Just because you don’t drive doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the delights of one of Italy’s most beautiful regions – quite the opposite in fact.
Puglia has gained tourism traction in the last two years thanks in part to when compared with other Italian hotspots, it still remains relatively untouched by the mass market. Add to that its growing agritourism and luxury boutique offerings, coupled with its laid back approach and stunning scenery, and you’ve got a recipe for Italian success.
Now is undoubtedly the time to explore this unique region, located in the heel of Italy’s boot, before it becomes overrun. While many websites will detail road trips, what remains relatively unknown is that Puglia has an excellent (and cheap!) train network which runs right along its coast. It’s undoubtedly the best way to see the region solo and here’s the perfect 10-day itinerary to do so:
Day 1 to 4
Those lucky enough to have the choice between flying to Bari or Brindisi, should definitely opt for the latter. This port city tends to be overlooked by visitors, in favour of its supermodel village neighbours. But, to bypass Brindisi would be a mistake. Brindisi has its own charm and decidedly authentic feel, thanks to its population comprising mostly of locals. Erring on the local vibe means that overnight prices – and pasta prices, too – are far more reasonable here.
Brindisi makes the perfect first base for exploring because it’s situated almost equidistance between other interesting locales in the north and south of the region. But that’s not the only to pick this spot – Mina’s lovingly restored 12th century apartment I Templari B&B is the perfect stay for solo travellers. Guests are given a warm welcome with homemade cake and jams, as well as wonderful local day trip tips. The highlight though is most certainly the two rooftop terrace areas where you can relax in the sunshine while the refreshing gentle Brindisi breeze plays across your face: bliss.
Day 1: Brindisi
As its your arrival today, make sure to do things the Italian way and start slow. Wander around Brindisi’s laid back streets and stroll along the harbour – it would be a shame to miss out. Those in need of a gelato hit can head to Betty Cafe for their first fix. Then, as the evening approaches, make sure to grab some Orichetti 'ear' pasta from one of the local joints!
Day 2: Polignano a Mare & Monopoli
A mere 1-hour, 5 euro train trip away, is the picturesque town of Polignano a mare. Head there early morning for the first part of the day and then stop off at nearby Monopoli on your route back. For suggestions on what to do while there, make sure to check out the Monopoli guide here and the Polignano a mare guide here.
Day 3: Ostuni
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any cheaper or easier, it does: a trip to stunning Ostuni will only set you back 3 euros one way, and takes as little as 20 minutes (discounting the short bus ride to the top of the hill). The ultimate guide on what to do during your day trip can be found here.
Day 4: Guna Beach Club
If staying at I Templari B&B, beautiful beaches are just a short bus ride away (and the stop is located a mere 5 minute-walk from the house!) Make sure to speak with Mina before you go, as she often agrees special lounger & umbrella discounts with the locals for you. My personal favourite was Guna Beach Club with its lush green lawns overlooking the golden sands. And the best bit? It will all be locals – so enjoy being lulled to sleep on the sand not only by the waves, but also the soft dulce tones of Italian chatter surrounding you.
Day 5 to 7
Ahhhh Lecce – the Florence of the south. Although fortunately, unlike Florence, you won't be shoulder to shoulder with tourists all summer. That's not to say it doesn't get busy – it does – but in comparison with other Italian cities it's positively laid back even when visiting in the high season. For those travelling by train, it makes sense to ideally stay somewhere that is equidistance between the station and centre. Lukily in Lecce there's the perfect place: Casa Q. Casa Q has a homely feel – when walking through the gates you feel as though you are walking into your own little Italian Palazzo (this is undoubtedly thanks to the fact that it is adjoined to the owner's own home).
Casa Q has everything you need to make the perfect base: fresh Pasticciotti at breakfast, a little terrace to relax on after a busy day, and a kitchen to use if you don't feel like heading out every night or fancy taking a packed lunch with you.
Day 5: Lecce
Lecce's old town is the perfect place to get lost in: there are plenty of things to discover, but it remains small enough that if you do lose your bearings, you'll probably just end up looping back to where you started. Here are some pointers, but otherwise, just enjoy the sweetness of sauntering Lecce's winding streets and discovering hidden Italian wonders:
Don't miss gazing at Porta Napoli or the Roman amphitheatre:
At sunset head to Piazza del Duomo:
Take time out over a coffee and a cornetto at Cin Cin Bar:
Eat ice cream at Pasticceria Natale:
Day 6: Grotta della Poesia (Cave of Poetry)
Italian poetry at its best: this azure cave carved into the rock has to be seen to be believed. Dive in from a cool 4 metres above, or opt for a more reserved entry by climbing down the steps carved into the side. If it's busy and you don't fancy leaving your things unattended, then once you've marvelled at Grotta della Poesia's wonder, head over to nearby Spiaggia di Portulignu beach. Here you'll only find locals, so your things should be safe if you ask a friendly Italian to keep an eye. A little further along is Rokamel restaurant – where you can take a break from the heat and fill up on simple but delicious pasta and seafood after all that swimming.
Top Tip: in the summer months, Lecce puts on a very convenient coach service called 'Salento in Bus', which takes visitors to coastal parts of the region only normally accessible by car – including Grotta della Poesia. And if staying at Casa Q there is the added convenience that the coach stop is right across the road.
Day 7: Lecce / Coast
If you're feeling adventurous, then why not hop on the coach to Otranto, or another of the beaches along the coast. However, for those that have already slipped into dolce far niente mode, why not spend the day in the city simply moving from piazza to piazza, drink or eating something different along the way?
Day 8 to 10
Little Giovinazzo is a piece of Puglian paradise that shouldn't be missed. It's also the perfect place to round off a Puglia trip: it's laid back and authentically local. When it comes to places to stay, B&B Sant'Agostino is undoubtedly a gem. These chic and modern rooms in a renovated old building are situated just around the corner from Giovinazzo's beautiful Sant'Agostino church, and just a short walk from the harbour and the station...perfetto! Vouchers are provided for breakfast at the trendy San Marco cafe just around the corner, which has coffee and cornettos to die for.
Oh, and B&B Sant'Agostino is a family-run affair – so don't be surprised if you're welcomed by all three generation of the family (including grandma). But that is, for sure, the best Italian welcome that one can get!
Day 8. Giovinazzo
There's nothing overly remarkable to see or do in Giovinazzo: and that's the magic of it. Spend your days strolling through its little streets, walk the deck alongside the cathedral, and have a simple but delicious lunch at the little cafe overlooking the harbour. Or why not opt to spend your time just sunbathing on the rocks alongside the Lungomare Marina Italiana promenade (the nearby ice cream parlour has the best coffee granita for when you need a little mid-afternoon pick-me-up)
Day 9. Trani
Unassuming Trani has something quite special: sit inside the hallowed halls of its cathedral and you can hear the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks – which is eerily beautiful, particularly when sitting alone in the pews. Its star cathedral aside, Trani itself is a lovely spot to while away an afternoon. Its harbour and gardens overlooking the sea are very picturesque, and there are an array of cafes, restaurants and shops along its front if – at some point – your tire of just gazing out at the views (this, however, is unlikely)
Day 10. Giovinazzo / Bari
Despite its secluded feel, Giovinazzo is conveniently located a mere 40 minutes from Bari. So, those flying out of there can either use the time before their flight to lazily enjoy their last moments, or to get one last bit of exploring in by opting to head to Bari early. It all depends on mood, but as Bari tends to feel quite busy after Giovinazzo, perhaps the perfect end to your Puglian trip lies in simply a cafe and cornetto in one of Giovinazzo's squares.