WHAT TO SEE
Land of the sea, endless hills, and plains, Puglia attracts visitors for its splendid coasts with more than 800 kilometres between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Cities of art and its picturesque historic villages, where ancient religious traditions still live intact. Country farms surrounded by olive groves, and its products of the earth with an old and incomparable flavour. Puglia is always worth the trip, for many reasons. Here is a selection of ten places to plan your journey to the discovery of the region: 1. Lecce: the city of Baroque jewel art, it is a real open-air museum dotted with masterpieces and extraordinary monuments 2. Gargano: the "spur of Italy" is a peninsula of unspoiled nature and beautiful beaches, picturesque villages, olive groves, and citrus groves 3. Alberobello and the Itria Valley: between gentle hills and centuries-old olive trees, it is the "Valley of the Trulli" and characteristic villages such as Alberobello, Locorotondo, Cisternino, and Martina Franca 4. Ostuni: it is called "White City" for its historic centre entirely painted with white lime, a real feast for the eyes 5. Tremiti Islands: the only archipelago in the region, it includes five islands within a marine nature reserve with a sea that is a paradise for diving 6. Torre Guaceto Nature Reserve: a natural oasis and a protected marine area, a precious ecosystem where many animal species live 7. Castel del Monte: built by Frederick II of Swabia in the 13th century, it is famous all over the world for its particular octagonal plan and is the most visited monument in the region 8. The Castellana Caves: a complex of underground cavities 3 kilometres long, they are considered the most spectacular caves in Italy 9. Salento Peninsula: a fascinating land unique for its history and traditions, between farms and white sandy beaches with crystal clear sea (not surprisingly called "the Maldives of Italy") 10. Polignano a Mare: perched on a rock spur overlooking the Adriatic Sea, a seaside resort also appreciated its sea caves and the remains of Roman domination. Thinking of Puglia first evokes the Trulli, the dry buildings with a cone roof typical of the countryside scattered throughout the region's central-southern region. The Trulli are incredibly famous buildings that you can find in the Itria Valley and Alberobello. Here, the historic centre is made up entirely of them: the Trulli of Alberobello has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1996. Another symbolic place of Puglia is Castel Del Monte, a thirteenth-century fortress not far from Andria, also included among the Unesco Heritage assets, as well as the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo, a place of pilgrimage in the province of Foggia, and the Reserve Natural Forest of Umbra, in the Gargano. Undisputed symbols of the region are also its dry stone walls, widely spread in Salento and the Valle D'Itria. Its millenary olive groves produce a highly prized oil, the real "gold" of Puglia.
WHAT TO DO
Sea, mountains, hills, plains: in Puglia, the landscape is varied and heterogeneous. The activities, dynamic or relaxing, to which it is possible to dedicate oneself. Numerous festivals of religious and folkloristic traditions occur throughout the region.
First, given the considerable coastal development – there are 865 kilometres of coastline in Puglia – there are many water sports you can do. Salento, at places such as Torre dell’ Orso and Lido Marini or in Gallipoli, the beaches of Frassanito and Alimini, a prevalent activity is kitesurfing. Stand up Paddle, wind-surfing, and wakeboarding are ideal sports here, as the wind and waves are suitable for surfing, kite, and windsurfing.
Torre Guaceto, Palese, Santo Spirito, and Giovinazzo. Vieste, in the Gargano, is also a popular destination for surfing and windsurfing, especially the bay of Santa Maria di Merino and Manaccora.
The best spots for diving are those on the Tremiti Islands, in the Gargano National Park. Famous locations are Santa Maria di Leuca, where the Adriatic and Ionian sea meet, and Porto Cesareo, where specimens of Caretta-Caretta turtles live. Torre Canne, in whose waters the Gulten Islamoglu wreck lies, and Torre Ovo’s extraordinary backdrop of the Petrified Forest, the only forest of fossil remains in Italy. Excursions by boat – including sailing – can be made along the entire coast, from the Gargano (ideal starting point for visiting the Tremiti Islands) to Salento, through the Bari coast from Polignano.
The Gargano, with its cape covered by the dense vegetation of the Umbra Forest, offers numerous opportunities for trekking: within the national park, you can follow the Path of the Promontory, 12 kilometres from Rodi Garganico to Vico del Gargano, from the sea to the woods, or go up on Monte Nicola, which offers splendid views of the sea, on Monte Calvo, the highest peak (1,065 m) of the Gargano or go along the Vallone dell’ Inferno, among old mule tracks and places of faith, or on Monte Sacro along the Path of Orchids. Alternatively, go horseback riding or enjoy some bike and e-bike excursions along the cape’s paths.
Trekking paths also wind through Salento: you can go on excursions on the Ostuni Hills, in the Idro Valley, along with the Via dei Pellegrini, to the Laterza or Palagianello ravine, in the Punta Pizzo Park or along the salt roads for then continue to the Cipolliane caves. Alternatively, you can visit the Salento Natural Parks, including that of the Island of Sant’Andrea in Gallipoli or the Costa d’Otranto Park. The road from Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca is very suggestive of travelling by car or motorbike.
Bicycle lovers can choose from numerous proposals throughout the region, particularly suitable in spring and autumn when temperatures are milder: among the most famous routes, the Salento Ring, 200 kilometres mainly flat, through small towns and stops food and wine, or the country roads of the Itria Valley, between Trulli and dry stone walls, with stops in Alberobello, Locorotondo and Cisternino. Or take the coast road from Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca or along the seafront between Monopoli and Fasano, part of the Adriatic Cycle Route. This 1,300-kilometer cycling route connects Trieste with Santa Maria di Leuca.
A unique natural oasis of its kind is the Torre Guaceto Reserve, between Carovigno and Brindisi, along a pristine stretch of the sea: here it is possible to move by bicycle or on foot, relaxing among wild beaches and centuries-old olive groves, farmhouses, and farms in the Mediterranean scrub. In reserve, it is possible to participate in guided excursions on foot, bicycle, and night visits to discover the incredible native fauna and flora.
Puglia has a robust gastronomic vocation: its many wine roads testify to this. From north to south of the region, there are many taste paths to discover, real naturalistic and cultural itineraries along which it is possible to make tastings and visits to cellars or mills. Among the most famous roads, the Appia dei Vini Classica Brindisi-Ostuni, the Strada dei Vini Doc Castel del Monte, the Strada Del Vino Vigna Del Sole, and the Strada del Vino Doc Locorotondo and Martina Franca.
Within its territory, Puglia holds numerous churches, monasteries, and places of faith: unmissable stops on tour dedicated to spirituality are the Cathedral of Otranto, the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Lecce, the rock Church of San Michele, in Gravina, the Church of Sant’Antonio in Alberobello (a naturally shaped Trullo) and the Sanctuary of San Pio da Pietrelcina, in San Giovanni Rotondo which preserves the remains of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.
For “the little ones,” the most recommended place is Fasano, in Brindisi, with its zoo and amusement park, the Zoosafari Fasanolandia, or Miragica in Molfetta, the Splash water park of Gallipoli, the Ippocampo Water Park of Manfredonia, and the Indiana Park of Castellana Grotte.
In addition to the numerous festivals related to the products of the earth organized throughout the region, there are some events of particular importance: among them the Carnival of Putignano, among the oldest in Europe (it has existed since 1394), in the province of Bari, with its spectacular allegorical floats; the Notte della Taranta, a famous music festival held in August in various municipalities in the area of Lecce, with a final concert in Melpignano; the Valle d’Itria Festival, between July and August, with opera performances; the Locus Festival, in August in Locorotondo, with music from all over the world; the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, an international diving competition held in Polignano a Mare since 2009, scheduled for July; Holy Week in Francavilla Fontana, from Holy Wednesday to Easter, with sacred celebrations and the parade of the “Pappamusci” and the Focara di Sant’Antonio which takes place in Novoli, in the province of Lecce, with the festivities in honor of the patron Saint Anthony the Abbot.
WHAT TO EAT
The Apulian cuisine bases on simple ingredients and rich in products of the earth: to accompany these dishes, there are always vegetables of all kinds such as chicory, turnips, tomatoes, onions, aubergines, and peppers.
The antipasti of the Apulian tradition offer tasty and delicious land or sea dishes. Apulian preserves such as peppers in oil (be careful, they can also be very spicy!) or eggplants in oil. Delicacies worth trying are fried bread balls with anchovies and capers, a delicious dish to be enjoyed as a second course, fried mussels or fried sweet olives, with chilli pepper and garlic, to be combined perhaps with Altamura DOC bread, Taralli, or a selection of local cheeses such as Pallone di Gravina, Canestrato Pugliese or burrata.
In the Apulian cuisine, first courses are an inevitable dish, with many innumerable variations of pasta types, possibly homemade, according to recipes handed down from generation to generation. The most famous Apulian first courses are the Orecchiette with turnip tops or with tomato and salted Ricotta. Typical Apulian is also the Tiella, made with rice, potatoes, mussels, onions and tomatoes, and the baked ziti, with tomato, sausage, and mozzarella.
Among the second courses, there are many specialities to try, both fish and meat: for example, the Apulian Bombette, rounded veal rolls stuffed with bacon and caciocavallo; or lamb and baked potatoes, typical of the Easter period, or mussels alla Taranto, flavoured with tomato sauce, sea bream alla Pugliese, with potatoes and pecorino, or octopus alla Pignata, a classic from Salento in which the octopus cooked in a clay pot with onion, tomato, and herbs. The choice of vegetables is vast: from mashed beans with chicory to stuffed tomatoes and artichokes, from fried Lampascioni to aubergines cooked in a thousand variations.
To conclude on a sweet note, an undisputed must is the Pasticciotto from Lecce. It is the typical Salento dessert, a shortcrust pastry filled with custard to add black cherries, regular of the Salento breakfast. Or in its variant: the fruit, with white almond cream and a heart of quince or pears, covered with chocolate, perfect to accompany a coffee, or the Pitthedde, star-shaped pasta from Salento cuisine.
As for street food, Puglia’s proposals do not lack: among the products to try is the Bari focaccia, in numerous variations from area to area. The traditional recipe includes fresh tomatoes and olives, but there is also a variant with potatoes. The Panzerotto, fried, prepared with minced meat and peas, Caciocavallo and Mortadella, turnips and Scamorza cheese, or the classic Lecce rustic, puff pastry filled with mozzarella, béchamel, tomato, and pepper.
Puglia is also a land of famous wines: among the most renowned labels are the Primitivo di Manduria, a red DOC and DOCG from the province of Brindisi and Taranto, the Negroamaro, a native vine of Salento, also in the variant of Salice Salentino DOC, which it can also be rosé, and Castel Del Monte Aglianico, a DOC red wine produced in the provinces of Barletta-Andria-Trani and Bari.
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