No, the tourist department didn’t pay me to write this, I just really think you should come here before everyone else catches on!
I spent six days in Puglia, staying in the lovely cliff and seaside town of Polignano a Mare. You won’t find Puglia in a lot of guide books (I love ya Rick Steves, but it’s time to give Puglia its due – and I’m happy to help!).
I think part of the reason you won’t find a lot written on Puglia is that it’s a bit more challenging to travel without a car. While there are trains and buses between most of the main towns, schedules to some locations are not as frequent. Hopefully I can help with some of that, but the Tourist Information centers in the towns are also very helpful – much more so than some of the stuff you find on the Internet.
Overall, the area is very relaxed. Much different from the frenetic pace of a Rome or even the hustle and bustle of Florence. The people are really nice and genuinely friendly and helpful (this has thankfully been a trend on my trip thus far).
Polignano a Mare
As I mentioned, I stayed in the lovely town of Polignano a Mare. I chose Polignano because it had a train station, old town, a beach and lovely views. As I wrote about earlier, it also has the most romantic restaurant in the world. I loved the town and the guest house I stayed at, Casamare. Ada, my host, could not have been more wonderful and welcoming. She helped me to the laundromat, neighboring town’s train station and had great recommendations. If you are staying in Polignano, drop her a line to see if she has availability.
As far as meals, I had excellent pizza at Pizza M’briana, super tasty cod pizzaolo at Mervaviglioso and the previously mentioned dinner at Grotta Palezzese. I also had an OK arrancini (rice ball) at Casa Mia and some decent tagliolini with clams and scampi at Antiche Mura.
The town also had some great gelato! My favorite was the Torta Sorrento (lemon tart with meringue) at Bella Blu. Caruso was also very good but a bit higher end/took themselves a bit too seriously. Bar Tourismo was good and Il Super Mago del Gello had excellent Mela Verde (green apple). I was also able to find some decent granita and had great frozen yogurt with fruit from Joya and tried potato (yes, potato!) gelato from Bar Pepino (it was OK, but I didn’t finish it…).
Sundays are very quiet in Puglia, with many shops and attractions closed. The train schedule is also less frequent. Therefore, I decided to visit Polignano’s neighbor, Monopoli. Similar to Polignano, Monopoli is a bit edgier, but every bit as lovely. It is also a quick, five minute, train ride from Polignano. From the train station, I walked to the harbor and then to the beach and through the old town. I also had an amazing pizza with fresh buffalo mozzarella at Ristorante Pizzeria Regina Margherita.
Ever since seeing the adorable smurf-like trulli of Alberobello, I wanted to visit! Given there aren’t a lot of tours in Puglia, I found the public transportation links… On the way there, I took a train from Converssano to Alberobello, but on the way back, I took the bus directly to Monopoli and then the train to Polignano. There’s supposedly a bus that goes from Polignano to Conversano, but I couldn’t figure out where to find it, when it ran and how it connected with the train… so Ada helped me out there!
Once I was in Alberobello, I first walked to the largest (and only two story) trullo before heading to the main area where there are more than 1000 trulli. I’m glad I did it this way as I was able to explore the town and trulli before finding all the tourists on the main tourist drag! I used this website to help my self guided tour (as well as Google maps on my phone!)
I also had a surprisingly good orichette with sauce and meatball. Orichette is one of the local pastas, and it means little ears :).
Lecce, Gallipoli and Ostuni
While I enjoy exploring on my own, given some of the transportation challenges, and my desire to see more, I took a tour to Lecce, Gallipoli and Ostuni through Green Tours. They were excellent. They didn’t have availability on their regularly scheduled tour, so they took me on a private tour for the price of the group tour. Gianfranco, my guide, was very sweet and attentive.
First up was Lecce. They call this the Florence of Puglia because of the beautiful baroque architecture. They also have some cool roman ruins and lots of paper mache shops and demonstrations. In fact, most of the altars at the churches and cathedrals were made of paper mache (they are now mostly made of plaster). I also tried Pasticciotto, the local pastry filled with cream and in my case lemon and strawberry.
We then went to Gallipoli, which is another lovely seaside town. We walked the port and old town and also saw the many beach clubs (if you want to party on the beach, this is the place!)
Finally, we visited Ostuni, which is a beautiful white city on a hill top. It also has great beaches a few miles away. It felt a bit more like Greece or Spain than Italy and was a lovely end to the day.
Please let me know if you have any questions about Puglia. I wish I had even more time there so that I could visit Matera, the amazing cave city and spend more quality time on the beautiful beaches. I know a lot of you are like me and you love Italy and are looking for a different place to go. I think Puglia may fit the bill!