Italy is maybe my all-time favorite destination in the world, and I try to get there at least once per year. This year, after seeing the red Bologna in February, I have finally made a dream come true and got to the South, spending 4 days in Puglia.
If you have more time and want to make the best of it, plan for a one-week itinerary to Southern Italy. But make sure to include also Puglia, one of the 52 Places to go in 2019 as per the New York Times.
The perfect 4 days in Puglia
There are, of course, many ways of getting to Italy’s heel, but the easiest way and the best-linked airport is the airport of Bari.
I didn’t choose to spend the night (or even a day) in Bari because there are plenty more to be seen down South.
Once we finally managed to rent a car (more on that in the “getting around section”), we made our way through the hot sun heading straight to the sea.
First of all read all the things to know when traveling to Italy for the first time!
Day 1 – Polignano a Mare
As soon as I parked the car and got off, the hot humid salty air hit my face and ruined my curls. The ones I worked so hard to achieve with my flat iron just a few hours before.
I decided nothing matters more than the fact that I’m finally in Puglia. One region I’ve been wanting to see for so long. All those places I’ve admired in pictures since forever.
So we started walking and looking for the one place I knew Polignano a Mare for, Spiaggia Cala Porta.
It was an early afternoon and the bridge was packed, people were standing everywhere and the beach was full. It was still August after all.
We decided to go on and find a better view of the white stoned buildings built almost from the stone emerging from the deep blue sea. And we did.
What’s so special about Polignano a Mare?
Right behind Domenico Modugno’s monument, who welcomes you to the sea with its wide-open arms. That’s where everyone who wants a perfect picture goes.
Locals were jumping from the top of the cliffs into the water. Kids were laughing at each other for being cowards. Teenagers trying to impress girls (isn’t that all about in Italy?) did almost breathtaking dives.
It was an impressive show and everyone seemed to have a whole lot of fun, but we were hungry, hot, and thirsty for that matter.
So we went back and found some of the best street food Italy has in store at Panzerotti. It smelled delicious. The place was crowded which is always a good sign. We even risked it all and stood inside, and once the food arrived we forgot about everything.
Once we had solved that issue, we headed out to do what we do best: wander aimlessly on the streets of Polignano a Mare.
The town with one story hight buildings, with colorful balconies, is so lively, filled with little stores with local clothing and everything your heart desires. Flowers in windows, restaurants, cafes, the Grotta Palazzese restaurant – carved in stone, where you have to prepare all year long to pay for dinner.
Day 1 – Monopoli
Yes, you’ve read it right, I said Monopoli. And no, I’m not joking or referring to the board game we all played at least once in our life.
Monopoli is a small picturesque port town, but when we parked the car on one of the most colorful streets we had seen so far in Puglia we had no idea what was waiting for us.
The air felt damp, I felt it in my hair, on my arms, and in the smell, I started scenting as we approached the port.
Someone was playing old Italian songs at his guitar, luring tourists to gather around and listen to him, and maybe leave a euro or two as a Thank you.
Old fisherman meeting up and catching up over the day, most probably talking about what the day had brought; old ladies with their chairs outside of their building doors in the Old Town. That’s how authentic Monopoli is.
What else to do in Monopoli?
Visit the Palmieri Palace located in the heart of the old historic town, admire Carlo V Castle, or simply drink a gin tonic at one of the bars on the seafront.
Day 1 – Alberobello, the Trulli town
Leaving Polignano behind, we headed towards our base camp for the next 2 nights, Alberobello.
If you are planning your 4 days in Puglia itinerary, I strongly recommend spending 2 nights in Alberobello because it offers easy access to most of the towns you will be seeing here. The next 2 nights we spent on the Amalfi Coast, but I were to stay the whole 4 days in Puglia, I would spend them 3 nights in Alberobello area and 1 night in Matera.
But going back to Alberobello, the Trulli village was as lovely as expected. Even more so, because it was packed with friendly cats.
Waking up early in the morning, just before a hearty Italian style breakfast, we headed out to shoot some pictures with the beautiful view just before it gets crowded.
Since it was August and prices were really high, we didn’t choose to stay in a Trullo (even though that is a must!), but we stayed just walking distance from the Trullo Sovrano – the only 2-floor Trullo.
Alberobello had 2 areas filled with Trulli:
- Rione Monti – the touristic area, where every Trullo is either a shop, a restaurant or a B&B
- Rione Aia Piccola – the more authentic and inhabited Trulli area
I’ll have to admit Alberobello was one of the main reasons why I wanted to visit Puglia, and it did not disappoint.
Day 2 – Martina Franca
Since we spent the first part of the day in Alberobello and we were going to return, either way, in the evening, we wandered away just a 30 minutes drive to Martina Franca.
The village is pretty non-touristy and once we stepped through the old town’s gate an imposing cathedral appeared in sight. While we walked around the empty streets we stopped by every now and then to take pictures with the colorful doors or flower-filled stairs.
A local old lady passed us by several times wishing us a lovely walk with a full smile on her face.
Why wouldn’t you love such a place?
Day 2 – Ostuni
Another 35 minutes drive and we were right in the heart of the whitest and chicest little town: Ostuni.
I took a right and had in front of me a narrow street, climbing its way to who knows where with cars parked really close to me on the left side. Needless to say, I panicked a little but climbed it either way. And I even parked the car somewhere close to the top, as everyone else did.
Walking towards the center of Ostuni, my mind drifted away to Lisbon a similar town, with narrow streets, peeled stone buildings.
It was clear from the hanging laundry on the small balconies outside, that people were living their normal all Italian lives here, it wasn’t a touristic area, and you could feel the true local vibes.
As we approached the city center, I sight that I was expecting in Ostuni welcomed us: the chalk-like white-painted houses.
The closer we go to the center, the happier we became. We had a delicious lunch at a simple white and blue restaurant, we passed by many white blue and green buildings, but the best thing of all – we met several friendly cats.
Day 3 and 4 – Matera
Maybe you are wondering why I’ve allocated two days and one night out of my 4 days in Puglia itinerary to Matera.
But you will soon understand.
It was sad to only have a few hours to spend in this museum town, mainly because there is plenty to do and see in Matera, but also because of the area is known as Sassi di Matera (stones of Matera), which is something else and different from everything we had seen before.
We got to Matera at around 10 AM, and even though it was one of the last days of August, the sun was still going strong, heating up the stone town and making us sweat.
Without even knowing it, we were entering the Sassi of Matera through one of the most iconic viewpoints over the city – Piazza Pascoli. A picture in the balcony, with Matera at your feet, is a must, and since there were people, but it wasn’t that crowded, we managed to take some nice one with the whole city at our back.
If you’ll spend two days in Matera, you’ll have plenty of time to discover the best views and viewpoints in Matera.
And even more, you’ll get the chance to see the stone town by night, which must be an incredible sight.
Best Viewpoints of Matera
Some of the places you need to stop by, admire the city, and just take it all in are:
- Belvedere Luigi Guerricchio – as the name says it, this is a belvedere point, offering a great view towards the Sasso Barisano
- Santa Maria de Idris Church – unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to climb the stairs all the way to this stone made church, but it sure is one of a kind and it offers a great view over the Sasso Caveoso
- Sant’Agostino Church – as we walked within the Sassi we made our way on the left side and arrived at this church, which offered a great view of the place we had left behind
- Piazza Duomo – the impressive building you see from the first stop in Piazza Pascoli dominating the skyline
As I’ve said, Matera is not such a small town, and I regret not having spent more time in here.
If you need one more reason for heading to Matera, the city is not only part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1993, but know that it is The 2019 European Capital Of Culture.
And since December of 2018, more than 150 authentic Salvador Dali’s artworks are displayed in the Sassi di Matera.
Getting around Puglia
The best advice I can give is to rent a car.
I have always been a fan of public transportation in Italy, and will always take the train in the Northern and central part, but in the South, it is just simpler to go around and plan your schedule as you like by renting a car.
Of course, this does not mean that public transportation does not exist in Southern Italy. It does and can be used.
Due to the fact that we had some organizational problems (no credit card, they don’t accept Revolut, and so on), we finally got to the desk of Sicily by Car, which was more than flexible and open to help us and give us a car.
Even with a debit card, as long as I had the deposit money on it.
We didn’t encounter any issue to find parking spaces in all the villages we visited, and the fees weren’t high (around 2-3 EUR depending on the number of hours spent in one place). Just make sure to look for the machine and pay the fee.
Other cities worth seeing in Puglia
When you have more time to spend and want to either take things slower or include more to the trip in Puglia, there are just so many more to do and see in Italy’s heel.
Locorotondo is another option if you don’t want to stay in Alberobello, but still want to stay in a Trullo at a smaller price.
Only 15 minutes away by car from Alberobello, perched on top of a hill, with its white buildings and small streets, Locorotondo is the perfect place to get lost in if only for a few hours.
Beaches in Puglia
When you just had enough of walking around towns or simply want to spend some me-time and just relax, a day at the beach is always a good idea.
And Puglia has plenty of beautiful beaches, deep turquoise water, and incredible scenery.
History, museums, old cathedrals, a castle (Castello Alfonsino di Brindisi), beaches, fine cuisine, you name it, Brindisi has it.
A bigger town than the small villages we’ve visited so far, Brindisi is still not overly touristic, which offers a great all Italian vibe to the visit.
Even though I haven’t yet seen Lecce, in my life, I was very close to living here for several months but ended up choosing the Northern Trieste as the location for my Erasmus scholarship.
Nonetheless, Lecce has remained in the back of my head as a dream destination and I’ve often fantasized about the different memories I would have made in such a place: all the way in the South where the weather is warmer, the sea is bluer, people are friendlier and beaches are sandier.
I don’t know if that is just in my imagination, but why don’t you go and find out for yourself and let me know?
The main attraction in Otranto is the Aragonese Castle dating from the 15th century, strategically placed on the edge of the sea offering amazing views over the blue water and the city.
With the Old Town built on an island connected to the land on a bridge, Gallipoli oozes history and will take you back all the way to the Moorish domination period.
The capital of Puglia, and the main transportation hub in the region, Bari is much more than that and definitely worth visiting if you have more time to spend in Italy.
When to visit Puglia
We have seen Puglia at the worst time possible: August.
Plenty of people around (not as crowded as other places though, and mainly Italian tourists) in the main towns, high prices for accommodation and most probably also food, were just 2 considerations.
But the worst of all is the heat. Southern Italy is hot! Especially in August.
Then when is the best time to visit Puglia?
In my opinion that would be either March – April or the second part of September and October.
In Pin for later!