Puglia, Italy

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Exploring Italy’s Puglia Region

A well-kept secret of Italy, the charming Puglia region has been getting a lot of attention the last year or two, particularly by the international community. Magnificent ancient limestone cities, thousands of years old, still stand and bustle with authentic Italian culture where people are friendly, locals still fish during the day to make a living, and families come out at night to celebrate life into the early hours of morning. Unlike touristy and commercialized cities like Rome or Florence, Puglia is likely what St Tropez might have looked like 30-years ago, blending all the right ingredients to become the next international hot spot. It seems to already be on its way.

Our Itinerary & Experience

Day 1: Arriving in Gallipoli

We flew into Brindisi airport from Rome and picked up our rental car. It’s a good idea to pick up an international drivers permit ahead of your travel because the rental companies will require your passport, driver’s permit, and credit card. We were also sure to get a car equipped with GPS, so that we would have no issues finding destinations in Southern Italy without normal cell service. We found having GPS to be extremely helpful in the small towns and highways during this trip and would highly recommend having it. Plan your driving ahead of time to familiarize with the various roundabouts and highways with fast drivers.

For our visit to the Puglia area, we decided to base ourselves out of the sea side village of Gallipoli. Following signs to Lecce and then on to Gallipoli, the trip from the airport was about 70 uneventful minutes in total. We passed orchards of olive tree orchards with lots of rather old framed buildings, stone huts, castles, and a few old beautiful churches. We did notice on the drive by a lot of abandoned buildings along the side of the road. It looks like they have been abandoned for a few years now. I guess this was due to a the downturn in the Italian economy.

Gallipoli Puglia Italy Beach

We arrived in the city of Gallipoli, driving through the new town and over a small bridge to arrive in the old town. The old town is technically located on an island surrounded by a stone wall with a beautiful old fort overlooking the sea. Since about 300 BC, Gallipoli has been conquered multiple times by surrounding countries. While this has stifled growth in the city, Gallipoli has grown into an authentically Italian seaside town with a reputation for having an active nightlife during the summer months.

Gallipoli Fish Market Puglia Italy

We rented a wonderful villa in the old city with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. It was rather well laid out with modern appliances, great air conditioning (a must have), and an enormous roof terrace. The villa is beautifully situated amidst the old town with stunning views. Just out of the front door of the property takes you into old school Italy – a wondrous combination.

Old Town Gallipoli Puglia Italy

We unpacked and decided to try a local beach club before dinner. We picked one only about 15-minutes away from the villa, called G Beach. Like this one, we found most of the beach clubs were built on rocky beaches with sun decks and pathways build on top of the rocks. G Beach was a blast with a DJ spinning most of the day and cold drinks being served as we relaxed by the sea. We stayed for about 4 hours before heading home to watch a seemingly recurring fantastic sunset from our roof terrace.

G Beach Gallipoli Puglia Italy

That evening, we hired local chef from the town to come cook for us that night. The villa helped us make the arrangements, and we were glad we did. She prepared a wonderful multi-course traditional Puglia meal consisting of seafood, pasta, and salad. As we watched the sun set into the Mediterranean, we enjoyed a fantastic local wine while enjoyed this delicious home cooked meal. It was an ideal meal in a picturesque location – the perfect finish to our first day in Puglia.

Multi Course Traditional Puglia Meal

 

Day 2: Touring Lecce by Foot

On our second day, we cooked up a light breakfast using fresh eggs, vegetables, and pasta from a local market. Because everything is so fresh, breakfast turned out great. Following our light meal, we headed over to Il Bastione where we rented a few chairs on the Gallipoli old town seaside to take in some sun, sights, and relaxation.

Sunbathing at Il Bastione Gallipoli Italy Puglia

After a light pizza lunch, we decided to go explore the old city of Lecce, which is about a 40-minute drive from the villa. We arrived in Lecce and were rather taken back by stunning Baroque architecture in the old city quarters. There were many beautiful villas, historic churches, and old streets that were alive with activity and commerce.

Basilica di S Giovanni Battista al Rosario Lecce Italy

The city is magnificent with its architecture and Roman ruins scattered around. A large Roman amphitheatre sits in the middle of the old city square surrounded by other wonderful centuries-old buildings and shops. We found it rather refreshing not having the large tour groups crowding the old city like Florence. The city held a rather fun and authentic feel that is unlike many European cities that are very commercialized.

Lecche Love Locks

After our walking tour of Lecce’s old town, we drove back to Gallipoli where we were surprised to see how the island had come to life. Empty parking lots were crammed with cars, and streets were bustling with locals from the surrounding areas. With all of the excitement, we decided to check out the nightlife and headed around the corner to a bar called Blanc. In contrast to the rest of Gallipoli’s old town, Blanc is a hip and trendy bar built in an old church, giving it a beautiful juxtaposition of art and history. The drinks were tasty and the crowd was fun. Without a doubt, visitors should stop by to grab a drink under the stars with the surrounding buildings stretching up to touch them.

Blanc Bar Restaurant Gallipoli Italy Puglia

 

Day 3: Beach Day in Leuca

The next morning, we got up and went to a nearby market to pick up farm-fresh groceries, literally brought in that day. We threw together some ingredients to make a fantastic egg scramble. One benefit of renting a villa is that you get to enjoy the freshness of the groceries and mingle with the locals during their normal day. With a little percolated Italian coffee, the day was starting spectacularly.

Gallipoli Italy Market

We packed up our beach attire and headed to the southernmost tip of Italy’s “heel”. There in Leuca, we had chairs reserved at one of the nicer beach clubs called Marinelli Bagni. With wooden decking spanning the property, we set up our chairs and enjoyed the afternoon sun. The bar made fun cocktails and recommended some great beer to cool us down on this hot day. The beautiful scenery was punctuated by the signature striped dressing rooms, which is the locations signature trademark. As the afternoon grew late, we grabbed a light lunch at the restaurant and hit the road back to Gallipoli.

Leuce Beach Club

After cleaning up after the beach and cooling down in the villa’s refreshing air conditioning, we were off to a nearby seafood restaurant where guests get to select the catch of the day to be cooked and served to order. The seafood selection was quite impressive, and the staff were friendly and accommodating.

Fresh Seafood at Silocco Gallipoli Italy Puglia

After enjoying our lovely meal overlooking the coast, we wanted to enjoy some of the night life. So we headed back to Blanc for a night cap. We tried a variety of different drinks, including Moscow Mules, Mezcal Tequila, and more drinks uncommon in Europe. This place had its drinks down. Don’t miss this fun bar, particularly later at night when it livens up.

Gallipoli Nightlife Puglia Italy

 

Day 4: Boating Around the Boot

We organized a private speed boat for the day to explore the southern Italian coast. We wanted to explore the numerous enchanting coves, caves, and crystal clear waters along the coast. The boat trip started out of Santa Maria di Leuca, the southernmost tip of the Salento peninsula – the very tip of the heel of Italy.

Marina di Leuca Puglia Italy

The boat captain and his son met us at the port in the morning to show us the boat. It was new, fast, and perfect for our sea adventure. While the captain spoke very little English, his son spoke it very well and wound up being our translator and tour guide for the trip.

He was rather knowledgeable about the history of the area and excited to share his knowledge, His family had been in the area for generations. So he took us to explore the best coves, caves and grottas along the coast. Some sea caves were large enough to fit our decently sized boat. Some smaller grottas required that we jump off the boat a swim into to check out. Each cave was beautiful and unique it its own way. We swam through caves to other caves. We even climbed into one cave, scaling rocks to find an underground lake of fresh water. 

Grotta del Soffio Puglia Italy

Speaking of which, it was interesting that rivers flowed to the various areas along the Leuca coast. While the water was refreshing and totally clear, it had pockets of warm, salty seawater, and fresh, cold river water. With goggles and fins, we were able to see all of the underwater rock formations, which were breathtaking.

Puglia Italy Grotta

The boat excursion passed too quickly. At mid-day, we had to head off to Brindisi airport to return our sporty Citroen and catch our flight back to Rome. While we were sad to leave this quaint area of Italy, we were very happy to have experienced such an authentic part of Italy’s culture, particularly as it becomes more and more popular as a Mediterranean destination.

Planning Your Trip

  • Puglia makes more wine than any other region in Italy.
  • Puglia is home to over 50 million olive trees. Many of them centuries old. It’s no surprise that Puglia is responsible for over 60% of the olive oil produced in Italy.
  • Lecce, is nicknamed the ‘Florence of the South’, due to all the Roman ruins and Baroque architecture.
  • There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Puglia, the most famous is Alberobello.
  • The region has 500 miles of coastline and 10 Blue Flag beaches.
  • After Venice, Lecce is one of the most well-known cities for the craft of Papier-Mâché.
  • Temperatures remain warm and sunny for most of the year because of Puglia’s location, surrounded by the Ionian and Adriatic seas.
  • The hottest months of July and August are the busiest. Prepare with light clothes, hats, glasses, and lots of sunscreen.
  • During the cooler months, crowds and temperatures cool down, but remain vibrant. Bring light sweaters and jackets for cool evenings on the sea.
  • Puglia’s fashionable beach clubs can be a great place to enjoy the warm Mediterranean climate and crystal blue waters. G Beach is a particularly fun option for the daytime lounge lizard that likes to bust a move into the evening. Marinelli Bagni is the more relaxing option where sunbathers can lounge on the decks and take in the picturesque surroundings while also enjoying a light meal from the restaurant.
  • Coined by some as the “Smurf village,” the unique architecture and quaint town surrounding The Trulli of Alberobello are the ideal location for a day-long excursion. It’s unlike anything you’ll see in Europe.
  • Lecce feels like the authentic Italian experience compared to Italy’s other big  destinations because it has yet to be commercialized and overrun with tourists. Park your car near the center of town and take a walking tour, visiting Centro Storico, Basilica di Santa Croce, Duomo di Lecce, and many other beautiful historic landmarks.
  • Chartering a boat to take in Puglia’s 500 miles of breathtaking coastline is perhaps the best way to take it all in. Starting at Santa Maria di Leuca, the southernmost tip of the Salient peninsula, the tour heads towards Marina di Novaglie. From there visitors can admire the famous caves of Leuca, after which the boat heads San Gregorio/Torre Vado where there are beautiful, sandy beaches; enchanting caves; and crystalline, green waters of the Antiche Pajare.
  •  Scale Nove – Renting a private villa on Gallipoli island gives a unique opportunity to blend with the local culture and enjoy the vibrant nightlife during the summer. This villa in particular was very modern and well appointed.
  • Palazzo Mosco Inn – Also located in old town, this hotel offers the authentic Gallipoli experience with full-services and amenities.
  • Le Alcove – For a visit to see The Trulli of Alberobello, this quaint luxury hotel lets visitors enjoy authentic Trulli of their own.
  • Lunch is something to be enjoyed and lasts from between 1pm and 4:30pm. Most businesses and shops, except for restaurants of course, are actually closed during this period, so you need to take this into account when planning your day.
  • Hire a Chef – Our villa rental arranged an incredible chef who prepared fresh seafood dishes using fish caught just that day by local fishermen. Paired with great wine, it was the perfect way to enjoy a rooftop dinner watching the sunset over the Mediterranean.
  • Blanc is a hip and modern bar and restaurant nestled in the heart of Gallipoli’s historic old town. The drink menu is a diverse and playful spin on mixology, while the food menu gives you a taste of southern Italy with other fun fare.
  • Silocco restaurant has seafood captured fresh from the sea that day. Guests select the catch they would like and have it cooked and delivered to their outdoor table to enjoy while watching the bustling Gallipoli scene.
  • Rent a car (from Europcar, Sixt, or similar) at either the Brindisi or Bari airport to cover a lot of ground during your visit. Puglia is spread out and can be best discovered this way.
  • Gallipoli Transfer is a local shuttle service to help get to and from the airports in the Puglia area.
  • Official language is Italian
  • Though Puglia has its own dialect, separate from the national language, there are still small pockets, near Lecce that speak Greek, or Griko.
  • Puglia’s history, like that of so many parts of southern Italy, is a tangled web indeed! Its strategic position and its fertile soil made it an attractive proposition for colonization and all the usual suspects, Mediterranean and non, invaded at one time or another. While exploitation was usually the name of the game, each conqueror bequeathed a cultural, architectonic and gastronomic patrimony whose fascinating eclecticism remains for all to see.
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