Puglia is a Southern region of Italy located in the heel of the country’s famous “boot”. It is surrounded by large expanses of water, to the east the Adriatic Sea, to the southeast the Ionian Sea and to the south the Gulf of Taranto and the Strait of Otranto. The region is known for its hundreds of kilometres of beautiful coastline, its stunning whitewashed hill towns and its farmland which is centuries old. The capital of Puglia is Bari, a university town which is also a vibrant port. It is also home to the town often referred to as the “Florence of the South”; Lecce, the Itria Valley and Alberobello. Whilst Puglia certainly appears to have everything you could look for in a travel destination it is a considerably underrated with many tourists preferring the regions of Florence and Tuscany and cities like Rome and Venice.
The history of Puglia
Puglia has a rich history that can be dated back over 3000 years. It was first colonised by the Mycenaean Greeks, and is one of the richest archaeological areas of Italy. For a brief period of time, the region became the Emirate of Bari after it was conquered by Muslim Saracens. Puglia was an autonomous Duchy until 1130, when the duke became the King of Sicily. In 1282, the island of Sicily was lost to the kingdom, but Puglia remained a part of the remnant of the Kingdom of Naples; this is how it remained until 1861 when Italy was unified.
Between 1282 and 1861. the rule of the kingdom changed frequently, it was part of the house of Aragon, then part of the house of Trastamara before reverting back to being under the rule of Aragon and the Empire of Spain. The region suffered sacking by Barbary pirates, was occupied by the Turks and also by the Venetians at times.
A small Puglia town on the Adriatic Sea, Monopoli is home to 19 medieval churches, and many cobblestone alleys and has a historical and natural beauty that is captivating. It is particularly well-known for the Baroque Cathedral with its tall bell tower and crypt which houses an Archaeological museum. To the north of the town is the promontory with the 16th-century Carlo V castle. Another site worthy of a mention is the Palmieri Palace with its frescoed walls.
Polignano a Mare
30 minutes from Bari, you will find one of the most beautiful coastlines in the area; the coast of Polignano. With its steep slopes and jagged rocks, it is a stunning sight. The historic city has been inhabited by the Arab, Byzantine, Norman and Spanish people.
No visit to this area could be complete without a once in a lifetime trip to Grotta Palazzese, a luxury restaurant located in a natural limestone cave. With its truly spectacular views, the site has been hosting banquets and parties since 1700.
Another beautiful seaside town, Galipoli is divided into two distinct areas; the new village, which is connected to the island by a bridge, and the old town, which is perched on a limestone island. As you would expect, the old town is home to churches and a cathedral with a rich architectural heritage, and of course the Castle of Galipoli, which is well worth a visit. The new town offers a complete contrast with modern buildings and a skyscraper.
This is sometimes referred to as the Trulli Town. Since 1996, Alberobello has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an exceptional example of a type of building construction that utilises prehistoric techniques. The buildings all function well in the modern world to create a site that really does have to be seen. If there is one place in Puglia that you must visit, then this is it.
Located on the south-east coast of Italy, the area around Porto Casearo is characterised by numerous islets, reefs and capes. There are also a number of large islands just off the coast. It is famed for its long sandy beaches and crystal-clear water, which are very Caribbean-looking. The area has a rich array of natural wonders to delight visitors, and in 1971, a rare species of Iris was found here.
Just 8km from the Adriatic Sea is Ostuni, a stunning city on a hilltop. With its predominately white buildings Ostuni is full of narrow alleys, staircases and streets and a veritable maze you could easily become lost in. It is also home to some stunning views. Within the ancient city walls you will find plenty of cafes, craft shops and traditional restaurants. You will also find a vibrant nightlife and numerous trendy bars with an international vibe.
One of Puglia’s largest cities, Lecce is sometimes called the Florence of the south. It is particularly known for its baroque style of architecture and boasts more than 40 churches and a palazzo; all built, or renovated, during the 17th and 18th centuries. The use of Lecce stone can be seen throughout the older parts of the city. This is a thriving city with traditional dishes to tempt visitors and, of course, plenty of cafes and gelaterie.
Wherever you plan to stay in Puglia, you should try and experience the charm and history of at least some of these fabulous destinations. They’re sure to give you memories and experiences to remember.
Is there anywhere in Puglia that you would add? Let me know in the comment section below: