If you’ve been researching an Italian holiday, you’ve probably come across posts promoting Puglia (including ours…). It’s one of Italy’s up-and-coming regions, and is increasingly popular for tourists. Keen to visit? Here’s our run through of the top towns in Puglia.
Most people arrive in Puglia by flying into Bari or Brindisi. From the latter, it’s only a 40 minute drive to Lecce. Many people call it the most beautiful city in Puglia. We agree, and there’s a wealth of architectural delights to discover in this once-walled city. There’s a Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Sant’Oronzo and sure, it’s not as big as the one in Rome, but it’s still pretty impressive – it once seated 14,000 people. Concerts still take place in what remains of it now, and it’s a worthy stop on a walking tour of the city. Lecce Cathedral is an impressive sight too, nestled away in Piazza del Duomo. The cathedral is free to visit and especially breathtaking when lit up at night. There’s also the old gates, to get in and out of the ancient walled city; called the Lecce Portas, there are three gates left today and they mark the boundary between the old city and new city.
A beautiful city on the coast of the Ionian Sea, Taranto is almost surrounded by water. It’s known as “The City of Two Seas” and is situated on a spit of land, separating Mar Grande and Mar Piccolo. There’s even an island, as part of the city.
On that island, called Citta Vecchia, is Castel San Angelo. An old fort, it protected the city from potential seaborn attacks and nowadays it offers amazing views across the city as well as out to sea. Taranto Cathedral stands out on the skyline – a cathedral almost 1000 years old. It’s been renovated over the centuries and now Baroque façade. Another beautiful, and equally old sight is the Church of San Domenico. It dates back to the 11th century and contains an icon by Marco Pino, intriguingly called The Circumcision.
Out towards the new town you can find numerous plazas, piazzas and squares containing some fine cuisine. Taranto is a city of traditions, and craftwork hundreds of years old is still going strong in the city today. You can browse numerous craft shops and pick up a truly authentic handcrafted Puglian piece.
You’ve probably never heard of Alberobello, but you most likely have heard of the trullos. The white buildings with cone shaped roofs make up a big portion of the town, and a big portion of postcards from Puglia. No visit to this region is complete without dropping into Alberobello.
It’s easy to get to, situated almost bang in the middle of the triangle marked by Brindisi, Bari and Taranto. Beware though – as a UNESCO World Heritage site it can get quite busy in summer season, but if you visit earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon you can avoid any crowds and explore at your own pace. The busiest part of Alberobello is Rione Monti, a sloped district facing the modern town centre. Here there are many street vendors selling all kinds of trullo related gifts.
A quieter district of Alberobello is Aia Piccola. Slightly further from the modern centre, and therefore less visited, it’s much more residential and authentic – head here for the best experience.
Well known for its olive oil, Bitonto is surrounded by olive groves and rolling countryside. However it’s also got an impressive range of museums and archaeological sites, making it perhaps a less well known “must” when in Puglia.
Bitonto Cathedral is a fine example of Apulian Romanesque style. Recent excavations around the cathedral have uncovered remains of 11th century churches and chapels. A famous mosaic depicting the “Grifo”, or “Snout”, is visible in its atrium. There are numerous other churches too, including the Church of San Gaetano built in 1609, the Church of the Crusafix and the Monastery of Saint Leo.
The old centre is full of charming, narrow streets which you can lose yourself in for a few hours. Why not pick up a coffee and ice cream at one of the little cafes and just watch the world go by for a bit!
Bari is often called the Bologna of southern Italy. A cosmopolitan, vibrant city, it manages to combine the youth of its population with the culture and traditions Italy is famous for.
A great start to your time in Bari would be to visit the Basilica di San Nicola. It’s one of the first Norman churches to be built in southern Italy and even today is stunning, if imposing, sight in the city. Built in the 12th century, it was originally meant to house the remains of St Nicholas, or Father Christmas as we know him better. Eight centuries later and it’s an important place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians and Catholics.
Bari’s youth culture is largely down to its university. The effect of this ripples across the rest of the city and there are some fantastic bars, clubs and restaurants to be enjoyed. It’s also fantastic for and seafood lovers, with thousands of local fishermen selling their daily catch to the eateries across the city.
As the main airport of Puglia is situated in Bari, it would be rude not to explore this city.
Brindisi is a world away from Bari. It has a much slower pace of life and is probably more typical of the villages surrounding it than other big Italian cities. You’re more likely to find locals sat outside playing chess, than partying all night long.
Worth a visit is the Museo Archeologico Provinciale Ribezzo. It covers several floors and houses around 3000 bronze sculptures in Hellenestic Greek style. It’s also where they’ve stored, and displayed, terracotta figurines from the 7th century as well as various other finds from the Roman era.