Discover the heel of Italy’s Boot
The heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia, is bigger than you might expect. This heel of land that extends out into the sea towards Greece has two coastlines: the Adriatic and the Ionian. Even though it’s less known, Puglia will give you all you want from a trip to Italy. It’s one of the most underexplored regions of Italy, offering "la dolce vita" without the crazy crowds. Think cute towns with chalk-white houses, gentle olive groves, and cobbled streets decorated with Vespas and Fiat 500s.
There’s plenty to discover. Beyond the region’s hotspots, there are nature reserves, caves, medieval towns, and miles of coast to explore, not to mention the region’s main attraction: food.
The main city in the region is Bari, home to the airport. It might not match Venice in beauty, but Bari is an atmospheric city with lively nightlife, a historic university, and excellent museums.
See: Beyond the airport, you’ll find the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town dominated by the Basilica di San Nicola and the 12th-century castle, Castello Svevo. Tickets are cheap and it's easy to reach by walking from the center of the city.
Stay: The Nicolaus Hotel is located between downtown and the airport, with a free airport shuttle service and bike rental. The hotel is in the heart of Poggiofranco, a lively neighborhood, a few steps from Bari's city center.
POLIGNANO A MARE
About 20 miles south of Bari, Polignano has a compact medieval quarter. This small town has a postcard-pretty beach. Lama Monachile Beach, also known as Cala Porte, is one of the region's most photographed. With the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea and dramatic cliffs, it is a place not to be missed.
See: Castellana Grotte (about 12 miles south of Polignano a Mare) is a labyrinth of passages and caverns, a welcome diversion on a hot summer day.
Stay: San Lorenzo Boutique Hotel & Spa With 24 chic rooms, this boutique hotel enjoys a breathtaking panoramic view. For the ultimate vacation experience, visit the SENSO SPA and soak up the Southern sun in the outdoor pool.
Salento is the sun-kissed south of Puglia at the heel of Italy's boot. Unspoiled beaches, good food, affordable prices – and fewer tourists – await those who venture here. It is a hot, dry, agricultural area carpeted with vineyards, olive groves, and pretty towns.
Eat: Antico Monastero, Felline
This family-run trattoria is worth seeking out for its good Salentine food and its setting in a pretty piazza. Try their rustic dishes for the full experience.
Lecce, known as “Florence of the South”, is the main city of the Salentine Peninsula. Lecce flourishes with the carved sandstone of its cathedrals and piazzas. The city even has its own distinctive take on this architectural style - Barocco leccese (Lecce baroque). Atmosphere and cuisine are the main attractions here, with rustic cuisine available at the many wine bars and cafes that spill onto the city's cobblestone lanes.
Do: Learn to make a variety of Pugliese dishes with one of the cook schools in the city. Best of all, you get to feast on your creations at the end, often with fine wine included.
Stay: Malìa is a boutique B&B designed by owner-architect Laura. There are only three rooms, but each is gorgeous. Breakfast is served at a nearby cafe.
PEARL OF PUGLIA
Trani lies just north of Bari, and it became the lovely town it is today between the 11th and 13th centuries.
See: Trani's iconic seafront cathedral. An instantly recognizable landmark for sailors navigating the Adriatic Sea over the centuries, it is one of the finest in Italy.
Stay: Palazzo Paciotti is a stone’s throw from the cathedral and in the old Jewish quarter of town. It may have kept its ancient façade but now boasts a sleek modern interior.
Eat: II Pumo Trattoria Contemporanea is tucked away in the Jewish quarter and is a great option for lunch or dinner. For fine dining, book a table at Quintessenza. Last year, this restaurant moved to new, contemporary-style premises in a historic palazzo near Castello Svevo and Santa Maria Assunta cathedral, where a cellar, ground floor, and panoramic terrace provide a choice of dining areas. Run by the Di Gennaro family, who are passionate about modern Puglian cuisine, it is hardly surprising that it has one Michelin star. With high-quality cooking, it is worth a stop!
Puglia’s trulli: No Puglia trip would be complete without seeing the wonderful Trulli. These small beehive-like stone dwellings give the landscape the appearance of upturned ice-cream cones. Trulli exists because of tax evasion! They are most abundant in the Valle d’Itria, northwest of Salento.
Visit: The town of Alberobello. It boasts 1400 trulli in a maze of narrow streets. The ancient settlement is so well preserved that it has Unesco World Heritage status.
Stay: Grandi Trulli Bed & Breakfast. A two-minute walk from the church, it is over two floors, with a gorgeous en-suite bedroom within its roof, an outdoor terrace, and breakfast included.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Akien graduated from The University of Wollongong, Australia with an MA in Journalism with Distinction. Her writing has appeared in international travel magazines, as well as The Guardian newspaper. Although Amanda is based in the UK, she has traveled throughout Italy, even interning at a major modeling agency during Milan Fashion Week. Her favorite region is Tuscany - she loves Florence and is also partial to a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo!