We spent seventeen days in Italy this March, and it was pouring down pretty much the entire time. Sounds far from perfect, right? Well, somehow it was, and I feel our days in Puglia were the reason why. Even with grey skies and the rain as a constant threat hanging above our heads, exploring the Valle d'Itria area of this region was a highlight of our road trip. Our first visit to the very south of the heel on the Italian boot; an area that in many ways felt like a well-kept secret, and perhaps the most beautiful region of Italy I have visited. Not in the sense of Amalfi-coast-grandeur, or the splendour of cities such as Milan or Venice. More so in a relaxed, local feel; as if we discovered where the Italians go for holiday, without telling anyone else.
Of course, tourists are not absent in Puglia, and I have seen images of crowded beaches and squares during summer. But visiting off-season will give you a sense of complete local-hood and somewhat solitude. The quietness of the low season combined with picturesque mediaeval towns, some of the best Italian food I've had, the turquoise sea, and of course our stay in the very comfortable Villa Margareta made our days here memorable. I am not the first to discover Puglia, but I have no doubt that it will only rise in popularity; so my suggestion is to go now if you were considering it, and perhaps to visit just before or after the busy season.
The Valle d'Itria of Puglia is dotted with white-washed villages, some larger and well-visited, some smaller and with 'centro storicos' consisting only of a couple of intertwined cobbled stoned streets. I had researched all the towns in this area, and had mapped out five of them that I wanted to visit during our five days in the region. These were Ostuni, Locorotondo, Polignano a Mare, Lecce, and Cisternino. We made it to all of them including a quick stop for lunch and a walk in Matera on our drive back to Rome, and I can highly recommend visiting these. When reading Puglia guides online, most of them also recommend visiting Alberobello, but we decided to skip this one as it seemed very touristy (albeit very pretty!).
When sharing Stories on Instagram during our days in Puglia, I received a lot of questions as to the practicality of going here—which I very much understand as it isn't the easiest destination to reach. Our journey here was by car, as we drove from the Amalfi Coast (with our starting point in Rome); a four-hour drive through the mainland. There are no direct connections from Copenhagen to the Puglian airports in Bari or Brindisi, which is why we came up with the whole Italian road trip idea in the first place. Though difficult to reach for most people, my guess is that this is exactly why Puglia still feels a bit off the beaten path for us non-Italians; and very much worth the effort of going there.
When searching for accommodation in this area of Puglia, I would recommend looking for the beautiful masserias (smaller countryside hotels) or a private holiday home. The region has larger hotels as well, but staying outside one of the towns near the olive fields is highly recommended. Renting a car whilst exploring the Valle d'Itria is also a good idea, as public transport is pretty much non-existent, and you will most likely want to explore multiple towns during your visit. The Villa Margareta we stayed in was located just outside of Ostuni, and the town itself was incredibly charming with a couple of cafes and restaurants in the historic centre, a market taking place every Saturday morning, the stunning Chiesa di San Francesco cathedral, and of course the view of the città bianca sitting atop a hill surrounded by white town walls. Polignano a Mare was larger, and despite the pouring rain, groups of tourists still gathered on the cliffs near the water to photograph these and the town magnificently located atop them (image above).
Locorotondo and Cisternino were both smaller in scale, and their picturesque historical centres were easy to find and quick to explore. A coffee shop with locals meeting for morning espressos and the latest news, a pizza bar and alleys of beautiful facades and balconies with Italian women keeping an eye on their town. Lecce was recommended to us by a kind local, and she was absolutely right about the stunning baroque churches and squares. Puglia was the perfect mixture of laid back holiday vibes (I can only imagine spending a sunny afternoon by the pool in a masseria or holiday home) and charming white-washed towns full of winding alleys with not much to do other that locating your favourite gelato shop and stroll around. The region has several beaches as well, and I am sure they quickly fill up with Italians during summer. I hope to be back before long, either in a swimsuit by the sea or in a rain coat strolling around Ostuni.
VALLE D'ITRIA, PUGLIA GUIDE
Towns to visit
Ostuni Polignano a Mare Cisternino Lecce Locorotondo