Undiscovered Italy: Puglia

Published on: Monday, July 12, 2010
Undiscovered Italy: Puglia - feature


Puglia is one of Italy's hotspots, though often mistakenly billed as the country's new Tuscany. The differences are vast, but this fascinating region has a unique identity all of its own.

Located in the southeastern ‘heel’ of Italy, little-known Puglia actually covers a vast region of 19,345km (12,000 miles) and has a population of around four million. Although relatively unknown on the tourist trail, Puglia has it all – great food, delicious wine, beautiful beaches and fascinating culture. With the increasing number of luxury properties opening in the region, now is the perfect time to discover stunningly rural Puglia, while it remains largely tourist-free.

Beautiful beaches

Sun lovers should head to the enticing shallow waters of Marina di Pescoluse for a cool dip, or there is beach volleyball, football and tennis for the more active types. Otherwise, just grab a spot and watch the diversified crowd passing by. Access is through beach clubs, which charge varying entrance fees, but most are inexpensive and offer showers and changing facilites.

Divers should make their way to the unspoilt Tremeti islands. These five small islands make up the Gargano National Park and are great diving spots, while non-divers can spend their time exploring the deserted coves and hiking through the wooded interiors.

Bastion of history

Puglia is more than just a pretty face, with sights to satisfy even the most avid culture hunters. First stop should be the three UNESCO World Heritage sites in the region. The first of these, Castel del Monte, dates back to the 13th century when it was built by Emperor Frederick II.

Discover the history of the region at the ‘trulli’ town of Alborobello. Trullis are historical limestone constructions that were used as dwellings in and around the 15th century. Now, they’re mainly uninhabited apart from in the summer when visitors can stay a few nights in the unusual residences.

The third site, the Matera, Basilicata is the most visually arresting of the three – probably the reason why Mel Gibson chose it as the setting of the Holy Land in The Passion of the Christ. A white stone city, the town is dotted with ancient cave houses and churches that have been converted into stylish restaurants, hotels and homes.


The picturesque white city of Ostuni is the perfect example of a well-preserved medieval Italian town. Take in the hauntingly gothic 15th-century cathedral, or wander around the city’s narrow streets, cobbled alleys, steep stairs and picture-perfect piazzas. Pop into a trattoria in the bustling Piazza della Liberta for a leisurely lunch.

Another highlight of the region comes in the form of Lecce, a 16th-century town at Italy’s most southeasterly point, and a travel favourite for those in the know. You’ll either love or hate Lecce’s extravagant architecture, but it’s almost impossible to look on it with indifference. The pinnacle of baroque architecture can be found in the Basilica di Santa Croce; the lavish decoration of the interior and exterior is almost unrivalled throughout Italy.

In a country with an unrivalled reputation for a love of food and wine, it is no small thing to be named as the ‘wine and olive oil town’ as Salice Salentino has. The town is home to many of the country’s best known wineries such as Cantele De Falco, Taurino and Leone De Castris, and is the main producer of olive oil in Italy. For a taste of Puglian cuisine, Which includes mostly seafood, pasta, meat and cheese, the town has a handful of great eateries. Further afield, the best restaurant for Puglian dining is Ristorante Villa G.C. della Monica in Lecce (Via SS. Giacomo e Fillippo 40), which serves tasty dishes such as pasta with lobster sauce or well-seasoned beef with black truffle shavings.

Into the deep

Those who dare can delve into the deepest caves in Italy at the Castellana Caves. Otherwise known as the white caves, they’re famed for their otherworldly vistas and impressive central chamber, complete with stalactites. Visitors access the caves through a nerve-testing vertical tunnel that leads to the caves’ central chamber, or ‘The Grave’ as it is ominously known. Once inside visitors can head off on a fascinating tour of the formations.

Bedding down

Puglia’s new kid on the luxury block is Borgo Egnazia (www.borgoegnazia.com) – a chic village-style resort at the edge of the ancient city of Egnazia. Book yourself into one of the townhouses surrounding the central piazza and soak up the views of the sea.

The picture-perfect location is stunning, and a mere few minutes after leaving the room, you can be on the beach admiring the views or working on your swing at the challenging golf course. It’s the perfect escape from it all – stylish and well designed, it’s hard not to feel like Italian royalty in the plush rooms and suites, especially once you’ve had a stomach-stretching meal in one of the hotel’s two restaurants.

Villa Views

If you’re thinking of taking a trip with a few friends, try and get your hands on the stunning Villa San Michele (www.essentialitaly.co.uk). Set in five acres of produce-growing lands, the villa has a private swimming pool, and almond, walnut, mulberry fig and lemon trees ripe for the picking. Perfection.