Puglia offers a refreshingly different side of Italy, compared to the well-worn paths around Tuscany, Rome and the Amalfi Coast. With its location at the south-eastern tip of the country, it’s hardly surprising that the region played an important role in the times of Ancient Greece, when trade and war flowed freely across the Mediterranean. Nowadays Puglia is a hotch-potch of medieval towns and cities, vast expanses of olive groves and vineyards, and a coastline which is home to swanky seaside resorts alongside traditional fishing ports.
Here are just a few of the highlights to explore on a holiday to Puglia.
Trani Cathedral and Medieval City
Modern Trani is a fairly straightforward fishing port, but step a few paces from the wide seafront promenade and there are a number of historic treasures to explore. The most impressive is the Romanesque cathedral of St Nicholas the Pilgrim, which dates back to the end of the 11th century. In contrast with many churches in the region, the interior is strikingly simple, having been restored back to its original medieval appearance. Also in the historic part of Trani is the 13th-century Castello Svevo, which was formerly a prison before being restored as a visitor attraction. The old part of Trani offers a maze of narrow lanes in which to get lost and discover buildings including a church with Crusader roots and a once-grand palace.
Gargano National Park
This wooded peninsula offers the perfect setting for walking, cycling and horse riding, There are many trails throughout the park, while those wanting to explore the magical underwater world around the coast can also take a diving trip from the park’s shoreline to the nearby Tremeti Islands.
You’ll soon discover that Padre Pio, the 20th-century priest who became known around the world for exhibiting signs of stigmata, is a hero across Puglia, his home region. You can join the pilgrims in the Sanctuary of San Michele in his home town of San Giovanni Rotondo, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is just outside Gargano National Park.
The most iconic image of Puglia is the trulli, a distinctive dwelling made of mud and stone and topped with a conical stone roof. You can find these all over the region, but perhaps the town of Alberlbello offers the most picturesque setting in which to admire them. Almost every building in the old town is a trulli (including the churches), and there’s an ethnographic museum which is made up of 15 interconnected dwellings.
Castel del Monte
The Emperor Frederick II built many fortresses around southern Italy, and one of the finest is Castel del Monte. The beauty of the castle is really in its octagonal exterior form rather than in any interior decoration (there isn’t any); Frederick didn’t have the castle built for any obvious defensive purpose, and it doesn’t defend any significant strategic point. In fact, unless you go there by car, you’ll find that even in the 21st century it’s quite inaccessible.
While the trulli are a remarkable feature of the Puglian landscape, no part of Italy would be complete without a splash of baroque grandeur, and Martina Franca offers this in abundance. The modern edges of the town are anything but pretty, but once you delve in the alleyways you’ll soon reach the historic centre, complete with grand archways, over-sized civic offices and of course magnificent churches. Being a fairly sizeable town Martina Franca offers plenty of decent dining options.
Sunvil offer a 9-night Alluring Puglia itinerary which involves staying in Trani, Fasano and Lecce, and allows plenty of time to explore the fascinating sights described here.