The Heel of Italy's Boot

Charming Places

Puglia, also known as Apulia, is in the south of Italy; the heel of Italy's boot. The region is not one of Italy's traditional tourist destinations, but it is becoming increasingly popular as travellers discover the area's varied charms: baroque towns, white-washed trullo houses, olive groves and orchards, blue sea and beaches, plenty of sunshine and excellent cuisine.


The region is divided into six provinces: Bari (which is the regional capital), Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce, Taranto and the recently-constituted province of Barletta-Andria-Trani. The area around Lecce and the southernmost tip of the 'heel' is called the Salento. Puglia borders the regions of Campania, Molise and Basilicata. Basilicata's most famous site, the cave-town of Matera, is close to the Puglia border and makes a good addition to a tour in this region.


Puglia can surely now take its place in the first rank of Italy's famous regions. Clearly, everything the Italophile craves is there in abundance: ancient towns heavy with the tangible past; extravagant churches dreamt up by Europe's finest architects; the footprints of an endless procession of conquerors and cultures, stamped in stone, gold and marble; seas of olives; olive-green seas; and food the equal of any in Italy. Travellers bored or worn down by the crowds of Campania and Tuscany can find still release in the baroque splendour of Lecce, ‘Florence of the South’, or one of many lesser (but no less beautiful) Pugliese towns. But it's perhaps outside of its cities that Puglia shines brightest. From the ancient Forest of Umbra in the north to the fruitful Valle d'Itria and sun-baked Salento, Puglia's countryside has always been its foundation – the source of its food, its wealth and its culture.

Regional Highlights


The port of Bari is separated into the winding streets of La Città Vecchia (old city) and the more modern plan of the Città Nuova (new city). The old city is home to the famous Basilica of San Nicola, resting place of the saint who inspired Santa Klaus whose remains were stolen from his homeland in Turkey. The Basilica is the oldest surviving building in Bari, since the entire city was razed by King William the Bad in 1156. The imposing Norman Castle, enlarged by Frederick II is an excellent place to get a view of the old city and the Adriatic. The new city is a grid of broad streets and avenues lined with shops and grand hotels. The immediate area around Bari makes and excellent road trip to visit the many Cathedrals stretching along the coast road north of the city.


The former Greek and Roman colony of Lecce is the home to some of the best Baroque stonework in Italy. The soft pinkish stone of Lecce is very easy to work with and it was decided in the 17th century to cover Lecce’s monuments in Baroque veneer. The facades of the church of Santa Croce and the Palazzo del Governo are an entire block of ornate carving. Other Baroque masterpieces are the churches of Santa Chiara and the church of San Matteo. The Piazza San Oronzo is home to a Roman Amphitheater as well as a column once located in Brindisi to mark the end of the Via Appia. Other ancient ruins including Apulian tombs can be found a short ride from Lecce at Rudiae.


Alberobello is a town in Italy’s Apulia region. It’s known for its trulli, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs. The hilltop Rione Monti district has hundreds of them. The 18th-century Trullo Sovrano is a 2-level trulli. Furniture and tools at the Museo del Territorio Casa Pezzolla re-create life in the trulli as it was centuries ago. Southwest of town is the Casa Rossa, a WWII internment camp.


Polignano a Mare is a town on Italy’s southern Adriatic coast. It’s known for beaches like the white-pebble Lama Monachile, also known as Cala Porto, which is bordered by a Roman bridge. The Ponte dei Lapilli is a cove nestled at the bottom of a cliff. The Museum of Contemporary Art Pino Pascali displays photography and paintings. Overlooking the sea, San Vito Abbey has a Romanesque church and a 16th-century tower.


Ostuni is a city in Italy’s Apulia region that's known for its whitewashed old town. Ostuni Cathedral combines Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine elements, while the arched Porta San Demetrio is one of 2 remaining medieval gates. The Civic Museum and Archaeological Park houses Ostuni 1, the skeleton of a woman from Paleolithic times. Northwest of town is the Santuario di Sant’Oronzo complex, with a triumphal arch.

Travel to Puglia


There are airports in both Bari and Brindisi. Bari's airport is about 9km west of the city at Palese. Brindisi's Casale airport is 4km north of the city.


If you are visiting somewhere else in Italy you can also arrive by train—Bari and Lecce are the main hubs. Rome to Bari takes 4 hours and Rome to Lecce is 5.5 hours. You can search Trenitalia for timetables and to book in advance for the cheapest tickets. It can be a bit tricky to use, though, as you need to use Italian place names (i.e Torino not Turin). An easier option for English speakers is ItaliaRail. They charge a small booking fee, but the site is much simpler to use. The train prices are the same as on the Trenitalia site and most trains are ticketless (you just show a PNR number on the train).


If you’re planning a trip to Puglia (known as Apulia in Italian) then I have a couple of tips for you. The first one is that you should definitely get yourself a rental car. I did so at the advice of local friends and I’m glad I did! Public transportation is simply not that great in Puglia, so you’ll get around faster with your own transportation. Having a car also lets you easily visit the beaches, the off-the-beaten-track towns, and drive along beautiful coastal roads.


It is possible to explore Puglia by public transport, but you’ll need to research routes and check timetables in advance and have a lot of patience. I also recommend avoiding travelling on Sundays when services are even more limited. Trenitalia is the national railway in Italy and their trains in Puglia will be faster and more reliable than the regional line FSE (Ferrovie Sud-Est).