Puglia Road Trip: The Perfect Itinerary
Puglia, a region in the southeast corner of Italy, is a place it seems many have not yet discovered. Earlier this year a friend of mine from Positano suggested that I visit, and after a quick google search I immediately added it to my annual July Europe trip itinerary. I invited my fellow travel photographer friend Nina and the rest is, as they say, history!
Before arriving in Puglia, I came up with a list of towns I wanted to visit based on a combination of my Positano friend’s suggestions, places I saw in photos on Instagram, and recommendations from Puglia local Manuela of pensierinviaggio.it who I follow on Instagram. From there I narrowed the list down to a final itinerary of 10 towns, 8 of which we actually made it to, based on the amount of time we were planning to spend in the region.
We spent a total of about three days in Puglia, but if you have more time you could easily extend it further. Manuela, in fact, recommends at least ten days.
To get to Puglia, we flew into Bari, the capital of Puglia. From there we rented a car from Avis at the airport which was surprisingly just as easy as it is in the US. I always rent from Avis because I have status with them but the people at this location were great so I would honestly recommend doing the same.
Do you have to rent a car? Yes. There are some trains and buses but they are not nearly as efficient and will be way more time consuming. If the idea of driving in Italy is scary to you, you are not alone. I was in the same boat but after reading countless blogposts about it being really the only way to do it, we gave in and agreed to rent a car. To my surprise it was no big deal for the most part, the only real trouble being driving on extremely narrow roads once actually in the towns and parallel parking in very small spots. Luckily Nina is an expert driver and drove almost the entire time! My $.02, get the smallest car you can.
Polignano a Mare: HOME BASE
Drive Bari → Polignano A Mare, duration ~45 minutes
Polignano a Mare is a beautiful town south of Bari by about 45 minutes. I decided to make it our home base after finding a great Airbnb right in town and seeing how many different things there were to see and do in town. I would absolutely recommend you do the same. There are many great restaurants you can go to for breakfast before heading out and/or for dinner once you return from your day trips and it is a bit more lively than a lot of the other smaller towns.
WHERE TO EAT IN POLIGNANO a MARE:
- Ristorante Hotel Grotta Palazzese - you have no doubt seen this all over Pinterest and likely had no idea it was in Puglia. Well, it is, and it lives up to the hype (exceeds it, even). It is truly magical beyond words and views aside, the food is to die for. I cannot recommend it enough. They have two seatings per day, one at 7:30 and one at 10:30. Book the 7:30 so you can catch the sunset. Make reservations and do it as early as possible - they do sell out. You can book them here
- Mint Cucina Fresca - a healthy, meatless restaurant rated #2 on TripAdvisor in Polignano and for good reason! It was delicious and the decor is absolutely adorable. You may want to make reservations as it does fill up and keep in mind they are closed on Mondays
- Il Pescato - we did not actually make it here since it was closed the day we tried to go (Monday) but the owner of our Airbnb recommended it and said it’s wonderful
- Luna Cafe - for a quick breakfast. We walked here every morning for a croissant, coffee, and fresh orange juice
- ManVi Ortofrutta - for fresh fruit and juices! It’s a small market, great for grabbing healthy snacks pre-road trip
WHERE TO STAY IN POLIGNANO a MARE:
We stayed in this Airbnb and loved it. It’s in a great location, the apartment is beautiful and spacious, the price is very reasonable, and Nico and Giuseppe were wonderful hosts. There’s even a hot tub on the roof! Plus you can get $40 off your first Airbnb booking here.
Lecce: DAY 1, STOP 1
Drive Polignano a Mare → Lecce, duration ~1 hour 15 minutes
Start your first day in the city of Lecce, a little over an hour south of Polignano. Lecce is a historic city and one of the most popular destinations in southern Italy. It’s known for it’s baroque buildings and even has it’s own Roman amphitheater, the dating of which is still unknown. It is often called "the Florence of the South" as well.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN LECCE:
- Visit the Roman amphitheater, Anfiteatro Romano
- Visit Basilica di Santa Croce, an outstanding baroque church
Gallipoli: DAY 1, STOP 2
Drive Lecce → Gallipoli, duration ~35 minutes
Gallipoli, which translates to “beautiful city”, is just over half an hour south of Lecce. If you look at it on a map you will notice it splits into two parts: a mainland on the right and a small island accessible by bridge on the left. Skip the mainland and head straight to the island - that’s the old town where you’ll find the beautiful beaches you see in all of the photos and narrow, colorful streets perfect for getting lost in.
Drive home, Gallipoli → Polignano a Mare, duration ~1 hour 40 minutes
Alberobello: DAY 2, STOP 1
Drive Polignano a Mare → Alberobello, duration ~35 minutes
Start day two of your Puglia adventure with a quick 35 minute drive from your Polignano home base to the town of Alberobello. Alberobello was easily the highlight of Puglia for me, so much so that we actually went twice! It’s famous for it’s unique trullo buildings (whitened dry-stone huts with pointed stone roofs) and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Unfortunately it seems that the Alberobello secret is out, so try to get here as early as possible to avoid the huge crowds and full parking lots. The second time we went we arrived around 8am and found it to be pleasantly deserted at that time :) We did not eat here but there are a ton of ton of cute cafes and restaurants on the main street so it might be a good idea to plan for lunch here!
Note: we went in July during prime tourist season so it might have been unusually busy during our trip.
Monopoli: DAY 2, STOP 2
Drive Alberobello → Monopoli, duration ~30 minutes
Once you are done at Alberobello, head to Monopoli, a colorful town located right on the Adriatic Sea. It's name, stemming from "monos polis", means unique city. While we spent all of our time roaming the colorful streets near the city center, a quick google search suggests that the most beautiful Monopoli is the one you see from the water so do not miss that like we did!
Drive home, Monopoli → Polignano a Mare, duration ~15 minutes
Locorotondo: DAY 3, STOP 1
Drive Polignano a Mare → Locorotondo, duration ~35 minutes
Locorotondo, a beautiful whitewashed town covered in cobblestone streets, is again just a quick 35 minute drive from your Polignano home base. We spent our time here with no agenda, simply strolling through the streets snapping photos at anything we found to be aesthetically pleasing. Even in the middle of peak tourist season we found it to be extremely empty which is of course a big plus if you plan to visit for photography purposes.
If you find yourself in Locorotondo around lunch time, stop by Ristorante La Scalinata. The people there were some of the sweetest we met our entire trip!
Cisternino: DAY 3, STOP 2
Drive Locorotondo → Cisternino, duration ~15 minutes
Cisternino is another beautiful whitewashed town (that's the theme of day 3!) and one I had not seen on any Puglia posts or even heard of until Manuela mentioned it. We did basically no research on it prior to arriving and lucked out in stumbling upon the most beautiful area full of all-white buildings - perfect for Instagram! Of the eight towns we visited this was without a doubt one of my favorites due to how photogenic it is and one that I would not pass up if I were you.
Ostuni: DAY 3, STOP 3
Drive Cisternino → Ostuni, duration ~30 minutes
The famous white town, Ostuni, sits high on a hill (three hills, apparently) and is one of the most sought after Puglia destinations. It is a popular summer destination and despite it's reputation as the white city, I actually found it to be less white than Cisternino! You should definitely give yourself some time to simply roam the beautiful alleyways and streets here and do not miss the beautiful castle or the cathedral in the center.
Drive home, Ostuni → Polignano a Mare, duration ~45 minutes
Other Puglia towns you may want to check out if you have the time:
- Melendugno (Grotta della Poesia!)
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