8 Towns Not to Miss in Puglia

Puglia, the region in the heel of Italy’s boot, is dotted with beautiful small towns in shades of white and gold, with unique architecture like the conical trulli of Alberobello and the extravagant baroque of Lecce. Rich in churches and palaces, hidden piazzas and winding alleyways, markets and slow food trattorias, Puglia’s towns are a highlight of a visit to the region and reason to entice you away from the endless coastline. In some towns you can even combine visits to cathedrals and castles with dips in the sea just steps from the historic centre.

These are our recommendations of towns to visit in Puglia, focused on the two main areas of interest to tourists the Valle d’Itria and the Salento (there is also the Gargano further north but we haven’t been there yet). A good strategy is to choose a base for each of these areas—masserie or fortified farmhouses that have guest accommodation or Airbnb apartments are a great option—and visit the other towns on day trips.

Bari & The Valle d’Itria

Bari is the main gateway to Puglia (the other airport is at Brindisi further south) and the nearby Valle d’Itria, a rustic valley of olive trees, vineyards, and hill towns, is one of the most popular destinations in the region, known for its iconic trulli, circular stone huts found dotted around the countryside.

Bari

Although we flew into Bari on our first trip to Puglia four years ago we heard that it wasn’t worth visiting so we drove straight from the airport up the coast to the elegant small town Trani. This time we spent a night here and although the newer part of town is fairly nondescript, the atmospheric, maze-like old town is definitely worth a visit.

Bari Vecchia

Bari Vecchia

Bari Vecchia is a walled city crowded on a peninsula jutting into the sea. There was no room for expansion and the resulting overcrowding has meant that life is lived on the streets. As we wandered down the narrow alleyways on our first evening we felt like we were walking through someone’s living room, or well, everyone’s living room. Entire families from grandparents to babies sat outside their homes chatting, playing, napping, while washing dangled from balconies and scooters whizzed past.

It’s not just relaxing and socialising that takes place in the streets. In the mornings they become a pasta factory as women sit at tables outside their homes making the typical Puglian pasta orecchiette. These “little ears” are made by rolling the dough into thin logs, cutting off a chunk with a knife and shaping it by hand—all at an impressively rapid pace. Later in our trip we tried making them ourselves and it’s not easy.

Women making orecchiette pasta on the streets of Bari

Women making orecchiette pasta on the streets of Bari

Orecchiette pasta on Bari streetIf you get lost in Bari Vecchia, look down. The black stone pavement was laid to help visiting merchants navigate their way out after market day; the white limestone paving will take you deeper into the maze.

If the characterful tourist-free old town wasn’t enough reason to visit, the focaccia is really really good here, smeared with roasted cherry tomatoes, olives and glistening with local olive oil.
Bari focaccia

Alberobello

Alberobello, PugliaAlberobello is another town we skipped on our first trip as we heard it was too touristy. And it is, but it’s such a unique and enchanting place (it’s not a UNESCO World Heritage site for nothing) that it’s worth a few hours.

Trulli or conical stone huts are found amongst the olive trees all over the countryside of the Valle d’Itria, but Alberobello is the only entire town of trulli—1500 of them. You half expect to see a hobbit emerge from these stubby homes of whitewashed walls and pointy roofs stacked with grey limestone.

Trulli in AlberobelloOne side of town is full of tourists and souvenir shop trulli, but head across the road to Aia Piccola and you’ll find trulli that are real homes without the crowds. See our trulli photo essay for more information and photos of these unusual dwellings.

Locorotondo

Locorotondo, PugliaLocorotondo is a labyrinth of white washed buildings, its quiet streets kept pristine by residents who decorate their balconies and staircases with pink geraniums. There are no major sights but this means it doesn’t get many visitors so it’s a delightful place to enjoy a leisurely lunch and stroll the streets.

Ostuni

Ostuni archwayOstuni is another maze-like white city on a hilltop just 8km from the Adriatic Sea where you’ll find some of Puglia’s most exclusive resorts. It’s a wonderful town to get lost wandering the alleys, climbing staircases, and dipping under archways; or browse the stalls of local fruit and vegetables at the Saturday market. See our Ostuni post for more photos.

The Salento

The Salento is a hot, dry peninsula at the southern tip of Puglia. Its geographical isolation has meant that it has developed a strong identity with its own cuisine, traditions and music, influenced by its Greek past. Along with some of Italy’s best beaches there are some fascinating towns to explore.

Lecce

Lecce's baroque cathedral, Puglia

Lecce’s baroque cathedral

Lecce is known for its exuberant baroque architecture in the golden Leccese stone of the area, its churches lavishly decorated with cherubs, gargoyles and griffins, and delicately carved columns and cornices.

San Matteo church, Lecce

More baroque at San Matteo church

Lecce is one of Puglia’s larger cities but it’s still a walkable size, and it manages to be both lively and relaxed. One of my strongest memories is after a cooking class with Cooking Experience we had a long leisurely meal that lasted until nearly midnight. As we walked back to our B&B the streets were alive with young people drinking in pavement cafes but also families out for a stroll, groups of friends licking cones of gelato or eating crepes from one of the street stands. The atmosphere was festive and friendly, such a contrast to the negative energy in a British town at pub kicking out time, and we found ourselves thinking, we could live here.
Lecce, Puglia

Otranto

Otranto, PugliaOtranto has a stunning coastal location where you can combine morning visits to churches with an afternoon swimming in the clean, impossibly turquoise sea.

Otranto harbour, PugliaIt’s just 72 km from Albania and its location has resulted in many invasions, the worst of which was the Turkish siege in 1480 when they destroyed much of the city and tortured and killed its people.

Otranto Cathedral

Otranto Cathedral

Otranto’s principal attraction is the Cathedral with its mosaic floor built in 1163-1165— it survived the Turkish invasion although parts of the Cathedral were destroyed. It’s one of the largest mosaics in Europe and covers the entire floor. Its central motif is the Tree of Life, supported at the base by elephants, a symbol of purity, with branches telling different pagan and biblical  stories. Another tree near the front of the church depicts heaven on one side and grizzly scenes from hell on the other.

Mosaic floor in Otranto cathedral

Mosaic floor in Otranto cathedral

In the chapel you can see the human remains of the 800 martyrs who resisted the Turkish invasion and refused to convert to Islam. The empty sockets of hundreds of skulls stare down at you in stark contrast to the beauty of the mosaic floor.

Skull chapel, Otranto cathedral

The chapel of skulls in Otranto’s cathedral

Gallipolli

Gallipolli's beach, Puglia

Gallipolli’s beach

Gallipolli’s old town is on a island connected by a causeway to the mainland. It has a relaxed, elegant vibe, some stunning churches, and a golden curve of sand right in the centre of town, plus many more along the surrounding coast. It was ruled by the Greeks for five centuries between 7th and 2nd century BC, but all signs of their existence were destroyed by the Romans and most of the architecture seen now is from the Middle Ages.

Gallipolli, PugliaOther than leisurely walks along the city’s seafront walls, the most interesting thing to do in Gallipolli is visit Frantoio Ipogeo in Granafei Palace one of the 35 underground olive presses. It was first used in 1600, excavated by hand out of the soft rock, to make olive oil for lamps which was exported around the world. You can see the original equipment used for grinding and pressing the olives and get a sense of what it was like to work in this dark, damp cave. Blindfolded donkeys were used to work the olive mill and they lived down here with the workers who smoked weeds and carved little sculptures to distract themselves from the miserable conditions.

Underground olive mill, Gallipolli, Puglia

Underground olive mill

Corigliano d’Otranto

Corigliano d'Otranto castleCorigliano d’Otranto is one of the 11 towns of the Grecia Salentina that have retained their Greek heritage from the Byzantine period including the Griko dialect. It’s a small untouristy town with an interesting medieval castle that you’ll likely have to yourself. It actually consists of two castles, the medieval castle was built in 1465 with four rectangular towers. It was strong enough to resist the Turkish invasion when they came here after destroying Otranto, but they fortified it further in the 17th century by building four round towers and a moat that encircles the inner castle. Later a rich family transformed it from a fortress to a luxurious Ducal palace and added baroque details to the facade.

Baroque details of the facade of Corigliano d'Otranto's castle

Baroque details of the facade of Corigliano d’Otranto’s castle

There’s an excellent restaurant on the terrace inside the castle where you can enjoy typical dishes of the local area.

Our main reason for visiting Corigliano was to stay at nearby Masseria Sant’Angelo a working farm where you can learn about the traditions of the area from warm-hearted host Rocco who is a passionate musician of the local pizzica folk music. We ate fruit from their trees, milked a goat, learned how cheese was made, and enjoyed nightly feasts with the family. It’s a special, authentic place that will take you way off the beaten track.

Map of our Top 8 Puglia Towns

We hope we’ve inspired you to head south and explore the towns of Puglia. These are just some of the possibilities, pick a town at random and you’ll likely to find a fascinating history, beautiful architecture, friendly people, and delicious food.

Resources for Planning a Trip to Puglia

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Ostuni is one of the 8 gorgeous towns in Puglia not to miss. There are so many hidden gems in this southern region of Italy. | Never Ending VoyageThank you to Puglia Promozione, the region’s tourism board, who hosted us in Puglia, and to Dionisio our guide who showed us around a number of these towns.

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60 thoughts on 8 Towns Not to Miss in Puglia

  1. hi, yes to puglia, we are now in athens but have come from italy and really enjoyed our stay in puglia somethimes free-camping on the beaches in our van!. we have really enjoyed reading your posts on italy and sicilly too. enjoy your next stops in thailand, we send our best wishes. we are staying in crete for the winter, ferry on saturday and then a search for a place for an apartment from there… have you guys been to crete? and any recommendations??? anyway, much love and kind regards from wendy and james.

  2. Great round up of the many sights of Puglia. Southern Italy tends to get skipped by many travelers, but your recent entries may start changing that. Fantastic photos, as usual. Good luck!

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  4. You guys makes us miss Italy so much – stop posting these beautiful photos 😉 But seriously, I’ve always had Puglia on my radar but after reading your post I want to go so bad! Will try to make it happen next year – thanks for the travel inspiration 🙂

  5. I love how white and bright all the buildings in this area seem to be; talk about photogenic! I also love that save for one, I’d never heard of any of these places, which means they must be perfect for unadulterated exploration. I’d imagine that it’s becoming ever more difficult to find parts of the country that aren’t overrun with tourists, so it’s nice to hear about places that others tend to overlook. Definitely bookmarking this for when we make our way to Italy.

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  7. Hi Erin
    Having visited much of Italy and its islands we are keen to explore Puglia this summer to celebrate my husbands 40th. However we now have a 3 year old in tow so would like a town not too commercialised with nice bars and restaurants, but also access to clean sandy beaches not too far away. Can you recommend anywhere? Don’t mind doing a Miri centre, if more than one place springs to mind.

    • Otranto or Gallipolli would work as long as it’s not August when beach towns are crowded. Or you could spend part the time in the Valle d’Itria near Ostuni (8km from sea) and part the time in Otranto or Gallipolli. Have a great trip!

  8. WHat a coincidence that the 2 women in the photo making orecchiette are the same 2 women I bought mine form this past February. WHat a small world. I have been to all the amazing sites you have mentioned and Puglia is magnificent 🙂

  9. Hi there. Love your write up on Puglia! I just booked my flight there for next May. I am sorry to say that we only have three nights (Sunday through Wed). We are looking for amazing food (buratta and gnocci a must), some local culture, and a day trip to see and swim into some beautiful blue oceans. Where should we stay for that knowing that we can’t hit all the towns above? Thank you so much for your thoughts!

    • The beaches are best in Salento so Otranto and/or Lecce (you could base yourself in one and visit the other on a day trip) would be great options. Have a great trip!

    • hi i’m planing my trip to southern italy, and your post inspired me a lot, how many days did you spend in these 8 towns in Puglia or how many days would you recommend? thanks a lot 🙂

  10. we are planning a 7 day trip to Puglia Sept.22 to 30. We love beaches and olive groves food and wine. We will be renting a car so will be able to tour around. Would appreciate any comments thanks

    • Hi there, we are an australian couple with our house to rent in Puglia. We are five minutes from Locorotondo ,we can see it from our terraces…have a look ….www.villadoreena.com. Puglia is everything we have read here, Monopoli is also a wonderful town. …sue barnes

  11. This is so beautiful. My family and I actually had the privilege of living in Puglia (San Vito dei Normanni) for 3 1/2 years and they were the best years of our lives. We still have family friends that live there and in 9 days we get to go back after 15 years! Everything looks just like the pictures… untouched, non-commercialized, rustic Italian charm! I enjoyed your post very much 🙂

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  13. I used this post as pre-trip research. Had such a great time hoping from one place to the next by train.
    There is so much to Puglia and it is hard to decided what to visit on a short trip. I will definitely be back to visit the other towns mentioned in this list. I love your portraits of the nonna’s drying the orecchiette pasta. I referenced this in my own post on Puglia

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    • We did rent a car both times we’ve been to Puglia. It makes it much easier to get around but you could manage without if you stayed somewhere on a train line like Ostuni or Lecce.

      • Ciao Erin,
        Renting a car and travelling around Puglia is possible? is it easy to find parking in the nearby cities?

        • Yes, it’s the best way to travel. We never had a problem finding parking, but some of the roads are very narrow, so hire a small car!

  15. We are bringing our 3 kids to Puglia (27, 22, 19) and are going to rent a house for a week. The kids want to be near the beaches and be able to get to restaurants and nightlife easily, preferably by walking or short drive. What would be a good halfway point between the north and south areas. We prefer smaller towns to the bigger cities. Your blog and pictures are wonderful. Thank you.

  16. Hello! My name is Vera from Argentina. I am getting married in July in England (my future husband is from the UK) and we dont have time for a long honeymoon. Our idea is to go some days to Puglia (5 nights) because we need to come back to Buenos Aires. I would like to have some advice to which towns to visit on those days, I was thinking to divide my time in 2 parts, some days somewhere close to Alberobello and then go more to the south to see the beaches etc. I want some time to relax close to the beach. I will appreciate your advice.

    Vera

    xxxx

  17. Hello there, I love your choice of towns in Puglia but what was the name of the B&B you stayed in at Leece?? I liked your choices of the two you stayed in around Locorotondo!!! I’m looking for a place in Leece at the Moment!!

    thankyou

    Lissa

  18. Hi everyone,

    I would like to visit Bari in June-July. Unfortunately, I cannot find free beaches where I could have sunbaths and be able to swim.
    Could you recommend smth, please?

    Thanks in advance.

  19. Hi Erin,
    Great website, insight and photos! My partner and I cant wait to go this July 2016. wondering if we need to book ahead with accommodation? we just dont want to be tied up to a strict itinerary.
    Or should we think about setting up ourselves a base and do day tours etc?
    I see hiring a car is the best way to get around as well?
    Grazie mille
    Davide e Tina

    • July is high season (although not as bad as August) so it might be worth booking in advance. Hiring a car would make things much easier. Depending on how long you have, I’d be tempted to stay in two bases and do day trips— one near Ostuni and one in the Salento. Have an amazing trip!

  20. WOW! have been trying to get to the Puglia area for 2 years. I travel alone and am older, so need to have definite places to stay from where I could do individual day trips. I have lots of time in January and February. I believe that I do not wish to drive.
    MANY thanks for any and all info and your time!.

  21. hi,we have never been to Italy planning to go this October we want to stay in the nearest place to san Giovanni rotondu ann staying near a nice beach too not hiring a car

  22. Would you be able to send info of a reasonably priced tour to the Pugliaarea? OR send guide name who could set it up for me to travel alone???Many thanks

  23. We plan to go to puglia at the first days of october, 9 days. Your comments about the region are very important for us. We will rent a car but we have doubts about where to stay, in bari or lecce and from there to make star trips ( one base and travel each day in another direction. Where to land will depend on the hotel or b&b location. What do you think may be the trip order during our visit? Again, very useful and priceless your report. Thank you!

    • I would divide your time between the Valle d’Itria (perhaps Ostuni or the surrounding countryside) and the Salento (such as Lecce) as day trips between the two would be quite long. If you are flying you could fly to Bari and start in the Valle d’Itria. Have a great trip!

      • Thank you Erin for your advice. I agree with you that day trips and return to the same base will be very hard. We think now to arrive in brindisi, stay in lecce four days for the salento region , the south, then to stay in bari five days for the northern region of apulia and taken off from bari to home. Are we right ? Its better to stay more days in lecce than in bari? Thank you again Erin.

        • That sounds like a great plan. Personally, I would stay in the countryside outside Bari (perhaps closer to Ostuni) rather than in the city itself, but I do love wandering around Bari’s old town.

  24. Hi,

    I just found you blog there, lots of great info. how lucky ye are to visit such beautiful places.
    Im planning my honeymoon next year in Puglia for 10-14 days in September. Id like to maybe stay in 3 different places to base ourselves. A bit of a mix, city, near the sea, small town etc.. My Fiance loves to be near the sea so we will probably base ourselves there the longest and do day trips from there. I know everyone likes different things but if you where to have 3 different bases where would you choose. any suggestions would be great 🙂 thanks ! SJ

    • I’d probably go with an agriturismo (farm stay) in the countryside near Ostuni (lots of gorgeous villages and towns in the area), Otranto for the sea + town, and perhaps Lecce for the city (although you could also visit on a day trip from Otranto). Have an amazing trip!

  25. Hello Erin, we just returned from our tour in Puglia and your ideas help us very much to enjoy our stay. We arrived to Brindisi airport and took a previous rented car. We drive directly to Lecce where we stay five nights. We visite gallipoli, otronto,sta. cesarea terme up to the edge,sta. maria di leuca. Of course the old city of Lecce many times and also locorotondo and alberobello. ( this places were programmed from bari but because of weather forecast we changed the plan ).From there we drive to bari, four nights , via polignano a mare. From bari we visited ostuni and trani and al least retirned the car in bari airport. It was fantastic. Thank you again, erin, for your advices.

  26. Hi Erin- My family and I are looking to vacation this summer (August) in the Lecce region of Puglia. We are pretty much beach bums by day (love beautiful organized beaches). At night we like to eat at nice restaurants and walk around and shop and maybe have a late crape. We would prefer not to have drive too far from our hotel to do all this (we dont mind having to drive to different beaches though). Any suggestion where would be the best place to stay for all this? Thanks!!!

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