Puglia is More Than a Destination: It’s a Feast for the Senses

Puglia is more than a destination, it offers a rejuvenating natural experience that delivers rich emotions, captivates your heart, and ignites all of your senses. This enchanted land of sun and hospitality, hugged by two spellbinding seas, is a fertile terrain where centuries-old history, customs, breathtaking vistas, and joie de vivre weave the fabric of everyday existence.

Picture gilded sandy shores descending into transparent turquoise waters.

Inland, unspoiled nature rules supreme, with magnificent valleys and softly undulating hills swathed in centuries-old olive groves, vineyards, and luxuriant forests. The region boasts an extraordinary heritage, including four outstanding UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Castel del Monte is an enigmatic fortress located near the town of Andria, Italy, and built by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Its octagonal shape and unique architectural features have puzzled historians for centuries, leading to many theories about its purpose and symbolism. Some believe it was a hunting lodge or a symbol of the emperor’s power, while others suggest it was used for astronomical observations or even as a secret meeting place for the Knights Templar.

The San Michele Arcangelo Sanctuary in Monte Sant’Angelo is a stunning example of medieval art and architecture. Built during the 5th century, the sanctuary has been a pilgrimage destination for centuries and is still considered one of the most important religious sites in Italy. The interior of the church is adorned with beautiful frescoes and mosaics, and its crypt is said to contain the tomb of Saint Michael the Archangel.

The Foresta Umbra Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests are located in the heart of the Gargano National Park and are home to some of the oldest and most impressive beech trees in Europe. The forest has been protected since the 16th century and is a unique example of the natural heritage of the area. Visitors can explore the forest on foot or by bike, and admire its stunning landscapes and rich biodiversity.

The town of Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its unique trulli houses. These traditional homes are made of local limestone and have conical roofs. Walking through the streets of Alberobello feels like stepping back in time to a bygone era.

In this ancient land, there is a deep reverence for ancient traditions and customs. From the cyclical celebration of nature’s bounty to the rituals honoring the earth and sea, the region is awash with the beauty of age-old practices. These timeless customs are a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the land, and traditions that have been passed down through generations. To experience the poetic beauty of Puglia is to glimpse the essence of its people grounded in the ancient ways that still thrive today.

From the lively celebrations that light up the streets to commemorate their devotion to patron saints to the flavorful delicacies served at the table, Puglia’s ancient customs and traditions are woven into every aspect of life and perpetuated through rituals related to harvests, fishing, and the work of master craftsmen. 

Perhaps the most authentic experience of Puglia can be found at the table, where food and wine reign supreme. The region’s cuisine is a sensory explosion of exceptional flavors, where every bite tells a story of the land’s heritage and traditions. The secret to this culinary mastery lies in the ingredients, all locally grown and genuine, that produce the finest extra virgin olive oil and exquisite wines.

In  Puglia, visitors can immerse themselves in a world where time-honored practices continue to thrive, allowing them to experience the beauty of a land steeped in history and culture. You’ll feel at home everywhere you go. The spirit of hospitality is woven into the fabric of everyday life, making Puglia more than a destination and a place where travelers can truly feel embraced by the warmth of its people.

  1. Ostuni – Known as the “White City,” Ostuni is a stunning town with beautiful white-washed buildings that glimmer in the sunlight. Its winding alleys are a joy to explore, and visitors can enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding countryside from the town’s hilltop position.
  2. Polignano a Mare – Perched on cliffs overlooking the sea, Polignano a Mare is a charming town with breathtaking views and a lively atmosphere. The town has a beautiful historic center, and visitors can enjoy exploring the narrow streets and alleys that wind through it.
  3. Lecce – Known as the “Florence of the South,” Lecce is a stunning town with beautiful baroque architecture and charming streets. Visitors can admire the town’s beautiful churches and piazzas, and enjoy delicious local cuisine in one of its many restaurants.
  4. Martina Franca – This picturesque town is known for its elegant architecture, historic landmarks, and thriving cultural scene. Visitors can explore its beautiful baroque churches and palaces, and enjoy the town’s lively events and festivals.
  5. Monopoli – A beautiful seaside town with a rich history, Monopoli boasts stunning beaches and a charming historic center. Visitors can stroll through the town’s winding streets, visit its beautiful churches and museums, and enjoy delicious seafood in one of its many restaurants.
  6. Locorotondo – This charming hilltop town has stunning views and a quaint, historic center. Visitors can explore its beautiful white-washed buildings, enjoy its delicious local wine, and take in the stunning scenery of the surrounding countryside.
  7. Cisternino – A beautiful town with winding streets, whitewashed buildings, and delicious food, Cisternino is a delight to explore. Its historic center is home to beautiful churches and palaces, and its restaurants serve some of the best meat dishes in the region.
  8. Gallipoli – A coastal town with a charming historic center, stunning beaches, and vibrant nightlife, Gallipoli is a popular destination for visitors to Puglia. Its beautiful old town is home to stunning baroque architecture, and visitors can enjoy delicious seafood in one of its many restaurants.
  9. Otranto – A seaside town with a beautiful castle, historic landmarks, and a lively atmosphere, Otranto is a must-visit destination in Puglia. Visitors can explore the town’s beautiful churches and museums, stroll along its picturesque harbor, and enjoy the stunning beaches that surround it.

Depending on how much time you have or if this isn’t your first time in Puglia and you should consider exploring the interior of Puglia. The towns in the heart of Puglia are a sight to behold. Here are some well-worth a visit:

These are some of my travel photographs from my time spent in Matera, Altamura, Gravina, and Polignano in June and July 2023.

  1. Matera – Although not strictly in Puglia, this stunning town is located just across the border in the neighboring region of Basilicata. It literally looks as though Matera was carved out of the rocks. Famous for its cave dwellings and historic center, Matera has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can explore its winding streets and ancient churches, and learn about the town’s fascinating history.
  2. Altamura – This historic town is known for its beautiful architecture and delicious bread. The town’s cathedral is a stunning example of Romanesque architecture, and visitors can also explore its beautiful palaces and piazzas. Altamura bread is famous throughout the region and is a must-try for visitors.
  3. Nardò – Located in the Salento peninsula, Nardò is a charming town with a rich history and beautiful architecture. Its historic center is home to stunning baroque buildings and churches, and visitors can also explore the town’s impressive castle and archaeological museum.
  4. Gravina in Puglia – This picturesque town is known for its stunning natural scenery and rich history. Visitors can explore its beautiful cathedral and other historic landmarks, and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside from the town’s hilltop position.
  5. Ceglie Messapica – This charming town is known for its delicious food and beautiful historic center. Visitors can explore its stunning baroque churches and palaces, and enjoy local specialties like orecchiette in one of the many restaurants.
  6. Martano – A picturesque town located in the heart of Salento, Martano is known for its beautiful historic center and vibrant cultural scene. Visitors can explore its stunning baroque architecture, participate in local events and festivals, and sample delicious wines and food.
  7. Ostuni – Although already mentioned as a coastal town, Ostuni is also located inland, and its historic center is a must-visit destination for visitors to the region. Its stunning white-washed buildings and narrow alleys are a joy to explore, and visitors can enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding countryside from the town’s hilltop position.

Who goes to Puglia without hitting one of its numerous stunning beaches? Here’s a list of the top beaches in Puglia. With 800 km of coastline and 2 extraordinary seas, Puglia boasts a wide variety of stunning shorelines and exquisite beaches. 

  1. Porto Selvaggio: This stunning beach is located in a nature reserve near the town of Nardò, and features crystal clear waters and a rocky shoreline. It’s perfect for swimming and snorkeling, and there are plenty of shady spots to relax in.
  2. Baia dei Turchi: This beautiful sandy beach near Otranto is surrounded by pine trees and features clear blue waters. It can get crowded during peak season, but it’s worth the visit.
  3. Punta Prosciutto: This long stretch of white sand beach near Porto Cesareo is popular for its crystal clear waters and soft sand. It’s perfect for families with young children, and there are plenty of amenities nearby.
  4. Torre dell’Orso: This beautiful beach near Lecce is framed by a picturesque tower and features clear blue waters and soft white sand. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby, making it a great place to spend a day.
  5. Polignano a Mare: This beach is located in a charming town known for its cliffside homes and beautiful old town. The beach is small and rocky, but the crystal clear waters make it a great spot for swimming and snorkeling.
  6. Pescoluse: This long stretch of golden sand near the town of Salve is known as the “Maldives of Salento” for its clear blue waters and stunning scenery. There are plenty of amenities nearby, including restaurants and beach clubs.

Planning Your Trip To Puglia

Puglia is a region with so much to see and do that planning your itinerary in advance is essential to make the most of your trip. I’ve been to Puglia three times and I still haven’t seen it all. If you are planning to travel around Puglia without a car, it is best to base yourself in one of the larger towns or cities, such as Bari or Lecce, and use public transportation to explore the surrounding areas. There are frequent trains and buses that connect the major towns and cities, and local buses and taxis are available for shorter trips.

On the other hand, if you are planning to travel by car, it is recommended to rent a car at the airport or in one of the major towns or cities. This will give you the flexibility to explore the region at your own pace and to visit some of the more remote towns and villages that are not easily accessible by public transportation. Be aware that driving in some of the larger cities, particularly Bari, can be challenging, so it is best to park outside the city center and use public transportation to get around.

When planning your itinerary, be sure to include some of the region’s major attractions, such as the towns of Alberobello and Ostuni, the city of Lecce, and the Gargano National Park. But also, consider visiting some of the region’s lesser-known gems, such as the cave churches of Matera, the historic town of Gravina in Puglia, or the beautiful countryside of the Itria Valley. Finally, make time to sample some of the region’s delicious food and wine, such as burrata cheese, orecchiette pasta, and Primitivo wine, which are all unique to the region.

From the stunning coastline to the charming hilltop towns, and from the delicious food to the warm hospitality of the people, Puglia is more than a destination, it is a place like no other. Its unique character is woven into every aspect of life, from the ancient traditions and customs that are still practiced today to the modern innovation and creativity that keeps flourishing with the younger generation. Whether you visit Puglia for its history, its culture, its food, or simply to soak up the sunshine and the stunning scenery, your heart will long to return again and again.

Published by Maddalena Di Gregorio

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in” Robert L. Stevenson

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