Italy's Best Kept Secret — Why Puglia Should Be Your Next Italian Destination

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Curated By

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  • Italy

  • Puglia

  • Beaches

  • Food & Wine

  • Outdoors

  • Entertainment

  • Local Food

Puglia aerial coastal views with blue waters and rugged rocks.
Curator’s statement

Puglia is an under-the-radar region in southern Italy often overlooked by tourists. But with its charming towns, amazing beaches, fantastic food and wine, and wealth of history, Puglia has so much to offer. Living in Puglia for three months, I was constantly in awe at how unique and beautiful this region is. Located in the "heel" of Italy's boot, this sun-soaked region is worth discovering.

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Where to stay in Puglia, Italy

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Things to do in Puglia, Italy

jumping from a cliff into Adriatic Sea

Admire Alberobello's Trulli

In Alberobello, you'll wander through stone lanes lined with cone-roofed trulli dwellings, creating a fairy tale-esque neighborhood found nowhere else in Italy. For great photos, head to the Trullo Sovrano and its distinctive spire. You could also opt to stay overnight in a trullo for a one-of-a-kind accommodation experience.

Bask on Pristine Beaches

Puglia boasts some of Italy’s most beautiful beaches. For peaceful vibes, visit Pescoluse Beach where beach chairs line the unspoiled turf that melts into turquoise waters. For an upbeat atmosphere, check out Polignano a Mare, where you can dive off its dramatic limestone cliffs. For more seclusion, aim for May, June or September.

Indulge in Cuisine

In Puglia, delicious local specialties abound. Don’t leave without trying Cisternino’s creamy burrata cheese, you’ll dream about it long after. Lecce’s upscale restaurants showcase pasta-making traditions, while Ceglie Messapica’s family-run trattorias serve the ear-shaped orecchiette pasta. Make sure to sample olive oil and Primitivo wine.

Dive into History

With cliffside villages and medieval castles, Puglia offers an immersion into the past. Spend a day in Matera, wandering its ancient caves and rocky alleys. Visit Castel del Monte, an easy day trip from Bari, to explore the 13th century fortress. You can also tour excavated Roman ruins right by the sea in Egnazia.

Escape to Tremiti Islands

For an island getaway, take a day trip to Puglia’s Tremiti Islands. Boat tours head out to San Domino and its secluded coves and grottoes. Meander down footpaths to swimming holes or explore the medieval abbey. If timing allows, stay overnight on San Nicola for a peaceful escape.

Cycle Through Olive Groves

With its quiet country roads and flat terrain, Puglia is ideal for leisurely cycling. Cruise along pretty paths from Monopoli to Polignano a Mare. Or pedal through ancient olive groves, avoiding major highways and pass by whitewashed towns.

Day Trips

Matera - This ancient cave city is one of Italy's most unique destinations. Wander the Sassi cave dwellings, rock churches, and stone alleys that look like a film set. The rupestrian architecture carved into the mountainside provides a walk back in time. It's about 1.5 hours drive northwest from Bari.

Castel del Monte - This striking 13th century castle was built by Emperor Frederick II with an intriguing octagonal shape. The symmetry and mix of styles make it fascinating to explore. It's an easy day trip located about an hour drive inland from Barletta.

Alberobello - The iconic trulli with their cone-shaped stone roofs cluster together to form fairytale neighborhoods. Seeing these circular dwellings upclose and walking the atmospheric streets is a Puglian highlight. It's about 1.5 hours east from Bari.

Polignano a Mare - This bright coastal town perched dramatically on limestone cliffs is perfect for admiring the sea views, browsing shops, and having a seaside lunch. It's just under an hour drive southeast from Bari.

Gargano Peninsula - Rugged and beautiful, the Gargano region offers cute coastal towns like Vieste and Peschici along with the Foresta Umbra forest. Hike to see fjord-like coves. About two hours north from Bari.

Places to eat & drink in Puglia, Italy

A close shot of focaccia covered in tomatoes.

Trattoria Terra Madre: In the trulli-filled town of Alberobello, this family-run trattoria has outdoor seating with views of the iconic stone homes. I suggest trying their freshly made orecchiette pasta and bombette pork rolls.

Osteria del Tempo Perso: In the cliffside white village of Ostuni, this eatery offers atmospheric dining in their candlelit cave. I recommend sampling classics like octopus salad and braciole rolls. Their homemade desserts are sublime.

Le Zie: My pick for no-frills, family-style dining in Lecce. Try their signature pastas and rustico leccese, a meat and cheese-stuffed pie, at this local favorite.

Rosticceria L'Antica Piazza: In the quaint town of Cisternino, grab an outdoor table here to try melt-in-your-mouth wood-fired bombette pork rolls and salty caciocavallo cheese.

Grotta Palazzese: Set in a dramatic seaside cave in Polignano a Mare, I suggest indulging in their fresh seafood tasting menu. It's worth a splurge for the views and cuisine.

La Reggia: In the coastal town of Monopoli, this bakery serves freshly baked focaccia, panzerotti, and pasticciotto custard tarts. Grab a pastry for a sweet breakfast treat.

Friggitoria Masseria Calderisi: For excellent fried seafood like anchovies, whitebait, and cod croquettes, head to this casual friggitoria in the countryside near Fasano.

Gelateria Artigianale Semeraro: This family-run gelato shop in Ceglie Messapica uses high-quality local ingredients. I recommend indulging in their specialty flavors like fig, almond, and gianduja chocolate.

Trattoria Zia Pina: In the town of Martina Franca, this trattoria is known for wood oven-baked pizza and handmade pastas served in a rustic setting.

Cremeria Capolinea: Located near the train station in Lecce, this tiny gelateria serves exceptional gelato like their popular pistachio and crema flavors.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor David Rosenberg's guide, Slowing Down in Puglia, Italy.

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Puglia.