8 Towns Not to Miss in Puglia, Italy

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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 Puglia towns to visit, 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. Ostuni (or the nearby countryside) and Lecce are ideal places to base yourself, but you can’t really go wrong.

If you have the time, consider a side trip to spectacular Matera in neighbouring Basilicata. 

Puglia is one of the most beautiful regions of Italy. These 8 diverse Puglian towns are the highlights of the region including Ostuni, Alberobello, Bari, Lecce, Otranto and more. Click through to plan your trip to Puglia.

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Bari & The Valle d’Itria

Bari is the main gateway to Puglia (the other airport is at Brindisi further south). 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.

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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, one of the best Puglia towns to visit in Italy

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, Puglia

Women making orecchiette pasta on the streets of Bari

Orecchiette pasta on Bari street

If 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 from Panificio Fiore in Puglia

Where to stay in Bari: We stayed in a rather characterless hotel in the new town. Next time I would choose one of the many B&Bs such as La Muraglia, which has lovely apartments with sea views in the old town. You can find more hotels, B&Bs and apartments in Bari here.
Where to eat in Bari: The amazing focaccia at Panificio Fiore in the old town is perfect for a quick snack or light lunch. Our meal at La Cecchina was delicious, especially the fried caciocavallo cheese and the carrot and zucchini salad.

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Alberobello

Alberobello trulli in Puglia, Italy

Alberobello 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.

Where to stay in Alberobello: Staying in a trullo is a highlight of the Valle d’Itria. We stayed in one at Masseria Ferri near Martina Franca about 25 minutes drive from Alberobello. Our cute trullo stayed wonderfully cool in the summer heat, the family that runs the place is very welcoming, and the food was superb. We preferred staying in the countryside rather than in Alberobello itself, but you can find hotels in Alberobello here such as the highly rated trulli of Tipico Resort
Where to eat in Alberobello: The antipasti at atmospheric cave restaurant Casa Nova were delicious. 

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Locorotondo

Locorotondo, Puglia

Locorotondo is a labyrinth of whitewashed 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.

Where to stay in Locorotondo: We stayed 20 minutes away in a trullo at Masseria Ferri. Locorotondo is a lovely area to stay in and you can find trulli and holiday homes in the area here
Where to eat in Locorotondo: La Taverna del Duca serves simple but delicious local Slow Food. 

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Ostuni

Ostuni archway in Puglia, ItalyOstuni 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.

Where to stay in Ostuni: We visited Ostuni from Masseria Ferri, a 30-minute drive away, but Ostuni is a fabulous area to stay. If you want to stay in the centre, Biancadamari is a stylish B&B with stunning views of the old town and sea. Or there are many budget apartments in the historic centre like 30 Metri Quadri. On my next visit I want to stay at Masseria Il Frantoio in the countryside 10 minutes outside Ostuni. We visited on a day trip to tour their olive groves and sample their homemade olive oil and we didn’t want to leave. The 300-year-old stables and grain mill have been lovingly restored and converted to 12 guest rooms. The beautiful grounds are perfect for relaxing and the tasting menus are supposed to be incredible. You can find more places to stay in Ostuni here.
Where to eat in Ostuni: The elegant Ristorante Porta Nova has wonderful views of the old town and sea and an excellent version of Puglian fava bean puree. Masseria Il Frantoio is open to non-guests for their epic tasting menus. Here are some more Ostuni restaurants to try

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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 many fascinating towns to explore.

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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 from after a cooking class with Cooking Experience when 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

 

Where to stay in Lecce: We stayed at Spiriti Suite B&B, which has modern, elegant suites a 10-minute walk from the historic centre. There are many other gorgeous places to stay in historic buildings such as Dimora Storica Torre Del Parco 1419, a luxurious hotel in a medieval fortress, Palazzo Bignami, a stylish B&B very close to the centre, and Palazzo Gorgoni in the heart of the old town. You can find more hotels and B&Bs in Lecce here
Where to eat in Lecce: We’ve returned to Osteria degli Spiriti many times for their delicious Salento cuisine. Our Lecce cooking class was one of our favourite experiences in Puglia and the leisurely meal at the end was wonderful. Here are some more Lecce restaurants to try.

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Otranto

Otranto, Puglia

Otranto 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, PugliaOtranto is 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 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

Where to stay in Otranto: We visited Otranto while staying at Masseria Sant’Angelo 20 minutes inland. Otranto makes a good base in the Salento, though, with a range of accommodation from 5-star luxury hotels like Hotel Palazzo Papaleo to affordable B&Bs such as Mediterraneo Camere. You could also stay on a farm in the nearby countryside—Masseria Panareo looks stunning, and Agriturismo Tenuta Sant’Emiliano is an affordable option on an organic farm. You can find more hotels in Otranto here.
Where to eat in Otranto: L’Altro Baffo is the place to go if you like seafood, although they did make us some tasty vegetarian dishes (off the menu). Primo is a better option for vegetarians/vegans.

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Gallipoli

Gallipolli beach, Puglia, Italy

Gallipolli’s beach

Gallipoli’s old town is on an island connected by a causeway to the mainland. It has a relaxed, elegant vibe, 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 in Puglia, Italy

Other than leisurely walks along the city’s seafront walls, the most interesting thing to do in Gallipoli 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

Where to stay in Gallipoli: We visited Gallipoli from Masseria Sant’Angelo about 35 minutes away. The town has some good value accommodation like Salento Palace B&B and Palazzo Rocci. You can find more places to stay in Gallipoli here.
Where to eat in Gallipoli: Il Bastione has fantastic sea views, but it’s a seafood restaurant, so it’s not the best option for vegetarians. Here are some more Gallipoli restaurant ideas.

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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. De’Monti Castle actually consists of two castles. The medieval castle was built in 1465 with four rectangular towers and was strong enough to resist the Turkish invasion when they came here after destroying Otranto. The castle was fortified further in the 17th century with four round towers and a moat that encircles the inner castle. Later a rich family transformed it from a fortress into 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

Where to stay in Corigliano d’Otranto: 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.
Where to eat in Corigliano d’Otranto: There’s an excellent restaurant on the terrace inside the castle where you can enjoy typical dishes of the local area (currently closed in 2017). The evening feasts at Masseria Sant’Angelo were our most memorable meals in Puglia.

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Map of our Top 8 Puglia Towns

Resources for Planning a Trip to Puglia

  • Accommodation – Search on Booking.com (hotels, B&Bs, farmstays and apartments) and Airbnb (rooms and apartments—get $38 off here).
  • Flights – Look on Kiwi.com for flights to Bari or Brindisi. It offers a lot of flexibility to help you find the best deals (choose a date range to find the cheapest day to fly).
  • Train travel – See The Man in Seat 61 for the best advice, read our post on travelling from Italy to London by train, and consider an Interrail or Eurail pass if travelling to multiple destinations in Europe. 
  • Pack light – To avoid paying checked luggage fees on airlines. My book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, shows you how to travel with just carry-on luggage on any trip. 
  • Travel insurance – Essential in case anything goes wrong. The best we’ve found is True Traveller (UK/EU citizens), which we’ve been using for the last six years. World Nomads (worldwide) is another reliable option. 
  • See our travel resources page for more tools and gear recommendations to help you plan your trip.

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.

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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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67 Comments (4 pingbacks)

  1. Great post thanks so much. I want to visit all of these towns. Love hearing about the fascinating history. We are currently here in Puglia and staying in Santa Maria al Bagno. It’s a lovely little town and so far I have jogged into the next town along Santa Catarina which was so pretty. It has the smallest beach I’ve ever seen and is mainly rocky where the bathers jump straight in the water and swim. Water is so clear! Your list of places to visit makes for a pretty exciting bucket list for when we return again and hopefully again and again at different (cooler times of the year)! Don’t want to leave!

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  2. Hi Erin,

    My husband and 2.5 year old will be traveling to southern Italy this winter October/November. I had my heart set on Calabria until I saw your post on Puglia! We are planning 10-11 nights and I now want to try and divide the time between Calabria and Puglia – we are huge foodies too! Suggestions on what town to stay in and how to split the time (one in Puglia and Calabria) as we prefer to only be in two hotels. Moving around too much is rough with the little one. Also would like a base that we can walk and do plenty and go back to our room if needed for our daughter. Thank you so much in advance!

    Kristi

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    • We LOVE Puglia! We lived in Brindisi (also a beautiful city with amazing beaches and a great expat community) for three years and dreaded having to leave. It is a great central location for visiting the other gems in the region. We come back every couple of years to visit the “family” and friends we made while living here. Southern Italians are just so warm and hospitable! Coincidentally, we are here right now and I was comparing my list of favorite places to yours. They are identical! Thank you for posting this! 😊

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      • We really have to visit Brindisi on our next visit to Puglia. I feel it’s quite underrated but have heard some good things. Then again, it’s rare I go anywhere in Italy that I don’t love!

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  3. 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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    • Hi Erin, we’re also looking to visit Puglia this August (1st time) with a very similar itinerary to the above post with the addition of a pool as we like the beach & the kids like the pool. Doesn’t need to be a private pool though.
      We also don’t mind cooking a few meals at the villa, but like the option of having restaurants close by..
      Any advise would be much appreciated.

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        • Thanks Erin. Does anyone have any advice traveling from Scotland to Puglia. All flights appear to be 2 stops to fly into Bari & Brindis. Another option I’ve found is flying into Naples. This doesn’t look like a good option as there’s still a bit of a commute from there, however would be grateful for any ideas..

        • I had a quick look on Kiwi and there are a few flights from Glasgow or Edinburgh with just one stop on the way to Bari.

          If you are hiring a car then it’s a 2.5 or 3 hour drive from Naples to Puglia. I can’t think of any other options. I hope you find something!

  4. 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.

    Reply

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