When I recently told a group of friends, a mix of Northern Italians and English pals, that I planned on visiting Puglia, Bari no less, they all presented me with the same quizzical, almost concerned look. And while the wording of their responses varied, it essentially boiled down to one main point “Why?” I shared an equally quizzical retort, “Why not?” Is Puglia worth visiting? Read on to find out more.
What are the perceptions of Puglia?
I believe that some Italians from the Northern regions potentially regard Southern Italy as a little less refined than say, the likes of Milan. Perhaps this is akin to how a Londoner might perceive Manchester before they visit. The North South divide of Italy is fairly well documented. I think this is changing though, certainly based on the number of Milanese I noted to be visiting Bari this summer.
And as for the Brits, the vast majority of my friends are familiar with Tuscany and the major cities such as Rome and Venice but not Puglia. I don’t see the point of making a comparison between Puglia and Tuscany, the two differ so vastly that it seems foolish to compare. Besides, why would anyone want to choose between two such bountiful areas of Italy? No no no, we must not pit one against the other.
Why visit Puglia? Is Puglia worth visiting?
So, why Puglia? Puglia, is hot (being in the South of Italy), it has a vast coastline maximised by being on the heel of the country and accommodation seemed cheaper than other areas. When I googled “Puglian food”, well my mind was made up. After spending a month in Puglia, I couldn’t be happier with the choice that I made to visit this delightful area. Yes, Southern Italy, I love it. Here’s why:
The best beaches in Puglia
If clear blue water, coves, relaxed vibes and friendly locals are your thing, then look no further than the Puglian coast. Is Puglia worth visiting? For the beaches alone, yes!
If Bari is your base, then you’re in for a treat when it comes to the surrounding coast. Firstly, there is a public beach in Bari. It’s called Pane E Pomodoro (bread and tomato). I still have no idea why! But for an inner city beach, its lovely. The water is clean and normally calm, it’s always lively and full of people enjoying their day and playing music.
Elsewhere, Poligano a Mare is clear blue sea and a delightful cove. But, Monopoli, for me, steals the show. Here there are countless small coves spreading out from a gorgeous and lively town. Less crowded than Poligano but equally, if not more, stunning. Travelling North of Bari, the smaller towns of Molfetta and Trani are much quieter and more lived in but the beaches are equally as enjoyable. If you are visiting Puglia with a car and have longer, then head further South beyond Poligano to find even more beaches.
The best sites in Puglia
Lecce: Lecce is in the Salento region to the South of Puglia. It’s smaller than Bari, but still packs a punch. Beautiful winding cobbled streets are laden with restaurants and bars, making it a fabulous small city to meander around. More information on visiting Lecce can be found here.
Bari: The capital of Puglia, Bari has a lot to offer. Not only does it offer a wonderful base from which to explore the region, it’s also a city with it’s own historical and cultural significance. There are 29 churches and a castle in Bari Vecchia (the old town). As well as three theatres dotted around the city, one of which is built into the port and now houses a museum.
Other cultural sites to visit in Puglia
My three favourite sites to visit in Bari are:
- The tomb of Saint Nicolas (San Nicola) in the Basilica San Nicola in Bari Vecchia. Here you can find the (stolen) remains of San Nicola, the original Santa! More info can be found here.
- The Pasta Grannies – there’s a street in Bari Vecchia, which is filled with pasta making Italian Grandmas. You can watch them make pasta, buy a bag, or even take a lesson in how to make it! *Word of warning, they don’t hold back in telling you how bad your pasta making skills are. The lessons are not for the faint hearted*
- Piazza Mercantile – historically, this square was the political centre of Bari. Here you can still find the column of justice as well as the fountain with four faces. In the past, criminals were tied naked to the column of justice as retribution for their crimes. Nowadays, the square comes alive at night with cocktail bars and restaurants surrounding it. It’s a favourite place for courting couples to gather with a drink.
Alberobello: Alberobello is like the Cotswolds of Puglia, it’s famous for the style of building (Trulli) you can find here and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Trulli are cone shaped constructions that were historically dwellings and are now mostly converted into bars, restaurants and Airbnbs. More information on visiting Alberobello can be found here.
What to see and do in Puglia?
Matera: Whilst Matera is technically not in Puglia, it’s not far at all as it’s in the neighbouring region of Basilicata. And in my view, it would be a crying shame when visiting Puglia, not to spend at least a day in Matera. Another UNESCO world heritage site, Matera was chosen as the primary film location for the opening scenes of Die Another Day, the 2021 James Bond movie. It’s a stunning town and perfect to while away some time. More information on visiting Matera can be found here.
Festivals and Fiestas: Look out for various events running throughout summer months. During August, you might find food and drink festivals. Trani wine festival (Calice Di San Lorenzo) is an annual event for example. where you can pay for a ticket and sample countless local wines. The other big event in Puglia is the the Tarantella Dance Festival, which runs in Salento throughout August. This is a dance steeped in years of tradition, legend has it that women who were bitten by the Tarantula (Tarantella) were cursed with hysteria that could only be cured by dancing!
Best food and drink in Puglia
Without a doubt, a highlight of this area is the food and drink in Puglia. Puglia is worth visiting just for the food and drink alone!
In Bari, there are some amazing restaurants to suit every budget (Read more here). There are (in my opinion) two main events.
Firstly, the Orichette. Small handmade pasta which is made only in Pulgia, Bari is the epicenter and you can find bags of the stuff being sold in the streets as well as wonderfully crafted pasta dishes in restaurants.
The second, is the incredible street food. Focaccia, Panzerotti, Seafood. The list goes on. My favourite thing to do in Bari is roam around snacking on street food and stopping for the occasional wine. See my article on Streetfood for more detail.
Elsewhere in Puglia, enjoy seafood (often eaten raw) in one of the many coastal restaurants. Serve with a chilled glass of Puglian Chardonnay (Yes Puglia makes wine and its delicious!)
What is the weather like in Puglia?
Summer in Puglia is from May until September, with temperatures warm enough to be on the beaches sunbathing. In the height of Summer, temperatures can sore above 30C, making the cities a little uncomfortable but the beaches even more inviting. Spring could be a nice time to visit, when temperatures linger at about 20C during the day. Puglia is also an excellent option for late summer sun and worth visiting at any time of the year.
What is the cost of visiting Puglia
Accommodation: Prices for acomodation range vastly across Puglia, depending on the location you choose. If, for example, you wish to use Bari as a base to explore the wider region, then you’ll have a wide range of accommodation to choose from.
- Budget: B&B Piccinni 191 is a central Bed and Breakfast costing around 80 Euros per night. IF you’re looking for something cheaper than that, there are some bargain Airbnbs to find or a hostel in Bari that has good reviews.
- Middle option: Loft Little Havana or Palazzo Manfredi 37 are good options for mid-range apartments in Bari, both fairly central and around 100 to 120 Euros per night
- Luxury option: For old school luxury, try Casa Almika Sprano in the city centre. A double room with a balcony is around 200 Euros.
If you choose to explore the region and stay in other areas, then I’d suggest picking somewhere like Monopoli, which has a large number of beaches, or Otranto to the South. In Monopoli, a mid-range apartment for 2 in the summer would be about 100 Euros Per Night – Amor Di Casa, is a great example. In Otranto, Palazzo De Mori offers sea views and chic Puglian vibes for around 150 Euros Per Night for 2 (including breakfast.)
Budget per day: In my experience, the region of Puglia is still much cheaper than the likes of Tuscany. You can get by on a smaller budget, 10 Euros per day for example (for food and drink) if you stick to supermarkets and street food rather than restaurants. 25 Euros per day to eat out is very comfortable and achievable. For more advice on eating and drinking on a budget in Puglia, read this!
How to get around Puglia?
Brindisi or Bari airports: Both airports are accessible via fairly regular flights from the UK. Both are also served by Easyjet and Ryanair from Gatwick and London Stansted respectively. In my experience, routes to Brindisi tend to be more expensive that Bari as Bari has slightly more frequent flights. But, if you want to travel in summer months book ahead! My flights to Bari were around £50 each way, booked a few months prior but the same flight shot up rapidly in the run up to August.
Car Hire: Cars can be hired from both airports and would be useful to facilitate travel around Puglia with ease. Most towns have fairly easy parking options, but parking in Bari is unlikely to be included in your accommodation rental and could be expensive if you choose to park in the city. Perhaps better to hire a car once you leave the city, this would also mean you avoid the slightly crazy city driving in Bari! A small and basic car will cost you around 30 Euros per day in peak.
Public Transport: Trains are mostly on time and good value from Bari into the surrounding towns. The bus connections are also decent, you can get to Alberobello for example using a regular bus. The main issues I experienced with public transport were the buses within Bari city, attempting to get from Bari Central to the football stadium for example was a total fail. But otherwise, I was able to manage to get around Puglia efficiently without a car. A note of caution if you do take the train, your ticket is very likely to be checked, so make sure you get one. And that it’s the correct ticket too! There is a vast price difference between the regional and the intercity trains.
Ferry: There are a number of boat options to take you onwards from Bari and Brindisi should you wish to continue your vacation. You can cross over to Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. I’m about to jump onto one to Durres in Albania. Onwards!