The southern Italian region that forms the heel to Italy’s boot, Puglia is a mesmerising collection of charming coastal towns, historic sites and natural wonders which combine to create a rich tapestry of incredible experiences, ideal for exploring by rental car. From World Heritage-listed villages to beautiful limestone caves, these are our favourite places to visit in Puglia:
As Puglia’s capital, Bari offers a delightful blend of history, culture, and modernity. Explore the historic old town with its impressive basilica and labyrinthine streets, then savour local cuisine at the bustling seafood markets and cozy trattorias. It’s also worth heading inland to spend a day exploring the nearby Alta Murgia National Park: an incredible natural landscape of limestone plateaux that is home to a variety of wildlife including wolves, foxes, stone martens and kestrels.
The unique architecture of Alberobello’s trulli, with their white-washed, dry-stone walls topped with conical roofs constructed from slabs of local limestone, create an atmosphere that’s straight out of a storybook. The structures were originally designed as farm buildings that could be quickly dismantled to avoid visiting tax collectors, but these days it is tourists who come to Alberobello, wandering the maze of cobbled streets while admiring the UNESCO World Heritage listed trulli houses. As you explore the Rione Monti quarter of the town, be sure to look out for a shop advertising access to their ‘terrazza panoramica’, offering one of the best viewpoints overlooking Alberobello from a rooftop terrace above the shop.
One of the man-made highlights of Alta Murgia National Park is the hilltop Castel del Monte: a medieval masterpiece that offers panoramic views of the surrounding Puglian countryside. The castle’s original purpose remains something of a mystery, but it has served many functions since its construction in the thirteenth century, including as a prison and a refuge from the plague. The best possible souvenir to bring home with you is an Italian-issued one Euro cent coin, which bears an impression of the Castel on one side.
Follow the coastal route south from Bari until you reach Polignano a Mare, where stunning coves and crystal-clear waters combine to create a truly romantic and picturesque destination. Stroll through the historic centre of town, where narrow alleyways wind between whitewashed buildings adorned with colourful flowers. The renowned Grotta Palazzese, carved into rocky cliffs overlooking the sea, is surely one of the world’s most romantic settings for a restaurant. The tiny, pebbled cove of Lama Monachile is a must for beach lovers, while history enthusiasts should pay a visit to the Ponte Borbonico: a Roman bridge that dates from 110AD.
Alberobello is just one of the many picturesque rural villages that characterise the heart of the Puglia region: the entire Valle d’Itria is a paradise of rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves, as well as pretty towns like Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Ostuni and Cisternino. The region’s rich history comes alive in its ancient churches, fortified farms, and historic town centres, where narrow cobblestone streets reveal hidden corners waiting to be discovered. Local markets boast an array of authentic Puglian products, from zesty olive oil and aged cheeses to regional wines. With its harmonious blend of cultural heritage and natural splendour, Valle d’Itria promises an unforgettable journey for those seeking a truly immersive Italian experience.
The UNESCO-listed centre of Andria is a collection of charming cobblestone streets and historic buildings such as the Andria Cathedral, which is renowned for its stunning Romanesque architecture. It’s also a wonderful setting in which to dive into the region’s rich gastronomic scene, working your way through a progression of traditional trattorias that offer Apulian specialties such as orecchiette pasta and burrata cheese. As the sun sets, join the locals heading to the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II – it’s an ideal spot for people-watching.
Monopoli is one of Puglia’s most picturesque beach towns: located on the Adriatic coast a short distance from Bari, it offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Its charming labyrinthine streets are adorned with whitewashed buildings and filled with historic gems like the Baroque-style Monopoli Cathedral and the sixteenth-century Castle of Charles V. Stunning beaches or coves like Cala Porta Vecchia and Porto Bianco are the ideal spot for basking in the Mediterranean sunshine. For an authentic taste of Puglian life, head to the town’s scenic harbour to watch fishing boats bobbing gently in the calm waters while dining on fresh seafood in a waterfront restaurant.
The jellyfish, the bacon and the stocking – these may not be what you would expect to find in an ancient network of underground caverns, but all of these can be found among the intricate stalactite and stalagmite formations of the Castellana Caves. These otherworldly underground chambers, which were formed naturally over millions of years, extend for more than three kilometres and reach up to 122 metres below street level. A guided tour will allow you to explore some of the most spectacular sections of the caves, including the vast expanse knowns as ‘the Grave’ and the ethereal beauty of the White Cave. Above ground, the historic Old Town of Castellana features cobbled streets lined with quaint shops, cozy cafes, and centuries-old architecture.
Known as the “White City” due to its whitewashed buildings, Ostuni has been enchanting its visitors for centuries. Set on a hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea, the town is encircled by ancient stone walls which offer breathtaking vistas of the surrounding countryside and the sea beyond. At the heart of its Old Town, the impressive twelfth-century Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta stands as a testament to the city’s rich history: its ceiling is adorned with beautiful paintings depicting biblical scenes while its floor contains a renowned floor mosaic. The local markets offer a tasty glimpse into the heart of Puglian culture and cuisine – the ideal spot to pick up a variety of fresh produce and traditional crafts.
At the southernmost tip of Puglia, the Salento Peninsula offers a captivating blend of cultural, natural, and culinary delights, including picturesque towns of whitewashed buildings and a spectacular coastline lined with stunning beaches. From the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre in Lecce to the iconic waterfront stronghold of Gallipoli; from the idyllic beaches of Otranto to the hidden sea caves of Santa Maria di Leuca and the poetically named Grotta della Poesia, Salento promises an unforgettable experience that seamlessly weaves together the best of past and present.
A two-hour ferry journey will deliver you to the tranquil paradise of the Tremiti Islands, a small archipelago off the coast of northern Puglia’s Gargano Peninsula. Surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic Sea, an idyllic collection of hidden coves and ancient ruins await exploration, making it a magical spot for a day trip or a relaxing getaway. The islands are rich in history, containing historic sites such as the Santa Maria Abbey and the stunning Grotta del Bue Marino, a cave adorned with awe-inspiring stalactites and stalagmites. Go snorkelling or diving in the surrounding azure waters and you’ll discover an underwater world that’s teeming with marine life and captivating rock formations.
While technically located in the neighbouring Basilicata region, venturing beyond Puglia’s borders to join a walking tour through the hilltop town of Matera is a must visit on your Puglia road trip. The Sassi cave dwellings for which Matera is renowned are a true architectural wonder. Acclaimed as the world’s third-oldest known city, its buildings are carved into the mountainside and connected by a network of paths, stairways and courtyards. The town was built on the site of a Palaeolithic village and was continuously inhabited for more than 9000 years until compulsory clearances in the 1950s forced its residents to live elsewhere. Today it is a living museum of cave restaurants, shops and galleries – even a cave hotel experience. This truly unique destination has featured in many major movies, including The Passion of the Christ, Bond movie (No Time to Die) and Wonder Woman.
Whether you’re captivated by architecture, history, nature, or all of the above, Puglia promises an unforgettable adventure that will leave you yearning to return. To experience these and more of Puglia’s hidden gems, speak to your personal travel manager for advice on planning your perfect Puglia road trip itinerary.