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Puglia, or Apulia, is the southeastern region of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It's a long and narrow region with lots of coastline on both the Adriatic and Ionian seas, making it a great place for lovers of beaches, fresh seafood, and seaside towns. Puglia has a wealth of fascinating places to visit and is not yet overrun with tourists. It's the perfect place to have a relaxing vacation, eat well, and enjoy the slow-paced southern Italian life.
Puglia is one of Martha's favourite regions because of its slow pace, diversity, friendly people, and fantastic food. She has written about highlights of the region in her Puglia Travel Guide app.
Martha's tips for visiting Puglia
Give yourself plenty of time. Puglia is a great region to experience slow travel.
Don't miss the chance to go to a local festival. Southern Italy has many fun festivals; look for posters announcing a festa or sagra.
Driving is the best way to travel through Puglia. But try to take a trip on the small, private railway line, the Ferrovie del Sud Est, that connects many small towns in the south. It's like taking a step back in time.
Get away from the coast and visit some of the small inland towns.
For the freshest fish, eat at a Trabucco, a traditional fishing station where your meal will have been pulled out of the sea just hours before you eat it.
Martha's picks for seaside towns – from north to south
The whitewashed town of Peschici sits on a cliff on the Gargano Promontory, the spur of the boot and the northernmost part of Puglia. Wander around its small but charming historic centre, enclosed by walls, then head up to the Trabucco di Monte Pucci, the perfect place for a fresh seafood lunch hauled up from the sea on the spot that day (call 345.8933151 for reservation). After lunch you can use the Trabucco's small private beach and go for a swim in a cove. Stop at the watch tower above the road to the Trabucco for great views of the sea and town of Peschici.
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Trani has a picturesque harbour lined with seafood restaurants and a small but interesting historic centre. Trani's 12th-century cathedral, set in a beautiful location on an open square by the sea, is one of the best examples of a Romanesque church in Puglia. Fantastic Romanesque carvings decorate the exterior and the medieval bronze doors are from the late 12th century. The cathedral's interior has mostly been modernised but the crypt is still Romanesque in style and its pillars have Romanesque capitals. Stunning frescoes and floor mosaics decorate the interior. Near the cathedral is Trani's castle, commissioned by Frederick II of Swabia in 1230. The recently restored castle is open to the public and often hosts art exhibits and performances.
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Polignano a Mare
The picturesque medieval town of Polignano a Mare is perched dramatically on limestone cliffs above the Adriatic sea. Cafés, churches, and shops can be found in whitewashed buildings of the old town. It's a lively place in the evenings, especially in summer. Most of the restaurants and nightclubs are set around the edge of the old quarter, on the cliffs overlooking the sea. For a drink or dinner in a dramatic setting, stop in at Havana Bodeguita de Cuba or Ristorante Grotta Palazzese built into the cliffs. The sandy beach at Polignano a Mare, in a small bay sheltered by the towering limestone cliffs of the town, is one of the most popular beaches on this stretch of coast.
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Otranto is one of the most picturesque villages on the Salento Peninsula, the southernmost part of Puglia. The pedestrian streets and small alleys are lined with whitewashed buildings reminiscent of Greece. Most of the old town is still partially enclosed within the medieval walls and there's a castle at one end. Be sure to visit the Cathedral to see the stunning 12th-century floor mosaics and the unusual chapel of skulls, made with the bones and skulls of more than 800 martyrs killed in the Turkish invasion of 1480. The main street of the old town is lined with shops selling souvenirs, clothing, and pottery. Between the town walls and the sea, the Lungomare is a pleasant walking street with cafés and a park. Within walking distance of the centre is a small beach with views of town. Ristorante la Pignata is a good place to try the traditional dishes cooked in a clay pot.
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Across the Salento Peninsula, on the Ionian Sea, Gallipoli has an unusual old town built on a limestone island that's now connected to the mainland by a 16th-century bridge. The old town, enclosed by walls, is an interesting place to stroll through its maze of alleys. One of the courtyards, Corte Gallo, looks like an open-air ethnographic museum. Angiono Castle, probably built in the 11th century, stands near the entrance to the old town and guarded the old port, once part of an important trade route. A nice beach is just outside the city walls. For a good seafood lunch overlooking the sea, go to il Bastione.
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All images by Martha Bakerjian except Polignano a Mare, which is by Havana Bodeguita de Cuba
Puglia Beach Homes
Trullo Momentino has been completely redeveloped, retaining many original features, from a 200 year old stone trullo to a cosy, intimate holiday cottage for two people with its own private above ground pool (4.5m x 4.5m).
Accessed by a secure dri...
In the midst of a park of age-old olive trees and fruit trees, the villa overlooks a vast garden full of luxuriant vegetation and fragrant flowers of all species and colours from all over the world. For your privacy, secluded spots equipped with h...
Double gates lead into a secluded tiled courtyard boasting a private swimming pool, and timber gazebo providing by day, a shaded al-fresco dining area with contemporary garden and dining furniture beside the shimmering waters of the refreshing po...
Beautiful Villa, just 5 mins stroll from restaurants, beaches and amenities. Villa del Sole is newly renovated, upgraded and furnished to a very high standard, with a private swimming pool, walled gardens & courtyards and a traditionally brick bui...
Beautiful seaside holiday villa with a private pool, gardens and sun terrace close to the beaches. Complete with air-conditioned and totally renovated and modernised in 2011, Villa Azzurra is equipped and furnished to very high standards.