Family Friendly Puglia

Rebecca Winke's pick of things to do with kids in Apulia

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Rebecca  Winke

Rebecca Winke
HomeAway travel expert


Santa Cesarea Terme dal MarePuglia—or, more specifically, the Salento Peninsula that forms the heel of Italy’s “boot”—is a fantastic destination for families, both for the wide range of things to do and see packed into this relatively compact area, and for the laid-back, kid-friendly pace that characterizes much of southern Italy.

Though the region of Puglia itself is surprisingly long (a fact that becomes stark when travelling through by car, by far the best way to visit), the Salento Peninsula covers only the bottom third of the region, bordered to the east by the Adriatic Sea and to the west by the Ionian.

 
Rebecca's favourite on family holidays in Puglia

  The best stop to view trulli is the tiny town of Alberobello in the Itria Valley, where the Rione Monti neighbourhood is home to around 1,000 of these structures.

  After a day at Torre Guaceto, head to newly revived Brindisi for a walk along the port and dinner at one of the waterside restaurants or pizzerie.

 Lecce has one of the most breathtaking luminarie displays for the Feast Days of Patron Saints Oronzo, Giusto, and Fortunato at the end of August.

 Near the Grotta Zinzulusa, Santa Cesarea offers thermal baths where families can “take the waters” in the sulphur pool or simply spend time at the pretty beach.

 After a day at ZooSafari, soothe yourself with a bit of culture in Ostuni’s main piazza, gazing upon the Cathedral’s gorgeous facade and sipping a nice aperitivo. Your kids can order non-alcoholic drinks (colourful juice concoctions) and snack on peanuts and chips while you all regroup.
 
 
 

Kid-friendly favourites in Puglia


   

Trulli Trulli

In the Itria Valley on Salento’s northern-most border, the rolling landscape is dotted with one of Puglia’s most iconic architectural features: 19th-century trulli—small, round and whitewashed dwellings topped with conical limestone roofs—which look like they could be inhabited by fairies or hobbits, or a combination.

Instead, these whimsical buildings were built by peasant farmers in the countryside as a rough shelter, easy and fast to build as the walls are dry-stone masonry, as are the limestone slabs forming the cone-shaped roofs. Either single buildings or in clusters of up to five or six, trulli are topped with fantastical sandstone pinnacles carved into a variety of shapes, which sometimes served as the signature of the trulli’s mason. Some roofs also have have sacred symbols whitewashed onto the limestone slabs. Kids love these playhouse-like structures, many of which are now holiday homes, shops, and restaurants.

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Beaches Beaches

Puglia has one of Italy’s longest shorelines, stretching more than 800 kilometers (about 80% of which is safe to swim). The advantage of Salento is that there is rarely a day that can’t be spent at the beach—if the wind is too strong on the Adriatic side, it’s a quick drive across the peninsula to the Ionian and a different weather front.

The beaches are both non-serviced spiagge libere and lined by stabilimenti (lido facilities offering rental chairs and umbrellas, changing rooms, showers, refreshment stands or full-on restaurants). One of my favourite kid-friendly beaches is the Torre Guaceto nature and marine sanctuary. The area stretches almost six kilometres, encompassing pristine beach, dunes, and Mediterranean woods. There is a mini-train transport from the parking lot to the beach, bike and walking paths, and rental chairs, umbrellas, bikes, and a refreshment stand at the Apani Service Area at the southern end of the reserve.

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Feste Feste

Puglia is a region of emigrants, many of which visit their hometowns to see friends and family during the summer months. This influx means that many of Puglia’s small towns celebrate their patron saints during the period running from May to September (even those that have their official Feast Day during the winter months), so their returning citizens can have a chance to participate. Good news for families visiting during those months as well, as nothing is more fun for kids than a raucous Patron Saint celebration in one of Puglia’s small (and not so small) towns.

Marked by fantastical fairy-light decorations called luminarie lining the main corso and piazza, and usually including a market, band, taranta dancing and fireworks, these feste offer a fun, casual evening when you can rub elbows with small town Puglians and get a close-up look at their local traditions and culture. The Feast Day celebrations (and food festivals, which generally have the same vibe) are usually advertised with large posters along the roadside, but the best way to see a complete listing is to pick up a copy of quiSalento, a monthly tourism and events magazine, at a newsstand. The publication is only in Italian, but it’s easy to decipher the locales and dates of each town’s summer festival.

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Caves Caves

Salento has two fantastic caves, both easily explorable for all ages. The Grotta Zinzulusa on the east coast between Castro and Santa Cesarea Terme opens directly into the sea, and stretches for almost 150 metres through three separate chambers into the rock cliff. Remarkable for the number and variety of fauna, this is a fascinating cave to explore by boat and on foot. During the summer, waiting times can get long; the surrounding area is beautiful, so take advantage of the day to explore the coastline.

To the north, the much larger Grotte di Castellana is a jaw-dropping series of caves both for the incredible stalactite and stalagmite formations and for the sheer size: almost 3 kilometres in length at a depth of 70 metres. The wait to get in can be daunting in the high season, but you can buy tickets to either of the two routes (one longer than the other) in advance online (there are tours in English) to jump the queue and start your adventure. Be sure to bring a jacket; it gets chilly inside the caves!

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Fasano Zoosafari Fasano Zoosafari

Sometimes you have to sell your soul just a little to keep everyone happy, and this is the spirit in which parents should approach Fasano ZooSafari. You may be silently interrogating yourself about the fuzzy ethics of zoos in general—especially ones in which animals spend their days within metres of running vehicles—but I can guarantee you that your kids will be over the moon at the thought of the no-barriers-between-you-and-the-lions set-up of this drive-through wildlife park. Yes, that’s right, after going through a vaguely Jurassic Park-like set of giant gates, you roll up your windows and drive right through the enclosures of lions, tigers, and bears. Oh, my.

I admit that there was a bit of a thrill watching the earth’s largest mammals through the thin glass of my car window, and it was an unmitigated hit with everyone under about 20 years of age. I highly recommend you use the washroom before beginning your safari (in high season, the traffic is bumper to bumper and going at a snail’s pace for the entire two kilometres of the route) and you don’t want your five year old to decide he needs to use the loo while stuck in the middle of the lion enclosure. Also, make sure your car doesn’t tend to overheat if stuck in traffic.

After the driving route, visitors park in the lot and continue on foot through a pedestrian section of the zoo including primates, reptiles, and birds. There are also a number of amusement park rides, restaurants and refreshment stands. Though it may be hard to admit, you’ll probably find this one of your most enjoyable days in Salento.

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Images

Main image by Laurent
Trulli by Marcock
Beaches by Yoruno
Feste by Salento81
Caves by Shaw
Fasano Zoosafari by thebrockeninglory

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