Puglia: The Gate To The Orient
A Paradise For Beach Lovers
Puglia is the heel to Italy’s boot, the most Eastern region of the country. The legend says that Aeneas, Italy’s mythological founder, landed on these shores. Puglia is also the Italian region with the largest coastal development (800 km of coastline, mostly sandy). Its amazing beaches lapped by unbelievable lapis-lazuli waters are world famous. The stretch of coast overlooking the Ionian Sea is nicknamed “The Maldives.”
On the land secular olive trees alternate with lovely traditional villages. The traditional architecture is endemic in Puglia. If you want to sleep in a trullo, you can only do so here. The beautiful masserie (farms) surrounded by fertile land will pamper the most demanding traveler. The Apulian Baroque, as light as lace, and the traditional cuisine, made with simple ingredients, will conquer your heart.
Despite the development of tourism, especially in summer, Puglia is a region yet to be discovered. Its remote location has kept it free from the frenetic development of contemporary life. Here the time passes slowly between old traditions and small daily rituals. The friendly and peaceful character of its inhabitants makes Puglia a naturally hospitable region and virtuous example of southern Italy.
The largest airport is the Airport of Bari Palese, but if you are traveling to Salento you may prefer the Salento and Brindisi Airport. Both have several international connections a day, some via Rome or Milan, served by companies such as Alitalia, British Airways and Ryanair. Daily trains and buses connect Puglia to Milan, Rome and Naples.
Puglia is difficult to reach, but easy to discover by car thanks to a good road network. The main rental companies (Avis, Hertz, Europcar) are in Bari, Foggia and Brindisi. There are two main axes in Puglia: the A14 highway, called Adriatica, runs along the coast; the A16, called Bari-Napoli, cuts across the region. Several trains connect the major cities.
Puglia is developed between the Adriatic and Ionian Sea. Along the coast alternate rocky shores and sandy beaches. The interior of the region is mostly flat and hilly – Puglia is the less mountainous region of Italy. There are two groups of islands off the coast: Tremiti archipelago, Northeast of the Gargano, and the Little Cheradi Islands, off the coast of Taranto.
Puglia has a Mediterranean climate. In July temperatures are between 16°C and 30°C, in January between 5°C and 13°C. The costal areas have warm, ventilated and dry summers, with mild winters. Rainfall is scarce. Areas with more altitude as the Daunian Apennine, Gargano and Alta Murgia, have cooler summers and possible snow in winter.
Top 5 Things To Do In Puglia
From architecture to music, Puglia is a world apart. Only here you can admire the ancient conical country houses called trulli or listen to the pizzica, the frenzied music of Salento. UNESCO recognizes two sites to the region: the trulli of Alberobello and Castel del Monte, the splendid Swabian castle with an octagonal plan. Discover the Apulian Baroque, famous for the lightness of its decoration, or get lost in the narrow streets of the delicious Apulian villages. You will not regret.
Puglia is known worldwide for its Caribbean beaches of fine white sand lapped by turquoise waters (especially on the Ionian Coast). But Puglia also features spectacular rocky coasts, with cliffs and sea caves (Gargano and the Tremiti Islands), deep green forests (the Umbrian Forest), incredible underground caves (Castellana Caves) and majestic canyons (in the Alta Murgia National Park). The inland is mostly flat and covered with huge olive trees, symbols of this ravishing land.
Covered by olive trees since the Romans, Puglia is Italy’s top olive oil producer. Taste the oil with the typical Altamura bread or with the seasonal ingredients Apulian cuisine uses: fish, vegetables, homemade pasta and legumes. The most typical dish is orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) with turnip greens. Mussels, octopus and sea urchins are often used to cook a delicious seafood risotto. Taste the caciocavallo cheese and do not forget the lemons from Gargano and the clementines from Taranto.
The best Apulian wines are red wines. Primitivo di Manduria, which is thought to have been brought here more than 2,000 years ago by the Illyrians, is the most famous, followed by Nero di Troia, imported by Frederick II of Swabia in the XIII century and characterized by an intense ruby red color which tends to black. If you prefer a bitter yet fruity lapel, taste the Negroamaro and, if you are in Salento, toasts with a glass of Salice Salentino or with one of the many organic wines of the region.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites In Puglia
Alberobello and Valle d’Itria
The charming village of Alberobello and the area surrounding it, the Valle d’Itria, are the ‘capital of the trulli’. These traditional rural houses built in limestone and often white-colored are a unique feature of Puglia. Trulli are unmistakable: circular shape and conical roofs, built in groups. UNESCO listed Alberobello among the World Heritage Sites as “an exceptional example of a form of building construction deriving from prehistoric construction techniques that have survived intact and functioning into the modern world”. Stroll Alberobello districts, discover the craft shops and then the nearby villages of Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Castellana Grotte, Fasano and Cisternino.
Lecce is world famous for its magnificent Baroque architecture. It was a Greek city, then conquered by the Romans who left several buildings, as the Roman Arena and the Roman Theater (both I century AD). But the most splendid jewel of this town is its Baroque style, which flourished in the 16th century. The white local limestone is carved by artists through refined techniques. Palazzi, terraces and churches are decorated as if with laces. The archeological area of Piazza del Duomo, one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, is a masterpiece. The cathedral, with its 70 meters bell tower, the Palazzo Vescovile and the Seminario of the Renaissance are surrounded by Baroque buildings. Truly a place to be.
A white jewel lapped by turquoise water: this is the fortified town of Otranto, the most eastern Italian town. Visit the imposing Aragonese Castle and the Cathedral of the Annunciation, built on the highest point of the town, with its mosaics representing the Tree of Life. Do not miss the church of San Pietro, one of the most important examples of Byzantine architecture from Puglia. Wander the narrow streets of the old town and harbor, between typical shops and small restaurants. Stop on the city’s ramparts overlooking the sea and choose one of the many bars for a drink. If you have time explore the amazing Caribbean beaches nearby, including the best known, Baia dei Turchi (Bay of the Turks).
Polignano a Mare
Suggestively built on a cliff carved by the waters of the Adriatic Sea, Polignano a Mare is one of the most beautiful villages of Italy. Its old town, with a maze of narrow streets, ancient churches, delicious restaurants and loggias overlooking the sea, will enchant you. Visit Piazza dell’Orologio and do not miss the beautiful beach Lama Monachile, right in the center of the village, surrounded by high cliffs. Here, especially during the summer evenings, gather the nightlife. Visit the Abbey of San Vito and indulge in a meal in the world famous restaurant Grotta Palazzese, housed in an amazing cave overlooking the sea. Then take a boat and discover the sea caves that characterize the coast of Polignano.
Completely covered in snowy lime, this fairy tail town is nicknamed the “White Town”. It is built on three hills at the southern foot of the Murgia, dominating the countryside. The Aragonese walls protect an architectural jewel of light that changes color with the sun. The historic center is a labyrinth of narrow streets where it is worth getting lost. Discover the Gothic Cathedral, featuring the largest Italian rose window, the Bishop’s Palace and the Loggia, the majestic church of San Giacomo di Compostella and the rococo church of San Vito Lo Martire. The summer nightlife is very rich, with street aperitifs and night dinners (in the summer you can eat until midnight). Do not miss Ostuni at sunset.
Castel del Monte
This magnificent XIII century castle built by the Emperor Frederick II of Swabia near Bari is world famous in its octagonal shape with a tower at each side. It is considered a masterpiece of medieval architecture and is part of UNESCO World Heritage sites thanks to “its formal perfection and its harmonious blending of cultural elements from northern Europe, the Muslim world, and classical antiquity. Castel del Monte is a unique masterpiece of medieval military architecture, reflecting the humanism of its founder”. Visit the large rooms of the castle in the early morning (the castle opens at 9 am). A guided tour or a good guide will make you fully enjoy all the magic of this mysterious place.
Gargano National Park
Gargano is the spur of Italy. This promontory powerfully overlooking the sea has a fantastic geography. Karstic shapes, white cliffs, sea caves and Caribbean beaches characterize the landscape. The hinterland is famous for its beautiful Foresta Umbra (Umbrian Forest), with monumental trees and the largest variety of orchids in Europe. Wetlands provide a perfect habitat for migratory birds and birdwatchers. All this extremely diverse area is part of the Gargano National Park, a real paradise for nature lovers. After doing trekking, cycling, canoeing and having enjoyed postcard beaches among the most beautiful in Italy, pay a visit to the coastal town of Vieste, the ‘Pearl of Gargano’.
If you are looking for heavenly beaches, fine sand and crystal clear water, then stay in Salento, the southernmost part of Puglia. The Salento coast offers 200 km of beaches overlooking two seas, the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea. The Ionian coast is known for hosting ‘the Maldives of Salento’, the tropical paradise around Pescoluse. On the Adriatic coast, the Baia dei Turchi beach, near Otranto, is another place not to be missed. The beach of Torre Lapillo is ideal for snorkeling and the one of Punta Prosciutto is perfect for families. Do not miss the wild beauty of the coast of Torre Guaceto and, if you are looking for social life, then reach Punta della Suina, the most trendy beach near Gallipoli.
Alta Murgia National Park
Formed over thousands of years by the forces of erosion, the Alta Murgia National Park is known for its rugged natural beauty and geology. Visit the Canyon of Gravina di Puglia or the karst sinkholes of Pulo and Pulicchio. Discover this unique example of Mediterranean steppe in Italy, home to one of the most populous groups of hawks in Europe. The park is also the richest paleontological reservoir in the world (the Man of Altamura, 130 / 170,000 years ago, was found here). The human presence is everywhere. Dry stone constructions used for the transhumance of animals, Trulli, cave churches, Romanesque cathedrals and mighty farms dot the area. The highlight is the XIII century castle Castel del Monte.
Nicknamed “the pearls of the Adriatic”, the Tremiti Islands are located 12 miles off the coast of Gargano. The archipelago consists of 5 islands: San Domino (the main, with accommodation and nightlife), San Nicola (with a beautiful old town), Capraia (uninhabited), Cretaccio (little more than a rock) and Pianosa (nature reserve). The archipelago has a dramatic coastline, mainly rocky. Enjoy Cala delle Arene, the only sandy beach of the islands, or Cala Matano, sheer to the sea. Take aboat trip to the sea caves of Viole, Bue Marino and Rondinelle up to the Faraglioni dei Pagliai. Discover the islands by bike, trekking or following one of the 23 divers paths that make the Tremiti a paradise for snorkeling and diving.
Considered the most important speleological complex of Italy and among the most important in Europe, the Castellana Caves are valued for the amount of crystalline concretions, the considerable extension (3 km) and the spectacular vastness of the natural galleries. The colossal stalactites and stalagmites, the large caverns, columns and precious crystals are the result of the erosion of an ancient underground river that has dug the Murgia Barese. The natural entrance of the cave consists of a huge 60-meter deep chasm called the Grave. The most famous room is the Grotta Bianca (White Cave), a majestic alabaster glow that will leave you speechless. The caves are open all year round.
Faraglioni di Sant’Andrea
The white Faraglioni di Sant’Andrea, on the Adriatic coast near Otranto, are a work of art of nature. Dive into the crystal clear water, with colors from blue to emerald, and swim under the natural arch that makes the stacks inimitable. Discover the famous “cave of lovers”, or take a stroll along this spectacular, jagged coastline dotted with numerous coves and sandy beaches that appear at low tide. Behind the Faraglioni, inland, you will find a pine forest that is perfect for a quiet stroll. The stacks of Sant’Andrea have no bathing establishments, but in summer the first beach you meet coming is quite populated. If you are looking for privacy, walk further along the coast.
A Short History Of Puglia
The human settlement in Puglia dates back at least to 250,000 years ago, as is testified by the discovery of several menhirs and dolmens. Puglia was also a very important region in the Hellenistic era, when many Greek colonies were settled here, especially on the south coast of Salento. Greek culture is deeply rooted in Puglia, even in the language: the dialect Griko comes straight from Homer’s language.
The Romans soon understood the strategic importance of this land and occupied it with great difficulty in the third century BC. They built two roads connecting Rome to its new province, the Appia and the Traiana roads, and they made of Puglia the leading producer of olive oil and wheat of the Empire. The main export market for these products was the East. Puglia thus became the gate to the Orient.
Frederick II of Swabia
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Puglia went through a period of poverty and depression. Many populations invaded the region, which finally came under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, the Normans and the Swabians. Especially with the Swabians, Puglia recovered its splendor. The peak was reached with Frederick II of Swabia, who realized a series of secular and religious buildings of huge artistic value.
Between 1200 and 1400, Puglia became part of the Kingdom of Naples and Spain. In this period the power of the landowners in the area began to take root and this process went on after 1734 when, with the Battle of Bitonto, Puglia passed to the Bourbons, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. At the beginning of 1800 the French conquered the area and abolished feudalism. Puglia became part of Italy in 1861.