OT Travel Itinerary: How To Spend The Perfect 7 Days In Italy's Puglia

Puglia, located in the southern region of Italy, is famous for its whitewashed hill towns, ancient farmland, and hundreds of kilometres of Mediterranean coastline
What to do in Puglia
PugliaShutterstock

There's an unmistakable charm here. Brimming with undisturbed natural beauty, Italy's Puglia or Apulia is well worth the unpacking. It has a dramatic coastline, sandy beaches, sparkling white towns hugging the coast, and a wealth of local delicacies, led by fresh produce, especially olives. Also known as the "heel" of Italy's boot and cradled by the Adriatic and Ionian Sea, Puglia is where slow travel becomes a reality.

I first stumbled upon its gorgeousness a few years back while visiting Florence. Yes, that's the mistake many of us have been making while considering Puglia an afterthought. It deserves far more attention than that, and a good two weeks could be the best way to soak up all this beautiful Southern region: abounding natural reserves in the North, charming coastal towns enveloped in pristine white and stunning beaches.

Day 1

Starting my journey in the far North was an interesting contrast to what one would find upon travels around Puglia later. Tucked inside the National Park of Gargano is a true hidden gem that I took my time to traverse. The emerald green, wooded Umbra Forest is deep, lush and unspoilt. Aptly named Umbra or shady, this precious natural reserve became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017 and is valued for its diverse flora and fauna comprising hundreds of animal species, including prancing roe deer, squirrels, hares, pheasants as well as wild boars, weasels, woodpeckers and other birds. The pathways within this forest allowed meanderings, while the lake in the centre was the perfect spot to stop and breathe.

Umbra Forest
Umbra ForestShutterstock

Day 2

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Castel del Monte, is located in the municipality of Andria and can be reached from Bari via bus or train. Since much of Puglia comprises flat plains, this castle rising on a rocky hill in the surrounding countryside makes a stunning impact and is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. Getting to this Castello and soaking up the fairytale vibes deserve one full day, and this can be done with Bari as a base.

Day 3

Basing oneself in Bari is a great way to enjoy the first part of one's trip while also getting an authentic flavour and pace of Southern Italy. The capital city of Puglia, Bari, maybe a tad gritty but is bursting with character. My exploration started in Bari Vecchia, the old town, the best place to wander without a plan.

The winding alleys are dotted with people sitting on their front porches chatting. The men smoke away as they exchange views audibly while the women sit crafting little ears of orecchiette pasta. Handwashed laundry flaps away languorously from the houses while little Vespas zip in and around, completing the picture. The Strada Arco Basso, also known as Strada delle Orecchiette, is famous for the pasta ladies rolling out orecchiette, an art form that seems easier to watch than to do.

Porto Vecchia is where the local fishermen head out to sea in their blue boats, hauling treasures that lend to Bari's raw seafood culture. Delicious sea urchins, mussels, squid, octopus, and cuttlefish can be washed down with a chilled Peroni beer or two while watching the sunset, lungo mare, or by the sea.

Day 4

The next pitstop is half an hour away. Polignano a Mare is perched on a limestone cliff and offers winning views of the gorgeous Adriatic. From the perch, you may watch teenagers clifftop diving or lose yourself in its winding alleyways. It's a good idea to stop by for the views before continuing to Alberobello.

The streets of Polignano a Mare
The streets of Polignano a MareShutterstock

The town of Alberobello is the most emblematic of the Puglia region, having been featured on scores of Instagram pages with its quaint, conical trulli. These whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs give the place a fairytale look and make for another UNESCO heritage site. A one-night stay here is recommended to feel part of this storybook atmosphere.

Day 5

Monopoli, Brindisi, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Gallipoli, and Otranto are all charming coastal towns with an endearingly slow pace, a historical centre or Centro Storico, and gorgeous turquoise blue waters hugging their shores. Lose yourself in the alleyways and pick a Masseria or traditional farmstay to experience Puglian life.

Day 6

Ostuni, known as the Citta Bianca or white city, is one of Puglia's most beautiful cities. A maze of whitewashed buildings tucked atop a hill holds an inescapable charm. White winding stairways lead to the blue waters, cobbled lanes with surprising shocks of pink bougainvillaea flowers at the corners, the Cathedral of Saint, and cute gelaterias and bars all lend to its appeal.

Located in the countryside near Ostuni and surrounded by stunning landscapes, Masseria Il Frantoio is the epitome of Dolce Vita. The Masseria spans 72 hectares and abounds with ancient olive trees, one an incredible 2000 years old. Guests staying here get a unique peek into Apulian life from the warm owners Armando and Rosalba, who have lovingly restored this gorgeous farmstay. As they say, the best must be saved for last.

Ostuni
OstuniShutterstock

Day 7

Lecce, or the Florence of the South, is known for its baroque architecture, which includes more than 40 churches and numerous palazzi. The streets are always lively, with strolling families and people diving in and out of cafes.

Ask me my favourite thing to do in Puglia, and it would have to be watching the world go by at Piazza del Duomo, a baroque wonderland in the centre of Lecce, while sipping ever so slowly on my iced coffee with almond milk, a Leccese speciality. It's simple, sweet, and divine—like the Puglian life.

Getting There

There are two international airports in Puglia—Bari and Brindisi. Bari Airport is accessible from the city centre and has flights from all the main European cities. Bari is also well-connected by land, with direct trains to and from the main Italian cities like Milan, Bologna, Rome, Venice, Padova, and Ancona.

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