After a 2 year delay we finally got to go on our long-awaited family holiday to Italy’s Puglia region in May and it was every bit as good as we hoped it would be.
Puglia is a region in Southern Italy (it’s the heel of the boot!) that is famed for its whitewashed conical shaped structures known as trulli. And while these fantastical-looking buildings are truly interesting (see what I did there) they are just one part of what makes Puglia such an attractive part of Italy to visit.
Because it’s pretty, guys, really pretty.
I’m talking picture book villages that look unchanged for hundreds of years, where grocery-laden locals chat animatedly on the street. The coastline is cinematic too – whether you’re watching royal blue fishing boats bumping up against ancient castles in Monopoli, or peering over the steep cliffs of Polignano a Mare to the tiny slither of turquoise water that runs towards a roman bridge.
And the best thing about all this? It’s free! You can discover all the best things to do in Puglia without spending a penny. Just being there, discovering one old town after the next, is the best thing you can do on a Puglia family holiday. (If you ask me).
So, if that has talked you into planning a Puglia holiday here’s a little look at everything we did on our trip.
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Where to base yourself in Puglia
Because we only had 1 week for our Puglia trip and a 3-year-old with us we decided to base ourselves in one location and explore from there. We found a beautiful trullo style property outside the town of Castellana Grotte that was a great base for exploring all the popular Apulian places I list in this article including Alberobello, Monopoli and Ostuni.
You could easily spend 2 weeks (or more) in Puglia and split your time between where we stayed near Alberobello and somewhere further south such as Lecce. I think if you’re a family with young kids then what we did was more than enough. I feel like we saw a good cross-section of Puglia’s attractions while still making it back to our trullo for nap time most afternoons. (AKA the DREAM!)
Prettiest Places to visit in Puglia
So here’s where we decided to go:
Perhaps the most famous town in Puglia, Alberobello is where you’ll find the highest concentration of trullo buildings with over 1500 tightly packed into the rural valley. What makes Alberobello so unique is that you don’t find this style of building anywhere else outside of the Itria Valley.
Legend has it these conical-roofed dry-stone dwellings popped up in Puglia in the 14th century as a way to avoid feudal taxes. They were deliberately built in a way that would be easy to dismantle should the tax man come knocking. Which makes it even more surprising that so many are still standing in Alberobello several hundred years later.
Today, Alberobello is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction in Puglia. Many of the original trullo now house gift shops, cafes and (more so outside of town) they have been made into tourist accommodation.
We spent an afternoon exploring Alberobello and went back on another occasion for dinner and this was enough to see everything. Check out Ristorante Pizzeria Pozzo Contino, which has an outdoor terrace with a fab view over the trulli (there is a public walkway with a great view behind the restaurant if you decide not to eat there), then head to Arte Fredda for gelato after.
If you’re driving we found the closest car park to the historical zone is Parcheggio Largo Giuseppe Martelotta. If this is busy there are a couple of overflow car parks nearby, search for Parcheggio Viale Indipendenza on Google maps.
I don’t know if it’s because it was the first of Puglia’s pretty towns we visited but Locorotundo stands out in my mind as the prettiest! From the pots of crimson flowers that adorn balconies, to olive trees dotted around piazzas, and unexpected frescoes on the ceilings of tiny churches, it was charm personified.
We loved wandering the pedestrianised streets without a plan here. There are a few brown signs that guide you to buildings or churches of note but we mostly enjoyed getting lost in the historical centre (centro storico in Italian) for a few hours and then popping out at the community garden near Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, which has a lovely view over the trulli-dotted valley.
Perched on stop of a hill and cascading down the sides in tiers like a wedding cake, you can spot Ostuni from miles away. Known as Puglia’s White City, Ostuni is also known for its Cathedral, which has a blend of Gothic, Romanesque and Byzantine architecture, and its medieval gate, Porta San Demetrio.
Ostuni is the only place in Puglia we paid for a sightseeing tour and that’s because we couldn’t resist the chance to explore in an open-air Ape Calessino. It was such a fun way to get an introduction to the history of Ostuni, plus we stopped at some great viewpoints toddler legs might not otherwise have made it to! (Check out a reel of our experience here.)
We didn’t pre-book, we just hopped in one we found waiting at the public car park. You can also visit the Ostuni Touring office in Piazza della Liberta to book a private tour.
Monopoli is a vibe. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this characterful coastal city as much as we did but the centro storico, with its baroque churches, castle, cannons and stone walls abutting a photogenic harbour really is a must-see.
This was probably one of Miles’ favourite places to explore (see reasons above) and the fact that I had some of the best gelato of my life at Gasperini dal 1936 really sealed the deal for me!
We also enjoyed a refreshing cold drink with fab sea views from the rooftop terrace of a beautiful boutique hotel called Don Ferrante. If you’re strolling the coastal path be sure to stop here.
Close to Monopoli you’ll find some of the best beaches in this part of Puglia. We spent a morning at Cala Paradiso, which has a lovely sandy, child-friendly bay and a view of Monopoli peeking up over the cliffs.
Many beaches in this area are organised Lidos – this basically means a beach club operates on part of them and you have to pay to use sunbeds and umbrellas or squeeze your towel in the public areas around the edges. During our visit the Lido at Cala Paradiso was not yet open but it looked lovely. I’d definitely have spent the day here if we could get food and drinks served.
Another area that was recommended to us was Capitolo, which has a long stretch of sandy beach with a mix of beach clubs and public areas.
Polignano A Mare
It was seeing pictures of Polignano A Mare that made me realise there was more to a holiday to Puglia than exploring trulli in Alberobello.
Polignano is home to arguably the most famous beach in Puglia, Cala Porto. (Also known as Lama Monochile). Enveloped by steep cliffs, sunkissed buildings and a Roman bridge, Lama Monochile is so distinctive. We’ll never forget it.
The beach itself is quite pebbly and gets crowded so in my opinion it was not worth the trek down with a 3-year-old, but wandering the chic old town to get to the balcony where you’ll find this view definitely is. (The view point is listed as Belvedere su Lama Monachile on Google Maps. Click to get directions here.)
There are some really gorgeous boutiques and sophisticated bars in Polignano. It felt more touristy than other places we visited but it was very chic. We enjoyed a fantastic Aperitivo board with Aperol Spritz at a gorgeous boutique B&B called Dei Serafini.
We squeezed in a visit to Martina Franca before heading to the airport on our last day and unfortunately as it was raining we didn’t see it in the best light. Things got better though as we entered the old town through one of the four impressively imposing Renaissance and Baroque gates and found our way to the beautiful Basilica di San Martino, picking up some freshly baked focaccia on the way.
Finally, although it’s not technically in Puglia, I have to mention Matera in this post as it’s an easy drive from Alberobello and an absolute must-see while you are in this region of Italy.
Matera is an ancient UNESCO heritage city that is known for its cave dwellings. It’s believed to be the third oldest continually habited settlement in the world (after Aleppo & Jericho) and up until only a few decades ago some of those inhabitants still lived in tiny cave dwellings in what is known as the Sassi.
We visited a Casa Grotta, a museum staged like a typically furnished cave dwelling, to get a sense of what life was life in these tunnelled homes. I couldn’t believe whole families, including the pigs & donkeys, lived in these caves up until the 1950s. (Residents were evacuated due to poor living conditions after Matera became known as the ‘shame of Italy’.)
Today, you’ll find boutique hotels, art galleries, gift shops, restaurants & rock churches dotted around the rejuvenated Sassi. It’s an intriguing mix of the ancient & the chic, with a touch of cinematic drama. (Bond Movie, No Time To Die, was filmed here).
Where to stay in Puglia
We stayed in the absolutely stunning Trullo Roverella with private pool just outside Castellana Grotte. I’m going to write about this place in more detail as it was a true gem but some of the things we loved about it were:
*The annexe bathroom with huge bathtub overlooking the pool
*The extensive outdoor dining and pool area surrounded by olive trees
*The chic but practical décor – there was a fully fitted kitchen, master bedroom on the mezzanine level and good sized sofa bed in the living room
*The outdoor shower and laundry room
*Electric car charger
*Complete privacy – there is only one other villa on the property and they have their own pool too
Getting around Puglia
We flew into Bari Airport and hired a car for the week. As our accommodation had an electric car charger we used Discover Cars to search for the best deal among various suppliers and ended up finding an electric Renault Zoe which we loaned via Sicily by Car. We also hired a car seat for Miles which was in great condition. We had to fit it ourselves though and that took ages!
Hiring an electric car worked out really well for us. Not only because we didn’t pay for fuel for the week but because we were able to snag some great parking spaces in the likes of Polignano and Locorotundo by using the electric charging points.
Is Puglia toddler-friendly?
Absolutely. Our 3-year-old had a blast exploring the pedestrianized old towns, searching for castles and church bell towers became his new favourite thing. It was great to be able to enjoy a mix of sightseeing and beach time and if the weather had been just a little bit warmer I’m sure we would have spent most afternoons in the pool. (We visited during an unseasonably cool week in May!)
I also loved that you could see so many beautiful places within a short time frame. Many towns are just 15-20 minute’s drive from each other so we managed to see a lot while not feeling like we were always in the car.
If you’d like any more tips for travelling to Puglia please visit my Instagram @jayneytravels – I have a highlight of our trip saved there.
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