Home TravelsItaly From Lecce to Bari – best places in Puglia, Italy

From Lecce to Bari – best places in Puglia, Italy

54 minutes read

Did you know that whoever you ask about their favourite place in Puglia, you will get many, many different answers. Puglia turns out to be full of many best places to fall in love with. Everyone who visits this region falls in love, that’s undeniable, but everyone has its own loved town, village or locality – this is the charm of Puglia.

Puglia is extremely popular, particularly if you have a direct low-cost flight to Bari. Colorful, very diverse in landscapes, historical facts and cities. Delicious! Yes, delicious is exactly the word that pops into my mind when I think of Puglia. And to it is also physically very close – the flight from Sofia to Bari is just 50 minutes. And as a mentality we can find a lot of common features – people are a bit more casual about the rules.

But as much as I would like to cover everything in one article – I certainly can’t. So, let’s look at a small part of it, but probably the most popular. We will start from Bari to the north and reach Lecce to the south, and why not take a detour to the neighbouring Basilicata region to the west, reaching Matera, only because the easiest way to reach Matera is flying to Bari.

Bari – the capital of Puglia

Let’s start from the capital of Puglia – Bari. We didn’t spend much time in Bari. You should know that Bari is a big city and behaves like one. It is noisy, at times dirty, but at the same time charming as a southern Italian big city. I watched a TV series recently where the lady was saying that when she was younger she was scared to walk in the old town of Bari because of the crime in the town.

Nowadays the Citta Vecchia, as they call the old part of Bari, is safe and extremely curious. Here you will see the Basilica di San Nicola church , where you can see the Tomb of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas is venerated as a saint by both Orthodox Christians and Catholics and this makes the town and the basilica a place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Christians as well.

La strada delle Orecchiette – the street of Orecchiette in the old town of Bari The street is officially called Strada Arco Basso and is characterised by a small tunnel which, once crossed, leads to Bari Vecchia’s oldest tradition – the production of the fantastic and much sought-after Bari pasta ‘orecchiette’, which looks like little ears.

So we end up here and decide to buy some pasta. The place looks extremely sentimental, the grandmothers make pasta. If you read the tourist guides, here old Italian songs are sung, orrecchiettes are made “personally for you” – it has its own charm. If you’re more familiar with fashion commercials, there’s a Dolce & Gabbana ad with Sylvester Stallone’s grown daughters walking down the street wearing defiant “nightgowns” and dancing with elder women, and there are orecchiettes everywhere. And so, romance flows from everywhere.

Good to know about orecchiette: Orecchiette is a traditional pasta originating from the beautiful southern region of Puglia. It has a unique shape resembling small ears, making it attractive for cooking and eating. The name ‘orecchiette’ derives from the Italian word ‘orecchio’ or ‘ear’, which accurately describes the characteristic shape of the pasta.

Do not be surprised that when you go to the place, you may not find it that romantic. Tourists are all around and the ladies look quite bored in the afternoon. Maybe in the morning they are still singing. And you almost get scolded for choosing slowly. But there’s charm here too, it’s still a tradition that fills the street with life and unhygienic and low quality pasta, drying somewhere under the laundry of the cute grandmothers. Then you take the pasta to cook at home and reminisce about the days in Puglia.

Don’t miss eating orecchiette in the local restaurants!

The grandmothers on the street are on the edge with hygiene and with legality, let’s say that Italy is slightly turning a blind eye to the rules in this very case. The main thing you need to know is that they are not currently allowed to offer the pasta to restaurants and shops. They can only sell them directly to customers, at their own risk and for personal use. And about the hygiene – judge for yourself.

Whether to stay in Bari depends on your preferences. It is easily accessible from the airport. There are also trains from here to other cities in Puglia and generally you can get around a lot without a car. Being a big city, there is an extraordinary amount of life and events, as well as nice restaurants and bars. Many people love Barry and even prefer it to other cities. We were there very briefly, so we don’t claim to be able to convey the whole atmosphere of the city.

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In this article we will not speak of the beaches in the region, except one. Someday we will tour them too.


Alberobello – the white trulli

We leave for Alberobello (it. Alberobello – “beautiful tree”), maybe the most famous town among those we visited. Everybody has seen the white round houses with conic roofs, beautiful pictures along them and smiling faces of people who managed to take pictures there. They are smiling because sometimes there are a lot of tourists and you are lucky to find a gap to take a picture. But even though many tourists complain that the place is very touristic (when you read this, you realize how ridiculous it sounds), and even though it’s a bit more full of shops, the place still remains one of the most beautiful destinations in Puglia. And probably the best place to get souvenirs. We do not buy souvenirs.

We have a separate article about our visits to Alberobello, read it for more details. I will just briefly write what to expect there. Alberobello is not a big town, you can park in one of the several parking lots in the center, they are paid, about 2 euros per hour. From here you look for the Via Monti S. Michele and Via Monte Sabotino – the two most popular among tourusts streets in the Monti neighbourhod. The Monti quarter is a must-do tour. Then you could also visit the Aia Piccola quarter, less touristic but not deserted at all.

We had hired an electric car and parked on the charging station just by the trulli which was very convenient for us. We found the car on cars.booking.com but reserved it directly from the SicilybyCar website because the price was lower. Check which option works best for you. For April 2024. electric cars were cheaper. SicilybyCar provided us a charging card for their paertner stations so there was no fee for charging. Moreover, in the cities there was no fee for parking at the stations while charging, which was very convenient. But please check the actual conditions as they may have changed.

If you want to visit a trullo museum, go to the largest trullo – Trullo Sovrano. Alberobello is easy to get around, you need about 1-2 hours to walk it around. But staying for longer and to enjoy the local cafes and restaurants is also a good idea. We went back to have dinner at one of the best restaurants in the area, but a little more upscale – EVO restaurant.

Whether to stay in Alberobello? You can only find a nice trullo to stay in there are plenty of guest houses in Alberobello.It is an extremely popular place. If you are staying in the historic part, mind the parking – it won’t be close, neither free. For most people, a few hours in the village are enough. But the romance of waking up in an empty Alberobello, because it’s most peaceful in the morning, is nice too.

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Locorotondo

Somehow alike, and in fact very different, the towns of Puglia are simply remarkable. You walk around in Alberobello with its white houses with conic roofs and 10 minutes by car from there you reach a town with totally differenct charm and mood. Locorotondo is a place that deserves to be seen.

The old town is very accessible with a large parking lot next to it. The walk through the small streets, winding through the maze of old houses is magical. Locorotondo has been described as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. I should also note that passing by with the car from the south side of Locorotondo revealed a magnificent view of terraced vineyards below the old town and on top beautiful white houses, pleasantly lit by the sun.

Here time seems to stand still, and every moment is an invitation to reflect and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The name “Locorotondo” means “round place”. This name reflects the fact that the town had a circular shape, which is still preserved today. Locorotondo is situated on top of a hill, being one of the most beautiful natural balconies over the Valle d’Itria.

We parked at Piazza Antonio Mitrano and embarked on our walk through the city via Porta Nuova, whose streets led us to the Chiesa Madre di S. Giorgio Martire, a beautiful and memorable church. You can stay in the town for 1 hour or more, depending on how much time you want to spend, on average 2 hours is enough.

Locorotondо for a night – I think I will like staying here It’s beautiful.

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Martina Franca

We planned to have lunch at Martina Franca, but we had no reservation and it proved hard to find a table in our planned restaurant. So we made a little detour and had lunch at a restaurant outside the town. Puglia is blessed with places to eat and that’s wonderful. Annie ate the orecchiette, in fact almost everywhere she went she ordered the orecchiette cooked in various ways. She liked them everywhere.

While writing, I checka at Taste Atlas what they recommend to eat in Martina Franca. It appears that we have dined to one of the two most recommended restaurants in the area – Trattoria delle Ruote and had exactly the recommended dish – Ragù alla Pugliese. Sometimes things happen without prior research (but still, the restaurant was recommended to us by well-known foodies). Ragù alla Pugliese is pasta orecchiette with tomato sauce, something like meatball and lots of cheese.

Trattoria delle Ruote from 1969. is located 10 minutes from Martina Franca and you should check its opening times before visiting. From the moment we walked in, we were impressed that most guests of the restaurant were mainly older Italians and the ambience was typically rural-Italian and very cosy. Even though there were no seats for us and the restaurant was closing soon, we were asked to wait for a table to free and promised they would feed us. Trattoria delle Ruote is extremely authentic place, very unsuitable for vegetarians, but offering typical for Martina Franca dishes: Ragù alla Pugliesethe local pasta orecchiette, tomato sauce and a meatball. Capocollo from Martina Franca is made of port meat, from the best partd between the neck and the shoulder. They are cured in sea salt and herbs and left to rest for 20 days. The meat is then marinated in grape juice for 24 hours, then dried and smoked with almond shells and oak bark, giving it a unique flavor.

Bombetteare small rolls from meat, stuffed with cheese. The restaurant is run as a family business and everything here is cooked on the spot. The menu is small and hasn’t changed in decades, so they won’t surprise you with anything but consistency in the things they prepare. The place is just perfect to try the local cuisine and get a dose of authenticity. The staff, although not very well trained to speak languages other than Italian, are extremely helpful.

In April you may not get the perfect weather, it was cold and windy, occasionally raining. But still we ended up in Martina Franca, it was Sunday, calm, quiet. We parked and on Sundays parking is free.

Martina Franca in Puglia, Italy
Martina Franca in Puglia, Italy

Just for a moment I will take you back to the food. Years ago, in a late night, I found myself with a group of Italians, students and teachers, Lecce, in a beer bar, and I was very hungry. There they served me sausage, with burrata and whatnot and our friend Carlo explained that it was like a Puglia presentation and the salami was called Martina Franca. This is my first association of this town.

Now let’s tell a bit about Martina Franca. We headed to the old town and entered through Porta di Santo Stefano, which is right next to the Palazzo Ducale, which also houses the Martina Franca municipality. Some parts of the palace are occupied by museums, so we decided to have a little look inside and followed the signs. In the part we got to, you could see halls with beautiful frescoes. There is no admission, just whatever you decide as a donation, and we were interested to walk the halls.

Construction started in the second half of the 17th century on the orders of Duke Petracone Caracciolo, the Palace intersects Renaissance elements with Lecce-inspired Baroque and the local architectural imprint. Once the residence of the Dukes of Caracciolo, it now houses the town hall. Notable inside are the Arcadia, Myth and Bible rooms, so named after the cycle of frescoes that are found in them and were the work of the Franceville artist Domenico Carella, who painted them in 1776.

We ate gelato at Latteria Del Ringo on the way to Basilica di San Martino and walked around the town. I’m convinced it wasn’t my first time, but that’s another story.

A night in Martina Franca– Why not? Slightly larger than other towns around, Martina Franca can pleasantly surprise you with nice places to walk and restaurants. Remember that you are no longer near the sea. If you want a sea view, choose the next town.

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Monopoli

In Puglia there are several extremely nice seaside towns worth visiting. . Monopoli is one of the most beautiful among them. With its well-preserved ramparts and alleyways for one to get lost in. Yes, I did get lost once or twice. And I never get lost!

And to give you a hint – no, this is not where the game “Monopoly” comes from (see “monopoly” for the game). The name of the town comes from the Greek words for “only city” and is spelled differently.

Approaching the old town of Monopoli, we notice behind the fortification walls the Monopoli Cathedral -Basilica of the Madonna della Madia. I remember years ago I was on a tour with Italian mayors around Salento (further south in Puglia) and all the stories around the towns revolved around their churches. And Monopoli Cathedral is very interesting. Started in 1107. on the site of a Roman temple and burial site, but construction stopped due to a lack of beams. And the legend says that in 1117 a miracle happened. A raft carrying an icon of the Madonna entered the harbor. The raft beams were used to construct the roof. Apparently the raft had no owner.

The cathedral was completed in 1442. It then had three belfries, two of which were damaged during the siege of the Spaniards led by the Marquis of Del Vasto in 1528, who did not take the city by force. In 1686 the remaining tower collapsed and killed 40 people.

This brings us to 1683, when a new bell tower was built. In 1742, the church was demolished and a new Baroque church was built, which was completed in 1772.

And so the cathedral has followed the history of the city. The Via Traiana, the road connecting Rome with Brindisi, used to pass by in Roman times. Earlier, the more used way was the Via Appia. But the road built during the times of emperor Trajan was shorter and quickly became more popular.

In another period of time Monopoli was under Venetian rule and was well fortified due to the frequent raids by the Ottoman Turks, who in turn fortified it to withstand the 3-month siege of the Marquis Del Vasto in 1528. But anyway the city fell under Spanish rule.

But let’s get back to our walk, which sneaks us through the small narrow streets. An elderly gentleman spoke to me in Italian, and was happy that I was taking the time to take pictures around the city. Some kid also talked to me. I should learn Italian if I plan to keep touring Southern Italy. We go out to the old port and Anna is eager to go to the water. Monopoli definitely has a wonderful charm. But as I like to say, in Puglia it’s not certain which city will become your favourite, there are many possibilities.

Whether to stay in Monopoli? A lot of people we met on the plane had stayed in Monopoli and were very happy. If you decide to just walk around, take at least two hours for the tour.

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Polignano a Mare

In Polignano a Mare we are again by the sea, between Bari and Monopoli. The small town is famous for two things (assuming that every town in Puglia has a beautiful old historical centre). The first one is the beautiful cliffs on which it is situated, and the beach “Lama Monachile” (“Monk’s Blade”), which you will see in almost all the photos you find of Polignano a Mare.

The second important story of the town is Domenico Modugno, who was born in Polignano a Mare. Modugno was an Italian singer, composer, actor and public figure, winner of 2 Grammy Awards and winner of the San Remo Festival. We often heard Italians passing by his statue singing “Volare”, perhaps his most famous song, which is actually called “Nel blu dipinto di blu”. And though this song is time proven, in 1958. it came third in Eurovision.

With the money from “Nel blu dipinto di blu” Domenico Modugno bought a Ferrari, which he crashed soon after. But I write this not to make laugh of the man, but to mention another hit single that was produce on this occasion – Allan Sherman’s America’s a nice Italian Name.

If, like me, you dig around the internet for songs by Domenico Modugno and from the contests in the 50s, you will spend many pleasant moments with good music.

Parking is difficult, but that’s because we want to stop right next to “Pescaria” to have lunch. Pescaria is a fast-food fish restaurant located in Piazza Aldo Moro, the city’s main square and meeting point. It was built in the early 1900s. Around the square we should theoretically be able to stop, but there are no places. We find a parking spot, have a reservation and settle at a table in the crowded restaurant.

We order the octopus burger, the raw shrimp burger, the tuna tartare… sounds like a fine dining restaurant menu, but it’s “street food” and infinitely delicious. Pescaria opened for the first time in Polignano a Mare. Today it is a chain with branches in Rome, Milan, Bologna… If you don’t want to sit down, you can order a takeaway.

We stop by at Martinucci Laboratory for ice cream and pasticciotto. An older Italian man nudges us and explains that pasticciotto is a very traditional dessert for Salento, the “heel” of Italy. We know – we love it. Martinucci Laboratory is a chain of pastry shops in Salento, but north of Lecce you can only find them in Bari, Polignano a Mare and Alberobello (Get your pasticcioto and gelato!).

Anna with ice cream in hand, me too, a few pasticciotos and a good mood prompt us to go to the old town. We enter through the Arco Marchesale also known as the Porta Grande, built in 1530. and in 1780. becomes the only entrance to the old town. Now there are other entrances open in the walls. From here we go first to Belvedere Terrazza Santo Stefano, offering a view to the rocks of Polignano a Mare and a small part of Grotta Palazzese – the famous cave resataurant.

The restaurant is part of a five-star hotel and is quite expensive – 235 euros for the tasting menu and 180 euros for wine (there is an even more expensive option), and if you order a la carte the most budget option is 3 courses per person for 195euros.

From there we go to Belvedere su Lama Monachile to enjoy the beach, the sea and all the beauty of Polignano a Mare. We slip out of the old town again and climb the Ponte Borbonico su Lama Monachile bridge, which was built during the Bourbon times. From the bridge you can go down to Lama Monachile and admire the water, the stones or the crowd, depending on the moment. The photos were taken on a cold April day.

I am tempted to take you souther and show you a fjord and a beach I really like: The most beautiful route for trekking in Salento, South Italy.

We continue north and reach the monument to Domenico Modugno and take the “Volare” staircase down to the Pietra Piatta, the beautiful cliffs where everyone takes their pictures. So you won’t miss a single beautiful sight in Polignano a Mare, or can you?! – I don’t know!

The view from Pietra Piatta towards the old part of Polignano a Mare
The view from Pietra Piatta towards the old part of Polignano a Mare

How much tiume you need for Polignano a Mare? Allow at least two hours for the walk, but better more than 3 hours. If you decide to stay in Polignano a Mare this is also a good idea. The place is very touristic but very lively and pleasant. There are nice but expensive restaurants with a focus on seafood that are open all year round. There is also a train from Bari to Polignano a Mare.

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Lecce

Lecce for us is passion and a favourite destination. Here I only mention it to drive you attention that this is the best city in Puglia, at least for us. I Lecce and souther you are now in Salento, which is also a region in Puglia woth its own peculiarities. If you have time, take at least a day at Lecce.

Pasticciotto, the dessert we talked about above is from Salento and since Lecce is in Salento, I recommend you to try it here!

Read our article about Lecce: Lecce – a love story, Italian style

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Ostuni

Another very beautiful city I have not been to. I leave it here to remind me to visit.

Matera

You often say that you are most impressed during your trips to Puglia by the great charm of Matera. Although Matera hasn’t been in the Puglia region since the 17th century, it conveniently falls in the itineraries of almost everyone landing in Bari (the capital of Puglia). After the 17th century it was the provincial capital of the Basilicata region until 1806. Then Joseph Bonaparte (King of Naples and Sicily at the time) moved the capital to Potenza.

But back to Matera, we’ve been here twice with a big gap of ten years between those two times. Matera has changed a lot, and at the same time it has remained the same. I’m almost certain that in 2014 there were no Michelin star restaurants in the area and the Sassi di Matera did not have so many luxury hotels. Now everything is busier and full of tourists and still everything is wonderful and beautiful. Matera has its own charm and we also slip into it when we can. And I remember a little nostalgically how I parked my car in front of the guesthouse in 2014. The last time in 2024 we parked somewhere far away and almost got lost.

About Matera you can chesk our article: Matera, a walk on the roofs

If you stay in Matera you will really enjoy the town. The old part of Matera cannot be entered by car, so plan on parking away from your accommodation.

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More places to look

We stayed at Putignano, a small village some 10 minutes by car from Alberobello. Putignano has one if the best pizzerias in the region, which was also open at 11 pm. after our flight. In Putignano, parking was relatively easy outside the old town limits, and in the old town it was extremely quiet. We settled at B&B Santo Stefano, whic proved a wonderful, modest place with super nice hosts and very steep stairs. We really enjoyed it. For 3 days in Putignano nothing happened. It is not a tourist place. It hosts a popular carnival.

But still, in Putignano our room was on the top floor of the house, and every morning I enjoyed the view of the Puglian rooftops and the laundry spread on them. And before I forget, we had dinner here at Premiata Pizzeria, the pizzas here are really worth it. It is housed in the cellars of an old building and the staff are very friendly.

Another town i researched before our trip was Cisternino. For the children a very recommended place is the zoo safari in Fasano.

A Fiat Topolino would suit a trip around Puglia very well, although the photo is in Matera.
A Fiat Topolino would suit a trip around Puglia very well, although the photo is in Matera.

Travel tips and ideas for Puglia, Southern Italy

  • from – to Puglia: 2024 we flew to Bari, the capital of Puglia. There we hired a car to drive around the region. In 2014. We reached South Italy with ferry from Greece to Brindisi, with our family car. The ferry was considerably more expensive and slower, but then there were no convenient flights.
  • Rent a car: We rented an electric car which proved very good choice. There are charging stations everywhere and it is very easy and convenient. The price was the same and even slightly lower than a standard gasoline car. All popular places have arranged parking, mostly paid.
  • Public transport: we haven’t tested it personally, but it will generally work for you if you don’t want to go to a lot of places in one day. Check the timetables. There are trains between almost all of the popular towns, but not always direct.
  • English will do you fine in the more touristy cities, but be prepared that not everyone speaks good English even there. You’d rather get along somehow. In the smaller villages or those frequented mainly by Italian tourists, you will rely on facial expressions and gestures.
  • In Puglia the roads are relatively good, we have not used any toll highways.
  • Most cities have a paid parking zone. White markings are free, blue markings are paid. Yellow markings usually have a more special status. If you have an electric car there are charging stations in some of the car parks. While charging, you do not pay for the stay (information from April 2024). We paid for the blue zone through an app that you will see in the parking lots, but you can also pay with coins at the machines.

Wine in Puglia

It is my pleasure to share a few words about wine in Puglia. But, in order to have a concrete idea of how to drink wine, it is important to know that the “important” varieties are primitivo and negroamaro. If you see “primitivo di Manduria” is certainly more expensive and nicer (most times), if it’s a reserve it’s even more expensive. The primitivo IGP Salento will generally be more affordable. It’s a very simple note, but if you’re not very familiar with wine in Puglia, it will help.

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