What to see and do in Puglia, Italy

Nikki ParkinsonTravel 32 Comments

I’m sitting on a beach chair under an umbrella staring out at a sparkling sea of turquoise and sapphire hues.

It’s near lunch time and the only thing beckoning is a Spritz* and anti pasti at a nearby trattoria.

Life IS good.

It’s something I’ve hashtagged a lot this past week.

When my beautiful friend Simone emailed about six months ago and said her family would be holidaying in the south of Italy at the time we’d planned to visit them and would it suit us to see this part of the country instead of the big name cities, it took about 30 seconds to say YES.

The big-ticket cities and attractions of Italy will always be there. A chance to explore a region not often on the tourist trek with good friends who spoke Italian and had an understanding of the Italian “way” would not.

So where have we been?

Picture a map of Italy. Right down the bottom of the boot – on the stiletto heel – is a region called Puglia. The coastline at the very tip of the heel is known as the Salento Coast.

We’ve visited five different towns/cities in this region, driving in between along stunning coastlines.

We’ve awed at the mixed and varied history this region has been built on, thanks in no small part to its vulnerability to invasion and settlement from other nations.

We’ve collectively had our fill of pizza, pasta and prosecco.

We’ve swam in the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian.

We’ve embraced the mid-afternoon siesta … so that we can embrace eating at 9pm.

We’ve laughed and shared stories while making memories to last a lifetime.

The stuff of holiday bliss.

what to see and do Puglia, Italy

Where to visit

This is a purely subjective list of what to see and do in Puglia and is based on what we’ve done and where we’ve stayed in such a short time. You could spend weeks in this region alone and still not see everything.

Lecce: Our first night was in this beautiful baroque university town, staying in a B&B in the old town, wandering the cobblestone streets filled with soft local sandstone buildings in the evening for dinner before leaving our son with our friends’ teenagers for a cocktail or three across the narrow street from our accommodation. You can’t plan such a find but a find it was – quanto basta was manned by two men who were part-scientists and part actors in their cocktail-making ways.  (It was also in Lecce that I also had one of those “small world” moments … Brisbane’s Danielle Crismani, the amazing woman behind #bakedrelief arrived in town that very same day. We didn’t meet up but the odds were crazy – especially as we only ran into one other Australian family the entire week we were here.)

Lecce, Puglia Italy

Lecce, Puglia Italy

Lecce, Puglia Italy

Otranto: Next stop was two nights in an apartment in the harbour town of Otranto. It too has an old town, perched up on the hill, which comes alive in the evening for dinner, shopping and bar hopping. The town’s main beach (sand) is heavily crowded. Venture north to sand beaches like Baia dei Turchi and you may find a spot with fewer people.

Baia dei Turchi, Puglia, Italy

Otranto Puglia Italy

Otranto, Puglia, Italy

Santa Maria di Leuca: This town is at the very the tip of Italy’s stiletto and is the dividing line between the Ionian and Adriatic Seas. There is a small sand beach on the promenade in town but the real beauty of this area is found in the grotto (coastal caves) just north of the main town. We easily walked over flat rock formations to set up a camp for the morning, swimming, diving and exploring the caves for a couple of hours. It’s a good idea to wear reef shoes to protect your feet from the rocks and sea urchins.

Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia Italy

Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia Italy

Santa Maria di Leuca, Puglia Italy

Gallipoli: The last stop was probably the sweetest. Gallipoli is a modern city connected via a bridge to the island, which is the old town. High walls surround the town – built to protect it against attacks from the sea. It’s an important fishing centre for Italy so has a dynamic that extends beyond the summer tourism season. If you’re a sucker for a sunset over the water, you’ll get your fill at the tip of this island port.

Gallipoli, Puglia, Italy

Gallipoli, Puglia, Italy

Gallipoli, Puglia, Italy


Gallipoli, Puglia, Italy

Gallipoli, Puglia, Italy

What to eat

Our friends have been living in Italy for almost a year now and use the “Margherita pizza index”, as a first indicator as to the value and quality of an otherwise unknown restaurant or trattoria.  Their benchmark is 4 Euros per pizza – anything above that, you’re paying too much; below that, quality will not be up to scratch.  And we’re talking the equivalent of a large pizza in Australia for that money too.

Pizza, Puglia Italy

Eating out was on the whole very good value. You can also choose to self cater (a good idea for breakfast in particular as breakfast isn’t really a thing in Italy – coffee and a pastry is about it) buying up fresh produce, breads, mozzarella, ham and eggs from a local, small supermarket.

If you’re gluten intolerant like me, you won’t find anything labelled as gluten-free. You will rely on your own knowledge and guesswork to work your way around a menu. I had success all week with anti pasti, caprese salads, capaccio and grilled seafood.

Anti Pasti, Puglia Italy

Carpaccio, Puglia Italy

Each region in Italy has its “typical” offerings, food or dishes particular to the area. In Puglia, the typical pasta is orecchiette (little ears) pasta; the summer coffee (caffe con latte di mandorla) is an espresso with two ice cubes and a dash of sweetened almond milk; the pastry is a pasticciotto shortcrust oval mini pie filled with creamy custard.

Iced espresso and almond milk and pasticciotto - typical Puglia, Italy

The afternoon drink of choice anywhere in Italy? Spritz – a refreshing mix of Aperol liqueur, prosecco and soda water served mostly in a wine glass with a slice of orange.

Spritz - Puglia, Italy

Oh and, of course, every day calls for gelati … sometimes two.

Gelati, Puglia Italy

Where to stay

My girlfriend booked all our accommodation. She has been doing this type of travelling with her family for years and knows how to find the right places in the right locations, offering value for money. We paid on average 100 Euros a night for our room or apartment. Researching this trip started with a blogs (Expats Blog; Never Ending Voyage), which then led her down the Google rabbit hole to pinpoint the must-see towns. From there she used booking.com to book a combination of B&Bs and apartments. She reads through the reviews and where possible opted for “old town” locations.

Here’s where we stayed. I can recommend all for cleanliness and location. All except our house in Santa Maria di Leuca had access to wi-fi.

Nonna Jole B&B, Lecce, Italy

Lecce: Nonna Jole B&B

Otranto: Residence Catona

Santa Maria di Leuca: Casa Mediterranea

Gallipoli: Residence Kale

Brindisi: (night before our flight to Milan) Regina Margherita B&B

What to wear

The high summer part of my European travelling wardrobe got a good workout – each piece packed justified its suitcase space. We enjoyed hot, fine days (tops of high 20s to early 30s with mild evenings averaging 20 degrees celcius). The hottest time of the day is between about 2-5pm (another tick for siestas).

I wore a mix of summer dresses, swimsuit cover-ups, and shorts and tanks with a lightweight shirt on top. I wore a scarf most days to help prevent incidental sun exposure while walking everywhere and at night as an extra if the coastal winds got a bit cool.

Puglia Italy-0040

Puglia Italy-0038

Puglia Italy-0035

Puglia Italy-0037

Puglia Italy-0036

Puglia Italy-0031

Puglia Italy-0018


Most of the streets we walked in the evening were cobblestoned so flat sandals or comfortable wedges were the go. Thongs were very acceptable during the day.

The dress was very relaxed – as is most things in the south of Italy – but women would typically add on an accessory or a dressier outfit piece for the evening.

How to get there and get around

We flew (budget airline) RyanAir from Paris to Brindisi and then hired a car to pick up at Brindisi Airport for the duration. We booked our car through carrentals.com and paid about $500 for the week for a Peugeot SUV – an upgrade from the VW Golf booked.

In each town it was mostly a case of parking the car (in the old towns parking was not near the accommodation) and walking on foot while there – a good way to earn that Spritz or gelati, yes?

Our friends told us that July may be busy with Italians holidaying in this region (and the whole of Italy) but August will be even busier with other Europeans taking their summer holidays. They advised if you can travel outside of August then it will be easier for you.

Thanks for following along on our European holiday. Sadly it all comes to an end tomorrow when we make the trek home. We’re already planning our next trip. That happens when you get a taste for travel, doesn’t it?

What I’d love to hear from you is if you’ve visited Puglia, Italy before? And if we were to make a return to Italy, what region or city should we visit?

Comments 32

  1. Hey Nikki, You went to all the places that we didn’t get around to. These are all on the list for next time! Gallipoli looks stunning. Your foodie photos are epic, making me hungry already and want to go back!

  2. Oh my
    I am bookmarking this for a dream Italian trip when my youngest finishes high school…just me and Mr Cheekie…
    That water … the colours are exquisite
    Oh, I lived for afternoon Spritz’s when I was in Verona…
    Thank you for sharing, how magnificent.

  3. Your pictures are beautiful Nikki I’ve always wanted to go to Italy since I saw the move Eat Pray Love and now even more so! I really think I could get used to living like an Italian….. hello siestas and gelati and lots of fresh food.I’m putting this part of Italy on my bucket list.
    Thank you so very much for sharing your family holiday with us Xx

  4. Honestly… the beach is enough to make us want to go and see Puglia! Looks like it was a fun filled (delicious filled) trip! <3 Safe travels home! e + c

    1. Oh you girls would love it … except for navigating the eating out. Not sure paleo has made it to Puglia!! In Milan, I saw my first green smoothie/healthy food in the food hall of a department store.

    2. Oh you girls would love it … except for navigating the eating out. Not sure paleo has made it to Puglia!! In Milan, I saw my first green smoothie/healthy food in the food hall of a department store.

  5. It’s been a long time since I visited Puglia (must rectify that) and the last time I was there, there were 4 of us travelling in a Ford Transit van (you get the picture). I promised myself that when I returned I stay in a Trulli so that’s on my to-do list. If you were to return I’d highly recommend Umbria – it is amazing. Beautiful hill top villages, wineries, great food (truffles, porchetta..) and so much more. Have loved following along on your travels. Good luck with the return journey and perhaps there’ll soon be a blog post on ‘tips for jetlag’ – tee hee!!

    1. We will return Leanne, that’s for sure! And 4 in a transit van – hah! Re the jet lag thing, I don’t have a secret on that but it might be a good one to put out to the SY audience for their tips. Our flight in was great as we got to the hotel at 9.30pm so could sleep on London time. Coming home will be the same so will see if that makes a difference. At Singapore Airport now feeling less than fresh!

  6. I haven’t been to Puglia, but I have been to Imperia – Ventimiglia – which is just over the French/Italian border and 30mins from Monaco. It is sublime and a wonderful spot to take advantage of being able to explore the best of Italy AND France. We are lucky to have family that have two apartments in Airole, about 30mins into the mountains behind Ventimiglia, and the vistas are stunning. You’re far enough away from the bustle of the coast, yet close enough to enjoy it. There are some wonderful towns to explore – fly into Nice, then drive into Monte Carlo, Mentone, Latte, Ventimiglia, Bordighera, San Remo… it’s all beautiful and some amazing contrasts. And of course you can also go the other way from Nice towards Cannes and Antibes. I highly recommend allowing 2 weeks to really explore and enjoy everything this incredible region has to offer. It’s my favorite place on the planet. The train is also an easy way to get around and the line between Monaco and Ventimiglia is one of the best kept secrets! Sigh. I can’t wait to go back.

    1. Oh that’s now very much on the list Marissa. My husband’s godparents have friends who have a villa in that region and they were telling us how wonderful the location was as they holiday there most years.

  7. This post has warmed up this very cold Adelaide girl’s heart! Love the concept of the caffe con latte di mandorla – I currently drink that every morning (minus the ice cubes, of course). Our favourite spot in Italy on our honeymoon was the Amalfi coast. I’d love to head back there again in the summer to enjoy it the way you have. Bellissimo!

  8. Those blues are magnificent! I have not spent time this far south in Italy, but it’s definitely on the list. I have been to the Greek Islands in August and would agree it’s when Europeans are on holidays, so best avoided if you want to be able to make last minute choices of where to eat, drink or visit.
    You are so lucky to be travelling with Italian speakers and you really do want to be in small towns and by the water when it’s hot. We had 5 nights in Budapest in the high 30’s/low 40’s a couple of years ago and it was hard work. Far better to enjoy those city experiences in milder weather, I think.

    1. We were really lucky with our friends being able to speak the language – gave us confidence to go to an area not necessarily frequented by Aussies. The water was amazing – fresh and cool but swimmable.

  9. I am amazed by this! I was there 2 weeks before you in ALL those places! I wrote on one of your earlier posts about the difficulty of packing one suitcase for 4 months! 2 and a half in cold Connecticut/New York and then some weeks in Helsinki, St Petersburg and Lecce!

    Most people have never even heard of Lecce let alone visit it! We were there precisely because it is a university town as you noted. What a treasure! I ended up posting a photo of my husband and I on one of your FB posts standing in the same spot as one of your photos, which are beautiful and mostly better than mine!

    We also managed to have aperitifs while watching the sunset on the beach and a grand dinner in an old palace. Looks like you had the same great weather that we did! I hope you tried strawberry gelato. I can’t believe how much better strawberries taste in Europe and wish we could grow the same flavour here!

    Cinderella is back in Brisbane now! Thanks to the northern U.S. spring, I now have plenty of gear to wear when we get our horrible weather here next week!

  10. Wonderful wrap up of your holiday Nikki. Wonderful photos. Great idea to explore Puglia especially with friends. Big cities are great but too hot in summer and will be there next time. I love Italy so much I have had the opportunity to visit several regions. I loved Sicily, but also around Lerici in Liguria. It’s close to the Cinque Terre but not as touristy. And also so pretty. I’ve stay in St Remo, Lucca( adore this place) Spello, Urbania, lake Garda, Verona, Amalfi. Love it all! I hope you get to go back. Brisbanefrannie

  11. Our favourite place in Italy was Lucca in Tuscany, a beautiful walled City. We spent 5 nights there and didn’t tire of it. And of course Venice, yes a big City, but just so unique and picturesque.
    I very much enjoyed travelling vicariously with you Nikki, so thank you for sharing.

    1. Oh Jan, yes, I’ll be back to visit both your picks. Our friends were living outside of Venice for almost a year but are on the move for their last few months before returning to Australia. We missed that experience but got a fabulous one in return.

  12. it looks like you’ve had an absolutely wonderful holiday experience nikki! … thankyou for sharing it all with us! … magical light and that sea is something else! I will never forget my personal experience of/with Europe! I was needing pinching too! #iloveitalytoo! … love m:)X

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