We just returned from our long awaited vacation in Puglia this past weekend, and although we had a wonderful time initially, things ended up much differently than we had planned. One never knows what may happen when you plan a vacation months in advance, and unfortunately for us, although we rarely get ill, we were both knocked sideways with a very nasty flu bug causing us to cut our trip short to return home to Umbria. I had been planning this trip for over a year and was so excited to be spending an entire week in Puglia……. I guess we will just have to plan a return to Puglia in the near future so we can complete our trip!
I honestly do love Puglia, and if we hadn’t picked Umbria as our perfect place to live, then Puglia, at least for me, would be my next choice. Puglia, or Apulia, is often referred to as the “heel” of Italy because of its geographical position. Much of the region is lined by the sea which is one reason we love it as fresh seafood is plentiful and relatively inexpensive as well. Although I do consider our life in Umbria to be rather laid back, the Pugliese give a whole new meaning to slow paced and relaxed . Perhaps it is all that sunshine and sea air! In the past 10 years or so since we first started to visit Puglia, we have seen a rather rapid increase in the number of tourists that visit the region although compared with such regions as Tuscany or Veneto, you still can travel to many beautiful small towns in Puglia and not come across any (or very few) foreign tourists. We seem to visit Puglia every two years or so, and although there is still much of the region left for us to explore, after visiting both small coastal and interior towns, we truly prefer the quaint towns by the sea such as Polignano al Mare, Monipoli, Otranto, and Gallipoli.
The cuisine of Puglia relies heavily on it’s locally grown agricultural products and abundant fresh seafood, is rich in tradition, and quite unique in flavor as well. Every town seems to have their own regional specialty foods, and homemade pasta of every shape and description can be found across the region. Although I truly love the food of Umbria, it is always enjoyable to visit another region such as Puglia where the food is so uniquely different from ours. Being a very food centric family, we always plan our vacations around food, making Puglia a great vacation destination for us.
Day One – It was about a 5 1/2 hour drive from our door to the town of Polignano al Mare, and of course we planned an early start so we could arrive in time for lunch. Meals tend to take place later in southern Italy, and in Puglia, lunch usually begins around 1:30pm and dinner at 8:30pm or later. We hadn’t picked a restaurant ahead of time but after wandering around town for an hour or so glancing at restaurant menus we picked a small trattoria within the walls of the historical center. After lunch we headed to Conversano, a short drive inland where we planned to stay the night and dine at Pasha, a well known, well reviewed restaurant. We stayed at Relais Corte Altavilla, a quaint hotel just in front of the duomo. In fact, our room had a direct view (if narrow one) of the duomo. The restaurant was an experience……we ordered the tasting menu with wines, and although many of the course were truly delicious, for a tasting menu I found the portions a little large. It was an experience that I am glad I took advantage of, but I’m not sure if I would do it again. I honestly prefer the simpler, less expensive, but just as delicious, food from our favorite “seafood shack” near Torre Canne. (see below)
Polignano al Mare
Historical Center of Polignano al Mare
Gorgeous Colored Sea at Polignano al Mare
The Outer Walls of Conversano – The older section of Conversano is now traffic controlled and you must park outside and walk in. Since our hotel was inside these walls it was a little tricky, but worked out just fine in the end.
Day Two – Upon arising the next day, our next stop was Monipoli, a walled seafront town that we really never explored before. We headed into the city center and found a place to park and then wandered throughout the town, particularly enjoying the seaside walk and historical center. Definately a town I’d recommend visiting! There were many historical churches hidden into tiny streets within the historical center that would be worth visiting, and the cathedral originally was built in the 12th century but was completely overhauled in its now Baroque style in the 18th century.
There is a walkway along the sea in Monopoli, and a few small beaches tucked in here and there around the town.
A typical tiny street in the historical center of Monopoli packed with vehicles, flowers, and of course the usual clotheslines packed with laundry drying in the sun.
The castle at the point. The town was extremely clean throughout, and they were doing a casting call for some television show within the castle the day we were visiting.
Killing time before lunch, we drove down the coast and stopped in Savelletri, a small fishing town. It was the day off for the fishermen, and many were sitting around the docks repairing their nets.
Strange as it may seem, this is perhaps our favorite place to dine in Puglia, and we often plan our trip around it. It is obviously not much to look at, you sit at plastic tables and use plastic plates. It is a small family run place that we discovered it years ago by chance but you honestly get the freshest, tastiest seafood at very low prices here. We never seem to remember exactly where it is located, but it is between Torre Canne and Savelletri on a rather isolated piece of the beach. There are other “fish shacks” in the area, but we love this one and I would highly recommend L’oassi di Ricci. We usually just ask them to bring us appetizers and then call stop when we cannot eat another bite. Two of my favorite items here are the tiny calamaretti (tiny squid) about the size of my thumbnail that are deep fried and the grilled octopus which is one of their specialties.
After lunch, we headed to our stop for the evening in Ostuni. The area around Ostuni has the most amazing ancient olive trees that are hundreds, if not a thousand years old. This one field we passed was covered in wildflowers that just seemed to set the trees off perfectly. I must admit, having our own 100 olive trees that I cannot help but admire these old trees and usually come home with dozens of photos of olive trees!
A view looking towards the sea from Ostuni.
The whitewashed city of Ostuni, one of Puglia’s better known toursit destinations. You will see many more tourists in and around Ostuni.
Walking through the streets of Ostuni, stopping for a gelato or an afternoon drink…….
Ostuni is a great central place in Puglia to stay. We booked a week in a lovely property just outside the city with our entire family years ago, and then took day trips to explore the neighboring towns.
Day Three – We were heading to Otranto for our third stop, another one of our favorie seaside towns, but since it isn’t too far from Ostuni we decided to stop in Lecce along the way. Our initial plan was to have lunch in Lecce but we are early risers and had explored Lecce as much as we wanted to by 11am. As restaurants do not open for lunch before 1pm we decided to head down to Otranto and have lunch there.
Arriving in Otranto, we parked outside town and ate at Ristorante dal Baffo, a family run place we had enjoyed in the past. Check-in at most hotels in Puglia is after 3pm so a leisurely lunch was the perfect way to spend the time. From 1pm until 6pm very little is open in most towns in Puglia as folks enjoy their large meal at lunch, take a siesta, then head back to work for a few hours later in the day. We dined at the family’s other restaurant in town called L’altro Baffo run by the daughter in the evening. It is much more elegant and modern although the focus of the menu is always Pugliese.
The ruins in Lecce are quite amazing and the bustling city simply runs around them.
Piazza Duomo in Lecce – Known for its beautiful Baroque architecture, Lecce is a great city to visit on your trip to Puglia.
The castle in Otranto at sunset!
Day Four – Our fourth night was planned for Gallipoli. We were now moving much slower as my husband had become ill by this time and I was driving. We still visited the sites we had planned to along the way, although it was just myself and small dog Luca who got out of the car to explore. We stopped at the sanctuary of Santa Maria di Leuca as well as the southern most point of Puglia.
The sanctuary of Santa Maria di Leuca
The view of Leuca from the sanctuary looking down the coast.
Luca at the southern most point of Puglia. I had no one to take my photo, so took one of Luca instead. He wasn’t impressed.
The grotto next to the southern most point. The coast of Puglia is very rocky, the waters crystal clear and colored in varying shades of blue.
The seafront castle that sits right at the entrance to the old town on the other side of the historical bridge.
One of our favorite things to do in Gallipoli is to visit the docks when the fishing boats come in. Hundreds of folks run from boat to boat to check out the catch of the day and haggle over prices.
Cases of fresh seafood offered for sale. Some boats were selling an entire case of shrimp for 10 euros!
Walking through the old town looking towards the docks.
Early morning, the fishermen were all out on the docks repairing their nets.
Day Five – Our next stop was Matera in Basilicata as we were now looking to head back north. We arrived there late morning and after some difficulty, we managed to find our hotel which was built into the caves of the Sassi. We wandered around town briefly before heading for lunch, and that was where my trip ended. Becoming ill immediately after lunch, I barely saw much of Matera, and the next day upon arising we decided we needed to cut our trip short and head home for us both to recover. Although I do recommend visiting Matera, I only have a few photos taken while I was able to, so it is another spot I’ll need to return to!
The Sassi of Matera
The Sassi of Matera
The view from our hotel room in Matera.
Ciao from Puglia!!
Luca climbing in an olive tree that is hundreds of years old.
Some of our favorite dishes enjoyed in Puglia on this trip!
Hotel & Restaurant Information
I am including the places we stayed as well as some of our favorite restaurants. You can see that on the last couple of days before we called it quits, neither of us was really interested in fine dining!
Day One Hotel
Relais Corte Altavilla
Vico G. Altavilla 8
Conversano – 70014
Phone – +39.0804959668
Osteria Dei Mulini
Via Dei Mulini 2
Polignano al Mare
Piazza Castello 5-7,
70014 Conversano Bari
Phone – +39.373 800 2809
Day Two Hotel
Corso Vittorio Emanuele 218
Ostuni – 72017
Phone – +39.0831.338885
L’oasi di Ricci
S.P Savelletri – Torre Canne
Phone – +39.3391165445
Day Three Hotel
Tenuta Centoporte Resort Hotel
Via Vecchia Otranto Giurdignano
Giurdignano – 73020
Phone – +39.0836.801986
Ristorante dal Baffo
Lungomare Terre d’Otranto 51
Phone – +39.389.0637059
Open Every Day
Ristorante L’atro Baffo
Via Cenobio Basiliano, 23
Otranto – 73028
Phone – +39 0836 80 16 36
Day Four Hotel
Relais Corte Palmieri
Corte Palmieri 3
Gallipoli – 73014
Phone – +39.0833264040
Lo Scoglio delle Sirene
Riviera Nazario Sauro 83
Gallipoli – 73014
Phone – 39 0833 261091
Day Five Hotel
Sant Angelo Luxury Resort
Piazza San Pietro Caveosa
Matera – 75100
Phone – +39.0835314010