Puglia, located in the heel of Italy’s boot, includes more than 500 miles of sun-kissed coastline, whitewashed hill towns and an abundance of exceptional flavors from local ingredients. Puglia’s heritage dates back to the ancient Greeks and its architecture reflects the multiple civilizations who have lived there. In addition, there are three World Heritage sites in the region.
I traveled to Puglia (pronounced POO-li-uh) to experience the sights and culture of this special part of Italy, inspect hotels and make contacts that will benefit my clients planning a trip to the area. My overall take is that Puglia is a destination that will be enjoyed by those who have already done the major landmark cities of Italy and are looking for an Italian experience off the traditional tourist path. Read on for specific areas you might like to visit.
An Ancient Cave City
Matera is a unique city with much history, an evocative landscape, and spectacular views of the ancient cave dwellings. Matera is not actually in Puglia, but nearby in the adjacent Basilicata region. The caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site known as The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches, were originally occupied in the Paleolithic era and occupied as late as 1952. This ancient scene has attracted many film studios including Mel Gibson’s “Passion of Christ.” Dale’s Travel Tip: Active travelers won’t mind walking the ups and downs of the cobblestone hills; however, it would be challenging for those with mobility issues.
Near the town of Bari another UNESCO site, Castel del Monte, is a must-see. Emperor Frederick II created this castle in 1240. Its perfect octagonal shape, along with its indoor toilets and flushing system were many centuries ahead of their time.
In the heart of Puglia, I visited the Galantino family olive oil mill, which was really interesting. They are known for their fine quality of organic and flavored oils. During harvest time (October – December) they work constantly, as the olives are hand-gathered and must be pressed within 24 hours of picking. Puglia has Italy’s largest olive production, exporting to even Tuscany. Dale’s Travel Tip: I highly recommend visiting.
Matera Area Hotels Inspected:
- Palazzo Gattini – Originally the home of a wealthy family, it has a great location on top of a hill with views of the Caves. It has travertine tiles throughout and a rooftop pool. I rank this as the best choice in Matera.
- Hotel Viceconte – Also originally a private home, the rooms are filled with antiques. A great hall can host events such as weddings or receptions.
- Hotel Sexantio – Dinner at this actual “cave hotel” was a highlight of my trip. The unusual restored cave rooms exude atmosphere. Dale’s Travel Tip: Guests need to be sure-footed, as the floors in the rooms are like walking on cobblestone.
- Palazzo Margherita – This small, chic villa in the town of Bernaldo that was restored by Francis Ford Coppola is good for families or couples wanting connecting suites. The pool and grounds are beautiful and close to the sea.
“Trulli” Unique Architecture
Alberobello is famous for the “trulli” which are designated as World Heritage sites. The unique, cone-shaped limestone houses are constructed without mortar. The story behind these unusual houses is that the landowners or Counts ordered the farmers to build the limestone in layers, so that if there was a royal inspection, they could be easily dismantled to avoid paying taxes.
Polignano a Mare is an Adriatic seaside town with a dramatic coast and water views. Seafood is top quality and it draws many vacationers in the high season.
Ostuni, a picturesque white washed village, is intriguing. Narrow, winding, cobblestone streets eventually lead to an amazing view of the sea. The houses are small and seem to be carved out of the rock. Tiny courtyards are filled with tables and chairs where music and dancing are common in the summer season.
Puglia Hotels Inspected Near Alberobello:
A masseria is like a country estate or working farm or ranch. I inspected a rustic masseria and stayed in a more upscale masseria. This type of lodging is good for families or couples traveling together who might like to use them as a base for touring.
- Masseria Torre Maizza and Masseria Torre Coccaro – Side-by-side resorts with large, attractive rooms. There are several restaurants and they would be fun for family gatherings in the summer. They are close to good sightseeing; however, guests do need a car.
- Covo dei Saraceni in Polignano a Mare – Nice sea view, but limited services for U.S. tastes.
- I passed a few small properties hidden in the alleyways that reach to the top of Ostuni. Dale’s Travel Tip: Quaint town to visit, but there may not be enough to warrant staying here.
Florence of the South
Lecce is known as the “Florence of the South” and it really is reminiscent of the famous Tuscan town with shopping, restaurants, ruins, and cathedrals all in one neat package. It’s known for its profusion of rich baroque architecture, including The Basilica di Santa Croce which has one of the most intricate baroque facades in Italy.
Hotels Inspected Near Lecce:
- La Fiermontina – A visit to this elegant, brand new oasis in the city was another highlight for me. The brother and sister owners took nine years to restore this exclusive property, putting their hearts and souls into it. The rooms are large, airy and artfully decorated. The lovely grounds include garden sculptures, ancient ruins, and a made-for-movies swimming pool. Dale’s Travel Tip: This is the BEST hotel in Lecce and I highly recommend it!
- Hotel Risorgimento – This hotel has an art deco design with lots of the color red. The bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets are very large. It’s in a central location and is used by some luxury tour operators.
- Patria Palace Hotel and Santa Chiara – Their locations are great; however, I felt like these properties didn’t quite pull off their self-proclaimed five-star rating compared to some other Italian hotels.
For more information about Puglia and to plan your Italian adventure, contact the luxury vacation specialists at Covington Travel today.
Disclaimer: Dale traveled to Puglia on an educational tour hosted by Exclusively Italy and some of the hotels mentioned. The opinions expressed are her own and were not compensated by the hosts.
Dale Fuller is a Senior Vacation Advisor at Covington Travel specializing in Italy. She has personally traveled there many times, visiting all of the major, as well as lesser known vacation areas. She uses her insider expertise, and the network of connections she has developed to create unmatched experiences for Italy-bound travelers.