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If Italy is a boot, then Puglia (Apulia*) is its spur and stiletto heel. A long region on Italy’s southeast coast, Puglia is vast fields of wheat and olive groves in its north and interior and gorgeous beaches and swimming coves in the south.
Puglia has two coasts. The Gargano Peninsula, Puglia’s spur, juts out onto the Adriatic Sea, and most of Puglia’s best-known cities — Bari (the capital), Brindisi, Lecce, and Otranto — are also on or very near the Adriatic. The instep of Puglia’s heel, where you’ll find Taranto and Gallipoli, is on the Ionian Sea.
Where to Go in Puglia
Northern Puglia unfolds from Molise and features wide expanses of farmland and the green mountains of the Daunia, a range of the central Apennines. The tallest mountain in Puglia is Monte Cornacchia, which rises near the village of Biccari.
The most popular area in northern Puglia for visitors is the Gargano Peninsula. It is home to the Gargano National Park, which encompasses forests, wetlands, and the cliff-side beaches at Vieste and Peschici. The Tremiti Islands (Isole Tremiti), a beautiful archipelago popular with divers, are also part of the Gargano.
Italy’s most popular modern saint, Padre Pio, celebrated mass for more than 50 years in San Giovanni Rotondo, which now contains his shrine. Nearby is Monte Sant’Angelo, another place of pilgrimage. The town is the site of the Shrine of Saint Michael (Santuario di San Michele), which is part of Italy’s Lombard group of UNESCO sites.
Moving down the coast from the Gargano are other popular seaside towns. Barletta has an impressive Norman castle. While Trani, about 10 miles south of Barletta, is a beautiful town whose beautiful 12th-century cathedral sits right at the water’s edge.
Inland from these two towns is Castel del Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 13th-century citadel was built during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and today it features on the one-cent Euro coin.
Bari, the capital of Puglia, is located about halfway down the region’s long Adriatic coastline. Bari is one of the most overlooked big cities in Italy, as its often just a way-station for travelers taking ferries across the Adriatic to Greece.
The coast south of Bari is dotted with picturesque beaches, the most notable of which are Polignano a Mare and Monopoli.
Just inland from Monopoli is the UNESCO city of Alberobello, famous for its conical trulli dwellings. Another interior town not far from here is Ostuni—The White City (La Città Bianca)—notable for its whitewashed buildings and walls.
Traveling further south, along the coast, you’ll come to Brindisi. Like Bari, Brindisi is a popular port for Adriatic crossings. The ancient city has been a port since Roman times; it marks the end of the Via Appia.
Some of Puglia’s most famous cities and holiday resorts lie south of Brindisi. This sub-peninsula is called the Salento, and it includes the seaside cities of Otranto on the east and Taranto and Gallipoli on the west. On the cusp of the Ionian Coast is Santa Maria di Leuca, which is popular for its hiking trails and sea caves.
The city at the heart of the Salento is Lecce, often referred to as the “Baroque Florence,” because of its high concentration of Baroque churches.
Best Tours in Puglia
Here are some other private or small group tours to get the most out of your visit to Puglia:
- Archaeological Tour of Bari: Treasures of the Old City
- Archaeological Ruins of Cannae: Hannibal’s Victory over the Romans
- From Lecce: Ostuni, Alberobello and Polignano a Mare Independent Tour
- Orecchiette Cooking Class and Wine Tasting in Lecce
- Cycling Across Salento: Capo di Leuca 4-Hour Bike Tour
- Small Group Tour of the Caves of Santa Maria di Leuca
When to Go to Puglia
Thanks to its mild climate, Puglia is a great place to visit year-round. Though be mindful that some hotels and restaurants near the beach resorts are seasonal.
Puglia is considered a summertime destination for most Italians and other European holiday makers from the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Beach tourists begin to trickle in as early as May and by July and August the coasts are packed. Alberobello has a theme park vibe during this time (though it is still very much worth a visit).
If you are considering a summer vacation to Puglia, it’s best to begin searching for accommodation a year in advance as inventory is limited.
September and October are the best months to visit Puglia if you want the still-warm beaches all to yourself.
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Editorial note: Puglia is known in English as Apulia. But I refer to the region almost exclusively by its Italian name throughout this site.