Puglia, Italy

Discover the Best Kept Secrets of the Heel of Italy


Discover the Best Kept Secrets of the Heel of Italy

Remember that dream you had of wine flowing from petrol pumps like endless gallons of the best unleaded? That is no dream, that is Puglia. This still somehow lesser known region of Italy’s south-eastern heel is one of Europe’s glorious hidden treasures. Not least, it boasts the very top picks for wineries with over 200 producers and 25 dominations of origin. The more discerning among us may choose to experience fine dining at an upmarket wine resort featuring the exquisite raisiny reds that Puglia excels in. But you can do a whole lot worse than rock up at a local consorzio for ‘vino alla spina’, literally wine on tap, and dispense your own very acceptable five litre haul for a dreamy €8.

With over 800km of coastline and a strategically important location on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, the region has historically been a scene of conflict and occupation with Ottomans, Greeks and Spanish all leaving marks of their heritage. Nowadays Puglians seem to have embraced the opposite vibe, enjoying a peaceful, laid back attitude to life. Until, that is, night falls and locals take to the streets for their evening passiega. That’s when shops reopen, families come out and bars are filled. You’ll find some tourists for sure, but these are mostly attracted by the high temperatures and buzzing beach life of the summer holiday period. From mid-October through to early April though, you’re up for a less crowded, more enhanced, low season experience.

Winter time in Puglia is very mild and although the coolest months of January and February can dip below 10°C, low season mostly remains moderately warm especially when compared with northern Europe. Showers are possible with the Salento area seeing the least rainfall, but when rain does come it tends to be brief and there are still plenty of clear, sunny days. In fact, when summer’s blistering highs cool down, that’s the perfect time to visit Puglia’s charming whitewashed towns, see the stunning architecture of Renaissance cities and explore row after row of the olive groves of this beautiful region. Low season Puglia offers a real chance to find an authentic Italy, connecting with the southern land and people on a much deeper level than at any other time of the year.

Stunning Coastline 

Puglia is surrounded by clear blue waters to rival those of the Maldives and Seychelles. Okay, you might not be enjoying watersports or sunbathing in winter, but the scenic coastal areas are still great for low season activities. The Salento peninsula especially is known for its historic watchtowers and unique limestone formations, and Porto Selvaggio National Park is a favourite place for exploring miles of pine trails, sandy coves, and wildlife hideaways. Drive along the rocky coast of the Gargano promontory that makes up the spur of the Italian boot, running 140km past ancient forests, spectacular cliffs and the famous faraglioni white rocks jutting from the Adriatic.

Historic Centres

Visitors to Puglia are taken aback time and again by just how many surprises are waiting round every corner. Each town delights with a charming personality, architectural masterpiece or world heritage site to rival those of the much better known centres of Northern Italy. Low season is the perfect time to take a bicycle tour of the city of Lecce, said to be the Florence of the south. Take your time exploring the beautiful squares, Roman amphitheatre, and the stunning Baroque masterpiece that is the façade of the Basilica di Santa Croce.  Ostuni, the White City, is painted entirely with whitewash and offers a sparkling view to those who climb to the highest part of the city were you’ll find the Santa Maria Cathedral. Locorotondo is the prettiest of towns with its flower filled circular centre and narrow streets surrounded by olive groves. Alberobello is a must-see, with its distinctive Trulli, the peculiar cone shaped huts which date from 3000BC and are now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Check out the Roman seaside town of Monopoli and its harbour filled with small blue fishing boats, or just up the coast, lovely Polignano a Mare where you can walk in the old town and enjoy views from Terrazza Santo Stefano.

Great Culinary Tradition

One activity that is most definitely available year-round is eating. Mouthwatering Puglian cuisine is to die for. Wonderful multi-generational tavernas, bars and bakeries abound with traditional home-cooked fare like mamma used to make. Cooking classes run from family homes are a great way to spend a low season afternoon. Local specialties include ‘orecchiette’ an ear-shaped pasta served with turnip tops, garlic and ricotta cheese; lemon custard pie from Lecce; the freshest seafood; and super soft burrata cheese handmade from mozzarella and cream. Visit Altamura where renowned bakeries sit side by side with ornate Romanesque architecture. The heavenly scent of hot fresh out of oven focaccia, taralli bread rings or pettole dough balls dipped in local olive oil might be just the finest experience of your low season adventure.

Low Season Months

May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct

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Top Experiences

Cycle through Puglia’s Culinary and Architectural History

Hop on two wheels and join an expert biking guide to get your cultural fix while getting a work out. Itineraries include routes which stop at a 15th century Masseria farmhouse to taste olive oils and then continuing to the lovely hilltop villages of Cisternino and Ostuni.

Learn how to make cheese in Alberobello

Tour through the landscape around Alberobello and discover ancient trulli, dry stone walls, and old farmhouses. Don’t miss the local cheese laboratory where you can learn how to make burrata like a pro and try the freshest mozzarella you have ever tasted.

Take a photography tour of Lecce

The fewer passers-by on Lecce’s narrow winding streets the better the resulting urban shots. With your professional photographer guide, you’ll discover how the light plays with shapes and textures in this beautiful Baroque city, and other top photography tips.

Insider Tips

  • In the pre-Easter period, during Holy week, there are unique rituals on the streets of Puglia. In cities like Taranto and Martina Franca see processions of barefoot people with closed faces like capuchins that repeat the road to Calvary and ask for the atonement of sins.
  • Visit the perfectly preserved 13th century Castel del Monte close to Andria. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, it’s known for its characteristic octagonal shape. It’s also the inspiration for the fortress in Umberto Eco's novel ‘The Name of the Rose’.
  • Pizzica is a traditional Puglian folk dance, a mesmeric mix of jerky moves and rhythmic beats with a long historic tradition. It’s like a ballet filled with religious and cultural significance. You might well see street performances or book to see a live show.

Good To Know

  • Apulia or Puglia? You see both, but the historic name for the region is the Latin Apulia, the version favoured by English speakers. Italians however use their preferred Puglia, pronounced ‘poo-lee-a’ and modern convention is now moving towards this usage.
  • To really experience a slower pace of life, hire a car and take a trip into the Daunia Mountains where time stands still. Here you can fall asleep in one of the pretty villages like Bovino or Sant’Agata, and awake to epic vistas of forested valleys and medieval castles.
  • Southern Italians still embrace their version of siesta - ‘Pennichella’, much more so than in the north of the country. So take into account when making plans that in Puglia almost everything is closed during the lunch time, which can last anything from 1pm to 5pm.

Food & Drink

Dall’Antiquario, Lecce

Here you can sample the finest lemon custard pie and they are open all year round. IRS’s a colourful rustic space serving home style Salento-region cuisine and decorated with hanging bicycles and charming trinkets.

La Locanda di Federico, Bari

Very authentic restaurant in the old town of Bari, mainly frequented by locals. Here you can find the freshest and tastiest pasta that Bari is famous for. Old-style “Barese” cuisine passionately made with a modern twist.

La Nobilnonna dal 1990, Polignano a Mare

Lovely venue with a great location and open all year round. Offers a spectacular sea food menu featuring dishes like fresh oysters, swordfish carpaccio, barbecue squid, and lobster gratin at inside tables or on the back terrace.

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