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Apulia

  • What to See
  • What to Do
  • What to Taste
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A land of sea, hills and endless plains, the Apulia region attracts visitors for its amazing coastline (more than 800 kilometers across Adriatic and Ionian Sea), but also for its art cities and picturesque historical villages, where old religious traditions still live untouched, its countryside masserie immersed in olive groves, and its plenty of farm products that tell of unique ancient flavors. Apulia is always worth a trip, for many reasons.

 

Trulli of Alberobello

Trulli of Alberobello

 

Here we have picked ten top localities for you where to start your discovery of the region:

 

1. Lecce: an art city and Baroque jewel, a real open air museum scattered with outstanding masterpieces and landmarks

 

2. Gargano: the “spur of the Italian boot” is a promontory of pristine wilderness and wonderful beaches, charming villages, olive and citrus groves

 

3. Alberobello and Itria Valley: among mild elevations and centuries-old olive trees, this is the valley of trulli and quaint villages like Alberobello, Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca

 

4. Ostuni: it’s called “White City” due to its historical center of whitewashed houses, a true sight for the eyes

 

5. Tremiti Islands: the only archipelago in the region, comprises five islands in a nature reserve with a sea that is a paradise for diving

 

6. Torre Guaceto Nature Reserve: a natural oasis and protected sea area, is a valuable ecosystem where many animal species live

 

7. Castel del Monte: built by the Emperor Frederick II in the XIII century, is internationally renowned because of its peculiar octagonal plan and is the region’s most visited monument

 

8. Castellana Caves: a 3-kilometer group of underground caves, they are considered the most spectacular in Italy

 

9. Salento: a charming land with a unique history and traditions, among masserie and white sand beaches with crystal-clear waters (no coincidence called “the Maldives of Italy”)

 

10. Polignano a Mare: clinging on a rocky cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea, it is a holiday resort much appreciated also for its sea caves and Roman remains.

 

If you think of Apulia first of all you think of trulli, the typical dry stone huts with conical roof of the Apulia’s countryside you find scattered all over the central and southern part of the region. Trulli are widespread in the Itria Valley and in the Murge and especially in Alberobello, whose entire historic center is made up of trulli: since 1996 the Trulli of Alberobello are Unesco’s World Heritage Site. Another emblematic place of Apulia is Castel Del Monte, a XIII century fortress not far from Andria, also enlisted in the Unesco's world heritage patrimony, as well as the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo, a pilgrimage site in the province of Foggia, and the Foresta Umbra Nature Reserve, in the Gargano promontory. Other uncontested symbols of the region are its dry stone walls, very common in Salento and Itria Valley, and its invaluable hundred- and thousand-year old olive trees, that produce a top end oil, Apulia’s true “gold”.

Sea, mountains, hills, plains: in Apulia the landscape is varied and mixed as well as the activities, dynamic or relaxing, you can engage in. All over the region, there are also many festivals, religious and folkloristic traditions that relive all year long in a packed schedule of events.

 

Torre Sant'Andrea

 

To start with, given its noteworthy coastline – in all 865 kilometers – many are the water sports you can do: Salento (and especially localities like Torre dell'Orso and Lido Marini, Gallipoli, the beaches of Frassanito and Alimini) is much appreciated for kitesurfing, SUP (Stand up Paddle), wind-surfing and wakeboarding; you’ll find ideal wind and waves for surfing, kite-surfing and windsurfing also in the bay of Torre Guaceto, Palese, Santo Spirito and Giovinazzo. Also Vieste, in the Gargano promontory, is a popular destination for surfers and windsurfers, especially the bay of Santa Maria di Merino and Manaccora. The best sea-beds for diving are in the Tremiti Islands, in the Gargano National Park, in the area of Santa Maria di Leuca, where the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea meet, Porto Cesareo (where are specimen of caretta-caretta turtles), Torre Canne (in its waters lie the relics of the Gulten Islamoglu boat) and Torre Ovo with its stunning seabed of the Petrified Forest, the only forest of fossil remains in Italy. Excursions by boat – also by sailing boat – are possible along the whole coast, from Gargano (ideal starting point to visit the Tremiti Islands) to Salento and along the coast of the Bari province from Polignano to Monopoli, with a visit to sea caves only reachable by sea.

 

Gargano, with its promontory covered with the lush greenery of the Foresta Umbra, offers many trekking opportunities: within the national park you can follow the Sentiero del Promontorio (Path of the Promontory), 12 kilometers from Rodi Garganico to Vico del Gargano, from the seaside to the woods, or go up on Monte Nicola, that offers amazing sea views, on the Monte Calvo, the highest peak (1,065 m) in the promontory or walk along the Vallone dell’Inferno, among old mule tracks and places of worship, or on the Monte Sacro along the Sentiero delle Orchidee (“Path of the Orchids”). Alternatively, you can go horseback riding, or have excursions by bicycle, quad or e-bikes along the many trails of the promontory, or have jeep safaris in the backcountry with a visit to the local archaeological sites.

 

Hiking trails also unwind across Salento: you can have excursions on the hills of Ostuni, in the Valle dell’Idro, along the Via dei Pellegrini (“Pilgrim way”), to the gravina of Laterza or Palagianello, in the Punta Pizzo Park or along the salt routes until the Cipolliane caves. Alternatively, you can visit the Nature Parks of Salento, among which is the Park of the Isola di Sant’Andrea in Gallipoli or the Costa d’Otranto Park. Moreover, very charming to travel by car or by bike is the coastal road from Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca.

 

Bicycle lovers can choose among many itineraries all over the region, particularly suitable in spring and autumn, when temperatures are mild: among the most famous bike itineraries is Anello del Salento (“Salento loop”), 200 kilometers mostly flat, that passes through small villages and food and wine points of interest, or the countryside roads crossing the Itria Valley, among trulli and dry-stone walls, with a must-do stop in Alberobello, Locorotondo and Cisternino. Alternatively, you can travel the coastal road from Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca or travel the seafront from Monopoli to Fasano, part of the Ciclovia Adriatica (“Adriatic Cycle Path”), a 1,300-kilometer cycling route that connects Trieste to Santa Maria di Leuca.

 

A unique natural oasis is the Torre Guaceto Nature Reserve, between Carovigno and Brindisi, along a stretch of pristine sea: here you can move around by bicycle or on foot relaxing yourself surrounded by wild beaches and centuries-old olive groves, farmhouses and rural masserie in the Mediterranean shrub. In the reserve, you can take part in guided walking tours, bicycle tours or night visits to go discovering the incredible local fauna and flora.

 

The Apulia region has a strong propensity for food and wine: evidence of this are its many Wine Routes. From the north to the south of Apulia are many culinary itineraries to explore, real nature and culture routes where you can enjoy a tasting or visit wineries or olive oil mills. Some of the most renowned routes are the “Appia dei Vini Classica Brindisi-Ostuni”, the “Strada dei Vini Doc Castel del Monte”, the “Strada Del Vino Vigna Del Sole”, the “Strada del Vino Doc Locorotondo e Martina Franca”.

 

Within its territory Apulia preserves many churches, monasteries and places of worship: unmissable stages of a religious tour in the region are the Otranto Cathedral, the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, the Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce, the San Michele Cave Church, in Gravina, the Sant'Antonio Church in Alberobello (of course trullo-shaped), the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, in San Giovanni Rotondo that preserves the remains of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina.

 

For the fun of kids the most recommended place is Fasano, in the province of Brindisi, where is Zoosafari Fasanolandia, a drive-through safari park with theme park, or Miragica in Molfetta, the waterpark of Splash! in Gallipoli, the Acqua Park Ippocampo in Manfredonia and the Indiana Park in Castellana Grotte.

 

Besides the many festivals of products of the land organized anywhere in the region, there are some major events of particular relevance: the Carnival in Putignano, one of the oldest in Europe (existing since 1394), in the province of Bari, with its sensational floats; the Notte della Taranta (“Night of Tarantula“), a folk music festival taking place in August in different districts in the province of Lecce, with final concert in Melpignano; the Festival of Valle d’Itria, between July and August, with opera music shows; the Locus Festival, in August in Locorotondo, showcasing music from all over the world; the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, an international diving competition taking place in Polignano a Mare since 2009, scheduled for July; the Holy Week in Francavilla Fontana, from the Holy Wednesday to Easter Sunday, with sacred celebrations and the procession of the “Pappamusci“, and the Focara di Sant’Antonio in Novoli, in the province of Lecce, with celebrations in honor of the patron St. Anthony the Great.

The Apulian cooking is a poor kitchen, based on simple ingredients and rich in products of the land: vegetables like chicory, cime di rapa, tomatoes, onions, eggplants and peppers always combine any kind of course.

 

Orecchiette with cime di rapa

Orecchiette with cime di rapa

 

The starters of the Apulian tradition offer plenty of tasty, appetizing meat and fish dishes. A key role is played by the Apulian preserves like peppers in oil (pay attention, they can also be very spicy) and eggplants in oil, then fried bread-meatballs with anchovies and capers, a very yummy dish to enjoy also as a second course, and fried mussels or fried sweet olives, with chilly and garlic, to combine with some Altamura bread, taralli or a choice of local cheese like Pallone di Gravina, Canestrato Pugliese or burrata.

 

First courses are an inevitable dish in the Apulian cuisine, with many countless variations of pasta, possible homemade, according to recipes handed down from generation to generation. Among the most famous first courses are surely orecchiette with cime di rapa or with tomato and dried ricotta; typical of Apulia is also tiella, a first course made with rice, potatoes, mussels, onions and tomato, and baked ziti, a kind of pasta prepared with tomato, sausage and mozzarella cheese.

 

As for second courses you have many specialties to try, both with fish or meat: for example bombette pugliesi, rounded veal meat rolls stuffed with bacon and Caciocavallo cheese; or baked lamb with potatoes, typical of the Easter period, or cozze alla tarantina, mussels seasoned with tomato sauce, orata alla pugliese, gilthead bream with potatoes and Pecorino cheese, or polpo alla pignata, a classic recipe from Salento in which octopus is cooked in a terracotta pot with onions, tomatoes and herbs. The choice of vegetables is very ample: from fava bean purée with chicory to stuffed tomatoes and artichokes, from fried lampascioni to eggplants cooked in a thousand variations.

 

To end your meal in a sweet way, an undisputed leader is pasticciotto leccese, a classic dessert of Salento, a short-crust pastry filled with crème pat to which you can add black cherries, typical for breakfast in Salento. Or in its variation: fruttone, with white almond cream and a heart of apple or pears marmalade, covered with chocolate, perfect together with a coffee, or pitthedde, star-shaped pastries typical of the Salento cuisine.

 

As for street-food, in the Apulia region there are plenty of options: you cannot miss focaccia barese, in many variations from area to area (the traditional recipe asks for fresh tomatoes and olives, but you can have it also with potatoes or plain), fried panzerotto, prepared for example with minced meat and peas, Caciocavallo cheese and mortadella, cime di rapa and Scamorza cheese, or the classic rustico leccese, a puff pastry stuffed with mozzarella cheese, bechamel, tomato and black pepper.

 

The Apulia region is also a land of valued wines: among its most well-known examples you have Primitivo di Manduria, a DOC and DOCG protected red wine of the province of Brindisi and Taranto, Negroamaro, a vine variety native of Salento, also in its variation as Salice Salentino DOC, that can also be rosé, and Castel Del Monte Aglianico, a DOC red wine produced in the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani and Bari.

BY AIR

 

The Bari Airport is the main airport in Apulia. It is located 9 kilometers away from downtown Bari. You can reach the city of Bari by train (travel time 20 minutes) or by AMTAB bus with the line number 16 or a shuttle by Autoservizi Tempesta. The company Puglia Air Bus connects the airport to many towns in Apulia, also reaching the city of Matera. Gargano Easy to Reach operates connections to Manfredonia/Monte Sant’Angelo, Mattinata, Vieste, Rodi/Peschici.

 

The Brindisi Aiport is about 6 kilometers away from the city center and about 35 kilometers from Lecce, the best option to reach the Salento area. STP Brindisi bus line connects the airport to downtown Brindisi and the Port of Brindisi, the tourist ferries dock. Puglia Air Bus connects the airport to different towns in Apulia, also reaching the city of Matera.

 

BY BUS

 

In addition to the connections to and from the airports, other companies operate connections by bus within the region:

 

Puglia Air Bus: connects the airports of Brindisi, Foggia and Bari to different towns in Puglia and to the city of Matera.

 

Salento in Bus: in summer operates connections by bus with the lines Lecce-Torre dell’Orso-Otranto, Gallipoli-Maglie, Maglie-Santa Cesarea Terme-Castro-Marina di Andrano, Lecce-Porto Cesareo-Gallipoli, Otranto-Santa Cesarea Terme-Castro-Santa Maria di Leuca, Lecce-Maglie-Otranto, Lecce-Maglie-Tricase-Santa Maria di Leuca, Lecce-Gallipoli-Santa Maria di Leuca, Galatina-Galatone-Gallipoli-Posto Vecchio, Porto Cesareo-Riva degli Angeli.

 

Autolinee Ferrovie del Sud Est: operates connections to Bari, Taranto, Lecce and Brindisi and the local districts of any province.

 

Bus Ferrovie Appulo Lucane: connects some localities in the province of Bari and reach the Basilicata region too.

 

Bus Ferrovie del Gargano: comprises eighteen intercity lines in the province of Foggia and nearby province of Barletta-Andria-Trani; other 47 lines cover the whole province of Foggia. 

 

Cotrap: operates connections all over the region and nearby regions.

 

Sita: the Foggia line covers part of the northern province of Bari and the major towns in Gargano; the Bari line serves the province of Bari until Taranto and the major towns in Salento.

 

STP: serves the province of Bari and part of the provinces of Foggia and Taranto.

 

STP Lecce: operates connections across Salento.

 

STP Brindisi: operates public transport service in the city of Brindisi and all over its province.

 

Miccolis Spa: operates connections to Bari, Lecce, Brindisi, Taranto, Potenza, Matera, Salerno and Naples, in summer also to various holiday resorts in Salento.

 

BY TRAIN

 

Trenitalia long-distance trains connect Bari and Lecce to Italy’s major cities (like Rome, Naples, Salerno, Bologna, Florence, Venice, Milan and Turin). The Apulia region has four regional railway lines:

 

Ferrovie del Sud Est: connect Bari and most of its province to Brindisi, Lecce and Taranto.

 

Ferrovie Appulo Lucane: crosses the province of Bari and the Murgia area, until Basilicata.

 

Ferrotramviaria: operates in the area to the north of Bari and connect it to important localities in the northern part of the province and in the province of Barletta-Andria-Trani.

 

Ferrovie del Gargano: operates connections all over the province of Foggia.

 

BY BOAT / FERRY

 

The main ports in the region are the Port of Bari and the Port of Brindisi (served by a bus service to and from the Brindisi Airport and the city center). The ports of Termoli and Gargano (Rodi Garganico, Peschici, Vieste) connect to and from the Tremiti Islands.

 

Many companies operate connections by sea to and from Apulia. Here the main ones:

 

Tirrenia: operates connections between Termoli and the Tremiti Islands.

 

Ok Ferry: operates connections between the Tremiti Islands and Rodi Garganico, Peschici and Vieste, between Bari and Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and Greece.

 

Superfast Ferries: operates connections between Bari and Greece.

 

Ventouris Ferries: operates connections between Bari and Greece and Albania.

 

Anek: operates connections between Bari and Greece.

 

Adria Ferries: operates connections between Bari and Albania.

 

NavLib: operates connections between the Tremiti Islands and Vieste.

 

Grimaldi Lines: operates connections between the port of Brindisi, Venice and Greece.