Although Puglia in south-eastern Italy has been much over-looked by tourism over the years, it’s surprisingly easy for visitors to explore. Here’s our guide on how to travel around beautiful towns, countryside and coastlines of Puglia.
Puglia is a place of elegant baroque white-walled cities and enchanting fishing villages. It’s a place of sweeping landscapes, ancient olive groves and towering clifftops above sparkling blue seas.
But these tantalising sights aren’t the only factors that makes Puglia a traveller’s paradise. This region, which covers the entire stiletto heal of Italy’s boot, is surprisingly easy to get to and to explore.
From airport hubs and popular ferry routes to well-maintained roads and a good rail network, this quiet corner of the country has so many options for inquisitive travellers. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that Puglia has only recently become in vogue with the travel community, and a place everyone wants to visit now.
The question is, what’s the best way to see Puglia? Here are our tips for reaching Puglia, where to go and how to get around.
How to travel around Puglia, Italy
With its two major airport hubs of Bari and Brindisi, Puglia is so easy to get to from anywhere in Europe. And I mean anywhere. We even found direct flights between Stockholm and Bari, which is pretty much the furthest route in Europe you can find.
It is possible to reach Puglia by land, but only if you’re already in Italy. Puglia is close to other southern regions in Italy, but even from Rome, you’re better off catching a quick domestic flight to Bari or Brindisi.
Because Italy sticks out into the Mediterranean and, more specifically, Puglia pokes into the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, it’s possible to arrive by boat. Ferries from Brindisi go to and from ports in Greece, Croatia, Albania and Montenegro regularly.
From Bari, travelling down the east coast of the region is easy and well worth it. Three stops south of Bari is the stunning town of Polignano a Maré. Famous for its Redbull Cliff Dive venue, the coast and pebbly beach of this town are remarkable.
One stop on from Polignano is our favourite town in Puglia – perhaps in Italy – is Monopoli. It’s a peaceful, beautiful fishing village with a little marina and sandy beach. This little seaside town really wears its heart on its sleeve and makes it hard to leave.
Past Monopoli, the train lines run down to Brindisi and all over the region. But after Brindisi (about an hour from Bari) regional trains take over. These trains are still punctual, but are less frequent.
From Brindisi, trains leave the coast and go inland. If you want to see the coast at the southern end and on the west of the peninsula, you’ll need other transport.
Is it worth hiring a car in Puglia?
There are three factors you have to consider with hiring a car in Puglia: How long are you there? What do you want to see? Are you confident behind the wheel?
If you’re only in the region for a few days to a week, you can probably get by with the trains and perhaps a bus trip out to some of the other towns in the countryside. It would be very easy to spend a week just in Monopoli.
If you’re here for more than a week or if you’re like us and you have trouble staying still, hiring a car will open up the region for you.
Of course, having a car means you can see a lot more of a place. You have your own timetable and itinerary. Exploring the furthest tip of the peninsula requires a car. Some of the beaches and cliffs down there are stunning.
Also, the eastern side of Puglia has spectacular towns like Gallipoli and Taranto, as well as the hundreds of little villages you’ll find along the way. A car is essential for reaching these parts of the region.
To be honest, driving in Puglia, compared to a lot of the other southern parts of Italy like Naples, is (relatively) easy. As long as you’re confident driving a left-hand drive manual car on the right-hand side of the road, you’ll be fine. Roads in Puglia are generally well-maintained, and the drivers are (reasonably) forgiving.
Trulli and how to get to Alberobello
Arguably the most iconic feature of Puglia is its trulli. These strange looking conically-roofed whitewashed buildings are scattered across the Pugliese countryside, but are most heavily concentrated in the town of Alberobello.
In fact, the whole of the hilly town centre of Alberobello, now a UNESCO Heritage site, is made up of these odd, round buildings. Many trulli are locals’ homes and some are shops. Some are even restaurants you can have dinner in.
Alberobello has its own train station, so it’s possible to visit this fascinating (yet hectically over-touristy) town with public transport. There are also coach tours to Alberobello, which fill the streets with hordes of people, seemingly all at the same time.
Having a car to visit this site is the best option in our opinion. It means you can arrive early (before lunch) to beat the coaches and the majority of the day’s visitors. Because surrounding area is full of trulli, scattered in fields and sitting by the side of the road, you’ll see lots of them as you drive to Alberobello.
But if you want to experience the trulli properly, you can spend the night in a trullo. There are trulli hotels in Alberobello, but our favourite, a bit out of town, is called Le Dieci Porti. The owners, who are local to Puglia, run this little hotel/village of trulli as a superb B&B.
Is it worth travelling a lot in Puglia?
When we arrived in Puglia, we had planned on spending just a couple of days in one town then move on to Naples, perhaps down to Calabria or maybe back up to Tuscany. Instead, we re-jigged our schedule so we could spend about two weeks exploring Puglia.
After a couple of nights in Bari, we went to Monopoli, which – as I mentioned – we completely fell in love with. From Monopoli, we hired a car and drove throughout the region, visiting as many towns as we could.
There were two things that really struck us as we travelled through Puglia. Firstly, the diversity of region; from tiny towns like Monopoli to grand, baroque cities like Lecce, from stunning beaches to secluded olive groves, and from ancient history to true modernity, it’s all here.
Secondly, we were taken by how accessible all of these things are. You don’t have to dip your toe in very far to get a feel for the water in Puglia. And it’s always warm and friendly.
Depending on your time allowances and whether you enjoy spending most of your holiday on the road, travelling throughout Puglia is absolutely worth a lot of exploring.
Mind you, the next time we go there, chances are we’ll just stay in Monopoli!