Puglia (poo-lia) is the region in the heel of Italy’s boot, also called by its Latin name Apulia. With its distinctive food, architecture and atmosphere, the area looks and feels completely different to the rest of the country. Not unlike a Greek island, the sun-soaked landscape is blanketed in ancient olive groves that roll from the Itria Valley all the way down to the shimmering Adriatic Sea. There are so many reasons to explore this Mediterranean paradise; here are just eight.
Italy dips its heel into both the Adriatic and Ionian. Along both coasts, you will find countless white beaches that could easily be mistaken for the Maldives. Although many of the prettiest spots are owned by hotels and resorts, there are many beautiful public beaches including those around Otranto and Rivabella on the Salento Peninsula (in the south of the region) and in the area of Rodi Gaganico on the Gargano Peninsula (in the north of the region). Zagare Bay, located 15 km from Mattinata is famous for its crystal clear waters and sea arch known as the Magic Arch.
The food in Puglia is always home-grown or locally sourced, so strictly seasonal, fresh and tasty. Meat is typically lamb, though of course fish rules on the coast. Try regional specialities such as Orecchiette con le come di rapa (small, hand-shaped ‘ears’ of pasta with turnip tops,) Antipasti ai frutti di Mare (seafood antipasti – always share one between two!) and fresh burrata cheese: like mozzarella but with an oozing creamy centre. Delicious!
Puglia has the highest concentration of olive trees in Italy and the largest output of olive oil. The olive groves seem boundless as you drive past thousands of ancient gnarled trunks along the region’s Roman roads. Needless to say, the delicious small, black olives are served with every aperitivo, though there’s nothing much better than a good sluice of the season’s first olive oil on rustic, homemade bread.
The town of Lecce is packed with spectacular churches and palazzi, all built in the ornate baroque style. Some people think it rivals Florence for the richness of its architecture. The theatrical town is a feast for the eyes and a perfect spot for a lazy passeggiata: the Italians’ evening stroll. Martina Franca and Galatina are also notable Baroque towns.
Trulli are traditional stone buildings native only to Puglia. The conical roofs pepper the Itria Valley and are most concentrated in the touristic centre of Alberobello. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit on any trip to southern Italy. Many have been converted into B&Bs and would make a perfect base for a Puglian adventure.
Puglia’s historic hill towns are sleepy and charming, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from their lofty vantage points. You could easily while away a few hours in the quaint winding streets of Locorotondo, Cisterno or the dazzling town of Ostuni, known as The White City for its higgledy-piggledy pile of white-washed buildings.
Puglia is one of the least explored regions of Italy. Tourism has recently started growing, but the area still retains the authenticity of its farming roots and rural, slow-paced way of life. It’s a great part of Italy to practice your Italian too – English is less commonly spoken in Puglia.
- Hannah Frances