (like most destinations). Most people fly and stay in Bari as their base so of course it is crowded there.
A lot of Italians and Europeans in general visit in Puglia in August. During that month most of the popular places to visit in Puglia are crowded. However, if you know of some less visited places then you can find empty areas in Puglia in August too.
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