10 towns not to miss in Puglia, Italy

Rich, diverse and utterly beautiful, the towns and villages in Puglia, Italy makes you want to stay in the region forever. To help you choose where to go and what to see, here’s our guide to 10 of the best towns in Puglia.

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy

Taking up all of the heal of Italy’s boot, Puglia – or Apulia – is on a peninsula, blessed with the most coastline of any of Italy’s 18 distinct mainland regions. Its many coastal towns and villages each have something different to offer, from magnificent cliffs to little fishing harbours in quiet slumber.

Inland Puglia is just as diverse, with white-walled hill-top towns, grand baroque cities and curious villages made up of round cone-roofed trulli.

But it’s not just the region’s architecture and landscape that sets Puglia apart.

Part of Puglia’s wealth of variety is thanks to the cultures that have existed here over the years. The Greeks, Romans, Spanish, Turkish, Moorish, Saracens and even Berber pirates have all their had influence over the region’s nigh-on 3,000-year history.

Check out our video highlighting what we think are the most photogenic spots in Puglia:

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

If you look at the range of food on offer in this beautiful part of Italy, you’ll notice even dishes are different from one town to the next. Here are 5 dishes from Puglia you must eat.

Being the bread basket (and olive grove) of Italy, Puglia produces the majority of the country’s pasta and over half its oil. So, simply from a food safari perspective, Puglia is worth exploring more.

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy

10 towns not to miss in Puglia, Italy

The beauty of Puglia is how easy it is to explore. Here are our tips on how to get around Puglia. But wherever you go in this part of Italy, you’re sure to fall for the charm of the region.

These are just some of the towns that have so much to offer. If we’ve missed any out that you think deserve a mention, please feel free to add them at the end of this story in the comments.

1. Bari

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Bari

The region’s capital is a beautiful harbour city with plenty to see and do. Bari’s old town – Barivecchio – is a maze of medieval laneways, arches and piazzas.

Along the waterfront, you’ll find fishermen selling their catches at the market or sitting playing Scopa – a traditional card game that’s completely baffling to the outsider. The fish these men have caught is easy to find in many of the town’s restaurants, which means the food you’re eating is incredibly fresh and all the more delicious.

Here are a few places we found in Bari where the food was excellent.

Bari is a wonderful introduction to Puglia and well worth a day or two exploring.

Keep an eye out for:

the nonnas sitting on the doorsteps making pasta. These charismatic old ladies have been a feature in Bari for years and have been making the typical Pugliese pasta shape ‘orecchiette’ by hand for even longer.

2. Monopoli

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Monopoli

Our favourite town in Puglia, Monopoli is only a few stops on the train from Bari, but it’s about as far from a big city as you can get. This friendly little fishing village makes you feel at home almost immediately.

Surrounded by the fortified walls of Monopoli’s old town – Centro Storico – the little harbour is a great place to watch the local fishermen get their boats ready and catch baitfish with hand nets.

Further round, the town’s little sandy beach is a favourite for locals to come for a dip.

For food, there are plenty of options in Monopoli. Our favourites are:

Bar Malindi for an excellent (and cheap) negroni and even better (and cheaper) coffee, Ai Portici for sublime pizza and, best of all, Frescolatte in the new part of town for the best handmade gelato you’ll ever have.

Keep an eye out for:

incredible handmade ceramics from Terricottine de GiùInLab on Via Cavaliere. Owned and run by architects-cum-artists Anna and Gianni, the beautiful yet functional earthenware here is all based on Puglia.

From pots made with ricotta sieves to lampshades with anemone shells, the things this couple makes are beautiful and the perfect souvenir from the region. Here’s more on GiùInLab.

3. Ostuni

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Ostuni

Peering down at the Adriatic from its hilltop, the White City as it’s known stands out amongst the olive groves. Every year, Ostuni is whitewashed – every brick and step – so that it gleams in the sunlight.

Views out over the land from Ostuni are spectacular, but exploring the narrow streets of this lively town is just as impressive.

Keep an eye out for:

Ostuni’s beautiful gothic cathedral and also – in the Civic Museum – the skeleton of a Palaeolithic woman found here.

4. Martina Franca

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Martina Franca

This beautiful gothic and baroque town is a maze of pretty little streets and alleys so narrow you can barely fit between the buildings. Martina Franca is an inland town but what it lacks as far as sea views it makes up for with personality and charm.

The largest piazza in Martina Franca – Piazza Plebiscito – is home to the beautiful Basilica di San Martino. This rococo cathedral is iconic to Pugliese architecture and a monument to the town.

The piazza is also home to Ristorante Garibaldi, which serves up superb local fare and its al fresco tables look out into the piazza and the cathedral.

Keep an eye out for:

the intricate alleyways especially at the back of the cathedral. Some angle together and get narrower as you walk through until you almost have to squeeze between the buildings.

5. Cisternino

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Cisternino

Known to be one of the most beautiful small towns in all of Italy, Cisternino is a tiny whitewashed inland village quite close to Martina Franca. Its little laneways all lead to a piazza that doubles as a dining spot for the surrounding restaurants and cafés.

Keep your eye out for:

the Monday street markets in Cisternino. They start in the piazza, offering tools and clothing, and run down to the edge of †he old town where food and produce is sold.

6. Lecce

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Lecce

The most populated part of the southern end of Puglia, Lecce feels much more like a modern town than the humble villages we’ve mentioned. Coming here after a week of exploring the rest of Puglia (Bari and Brindisi excluded) can give you a nosebleed. The pace of life is much quicker here, the buildings are taller and you get an impression that it’s very much up to date.

However, Lecce itself is still quite old. In fact, a lot of the town pre-dates cities like Florence by a couple of hundred years.

Famous for its baroque architecture, Lecce is a pleasure to explore. Palaces and castles, high, rococo walls and ornate archways, gardens, wide streets, narrow lanes and enclosed piazzas, Lecce is a beautiful city.

For food and drink, you’re spoilt for choice here. Bars and cafés line the streets with plenty of al fresco options. Our favourite bar is Saloon Keeper 1933 – a cosy speakeasy style cocktail bar full of the suave of the 1930s. The bar opens out onto a little piazza for the Church of St Nicolas the Greek. The martinis here are off the charts, just saying.

Keep an eye out for:

the ‘after-dinner stroll’. Known as passeggiata, Italians love a walk as the sun goes down. Make sure you’re in town for this. Everyone comes out and walks around the city all night long, occasionally to stop for a drink or a snack. Most of the roads become pedestrianised after dark and the city has a wonderful feel to it.

Also look out for performances in the Ancient Roman amphitheatre in the middle of town. Such a cool venue.

7. Gallipoli

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Gallipoli

Named by the Ancient Greeks to mean ‘beautiful city’, Gallipoli is certainly that. Joined to the mainland by a single bridge, the old town is absolutely stunning. The outer road that rings the island is the only part cars are allowed in. All the other roads are too small – though you might find the occasional moped zip past you.

Views out over the Ionian Sea are divine – even at night. And the beach on the western side is very welcoming. Away from the water, the ancient city reveals its secrets through the little laneways of this walled island town. It’s easy to imagine the history that has come through this town.

Keep an eye out for:

the old men making fishing baskets out on the street or from the recesses of their workshops. Don’t be afraid of them – even the most grizzled looking. A smile and a wave will almost certainly start an interesting experience for you!

If you’re feeling nervous, have a drink at La Spingula – a wine bar with seats overlooking the water. There’s a basket workshop across the road you can see into. The guys in there are great. We ended up having a beer and watching the football with them!

8. Alberobello

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Alberobello

One of the most recognisable things about Puglia is its trulli. These funny-looking cone-topped whitewashed buildings are all over the region. However, the greatest concentration of them is in the town of Alberobello, inland from Monopoli.

Now a UNESCO Heritage site, the historic part of this town is almost exclusively made up of trulli. Originally built by locals to avoid housing taxes (trulli were considered temporary shelters for shepherds and farmers), they’re now home to locals, shops, restaurants and even hotels.

Alberobello is a bit of a tourist trap though, so consider getting here as early as possible so you miss the crowds that tend to spoil the vibe.

Keep an eye out for:

somewhere to stay. Overnight in a trullo is a lot of fun. The trulli hotels in Alberobello are expensive and possibly not that great. However, Le Dieci Porte – a little way out of town – is perfect. Rebuilt from a ruined trulli village by local couple Stella and Christophe into this wonderful B&B, Le Dieci Porte is a great option.

Here’s our full review on our stay here.

9. Polignano a Mare

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Polignano a Mare

Famous for being a Redbull Cliff Dive venue, Polignano a Mare, only a couple of stops from Bari on the train, is also home to one of the most picturesque beaches on the Pugliese coast. Squished between the walls and cliffs of the old town and the death-defying reaches of the cliff dive site on the other, this receded bay and its pebbly beach is nothing short of eye-popping.

The bridge crossing the gardens behind the beach makes for a great view of the shores down below, while a climb up to the town then looking back at the beach gives you incredible views.

Compared to Monopoli – just one train stop on from Polignano – we found the town here to be a little soulless. But the beach and the views down to it are unrivalled. And from the beach, you can swim out to the caves under the town-side cliffs.

Keep an eye out for:

Trattoria Casa Mia a couple of streets back from the old town and the main drag. The prices here are cheaper, the service is more honest and the food is excellent. Get the octopus. It’s remarkable.

10. Otranto

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Otranto

Climbing high above the coast, close to the most easterly point of Italy, the fortified town of Otranto is a must-visit. The Aragonese battlements and castle were here to stop pirates in the 15th Century.

These days, 50 metres above the water, the towers make incredible viewing platforms down to the sparkling water below.

Further into the old town, the steep streets and narrow passageways make excellent exploring. At times it feels like you’ve been transported back to 1200s when parts of this beautiful town came up.

Keep an eye out for:

the lakes and beach club a little way north. The two lakes that make up Laghi Alimini are beautiful and worth the drive. On the coast, the beaches here are a lot of fun and full of life. They’re mostly private beach clubs like a lot of popular European beaches, but there are public areas too.

Other parts of Puglia you should see

Grotta della Poesia

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Grotto della Poesia

Much like the cenotes of Mexico, this water-filled sinkhole in the limestone is absolutely stunning and the locals love it. Jumping off the lip of this horizontal cave into the crystal water below looks a lot of fun and makes for awesome action photos.

At the shoreline, the cliffs into the sea are higher and attract the more daring cliff-jumpers.

Il Ciolo

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - Il Ciolo

The next level up from Grotta della Poesia in cliff-diving terms, Il Ciolo is an inlet surrounded by high cliffs that [crazy] people jump from into the water.

If you wait for a little while, you’ll see plenty of daredevils jumping from the rocks lower down, but occasionally someone will climb up almost level with the bridge that crosses the ravine to leap into the sea below.

Torre Vado and Santa Maria di Leuca

Down on the southern tip of the Pugliese peninsula, the town of Santa Maria di Leuca is worth a visit if nothing more than the coastal drive to it and to say you’ve been to the most southerly point of the Salento. The lookout itself is somewhat uninspiring and surprisingly under-exploited.

Further west of Santa Maria though is the harbour village of Torre Vado. Named after its historic (and somewhat squat) crenelated tower fortification, Torre Vado is a welcoming, peaceful town. Friendly locals and discerning travellers enjoy a life on the lapping waters of the Ionian Sea.

For a superb pizza, make sure you go to Ristorante Antici Sapori. This little local gem is incredibly friendly and well worth turning up hungry for.

Have you been to Puglia? Do you have a favourite town in this list or perhaps one we’ve missed off? Tell us in the comments!

Top 10 towns of Puglia, Italy - feature

Be first to comment