Out of Bed: The Insider’s Guide to Puglia
At the heel of Italy’s boot lies Puglia, perhaps the country's best kept secret.
This region is defined by its ancient towns, shimmering coastlines and incredible hospitality. A desire for a slower pace of life will draw you in, so take your time to explore this incredible corner of the globe.
The ultimate road trip
You’re going to want a set of wheels to experience the best of Puglia. Hire a car at Bari airport and begin your journey south. Staying along the coastline, you will quickly find yourself arriving in the infamous and now Insta-famous Polignano a Mare.
This tiny town nestled on the edge of the Adriatic sea is home to white pebble beaches and striking limestone cliffs. Laze among the locals at the charming Lama Monachile or dine inside a sea cave at Grotta Palazzese, a restaurant with a terrace suspended beneath the rocky cliff face.
Driving further through the Valley de Itria, you’ll find yourself among rolling fields of ancient olive trees peppered by the iconic Trulli. Make a stop in Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and explore these stone huts with their unique conical limestone roofs. The prehistoric buildings are still very much a part of local culture, acting as store fronts to handcrafted wares, restaurants and even accommodation.
Set atop a hill halfway between Bari and Lecce lies Ostuni. This town, known affectionately as ‘the White City’, is a dazzling tumble of whitewashed buildings. Perhaps the perfect base to explore the region, Ostuni has a lot to offer on its own. The winding Old Town is home to charming stores filled with the kinds of souvenirs you actually want to buy.
Choose a pair of handcrafted earrings at Buongiorno Puglia, discover painted ceramics at SUMA Ceramiche Artische, and stock up on regional delicacies at Typicus Prodotti Tipici di Qualitá on Vicolo Giovanni Carlo Bovio, 2.
Another local highlight is the weekly market held at Via Nino Sansone on a Saturday morning. This sprawling camp of delights might overwhelm the senses at first, but it is the perfect place to collect an armful of fresh fruit and vegetables, local meats, and incredible cheeses.
Notoriously the poorest part of the country, the Pugliese food scene is defined by the term cucina povera—the kitchen of the poor—where a focus on locally grown reigns supreme. Of course you will find seafood in abundance, fresh burrata and hand rolled pasta but it's the vegetables that leave a lasting impression. Rich soil and a unique climate afford this area its incredible produce, which is spotlighted in the back streets of Ostuni at Osteria del Tempo Perso. Be sure to make a reservation for this tiny cave restaurant.
Dubbed the Florence of the South by many a man before, the Baroque city of Lecce does not disappoint. Do yourself a favour and spend a day with chef Gianna Greco who runs Cooking Experience. Starting with a visit to the local market, you will make a quick stop for caffè leccese, an iced coffee sweetened with Puglian almond milk, before arriving at the school and learning to prepare specialties of the region. Think handmade orecchiette with fresh tomato sauce, bombette panate wrapped in capocollo of Martina Franca, and panna cotta. The day ends by indulging in a family style feast accompanied by local wines and homemade digestives that will leave you with only one option: siesta.
Making your way further towards the tip of the heel, the glistening coast is dotted with rocky grottos where salty blue water begs you to pull in and take a dip. Make a stop at Castro, Marina Serr or Santa Maria di Leuca for a refreshing swim.
Deep in the south of the region, you will be greeted by gelato-hued alleyways in the charming fishing village of Gallipoli. The Old Town is built with a medina feel as walled streets wind wistfully, begging you to get lost a little as locals look on from their shuttered windows and shady courtyards. It's never more than a few minutes until you find your way back to the seawall where fishermen mend their nets in the harbour. Locals descend on the beach from dawn until dusk, setting up umbrellas to lie lazily under the full days heat and taking respite in the salty Ionian sea, which laps at the perimeter of the town. You should join them.
Where to sleep
After days spent exploring, rest in 5-star luxury at La Sommita in Ostuni. This elegant hotel is built within a 16th century residence that pays homage to the rustic feel of the region.
Its rooms and suites are rendered in a muted palette that speaks to the hotels surroundings and makes use of local art and materials. The vaulted spa offers the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate with its Turkish bath and treatment menu, while Cielo, the onsite 1 Michelin star restaurant, is sure to delight the gourmands.
For a more typical experience, check into one of the many masseria or farmhouses scattered among the countryside. Defined by their flat roofs and whitewashed walls, these estates are generally family-run and brimming with local appeal.
Complete with resident bulldogs that are sure to steal your heart, Masseria Moroseta, which is located on the outskirts of Ostuni, offers a modern take on this tradition. The minimalist interiors, which will make any Pinterest fanatics heart flutter, are set among 5 hectares of organic olive groves.
If you can tear yourself away from the picturesque pool, try the onsite cooking class for a behind the scenes look at the soul of the kitchen.
Loved this? Read our Insider's Guide to Lisbon.