Jojo loves Puglia
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
I stumbled upon the enchanting region of Puglia in Italy under rather adventurous circumstances back in 2012 when I took part in a charity event, a four-day cycling ride on a road bike that took me from the historic site of Olympia in southern Greece and ending in the main city of Bari in Puglia. The final leg of the ride, led me through rustic and gnarly yet picturesque olive groves, which were dotted with peculiar, pointy, white-painted houses known as Trullis – a unique discovery that added to the allure and instantly left me wanting to see more of this region.
To rest my weary head, aching legs and very sore bum!! I hung up my bike in Monopoli, a beautiful white coastal town, backdropped perfectly against the cool turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea.
My first taste of Puglia was one that left me wanting to devour more!
Puglia, often referred to as "Apuglia" and depicted as the "heel" of Italy's boot on the map, beckoned with its rugged coastline, abundant sunshine, and postcard-perfect towns that seems straight out of a dream. You can’t quite comprehend how charming it is, so romantic and quaint yet steeped in history and culture. It has this sort of magical energy that just leaves you feeling inspired but also sort of zenned out!
I always dreamt of returning to explore more of this place so 6 years later, just before Brad and I tied the knot in London, I planned a little weekend break and we returned to Puglia, the weekend before our wedding. I hoped it was all I had remembered it to be and it turned out to be even more! We both fell in love with the place - so much so that we even started eyeing up property prices!
6 years on, we returned this time for a much longer stint! Our recent 2-week holiday with our little girls took our infatuation for the place to new heights. We really had time to settle in and explore more of the towns and villages, this time with the littlies in tow. The locals here are just so friendly, so welcoming and they seem to genuinely just adore children - or "piccolinos" as they are so fondly known! It is more common than not to see kids out at night as late as midnight and it's not at all frowned upon like it would be back home!!
The first week we stayed in a traditional modernised trulli about 25 minutes inland just outside Cisternino. My only complaint being that there was no air conditioning in the rooms and where the thick limestone walls kept the majority of the heat out, it was still pretty stifling at night. So, if you are looking to stay in a traditional trulli in the summer, I would make sure it has AC as apparently many don’t. I also had to duck to get through doorways so not ideal for anyone north of 6 feet tall!
The second week we stayed in a much more “mod con” villa located just outside Carovigno and we really liked this location as it was so close to Ostuni.
We were here in August and it was HOT hot! So the evenings after 6pm were the best time to head into the white towns and villages to explore. Here are a few of my favourite places that we had the chance to visit with a smattering of where we ate and drank.
I am going to go as far as to say that I think Ostuni, known as Puglias ‘White City’ is one of the most glorious places I have ever been - like EVER ever. Walk the cobbled streets and labyrinth of alleys, letting your sense guide your feet and just soak up the history of this beautiful and in parts, very steep and slippery old town!
Ladies leave the heels at home!!
Fresh and local produce and seafood, artisanal meat, cheese, olive oil and wine make Ostuni the perfect example of why Puglia is coined the breadbasket of Italy! Dare you not to buy a paint spattered bottle of olive oil on your way out! Ostuni is abundant with the most beautiful traditional restaurants all serving local dishes – we filled our greedy boots with pizza and countless servings of orecchiette pasta washed down with the local Puglian red - around 20 euros a bottle even in the best restaurants! Puglian wine is just SO good. I definitely came home carrying a few more pounds but boy were they worth it!
Pre-dinner drinks – Pausa Café – sit on the steps for sundowners.
Dinner – Ill Posto Affianci for insanely good pizza (book to get a table outside)
After dinner drinks – Ricardos – floor cushions to sit cover the alleys and music spills out from all around you. Such good cocktails and SUCH a vibe!
Ice cream – Head to Cremeria Alla Scala – the kids (and us to be honest) would return to Puglia just for this gelataria alone!!
You simply can't say you have visited Puglia if you don't see a trullo! The trullo is the traditional white, cone-shaped house originally of farmers. Trulli (in its plural form) are constructed by using the drywall technique, which is still in use in Puglia. And the absolute best place to admire trulli is the world heritage town of Alberobello. It is truly so special and magical and like nothing else you will see anywhere else in the world. It does get super busy with tourists so I would say go early in the day or later in the evening.
Although we didn’t get a chance to go back and visit this time, I just couldn’t not give Monopoli a quick rave review as its special for being an old port town so it has the most stunning views of the sea, dotted with little red and blue fishing boats. A must-see is Castello di Carlos V a 16th-century fortress on a peninsula called the Punta Pinna and it’s situated near the Old Port of Monopoli. From here you can just wander back to the old town through the white cobbled streets and onto the main square to drink Aperols and watch the world go by! I love this town because it's just so fun, so colourful and a total feast for the eyes! Some of the streets have artwork by local artists on their walls, making Porto Antico one of the most Instagrammable places in Monopoli.
Dinner – La Locanda sul Porto OMG the seafood and tiramisu!
Head to Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi for all the local pasta and wine you can eat!
Drinks – Tuttoapposto Winebar. Get there early to bag the window seat!
Cisternino is a small but totally charming town that has remained intact for centuries. Its whitewashed houses, narrow, shady streets, historic churches and elegant central piazza open out onto a series of panoramic viewpoints where you can really soak up the surrounding countryside, with its rolling hills, dry stone walls and white-tipped trulli that pierce the green fields. We got there just before sunset as the locals were coming out for their evening passeggiata (stroll!). The restaurants, gelaterie and bars around the piazza fill up and the atmosphere becomes almost hedonistic! Everyone seems to smile!!
Pre-dinner drink – As we watched the sunset, Chirico Bistro knocked me up the most delicious margarita!
Dinner – Osteria Bell’Italia was beyond words delicious! We didn’t book so couldn’t get a table outside but I would really recommend you do as you sit and have your dinner under twinkling vines.
Dinner – One of our first meals was at Le Chicche di Zia Rosa in Cisternino and WOW the food was good. Mouth watering aubergine paramgiana. Tucked down a narrow side street and your chairs are literally kissing your fellow diners but so charming and lovely people.
Other must-see places to add to the list visit are Polignano a Mare and Locorotondo which we didn’t get a chance to see this time around but are on the list for our next trip!
Of course, because the majority of this holiday was spent – in demand – in the swimming pool or at the sea so finding shells and teaching the girls to swim. Most locals go to Lidos, where you pitch up with your own umbrellas and towels or you can usually rent beds for about 20 euros. The beaches tend to be a combination of rocks, sand and stones so we sought out the sand for the kids.
We were recommended a great little lido called Lido Bianco in Spaggia as well as Vicino Torre Guaceto in Specchiolla. Really low-key and very local! Even served in a plastic glass here, an Aeperol spritz, for some reason just tastes so much better than home! Or an ice-cold Peroni straight out of a retro red can!
We tried a couple of beach clubs, La Palme and Coccaro, which was hands down our favourite. Beautiful blue and white decor and just the perfect balance of swanky and chill. We were so well looked after and the private beach is just perfect for kids - they dish out buckets and spades for them on arrival from the free beach creche!! Of course, you are looking at more like 100 euros for a big bed but well worth it if you are there all day and we devoured more fresh seafood than you could catch. I will honestly have dreams of the vongole pasta until I die… !
The scattered layout of towns and beaches means having a car at your disposal is essential. While public transport is technically an option, it demands meticulous planning, timetable scrutiny, and a generous amount of time and patience. You really need a car!
If you are planning to visit Puglia, the region has two international airports, Bari and Brindisi, both situated on the east coast. Bari is approximately 77 miles (124 km) north of Brindisi, making it convenient for starting your Puglia adventure.
I must tell you that Puglia, while a region worth exploring, does have some aspects to consider.
As one of the very poorest regions in Italy, you may notice a contrast in the architecture of newer constructions compared to the authentic and beautiful historic city centres, which are a must-visit, often indicated by brown signs.
In some areas, you might come across buildings that appear neglected, and there's an odd penchant among locals for tossing garbage bags from their cars, leading to an unexpected sight of litter along roadsides, even in the cities and along busier highways. Nevertheless, the smaller, winding roads leading to the Val d'Itria are adorned with olive trees and trullis, providing a picturesque escape. So, if you're heading to Puglia with the expectation of uninterrupted scenic beauty, it's advisable to adjust your expectations slightly.
Despite these quirks, the historic centres of Puglia's cities are nothing short of breathtaking and absolutely warrant a visit. Puglia, with its unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, is a destination that has left an indelible mark on our hearts.