We are probably a bit biased, but when we say that Puglia is one of the most beautiful regions in Italy we really believe it, and rightly so! All its 400 km long are in fact full of historical sites, monuments and UNESCO heritage cities, but also pristine beaches, unique landscapes and lots of good food. The excellent climate, as well as the warmth of its inhabitants and the renowned hospitality for which they are famous, make this land the ideal destination for a holiday in any season. If you are planning your tour but cannot decide on what to see in Puglia for the first time, then this is the article for you because here we have compiled the list of 7 places to visit absolutely before leaving the region. Assuming that, after having been there, you manage to bear the idea of having to redo your bags to go home …
Gargano and Alta Murgia: sea, nature and castles
Let’s start from the north and walk along the heel of Italy starting from its Foggia: it’s here we can find the Gargano National Park and the Tremiti Islands.
The Gargano National Park
With its nearly 120 thousand hectares between the cliffs and the hinterland, the Gargano National Park is one of the most famous green lungs in Italy and, since it was established as a protected area in the 90s, also one of the greatest models of national biodiversity and beyond. Here indeed unique animal and plant species dwell, such as the last example of “Foresta Umbra”, a historic tree-lined expanse that has beeches, oaks, maples and ancient oaks. Thanks to the many guided activities offered and the variety of habitats that it presents, the Park is passable in many ways and means and the most sensitive visitor will not escape its small inhabitants: deer, badgers and foxes live in freedom in its interior and contribute to biological and environmental richness of the area.
The only archipelago of the Italian Adriatic, the Tremiti are a group of 5 islands belonging to the Municipality of Foggia, but reachable by train from Termoli, in Molise. Only 2 are inhabited, namely San Nicola and San Domino, while the others (Capraia, Cretaccio and Pianosa) can be visited only by sea and for short day trips. The distance from the mainland and their ten-year predisposition to tourism, makes these islands a true earthly paradise and it’s the best solution in case you want a vacation characterized by sea, sun and natural caves. Among all, that of the “Bue Marino” (so called by the presence – now ceased – of monk seals) in San Domino is certainly the most famous and evocative.
Castel del Monte
In the area called Alta Murgia, you come across one of the most visited monuments in all of Puglia: Castel del Monte. Its fame attracts tourists from all over the world and is linked both to its origins and to its unusual form. Located on a hill (the “Monte” in fact) of the Murge chain, a few kilometers from Andria, the castle was built at the behest of Frederick II in the 13th century. Since 1996 it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site also due to its original architecture. In fact, the castle has an octagonal plan and this, as well as the absence of elements typical of military or residential fortifications of the time (such as ditches or stables for animals), have fueled the legend that it was actually a construction linked to the cult of the Templars, with a strong symbolic value rather than a practical one.
What to see in Puglia: the Land of Bari
There is no doubt that Bari is one of the essential cities. However, some uncertainty may arise in approaching everything that surrounds it: the Land of Bari is indeed a place full of tourist attractions and it is easy to find oneself in the embarrassment of not knowing how to choose where to start. Our advice? The Valle d’Itria, naturally by bicycle!
Discovering Itria Valley
Set between Bari, Brindisi and Taranto, the Valle d’Itria is also known as the “Valle dei Trulli”: these typical Apulian buildings connect the three provinces, in a landscape made of olive trees, red soil and ancient villages on which the blue line of the sea can be seen in the distance. To visit this area properly, starting from Matera and going as far as Lecce, it takes just 8 days and a bit of desire to pedal: the reward will be an indelible experience in your memories, rewarding for the spirit and the body.
Alberobello is an enchanted village: in its historical center there are in fact rows of ancient trulli, once peasant dwellings, today used mostly as small craft shops. On their roofs hearts, suns, moons and other murals enrich the imagination of those who visit the country, but to discover their meaning you just need to ask the locals: they will be more than happy to tell you their story.
The tour of the Itria valley continues in the direction of Ostuni, the “White City” as defined by most. Extremely picturesque, Ostuni in fact climbs on three hills: it offers narrow streets, buildings perched on top of each other and breathtaking views of the Valley. The dominant color can only be white: a whiteness interrupted only here and there by flowers and colored doors, like the famous door of Ostuni that seems to lean directly over the plain.
Before arriving in Ostuni, it’s possible to find Locorotondo, a small Apulian village known above all for an unmistakable characteristic: Locorotondo develops on a circular plant as you can see from a distance. From here, what strikes beyond its circularity, are the roofs of the houses: called “cummerse” in dialect, in fact they have the peculiarity of being very sloping, original trait of the local architecture.
Castellana is also one of the little towns of Valle d’Itria, famous for its Caves. They are one of the most important and spectacular natural treasures of the region. With underground tunnels that wind up to 122 meters below the surface and for a total length of over 3 thousand meters, the Castellana Caves are real millennial rooms covered by karst formations of inestimable beauty: stalactites, stalagmites and monumental concretions make of this journey into the earth’s depths a surreal and fascinating experience, for young and old.
Its name derives from the Aragonese lookout that marks the border on one side, while on the other we think the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic define the white, green and blue profile of this protected oasis. Unspoiled Eden, Torre Guaceto extends for about 8 kilometers and preserves some of the most beautiful beaches in Puglia. Even here, as in the Gargano, nature reigns supreme, which, undisturbed, has managed over time to preserve and reproduce in specimens of otherwise rare flora and fauna. Sports, botany and sea lovers can’t miss the chance to visit this reserve, which can only be visited in some places and only on foot.
Polignano and Monopoli
What do Polignano and Monopoli have in common? First: they are both seaside towns, located in Puglia a few kilometers from each other. Second: both are easily accessible by bicycle. Why visit them? The first because it is among the most photographed destinations in the region: its houses overlooking the cliff are in fact the most original you will ever see in Puglia and beyond. Illuminated by the rays of the setting sun, its terraces overlooking the sea are full of couples and tourists, but as soon as the lights fall its historic center comes alive with music, food and chic clubs: perfect for nightlife.
Monopoli is famous instead for its relaxed, almost timeless atmosphere: a small fishing village, with the pier, the bastion and the town beach, has the authenticity of southern life, that of sunny benches and white walls, of the elderly at the window and clothes hanging. On the horizon, the sea.
What to see in Salento
It’s impossible to answer exhaustively the request of what to see in Salento, also because the Salento includes a rather large area of Puglia that goes from the provinces of Brindisi and Taranto to the south of Lecce and is touched by two seas, the Adriatic to east and Ionic west. But surely you can’t go wrong if you recommend, among the cities to visit in this sub-region, its capital: the baroque Lecce and Otranto. Innumerable squares and churches adorned in the famous seventeenth-century style, of Spanish imprint, and built in local limestone with light and almost golden tones, welcome visitors with warmth and majesty. The gastronomic culture of Salento and genuine hospitality do the rest: in Lecce it’s possible to taste some of the typical Apulian specialties and let yourself be conquered by the rustic spirit of the inhabitants of the place, obviously at the sound of pizzica and tarantella.
Feeling at home in Puglia will be very easy and even if you were not able to see all its attractions at once, it will always be possible to return, even better if for a guided tours and self guided tour to discover its most secret wonders. Not bad, right?