Posted by: Debra Kolkka | October 2, 2019

Puglia overview

I know that if I write a less than glowing report on Puglia I will raise the ire of Puglia lovers, but here goes anyway.

I spend 6 months each year in Italy and because I don’t like hot weather and overcrowded places I avoid the summer months. Travelling in Italy out of season is great. It’s not too hot and there are fewer tourists.

Years ago we went to Puglia in April and found many places deserted and businesses closed. We decided to try again and travel in mid-late May, thinking it would be better. It wasn’t.

We first went to Vieste on the Gargano national park. After driving on lots of narrow, winding roads through tangled forest we arrived at a fairly empty town. We could see that the season was about to begin, and it would clearly be a great place for water sports…in summer.

Next stop was Polignano a Mare, birth place of Domenico Modugno  who sang Nel Blu dipinto di Blu (Volare). The town is very pretty, but once again, there were few people about and only about half the businesses were open. We had an incredible dinner in a cave beside the sea.

The gorgeous beach here is famous and well photographed. It looks stunning, but it is rocky, making it unpleasant to walk on, let alone sit on. It was deserted as the weather was truly foul, (the sun came out briefly so I could get a better photo) but in summer people are packed in like sardines. I have to admit here that I don’t come to Italy for the beach. I like surf and clean white sand.

We visited Alberobello on the way to our next stop. The town is full of trulli, the cute cone topped houses famous in the area. The town is beautiful and crowded with tourists. Many of the Trulli have been converted to shops, cafe and restaurants.

In Locorotondo we stayed in a trulli, as you do when in Puglia. It was near impossible to find, but lovely once we finally got there.

The town itself was empty. It took us about an hour the walk around the streets lined with lovely white houses.

We also visited Cisternino which was much the same as Locorotondo and Ceglie Messapica which was full of interesting buildings and few people.

Martina Franca was a pleasant surprise. It was busy and most businesses were open. We had a delicious lunch there. I would use this as a base in the area rather than one of the smaller towns.

Driving around the Istria Valley is interesting. Trulli are dotted all over the countryside. Trulli spotting is fun.

We stayed near Ostuni in a delightful masseria, Il Frantoio, which we loved. The food alone makes the stay worthwhile.

While at Il Frantoio we visited Monopoli on the coast. It was lively and worth a visit.

We went to Galatina to find the pasticceria where the pasticciotto was first cooked…well worth a visit.

Next stop was Lecce where we stayed in a fabulous hotel near the historical centre. Despite awful weather during our few days in Lecce we loved it. The town mixes old and new very well and there is lots to see and do in Lecce.

We also visited nearby Otranto, just 30 minutes from Lecce. It is a pretty town on the coast and was lively and interesting.

We have now been twice to Puglia and I doubt that we will return expect possibly to revisit Lecce. This will make somebody happy. When I said that Puglia is not my favourite place and that I would not return in a comment on my blog, a Puglia lover replied “Good, stay away”.

I’m sure Puglia is lively and fun in summer, but I will never find out. I know it is touted as the new hot spot in Italy, but I prefer the north, the Amalfi Coast, which is more lively in the off season, and Sicily. We went there in April and loved it. Be very selective if you go to Puglia out of the summer season.

There are posts on each of the towns mentioned above. Type the name in the “Search” box or look in the Puglia category to see them.



  1. Re beautiful sandy beaches, have you been to Sardinia yet Debra?

    • Yes, I have been to Sardinia. It is beautiful and we enjoyed our visit there. I grew up beside one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world in Australia. It takes a lot to beat that.

      • Surely not ‘Surfers’? All those high rise buildings….

      • I grew up at Main Beach before there were high rise buildings. I hate them, especially so close to the beach. I still love the beach though, they can’t wreck that.
        Little Cove, near Noosa beach is my favourite.

  2. Debra, this is one of the best posts ever. Thoroughly enjoyed these photos , especially love that distinctive Puglia architecture. Want to ask you for some of these images to show on suitcase savvy please – this is better than one often gets to read in travel magazines. thanks

    • Take whatever you need. Some of Puglia is lovely.

  3. I visited Puglia around May while studying abroad in Italy a couple of years ago – Ostuni, Alberobello, Lecce, Otranto, Matera. This post makes me feel so nostaligic!!

    • Lecce, Otranto and Matera are great places. I didn’t include Matera in this as I have written about it in the previous post and it is in nearby Basilicata.

  4. The irony of your post, lamenting that the small towns of Salento are too quiet, too few people. Meanwhile the media is overflowing with stories of over tourism and cities being ruined by hordes of tourist.
    Three years ago we spent 3 months (May, Jun , July) in Marina di San Gregorio at the very tip. We travelled throughout the region.Things definitely came alive mid June onwards, seasonal businesses opened, and the small towns were alive in the evenings. I love Puglia, it’s general lack of commercialism, and hope it does not get spoilt by the crowds.

    • I hope it doesn’t get spoiled too. I don’t want to be in overcrowded places, but a bit of life is good. It seems a pity that people go just in 2 months of the year. I don’t know how businesses can survive on this.

  5. We visited Ostuni in March 2016 and weren’t particularly enthralled.

    • Ostuni looks amazing from a distance, but it was not my favourite place.

  6. After all, not every place is for every person.

    • There were parts of Puglia I enjoyed, but we visited many deserted towns. I thought by May they would be more lively. People are certainly in the area, Alberobello was packed.

  7. Dear Debrah, each of your wonderful posts takes me on a little vacation, which I haven’t had for a long time. Thank you so much

    • Thank you for following. Maybe it is time for a holiday?

  8. Hi Debra, great post & I would suggest a reasonable assessment. We visited the area in June 17 & whilst it was still pre-season we found it to be a great time to visit as everything had just begun to pick up but was not in full swing & not overcrowded. We went to the tip of the heel & stayed in Santa Maria di Leuca & Otranto, Alberobello, Polignano a Mare, Bari. We visited Lecce, Ostuni, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Cisternino ,Martina Franca & Matera. We loved the fact that it is a bit more devoid of tourists & therefore found it more authentic. We also ate at the cave restaurant & enjoyed the ambience though found the meal to be lacking but still the experience was one to treasure. We had a spectacular meal in Ostuni & was so impressed by how clean Locorotondo is it was simply stunning. Puglia left us with a great impression. I find it tragic to see over the years how some other parts of Italy have fallen victim to excessive tourism. You are very fortunate to have your own little piece of Italy.

    • I am surprised that mid June is still pre season. How can these places make enough money in 2 months? There must be a way to extend the season. People are certainly around. Alberobello was packed with people.
      I agree with you about Locorotondo and Cisternino. They are lovely but they were devoid of people when we were there. There were no children playing, no old gentlemen gathered to solve the problems of the world.
      We had a great meal in Grotta Palazzese and the experience was worth the price. Polignano a Mare is surely a fun place to visit in summer.
      The food is great in Puglia and we really loved Lecce. Matera is an interesting place to visit in nearby Basilicata. It was the subject of my previous post.
      I am indeed lucky to be able to spend so much time in Italy.

      • The usual suspects were busy, Alberobello & Polignano a Mare, in some of the other places there was the odd bus of day trippers. We went on a fantastic boat tour & were the only ones on it. The captain on spoke Italian with a little broken english & we have very little Italian but it was a brilliant trip. We actually drove from Bari across to Gallipoli & down the west coast then back up the east coast. We were very surprised how quiet it was & often faced with people with no english which is great as it suggests it does not get too many tourists other than Italians -many holidays homes & you could imagine how bustling it would be in July/Aug. At Grotta Palazzese we had the degustation menu, the dishes were a bit hit & miss. We had the most incredible sunset …it was a breathtaking. Spent over 500 euro, but as you say the experience was worth the price. This year we will be in Italy in Dec …will be interesting for someone from Sydney who does not like cold weather !

  9. I love an honest appraisal Debi. We don’t all need to agree but you shared your reasons why and this is helpful re: making a decision in terms of when and how we like to travel. Keep it up I say! Great photos!

    • Thank you! I have heard so many times that Puglia is great, and some of it is, but I prefer other parts of Italy.

  10. I agree with you, Debra and the places you mention are amongst our favorites. When we were looking for a holiday house in Italy, we also considered Puglia, but we fell in love with Bagni di Lucca and we are glad we made that choice. For years we have used Bagni di Lucca as a home base, going to other places for a visit, just as you do. But we have always been happy to return to our home in Italy. It was a good choice.

    • I am also pleased we chose Bagni di Lucca. It is central to so many things I enjoy. I love the mountains and the coast is nearby. I never tire of going to Lucca, Florence is an easy day trip and the lovely Chianti and Val d’Orcia regions are close…what’s not to love?

  11. I’ve never been to this region in Italy and I loved your photos, what an interesting and beautiful place. It is good to read an honest appraisal.We have found in other parts of Europe that in the off season many businesses are closed and residents have left for holidays.It can be disappointing, however I think this is the consequence of incredibly busy summers because of excessive tourists and by the end of the tourist season the residents are burnt out. Can’t blame them for closing up really. Happy travels, Pauline

    • We thought that by mid May most things would be up and running. I don’t come to Italy in summer as I find it too hot, so I guess I will not see Puglia at its best.
      We will continue to travel out of season.

  12. Lovely pictures 🙂 Traveling in off season has its own perks and pitfalls.

    • It does, sometimes it is great and others not so much.

  13. Great post, and I really appreciate your honesty!

    • I have been told by many people that Puglia is “fabulous” with no detail at all. Then I find out they went to a party with a group of friends to a Masseria in Puglia and rarely left it. You could be anywhere.
      Not everywhere is great. I know things would be more alive in summer, but it would also be hot and crowded.

      • Yes, exactly. Not what I want to experience on a vacation. In fact, we rarely travel in the summer!

  14. Debra, I think this is a very honest post with a realistic point of view about Puglia. You certainly covered a lot of ground and I appreciate your opinion on what to see and what was less than perfect. I have a fondness for Puglia because my relatives are there but without them, I may not have re-visited the area.

    • I loved Lecce and Martina Franca was lovely, but having been twice it is unlikely we would return when we prefer other areas in Italy.

  15. As someone who just left Puglia a few weeks ago after my 9th visit and having lead 8 small group tours there, I have to weigh in and say that my own impressions and experiences have always been absolutely fabulous.
    The towns have been lively and interesting whenever I have visited which has been in spring and fall for the past five years. I collaborate and immerse in the local lifestyle with local destination experts do we have excellent informative guided walks, cooking classes, olive oil tastings, wine tastings, visiting local artisans and so much more.
    So, I do love Puglia as I love many of the regions of Italy for their diversity and unique character. Something for everyone in bella Italia.

    • I know you have been there several times with your organised groups. Your experiences are quite different from ours and I am happy that you and your guests enjoy Puglia. I have been twice now, both times in the off season and have found many places deserted. I like some of Puglia, Lecce in particular.
      I think Puglia has been talked up too much and I have found that much of it does not live up to expectations.
      I think I gave a fair overview of our visit there. My previous posts have been mostly positive. Did you read those? I try to find lovely things where ever I go and usually succeed.
      My favourite part of Italy is the Amalfi Coast, which is not to everyone’s taste. We all like something different and, as you say, there is something for everyone in Italy.

      • Sorry Debra, we were not at our house in Ceglie Messapica when you visited. Would have liked to tell you why we love it, after five years of exploring Puglia, we still have a lifetime of things to see and enjoy. Certainly it is not the North, but the beaches, the food and the people are just the beginning of why we continue to spend 8 months of the year there.

      • The food is certainly excellent in Puglia. We also found the people to be friendly as they are all over Italy. Our disappointment was totally because of the emptiness we found. I understand this, but because I don’t come to Italy in summer I’m unlikely to see Puglia at its best.
        Living there for a large part of the year would give a different impression. I’m sure people coming to our area in the dead of winter would find it a bit dull too. I find the winter here delightful, but is because I have friends,our garden to look after and things to do. Visitors would have a different experience.
        We all like something different.

  16. Brings back our feelings about this area- lovely, different, much of it in its natural state but quiet for most of the year. We went in early May, and while it was warm enough, it was quiet in many places. It is right that you are honest in your appraisal, as it is your experience and you try to be positive where you can.
    We stayed in a Trulli just outside Martina Franca, indeed a lovely and lively town, and Vieste and Lecce, (in the old Torre, perhaps where you stayed also?)
    We enjoyed all the places you mentioned too, and as it was our first visit, we found things to enjoy everywhere, but feared for the livelihoods of the locals, as their olive trees are under a fungal type of attack and it has been devastating for them.
    Tourism is so seasonal, and surprisingly we found the smaller places almost deserted too. So hard for the younger generation to find work here.
    We would think of returning, but for a shorter visit in the early summer, as we also are mostly here twice a year, not over the heat of August. We use our home in Todi as a great base in Umbria and close to Rome and Florence.

    • I do like parts of Puglia, as I said, but we found the empty towns disappointing. I think the advertising for Puglia needs to be honest. Don’t call it the new Tuscany, as I often hear. It is not! It is Puglia, with its own charms, but going out of season has its difficulties.
      I have spent 6 months a year in Italy for the last 16 years. We have travelled to almost every region. I like some more than others.
      I don’t want to travel with a group, but that may be a good idea for those wishing to go to Puglia unless they have some knowledge.

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