With its white sand beaches, crystalline sea, rustic villages and delicious cuisine – Puglia, Italy is a true summer paradise for those in ‘the know’.
Whilst long renowned as a top holiday spot among Italians, the rest of the world seems to be only just discovering the many delights of Puglia, meaning the prices for food and accommodation are still relatively low.
What’s more, it’s definitely safe for solo female travelers: in fact, the locals are so hospitable and friendly that you’ll feel at home in no time, making it a real struggle to leave at the end of your trip.
When to go
With 300 sunny days a year, Puglia is a pretty good year-round destination. The best of the sunshine and hottest weather arrives in May and stays through to the end of September/ beginning of October.
July sees the beginning of the Italian summer holiday and August can get pretty busy, so it’s worth bearing in mind that traveling outside of these months will see lower prices and less crowded beaches.
Getting around Puglia
The best way to get around Puglia is to hire a car, as there a lots of little villages and beauty spots to visit which are not easily connected by public transport.
It’s worth researching the various car companies on offer before your trip to ensure that you go with a reputable one, as well as having extensive insurance as the roads aren’t the best quality and the Italian drivers are notorious.
If you choose not to drive then you can still get around by train and buses, just be sure to research your route and timings well beforehand.
You should also bear in mind that Italians take Sunday very seriously, meaning that shops and restaurants close and that many bus or train routes operate on a reduced service or simply not at all.
What to do in Puglia
From relaxing on beaches, exploring caves and hiking in the national parks to wandering through Baroque cities, and taking a wine or olive oil tours: there’s plenty to do throughout the region, and you can make your trip as action-packed or relaxing as you like. Seeing the region’s iconic conical shaped ‘trulli’, which are prettily scattered over the pastoral landscape, is an absolute must – even better if you can manage to dine or stay in one.
Cities of Puglia
There are so many stunning spots to visit: from majestic Baroque style cities to picturesque hidden villages. Here are a few places you really shouldn’t miss.
Alborello – Home to countless whitewashes ‘trulli’, this town looks like it has sprung straight out of a fairy-tale.
Lecce – With grand ornate buildings lining the cobbled streets, this city manages to be atmospheric and charming in equal measures.
Bari – Stroll past wizened nonnas (grandmothers) sitting outside their homes, shaping orecchiette (“little ears”)– the traditional pasta of Puglia.
Galipolli – A gem of an island surrounded by azure sea, connected to the land by one path, this bustling ancient city is full of little allies down which you can find countless lovely restaurants and bars, as well as locals mending their fishing nets in the shade.
Nardo – Complete with a castle, cathedral and a host of fantastic restaurants, it’s definitely worth going slightly off the beaten path to spend a few days in this less touristy town.
Ostuni – Known as ‘the White City’, you simply can’t walk down a street here without being amazed at the beauty and character of the place.
Vignacastrisi – Venture off the beaten track to this little village and you will be well rewarded: with a sleepy, relaxed feel and plenty of friendly locals you’ll really be experiencing a really authentic side of Italy.
The Best beaches in Puglia:
Puglia has so many jaw-dropping beaches it’s quite hard to know where to start. It’s good to note that the more accessible spots are likely to be very crowded through July and August, therefore by picking a place a little hard to get to, you’re more likely to find privacy and seclusion.
Punta Proscuitto – This gorgeous stretch of pure white sand and turquoise sea is truly hard to beat. Whilst busy during July and August, if you visit outside the peak summer months and the beach will pretty much be yours to enjoy.
Marina di Pescoluse – Nicknamed ‘the Maldives of Salento’, and with good reason, this 5 mile stretch of beach boasts soft sand, crystal clear waters and, when the tide goes out, a wide sand bar peeks up out of the ocean – resembling the little sand islands which can be found in the tropical Maldives. Again, this beach will be busier throughout the summer months, however if you wander along it – right to the most northern end – then you should find a less crowded spot to bask the afternoon away.
Porto Selvaggio Beach – Meaning “wild harbour”, this pretty little bay is nestled away in a small state park. Whilst it a little harder to get to – you have to park up and go by foot for about 15/20 minutes – it’s most definitely worth it as there are less people around and the views are just gorgeous.
Il Principe Mare – There’s a little picturesque cove, right next to this tiny restaurant serving the freshest seafood. Enjoy a leisurely lunch and, when you’re finished, decamp to the little beach next door where you can enjoy an uncrowded and relaxing afternoon.
Wine tasting/ Tour:
South Italy is home to many fantastic wines, so it’s only right that you do plenty of sampling whilst you’re there…
Terra Jovia – Visiting this little winery was possibly the highlight of the entire trip for me. On arrival I was met by the brother and sister duo who run the place and was given a tour of the grounds and wine making facilities. Afterwards I saw down to a gorgeous lunch, prepared my by hosts of course, of fresh burrata (think mozzarella’s suaver, creamier cousin), caprese salad and orecchiette pasta (of course!), washed down with a glass of the estate’s rich wine. You’ll need to book your visit in advance via email, but it’s definitely worth going out of your way to do it.
Where to Stay in Puglia
When looking for accommodation in Puglia you’ll be absolutely spoilt for choice.
Bursting at the seams with beautiful boutique hotels and old Palazzos, you’ll be sure to get a warm welcome and delicious breakfast wherever you choose to go – just be sure to pick a small owner-run hotel rather than a big chain to experience authentic Italian hospitality.
B&B Liberty – As soon as you step through the doors of this cute little B&B you’ll feel at home. The host, Alba, doesn’t speak a word of English but will fuss over you and make sure you are happy and well-fed. You can even pick the fruit from the pretty garden and enjoy it with your breakfast – utter bliss.
B&B Il Giglio Delle Dune – Sweet, simple and only 50 metres from the sea, this no-frills hotel is a great option for a budget beachside stay. Take advantage of the free bikes on offer to do some exploring of the local coastline, or else relax with a glass of wine in the pretty courtyard, overlooking the ocean.
Palazzo Guglielmo – This is a fantastic hidden palazzo in the middle of a sleepy little village called Vignicastro, with beautiful grounds, a refreshing pool and even a rooftop hot-tub. The host … is really welcoming and kind and will give you some great tips on where to go in the local area. The restaurant connected to the hotel is absolutely out of this world and was some of the best pasta and freshest seafood I have ever eaten.
Masseria Montenapoleone – Every little detail has been carefully thought of at this little slice of paradise in the heart of the Puglian countryside. Once a dilapidated farm, (and to this day still producing its own organic fruit, veg and wine) everything you see on throughout the hotel has been re-purposed from the original site. Spend a day by the tranquil ‘sea-pool’ or else wandering through the vineyards enjoying the scenery, and, when night falls, enjoy a meal made with the hotel’s own produce, washed down by a glass of wine from the estate.
Palazzo Ducale Venturi – Feeling a little luxurious? Then this is the spot for you. Nestled in the middle of the picturesque village Minerva, this regal palazzo was once the residence of the Duke Venturi and is brimming with history and secrets. Bask on the rose-covered terrace, just next to the pool, or else visit the beautiful underground spa for a spot of r&r – a visit to this oasis of peace will have you feeling relaxed in no time.
Relais La Sommita – La Sommita (“the summit”), was once Ostuni’s castle and is situated at the highest point of the city, with magnificent views down into the valley. With a superb Michelin-star restaurant to boot, this is certainly the place to stay if you’re feeling the urge to splash some cash.
Where to shop
Markets – There are plenty of cute little street markets dotted around the region, perfect if you’re looking for some local products and handicrafts but don’t want to pay a premium in a touristy shop. Below are some of the main ones, but you should also research whether there are any smaller ones in the particular region you’re staying in as you might stumble across some absolute gems.
Monday – The city of Lecce plays host to a very big market where you can find almost anything.
Tuesday – Venture to the beautiful baroque town of Corigliano d’Otranto where you’ll be met with a small, but well organised, street market.
Wednesday – Poggiardo is home to a giant mid-week market with vendors toting everything from fresh fruit and vegtables to spices and second-hand clothing.
Thursday – As if there weren’t enough reasons to visit picturesque Alberobello, every Thursday the trulli-filled town boasts a fantastic food market where you can stock up on fresh local products – perfect if you’re planning a picnic.
Friday – Described as ‘one of the most beautiful towns in Italy’, Locorotondo also hosts a fantastic fruit, vegetable and clothing market every Friday – making a pit-stop at this stunning hilltop town an absolute must-do.
Saturday – Combine a visit to Castellana Grotte’s famous caves with a leisurely browse around the weekly market – when a host of bustling stalls selling local produce, clothes and other bric-a-brac line the winding cobbled streets.
Grottaglie – If you have a burning passion for ceramics (and what sane person doesn’t!?!), then you really need to head to Grottaglie for a morning or afternoon of pottering around the shops. Explore the countless workshops and watch the talented artisans work their magic on the clay, before enjoying a leisurely lunch in one of the local restaurants. Just remember to leave a little bit of space in your bag because you won’t come away with empty hands.
Whilst you’re in Grottaglie, a visit to Mr Mimmo at Casa Vestita is unmissable – his workshop is full of elegant and beautiful pieces and, if you’re really lucky, he may be exhibiting his collection of over 4,000 antique ceramic pieces. Visit during August to see his stunning Mediterranean garden with a Byzantine Crypt and floor of a Roman Villa hidden beneath.
Top tips as a solo female traveler to Puglia
Italy is a great destination for solo female travelers: the locals are welcoming and super friendly, it’s easy enough to get around and, in the more touristy areas, most people in the bars and restaurants speak great English.
Walking around by yourself isn’t an issue but obviously the usual precautions apply – i.e. don’t wander down long dark alleys by yourself late at night. It’s also well worth trying to learn a few basics in Italian before your trip because, whilst most younger people will speak a little, a lot of the older don’t so it can come in handy.
You can either do this by picking up a phrasebook or trying a free app like Duolingo.
Another good tip is to always ensure you have a bit of cash on you – whilst most bars, shops and restaurants will accept card payments, some still won’t (especially for small amounts). Luckily, ATMs are very easy to find and I had no issues using a foreign card at all.