Last Updated on December 20, 2023 by Ingrid & Alex
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 on a Puglia road trip. And let me share with you my Puglia itinerary.
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.
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The perfect 4 days in Puglia
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There are, of course, many ways of getting to Italy’s heel, but the easiest way and the nearest airport to Puglia is Bari airport.
I didn’t choose to spend the night (or even a day) in Bari because there are plenty more to be seen down South and a Puglia road trip was everything that I ever dreamt of.
Once we finally managed to solve our car rental issues (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!
Our Puglia itinerary at a glance
Bari -> Polignano a Mare -> Monopoli -> Alberobello -> Martina Franca -> Ostuni -> Matera
Where to stay in Puglia
When it comes to epic accommodation for your Puglia itinerary, I’m not exaggerating when I say that options are endless. From beautiful trulli houses, you wouldn’t find anywhere in the world, to Masseria hotels, and even historic buildings such as convents.
With such a large variety on display, it is only up to you to decide where to stay in Puglia, and whether to split your stay into several places.
No matter what you choose to do, here are a few options of hotels in Puglia worth taking into consideration:
- Masseria Le Cerase – a traditional white house with a stunning pool, perfectly located for daily trips to the sea or Alberobello, Polignano a Mare, or Ostuni.
- Masseria Alchimia – enjoy the most authentic and fresh Italian breakfast, only a few kilometers away from Polignano a Mare, in a stylish and immaculate location.
- Hotel Don Ferrante – who wouldn’t want to experience staying within the walls of Monopoli? This 10-room boutique hotel will not only charm you with its design but also with the rooftop terrace and pool overlooking the blue.
- Trullieu Guesthouse Alberobello – even though the Trullo guesthouse is located extremely close to Alberobello’s center, it is still hidden from all the noise and fuss. And it also has a free close-by parking space.
- Furnirussi Tenuta – not only the rooms are spacious at this hotel, but they also have a big lake-like swimming pool.
- Masseria Le Fabriche – a stone house in the middle of vineyards. You can easily imagine why this is a wine lover’s paradise destination. Explore also nearby beach Conte d’Ayala.
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 our first day by 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.
Check out also all the mistakes to avoid on a road trip!
What’s so special about Polignano a Mare?
Right behind Domenico Modugno’s monument, which welcomes you to the sea with its wide-open arms is where everyone who wants a perfect picture.
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.
Read also: 30+ Italian gifts for Italy lovers
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 high 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, but to this hidden village. A must on your Puglia road trip itinerary.
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 on his guitar, luring tourists to gather around and listen to him, and maybe leave a euro or two as a Thank you.
Old fishermen 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 shriveled 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 forward on our Puglia road trip 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 if I were to stay the whole 4 days in Puglia, I would spend 3 nights in the 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 has 2 areas filled with Trulli:
- Rione Monti – the tourist 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 our second day in Alberobello and we were going to return, either way, in the evening, we wandered away on our Puglia road trip just a 30-minute 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 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 the white city of Ostuni, my mind drifted away to Lisbon a similar town, with narrow streets, and 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 tourist area, and you could feel the true local vibes.
As we approached the city center, a sight that I was expecting in Ostuni welcomed us: the chalk-like white-painted houses.
The closer we got 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 the area known as Sassi di Matera (stones of Matera), is very different from everything we had seen before.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sassi di Matera have undergone a transformative revival in recent decades, evolving from a poverty-stricken area into a vibrant cultural hub, attracting visitors with its rich history, cultural heritage, and stunning views of this ancient and enduring marvel.
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 on 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 ones with the whole city at our back.
If you 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 at night, which must be an incredible sight.
Where to stay in Matera for a night
Since you only have one night in Matera, choose to stay in one of the stone houses inside the Sassi di Matera. You will go to bed and wake up with the best views.
Here are my top 3 favorite options:
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 here.
If you need one more reason for heading to Matera, the city has not only been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1993 but know that it is The 2019 European Capital Of Culture.
Since December 2018, more than 150 authentic Salvador Dali’s artworks are displayed in the Sassi di Matera.
How to get to Puglia
The easiest way to get to Puglia is to fly into Bari or Brindisi.
While both airports are well located in the region, Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport might have more direct flights from other major cities in Europe.
If you are planning for a longer Italy itinerary, you can also get to Puglia by train. Bari is a major railway hub with connections to other Italian cities.
High-speed trains (Frecciarossa and Frecciargento) operate between Bari and cities like Rome, Milan, Florence, and Naples. You can check train timetables here!
If you would rather rent a car, it is worth knowing that major highways like the A14 and A16 connect Puglia to other regions in Italy.
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 parts, but in the South, it is just simpler to go around and plan your schedule as you like by car.
Of course, this does not mean that public transportation does not exist in Southern Italy. It does and can be used.
Because 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.
If however, you have a credit card and want to be sure you have a car waiting for you when you get to Bari, I recommend booking way ahead of time in order to get the right price.
Discover Cars is a great aggregator that will help you find and book the best option for renting a car during your trip, helping you save up to 70% on your car rental. They have a pretty good Cancellation policy that would give you options in case your flight or travel plans change. You will most probably need a car to get to most of these places, especially if you want to keep a schedule. Get your best offers here!
Driving in Puglia is not hard, but it’s not a breeze either. Locals tend not to follow certain rules when it comes to signaling or speed limist. They are also very impatient so we might have gotten into some traffic altercations here and there for driving too slow in their opinion.
However, when you pay attention to the road and especially to what others do in traffic, it is a small price to pay for traveling around Puglia.
We didn’t encounter any issues with finding 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.
Another thing to have in mind is you shouldn’t leave any valuables inside your car no matter where you park. Nothing ever happened to us, but I’ve heard and read about many unhappy stories.
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 is just so much more to do and see on 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 if only for a few hours.
Best restaurants to try in Locorotondo: Ai Tre Santi, Bina Ristorante di Puglia, Osteria Il Rosone.
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.
If you are looking for the best beaches in Puglia, don’t overlook places like the Maldives of Salento (at the Ionian Sea, stretching from Torre Pali in the north, through Pescoluse in the center, and ending at Torre Vado), the Grotta della Poesia, or Porto Cesareo.
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.
Best restaurants in Brindisi: La Locanda del Porto, La Cantina ti l’Artisti.
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?
Best restaurants in Lecce: Crianza, Osteria 203, Tabisca “il Vico dei Tagliati”.
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.
Best restaurants in Otranto: Vecchia Otranto, Peccato di Vino, Ristorante La Pignata
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.
Best restaurants in Gallipoli: Ristorante La Vinaigrette, L’Angolo Blu, Osteria Briganti
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.
Best restaurants in Bari: La Muraya Ristorante, La Cantina dello Zio, Ristorante Antò – Cucina e Sapori Tipici
When to visit Puglia
We have seen Puglia at the worst time possible: August, the high season.
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.
What to eat in Puglia
When it comes to Italian good food, you can never go wrong with anything, no matter if you travel in the North or the South. But of course, whenever you travel somewhere new, you should always try some local dishes.
Because that’s how you get to really know a place: through its food. And because the South of Italy was always less developed than the North, the local food tends to be simpler but cooked with local ingredients which are always fresh and delicious.
Some local dishes to try in Puglia:
- some vegetarian antipasti – grilled, deep-fried, you name it
- lots of fresh fish dishes
- caciocavallo cheese
- hand-made pasta
- taralli pugliesi – some local kind of pretzels
- puccia – a sandwich made of pizza dough, with lots of delicious flavors
Italy travel resources
- Have less time to spend in Italy but still want to live it up? Spend one day in Genoa on your way to the Cinque Terre. Or stop for one day in Rome on your way to some other amazing destination. Or do it differently, but however, take a Cinque Terre day trip.
- Check out the ultimate Italy 10 days itinerary and plan your trip with these 2 options.
- Take the perfect pictures for your forever memories in these Instagram spots in Positano.
- How many days are just enough for seeing Venice and living it to the fullest? I’ve been there 3 times already and I think I have just the answer you are looking for, along with all the great things you shouldn’t miss in Venice.
- See a lot more with these fabulous day trips from Genoa.
- Spend an incredible 7 days in Italy itinerary and see all the destinations you’ve ever dreamt of.
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