Welcome to the hidden gem of Italy, Apulia – a region that whispers the tales of ancient civilizations, boasts stunning landscapes, and offers a culinary journey that’s hard to match. Often overlooked in favor of its more famous neighbors, Apulia is Italy’s southeastern treasure waiting to be discovered. From the sun-kissed beaches to the iconic Trulli houses, each corner of Apulia tells a story of culture, history, and unparalleled beauty. In this guide, we dive into the heart of Apulia, exploring its key destinations and the best of Apulia, Italy, and uncovering why this region deserves a top spot on your travel bucket list.

This guide invites you to discover the heart and soul of Italy’s heel, highlighting the best cities, towns, and iconic landmarks that define Apulia’s unique charm. Ready to embark on this unforgettable journey? Let’s explore the best of Apulia together.

Where is Apulia Italy?

Apulia, known as Puglia in Italian, sits in the southeastern corner of Italy, forming the heel of the country’s boot-shaped peninsula. This region is a treasure trove of cultural, historical, and natural wonders, bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Ionian Sea to the south. Its strategic location not only offers breathtaking coastal views but also serves as a crossroads of cultures and histories, evident in its diverse architecture, traditions, and cuisine.

Apulia’s landscape is a picturesque blend of sparkling seas, lush olive groves, and charming towns, making it a must-visit for travelers seeking a true Italian experience. The region is easily accessible by air, with Bari and Brindisi airports welcoming international and domestic flights, and well-connected by road and rail, offering an inviting gateway to explore the best of Apulia.

Top Highlights and Must-Visit Attractions

Apulia, Italy, a region rich in culture, history, and natural beauty, offers countless attractions that promise unforgettable experiences. This list of must-visit spots showcases the best of Apulia, ensuring you soak in the essence of this enchanting region.

  • Castel del Monte – A unique octagonal fortress known for its geometric design and panoramic views.
  • Gargano National Park – Offers lush forests, hiking trails, and stunning coastlines.
  • Tremiti Islands – Crystal-clear waters perfect for diving and exploring marine life.
  • Salento Peninsula – Famous for its beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, and historical towns.
  • Zoosafari Fasanolandia – Italy’s largest wildlife park, offering a fun day out for families.
  • The Sassi of Matera – Although technically in Basilicata, it’s a must-see near Apulia’s border, showcasing ancient cave dwellings.
  • Taranto’s Aragonese Castle – A fortress offering insights into the region’s military history.
  • Otranto – Known for its beautiful cathedral and as a gateway to the East.
  • Santa Maria di Leuca – Where the Ionian and Adriatic seas meet, marked by a historic lighthouse.

Exploring these attractions provides a glimpse into the best of Apulia, from its architectural marvels and historical sites to natural wonders and cultural richness.

Bari: The Gateway to Apulia

Bari, the vibrant capital of Apulia, Italy, serves as the perfect introduction to the region’s rich history, culture, and culinary delights. With its unique blend of modernity and tradition, Bari offers travelers an unforgettable experience. At the heart of Bari is the charming old town, Bari Vecchia, where winding alleyways lead to hidden gems and historic sites, including the Basilica of Saint Nicholas and the Swabian Castle.

Bari’s history stretches back over a thousand years, making it a treasure trove for enthusiasts of the past. The city was a crucial node on ancient trade routes, and today, it remains a bustling port, welcoming visitors from across the globe.

For those looking to capture the essence of Bari through their lenses, Bari Vecchia provides an excellent backdrop with its historic architecture and lively streets. Early mornings or late afternoons offer the best light for photos, adding a magical glow to the already picturesque setting.

Local tips for enjoying Bari include indulging in the street food scene. Don’t miss trying the local focaccia or a panzerotto for a taste of authentic Apulian flavors. A truly unique experience in Bari is watching the ‘nonne’ expertly handcrafting traditional pasta like orecchiette right on the streets of the old town, offering a glimpse into Apulia’s rich culinary traditions. For a sit-down meal, Osteria del Tempo Perso offers a cozy ambiance and a menu filled with local specialties, a must-visit for foodies.

Apart from exploring Bari Vecchia, visitors can enjoy a stroll along the seafront promenade, visit the fish market for a glimpse into local life, or take a day trip to nearby beaches for a relaxing day in the sun. The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, an important pilgrimage site, and the Swabian Castle, with its rich history, are must-visit attractions that provide insight into Bari’s past and its significance in the region.

Bari, with its welcoming atmosphere, delicious cuisine, and rich history, is not just a gateway to Apulia but a destination worth exploring in its own right. Whether you’re wandering through the old town, enjoying the local cuisine, or soaking up the coastal views, Bari promises an experience filled with beauty, history, and culinary delights.

Food in Bari

  • Local Delicacies: Street food with favorites like focaccia barese and panzerotto.
  • Seafood: Sample fresh seafood dishes, especially the raw sea urchins, at the bustling fish market.
  • Gelato: Enjoy a scoop of artisanal gelato from Martinucci.

Activities in Bari

  • Bari Vecchia: Wander through the old town’s alleys, discovering hidden corners and vibrant local life.
  • Swabian Castle: Explore the historic fortress that offers insights into Bari’s medieval past.
  • Promenade Walk: Enjoy a leisurely walk along the Lungomare, Bari’s picturesque seafront promenade.
  • Beach Day: Spend a day at Pane e Pomodoro Beach, relaxing on the sand and swimming in the clear waters.

Tours in Bari

Getting to Bari

Bari is well-connected, making it easily accessible from various parts of Italy and international destinations.

  • By Air: Bari Airport, located just outside the city, offers domestic and international flights. A convenient train or bus service connects the airport to the city center.
  • By Train: Bari Centrale, the main train station, is a hub for regional and long-distance trains, including high-speed services from major Italian cities like Rome, Milan, and Florence.
  • By Car: The city is well-served by Italy’s motorway network, making it straightforward to reach by car. The A14 motorway connects Bari to the north and the south of Italy.
  • By Ferry: For those coming from the Balkans or Greece, Bari is a major ferry port with services linking to destinations across the Adriatic Sea.

Alberobello: The Trulli Capital

Alberobello is a charming small town in the Apulia region of southern Italy, renowned for its unique trulli buildings. These traditional dry stone huts with conical roofs are a distinctive example of ancient construction techniques that are specific to this area. Due to their cultural significance and unique architecture, the trulli of Alberobello have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The town’s main attraction is its trulli. Visitors can wander through neighborhoods filled with these antient structures, experiencing a blend of historical charm and modern-day living. While many trulli serve as homes, others have been transformed into shops, restaurants, and museums, offering a glimpse into the traditional Puglian lifestyle. The Trullo Sovrano, the largest of its kind in Alberobello, functions as a museum, providing insights into the construction and history of these unique buildings. For panoramic views of the town, the Belvedere Santa Lucia is a must-visit spot, particularly at sunset.

Alberobello is also known for its Puglian cuisine which utilises simplicity and an emphasis on fresh, quality ingredients. Traditional trattorias and restaurants dot the town, serving specialty dishes like orecchiette pasta, Capocollo, and the creamy burrata cheese.

Alberobello provides historical architecture, stunning landscapes, and tasty local cuisine, making it a fascinating destination for those looking to immerse themselves in the essence of southern Italy.

Food in Alberobello

  • Trattoria Terra Madre: A charming spot offering dishes made with organic and locally sourced ingredients.
  • Casa Nova Il Ristorante: Enjoy traditional cuisine in a beautiful setting amidst trulli houses.
  • Street Food: Try Alberobello’s version of panzerotti and focaccia for a quick, delicious bite.
  • Gelato: Don’t miss out on homemade gelato, perfect for a sweet treat while exploring.

Activities in Alberobello

  • Trulli Houses: Wander through the enchanting streets lined with the iconic conical-roofed trulli, unique to this area.
  • Trullo Sovrano: Visit the only two-story trullo, which now serves as a museum showcasing traditional Apulian life.
  • Belvedere Santa Lucia: For stunning panoramic views of Alberobello and its trulli houses.
  • Local Markets: Explore the vibrant local markets for handmade crafts and souvenirs.

Tours in Alberobello

Getting to Alberobello

  • By Train: Alberobello station is connected to Bari and other major cities in Apulia, with regular regional train services.
  • By Car: It’s about an hour’s drive from Bari.
  • By Bus: There are bus services from Bari and other towns in Apulia to Alberobello, offering a scenic route into the town.
  • Tour Transfers: Many tours from Bari and nearby towns include transport to Alberobello, making it easy for day-trippers.

Lecce: The Florence of the South

Lecce, often hailed as the Florence of the South, holds a special spot in the heart of Apulia. This stunning city is a canvas painted with baroque architecture, its streets telling tales of history and artistry. A walk through Lecce is a journey back in time, where every corner boasts elaborate facades and intricate details that captivate visitors.

The city’s beauty lies in its limestone buildings, glowing warmly under the sun, a material that has earned Lecce the nickname “The Lady of Baroque.” Start your exploration at the Piazza del Duomo, a masterpiece of baroque design. For photography enthusiasts, golden hour casts a magical light, perfect for capturing the essence of Lecce’s charm.

A brief dive into Lecce’s past reveals its significance during the Roman era, visible in the remnants of the Roman amphitheater. However, it was during the 17th century that Lecce flourished architecturally, thanks to the local skilled craftsmen who carved the city’s signature soft stone into the baroque wonders we admire today.

For an authentic taste of Lecce, head to a local trattoria and indulge in Pasticciotto, a creamy pastry that’s a delight for the senses. Caffè Alvino in Piazza Sant’Oronzo is an ideal spot to enjoy this local treat along with a view of the city’s bustling life.

Visiting Lecce offers more than just architectural marvels. Engage with the city’s vibrant culture by attending a workshop on papier-mâché, a traditional craft, or explore the local markets for handmade treasures. Evening strolls through the historical center reveal lively bars and eateries where you can savor Apulia’s rich culinary heritage, blending flavors from the land and sea.

Lecce is a gem in the crown of Apulia, embodying the region’s rich history, culture, and beauty. It’s a must-visit for anyone exploring the best of Apulia, promising memories that linger long after you’ve left its sun-kissed streets. Whether you’re a history buff, food lover, or photography enthusiast, Lecce welcomes all with open arms and a story at every turn.

Food in Lecce

  • Pasticciotto: A must-try local pastry, perfect for breakfast.
  • Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa: Traditional pasta dish with turnip tops.
  • Rustico Leccese: A savory pastry filled with mozzarella, tomato, and béchamel.

Activities in Lecce

  • Baroque Architecture Tour: Explore Lecce’s stunning baroque buildings.
  • Lecce Craft Workshop: Participate in a papier-mâché or ceramics workshop.
  • Piazza del Duomo: Relax in one of Italy’s most beautiful squares.

Tours in Lecce

Getting to Lecce

  • By Air: The nearest airport is Brindisi, about 40 minutes away. Regular buses and trains connect Brindisi to Lecce.
  • By Train: Lecce is well-connected by train to major Italian cities including Rome, Naples, and Bari.
  • By Car: Driving offers the flexibility to explore Lecce and the surrounding countryside at your own pace.

Ostuni: The White City

In the heart of Apulia, Ostuni stands out as a mesmerizing example of the Mediterranean charm that makes the region so special. Often referred to as “The White City,” Ostuni has earned its place among the best of Apulia and is renowned for its whitewashed buildings that gleam under the southern Italian sun. This hilltop city offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Adriatic Sea, making it a photographer’s paradise.

Ostuni’s beauty isn’t just skin deep. The city’s history is as rich and layered as its views. Established by the Messapians in the first millennium BC, Ostuni has been under the rule of Romans, Byzantines, and Normans, each leaving a mark on its architecture and culture. As you wander through the narrow streets, you’ll feel the weight of centuries under your feet.

For photo enthusiasts, Ostuni’s labyrinth of alleys, staircases, and arches provides endless opportunities. Early morning or late afternoon offers the best light for capturing the city’s glow. Don’t miss a chance to snap a picture from the city’s park, Villa Comunale, for a stunning overview.

Locals know the best spots to eat, and Ristorante Osteria del Tempo Perso comes highly recommended. Located in an ancient cave, it serves traditional Apulian dishes that are as memorable as the setting. Try the orecchiette with turnip tops for a taste of local flavor.

Things to do in Ostuni are plentiful. The vibrant local markets and artisan shops are perfect for finding unique souvenirs. The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo is a must-visit, showcasing Ostuni’s architectural beauty and historical significance.

Ostuni isn’t just a city; it’s an experience. It has a rich history and stunning architecture, tasty local cuisine and panoramic sea views.

Food in Ostuni

Activities in Ostuni

  • Visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta: Marvel at the intricate designs and architecture.
  • Stroll through the old town: Discover hidden gems and picturesque alleys.
  • Explore the local markets: Find artisan crafts and fresh produce.
  • Olive Oil Tasting: Explore local olive groves and taste some of the best olive oils.

Tours in Ostuni

  • Wine Tour: Tour the Apulian winery and taste some of the local wine.
  • Cycling Tour: Ride through the scenic landscapes surrounding Ostuni.

Getting to Ostuni

  • By Air: The nearest airport is Brindisi, about 30 minutes away by car.
  • By Train: Ostuni station is well-connected with major Italian cities.
  • By Car: A network of highways and roads makes driving to Ostuni easy from anywhere in Italy.

Cisternino: A Hidden Gem in Apulia

Cisternino is a small but striking town known for its whitewashed buildings, winding streets, and panoramic views of the Itria Valley. This charming locale, often overlooked by tourists, stands as a testament to the region’s rich history and culture, making it a must-visit for anyone looking for the best of Apulia.

The town’s origins trace back to the Byzantine era, evident in its labyrinthine layout and historic architecture. A stroll through its streets is like stepping back in time, with each turn offering a new vista or hidden courtyard. For photo enthusiasts, the view from the belvedere provides an excellent opportunity to capture the essence of Apulia’s landscapes, especially during golden hour when the setting sun bathes the valley in warm hues.

Local tips for visitors include indulging in the town’s culinary offerings. Cisternino is renowned for its butcher shops, or “macellerie,” which double as eateries. Here, you can select your preferred cuts of meat, which are then grilled to perfection and served right at your table. Rosticceria L’Antico Borgo comes highly recommended, offering a taste of traditional flavors that echo the town’s rich culinary heritage.

Beyond dining, Cisternino invites exploration. Take a leisurely walk to the Church of San Nicola, a fine example of Apulian Romanesque architecture. The town’s weekly market is another highlight, offering a chance to mingle with locals and sample regional products.

In essence, Cisternino embodies the quintessential Apulian experience – rich history, stunning views, and unparalleled culinary delights. It’s a testament to the beauty and depth of the region, deserving its place among the best of Apulia’s treasures. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or simply in search of Italy’s less-trodden paths, Cisternino offers a slice of life that’s as authentic as it is beautiful.

Food in Cisternino

  • Grilled Meats: Visit a local “macelleria” like Rosticceria L’Antico Borgo for a unique dine-in butcher experience.
  • Orecchiette: Sample this traditional pasta, often served with turnip tops or a rich tomato sauce.
  • Bombette: Don’t miss these mouthwatering meat rolls, a local street food delicacy.

Activities in Cisternino

  • Masseria Montenapoleone: Experience vinyards, wine and oil tastings, and cooking. It’s a secret spot but a tourist favourite!
  • Stroll Through the Old Town: Wander the maze of whitewashed streets and alleys.
  • Market Days: Explore the vibrant weekly market for local crafts and produce.
  • Photography: Capture stunning views of the Itria Valley, especially at sunset.

Tours in Cisternino

Getting to Cisternino

  • By Air: The nearest airport is Brindisi, about an hour’s drive away.
  • By Train: Connect through Bari or Brindisi to Cisternino via local train services.
  • By Car: A scenic drive through the Itria Valley will get you to Cisternino, accessible from major highways in the region.

Polignano a Mare: Jewel of the Adriatic

Polignano a Mare, thought of as the Jewel of the Adriatic, encapsulates the best of Apulia with its breathtaking coastal cliffs and pristine beaches. This charming town boasts a rich history, dating back to the 4th century BC, where it served as a crucial maritime hub. Today, it’s a paradise for photographers and adventurers alike. For the perfect shot, head to Lama Monachile beach early in the morning to catch the golden sunrise over the crystal-clear waters, with the iconic arched Roman bridge as your backdrop.

Locals recommend wandering the old town’s labyrinthine streets to discover hidden gems and cozy cafes. Don’t miss tasting the exquisite seafood dishes at Grotta Palazzese, a restaurant set inside a cave overlooking the sea, for a dining experience unlike any other.

Polignano a Mare invites visitors to dive into its vibrant culture. The birthplace of Domenico Modugno, who sang the world-famous “Volare,” the town pulsates with music and art. Leap into the azure waters from its dramatic cliffs or explore the cobbled streets in Polignano a Mare.

Food in Polignano a Mare

  • Seafood Delicacies: Fresh catches at any seaside restaurant. A favourite is Grotta Palazzese.
  • Gelato: Walk the streets and find somewhere to try unique flavors.
  • Street Food: Sample panzerotti and focaccia in local bakeries.

Activities in Polignano a Mare

  • Cliff Diving: For the thrill-seekers, join locals in a leap from the cliffs.
  • Beach Day: Relax at Cala Porto or Lama Monachile.
  • Stroll the Old Town: Discover charming alleys and sea views.

Tours in Polignano a Mare

Getting to Polignano a Mare

  • By Air: The nearest airport is Bari, about 40 minutes away by car.
  • By Train: Frequent trains connect Bari to Polignano a Mare.
  • By Road: A scenic drive along the coast from either Bari or Brindisi.

Gallipoli: The Beautiful Seaside Town

Gallipoli embodies the charm that makes this region a gem in Italy’s crown. Known for its stunning beaches, this seaside town is one of the best of Apulia. With a history that intertwines with the Greeks and Romans, Gallipoli offers more than just sunbathing spots. Its historic old town, set on an island linked by a 16th-century bridge to the mainland, is a maze of narrow streets leading to the vibrant marketplace, Baroque churches, and the imposing Gallipoli Castle.

Photography enthusiasts will find the sunset views from the old town’s walls breathtaking. For the best shots, head to the beachfront promenade during golden hour, where the setting sun paints the sea and sky in hues of gold and pink.

Local tips? Start your day with a walk along Riviera Nazario Sauro, and don’t miss trying a ‘rustico’—a local pastry—at one of the bakeries. For a meal, La Puritate offers exquisite seafood dishes right by the sea, capturing the essence of Gallipoli’s culinary prowess.

Activities abound, from exploring the ancient Angevin Castle to lounging on Purità Beach. The town is also a perfect base for boat trips around the Salento coast, offering a blend of relaxation and adventure. Gallipoli’s allure lies not just in its picturesque setting but in its vibrant culture and the warmth of its people, making it a must-visit for anyone exploring Apulia.

Food in Gallipoli

  • Seafood Delights: Fresh catches at La Puritate.
  • Local Pastries: Try a ‘rustico’ at a local bakery.

Activities in Gallipoli

  • Beach Relaxation: Spend a day at Purità Beach.
  • Historical Exploration: Tour the Gallipoli Castle and the old town.
  • Olive Oil Tastings: Visit Frantoio Ipogeo in the historic center.
  • Sunset Watching: Enjoy breathtaking views from the city walls.

Tours in Gallipoli

Getting to Gallipoli

By Air: Nearest airport is Brindisi, then a 1-hour drive to Gallipoli.

By Train: Direct trains available from Lecce to Gallipoli Station.

By Car: Accessible via the SS101 highway, offering scenic routes.

Culinary Journey Through Apulia

This region, a foodie’s paradise, offers a feast for the senses with its olive oils, wines, and traditional dishes that stand as proud representatives of Italian cuisine. The region’s olive oil is globally acclaimed and shows the regions rich agricultural traditions. Wineries welcome enthusiasts, offering tours that dive into Apulia’s diverse terroir and wine history.

Traditional cuisine here is marked by simplicity and robust flavors. Dishes like the iconic orecchiette pasta showcase local ingredients, while the fresh seafood mirrors the coastal heritage. The best of Apulia is on full display at its food markets and festivals, vibrant gatherings that celebrate the region’s culinary and cultural richness.

Make sure these local dishes are must-tries for anyone visiting the region:

  • Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa: Ear-shaped pasta served with turnip greens, anchovies, and garlic, embodying Apulia’s love for simple, flavorful ingredients.
  • Fave e Cicoria: A comforting puree of fava beans served with chicory, a perfect example of Apulia’s rustic and hearty cuisine.
  • Bombette Pugliesi: Mouthwatering rolls of pork filled with cheese and herbs, grilled to perfection, found especially in the Itria Valley.
  • Tiella di Riso, Patate e Cozze: A savory baked dish combining rice, potatoes, and mussels, flavored with garlic and fresh tomatoes, showcasing the region’s abundant seafood.
  • Pasticciotto: A sweet treat from Lecce, this pastry is filled with creamy custard, highlighting the region’s pastry craftsmanship.

Festivals and Cultural Events

Apulia shines with its vibrant festivals and cultural events, capturing the heart of local traditions and community spirit. The region’s calendar is packed with unique spiritual and joyously celebrations.

Highlights include the Festa di San Nicola in Bari, where faith and fun collide in a dazzling display of processions and fireworks. Music enthusiasts shouldn’t miss Taranta Night, a tribute to Apulia’s folk heritage through dance and the pizzica rhythm.

For a different vibe, the Alberobello Light Festival lights up the iconic Trulli houses, creating a mesmerizing spectacle of colors and designs. These events are just a taste of what makes Apulia special, blending history, culture, and entertainment.

Notable Events:

  • Festa di San Nicola, Bari
  • Taranta Night, Salento
  • Alberobello Light Festival
  • Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea

Conclusion – Best of Apulia, Italy

In Apulia, every city and town tells its own story, set against the backdrop of the region’s breathtaking landscapes and rich history. From the captivating architecture of Bari and the magical Trulli houses in Alberobello to the baroque elegance of Lecce and the stunning vistas of Ostuni, Apulia offers a mosaic of experiences that cater to every traveler’s dream.

The unforgettable tastes of local cuisine, the warmth of its people, and the beauty of its coastlines remind us why Apulia stands out as a must-visit destination. Whether it was the allure of Polignano a Mare’s dramatic cliffs, Gallipoli’s vibrant seaside charm, the tranquil beaches of Salento, the mysterious allure of Castel del Monte, or the rich tapestry of cultural festivals, Apulia has shown us a side of Italy that’s both authentic and mesmerizing.

So, as you plan your next adventure, remember the best of Apulia awaits to offer memories that will last a lifetime. Here’s to discovering the hidden gems that make Italy truly magical. Apulia is not just a destination; it’s an experience that stays with you, whispering the timeless beauty of Italy’s soul.

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