Not so long ago, a trip to Italy usually meant Rome, Naples and the Amalfi Coast. But the breezy southern region of Puglia – the “heel” of Italy’s boot, surrounded by ocean – is becoming increasingly well-known for its relaxed lifestyle, golden-hued natural beauty, ocean pools and cliffs, and architectural and culinary traditions.
So where to start? The Mediterranean beaches are always reliable, with their crystal-clear waters, white cliffs and open skies. So too the diverse range of organic farms and wineries, which bring centuries-old culinary traditions into the 21st century. Thanks to special regional takes on coffee and cocktails, you’ll likely have a drink cradled in your hand most of the time, while the food spans the expected classics (pasta, bread, olive oil, cheese, gelato) but with fresh twists. And the charming seaside towns have some of the freshest seafood you’ll find.
But Puglia isn’t the kind of place you go to only for escape. The central appeal of the region is being able to immerse yourself in its ancient culture and landscape. As you swim the day away in natural sea pools, and dine and sleep in converted castles and farmhouses, you experience a simple way of life that’s deeply rooted in history. That rustic simplicity is a key part of Puglia’s renaissance as an international travel destination in recent years.
History is everywhere you look in Puglia – and remarkably well-preserved. Towns like Lecce and Ostuni invite exploration of medieval architecture, and other settlements in the region date back to Palaeolithic times. The ability to step back in time enhances the appeal of Puglia, especially for those who have already visited the Amalfi. Travelling here is a bit like being let in on a secret – a feeling underscored by the family-style hospitality that abounds throughout. And whether you travel by car or train, there are plenty of worthy destinations in close proximity, so access is easy.
You definitely need to see Puglia for yourself, but for now, here’s our guide to delving into one of Europe’s most appealing – and relaxing – holiday destinations.