Jutting out into the Mediterranean at the far south-east of mainland Italy, Puglia is a lush, largely flat farming region with a long coastline that alternates between shimmering cliffs and sublime sandy beaches. Home to beautiful Baroque cities and pretty hilltop villages, the region has a rich and varied history with plenty of cultural gems spread throughout its six provinces.
Puglia’s history is linked with other Mediterranean countries and invaders who came from afar, including the Greeks, Romans and Normans, all of whom have left their imprint on the region. Despite being southern Italy’s commercial heart, Bari has one of the richest architectural heritages on the Adriatic with magnificent Terra di Bari cathedrals to explore whilst Brindisi has a colourful past as southern Italy’s busiest merchant and passenger port, and is only 15 km from the beautiful Torre Guaceto nature reserve with its sandy dunes and diverse wildlife. Taranto, one of the country’s most important naval ports, has a vibrant city centre whilst the baroque town of Lecce boasts over 40 churches and at least as many palazzi, forming a unique urban landscape.
However, it is the central whitewashed towns of Alberobello, Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca that make Puglia particularly iconic. These delightful old-towns are renowned for their trulli, traditional circular stone houses with conical roofs. At the centre is Alberobello, a UNESCO world heritage site boasting over 1,400 trulli in a maze of narrow streets. Other charming towns worth a visit include chic Ostuni, sea-front Otranto, the island town of Gallipoli and, on the southern tip, Santa Maria di Leuca, with its Gothic-and Liberty-style villas. Polignano a Mare is arguably the most favoured seaside town with its peacock-blue waters, limestone cliffs, postcard-pretty beach, chalk-white houses and cobbled streets.
One of the region’s main attractions is the food scene – a combination of top-quality local produce and authentic Italian home cooking. There are also a number of luxury villas in Puglia nestled within the rustic tranquility of the Italian countryside. Combining blissful gardens with exceptional views, these offer a truly relaxing retreat for both family and friends.
With an average of 300 sunny days per year, the most popular time to visit Puglia is between May and September. In July and August, Italians on holiday flood the region bringing with them much revelry – food festivals, concerts and other spectacular events pop up across the historic towns and seaside villages. However, autumn days bring the harvest and as a result spectacular cuisine, and it is still possible to explore the countryside on horseback or bikes in the colder months.