Featuring the longest coastline of any Italian region, Puglia comes to life during the summer months, as tourists from near and far make their way to Italy's heel.
Framed by the Ionian and Adriatic seas, Puglia has an impressive coastline that stretches over 800 kilometres.
Its history is rich and complex, with the region invaded and conquered by many peoples. It was first settled by the Illyric people, before being colonised by the Greeks and then the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Puglia became occupied by the Lombards, followed by the Normans. At various points in history, the region has also been occupied by the French, Turkish, Austrian and Spanish; with their influence still evident today in some of Puglia’s impressive architecture.
Puglia’s most famous pieces of architecture are its trulli. These ancient limestone houses with conical roofs were constructed without the use of any mortar, a prehistoric building technique that is still used within the region.
Trulli are an ideal place to stay while visiting Puglia as there are many available for holiday hire.
The oldest trulli can be found in Alberobello – a small town in the Bari province, the region’s capital. These trulli have been recognised in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.
Also recognised by UNESCO is Castel del Monte, located in the town of Andria in Bari. The castle was commisioned by Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century and is built in a perfectly regular octagonal shape.
While in Bari, located in the centre of the region, there is a great deal to see and do. The city is divided into an ‘old town’ on a peninsula in the north which was once surrounded by medieval walls and the modern area in the centre which is home to many shops and offices.
The old part of town is dotted with ancient villages and buildings including the Basilica of San Nicola which was built in 1087. It overlooks the Adriatic Sea and is only a short walk from the harbour. The remains of St Nicholas lie beneath the altar in the crypt.
Originally built in the 11th century and then reconstructed in the 12th century, the Cathedral of San Sabino is another impressive sight. It is built on layers of ancient buildings – with a mosaic floor believed to date back to the fifth or sixth century. The Cathedral is surrounded by four major piazzas – Piazza Odegitira, Piazza San Sabino, Piazza Bisanzio and Piazza Rainaldo – which form a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys with many shops and restaurants.
Not far from the historic centre, the seaside promenade is great for a passeggiata. Fisherman can be seen unloading and selling their fish near the Margherita Theatre each morning.
Bari is also home to many inlets, cliffs and caves ready to be enjoyed – whether it be by surfing, sailing, diving, snorkelling or just relaxing in the beautiful and tranquil surroundings.
Seaside town Polignano is a sight to behold. This ancient Bari town is built on a spur of rock above clear blue waters. Its 12 kilometres of coastline is scattered with natural caves and small inlets, many of which can be accessed by boat. The beautiful unscathed sea bed is a haven for scuba divers.
uglia’s north western province is Foggia. The province is bordered by the Molise and Campania region and long stretches of sand that frame the striking blue sea. Here you’ll find the promontory of Gargano and the Tremiti Islands which are both popular holiday destinations during summer.
Gargano is a mountainous hinterland with a stunning coastline. It is characterised by crystal clear waters, exciting caves, stunning gardens, lush vegetation and natural beauty that has remained untarnished for centuries. The peninsula, which covers approximately 2015 square kilometres, is completely made of limestone and the National Park can be found in the promontory.
Aside from its natural beauty, Gargano is also home to some enticing castles.
The town of Manfredonia, situated under the Gargano, is the site of a medieval castle built by King Manfred of Swabia in the 13th century. It has undergone several transformations over the centuries and now houses the National Archaeological Museum of Manfredonia.
A boat ride from Gargano will take you to the Tremiti Islands, an archipelago of five small islands – San Domino, San Nicola, Capraia, Cretaccio and Pianosa. San Domino is the largest and the first port of call for many tourist boats. Splendid coves and underwater caves such as the Bue Marino, Viole and Sale caves – Violets, Sun and Sea Calf caves – have made this archipelago another popular place for scuba diving. San Domino and San Nicola are the only inhabited islands in the archipelago. The cluster of medieval buildings rising up from the rocks at San Nicola provide a glimpse into the island’s past.
Nestled between Bari and Foggia is Puglia’s newest province, Barletta-Andria-Trani, established in 2004. The towns Barletta and Trani look out to the Adriatic Sea, and Andria is situated further inland. The coastline is mainly filled with clear sand, however the rocky areas are great for scuba diving. Trani and Bisceglie are home to beautiful beaches, while Margherita di Savoia is known for its thermal baths and spas and is also home to Italy’s largest saltworks.
Further south, the province of Taranto has a diverse coast that stretches 140 kilometres. Founded as a Greek colony, its history dates back to the eighth century BC. Today, Taranto is known for its commercial and military port, and for being an industrial city, with well developed steel and iron foundries, oil refineries and chemical works.
Taranto’s commercial and industrial characteristics, however, are combined with lush green vegetation, white sandy beaches, sheer cliff faces and a clear blue sea. Stunning seaside resorts are interspersed throughout the province including Marina di Ginosa, Marina di Pulsano, Marina di Leporano, San Pietro in Bevagna and Vecchia Salina of Torre Colimena, which is home to many wonderful bird species including pink flamingoes and swans.
Taranto is also split into an old city and a new city, much of which is situated on two peninsulas, with two bays – Mar Piccolo and Mar Grande.
The presence of two bays has led to the province becoming known as the city of two seas. The new city can be found inland, while the old city is on an island. They are connected by the Ponte Girevole swing bridge.
Perched upon a hilltop, Martina Franca is a beautiful old town in the Taranto province featuring perfectly preserved baroque architecture, picturesque whitewashed houses and splendid churches juxtaposed with many vineyards and olive groves. The town’s height above sea level lends itself to mild temperatures even during the summer months.
Running along Taranto’s north-eastern border is the province of Brindisi. Its main beaches include Lido Morelli, Lido Specchiolla, Torre Pozzelle and Torre Santa Sabina.
Both Lido Morelli and Torre Pozzelle are located in Puglia’s ‘white city’ Ostuni, which is characterised by whitewashed houses, ancient monuments, pristine beaches, vineyards and olive groves. Situated upon a hill, the town looks out towards the Adriatic Sea. One of Ostuni’s most popular attractions is the Santa Maria dell’Assunzione Cathedral which has been named a national monument. Built on the town’s highest point during the 15th century, the cathedral’s façade features a combination of Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine styles.
Heading further south, Lecce is Puglia’s southernmost province and home to one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations, Salento. Surrounded by both the Adriatic and Ionian seas, Salento features many historic towns, crystal clear beaches, cliff faces and lagoons. It is also a large producer of olive oils and wines.
Otranto and Gallipoli are two of Salento’s most celebrated seaside resort towns. Beaches are their major attraction, however the historic centres in these towns are equally appealing. Otranto is surrounded by dry stone walls, with several ancient buildings waiting to be explored including a 12th century cathedral with stunning mosaic floors and a 15th century castle. Popular sites to visit in Gallipoli include a 16th century castle, the Ellenistic fountain and a Civic Museum.
Puglia is as varied as it is unique. So whether it be for a relaxing holiday by the beach, an underwater adventure or a chance to explore significant historical architecture including the peculiar yet enchanting trulli; Puglia has something for almost anyone. As the sun warms this southern region in Italy’s heel, holidaymakers continue to flock to its many beautiful towns and beaches to get caught up in Puglia’s charm.