4 days in Puglia
Has anyone ever tried to plan a holiday somewhere but struggled to research that place online? It’s not that there aren’t any guides or advice out there, it’s just that it’s not really written for you. It doesn’t provide you with lots of pretty photos so you can pre-plan your Instagrams nor advice for the Air bnb obsessed traveller (hey, we can’t all fork out on staying in a Masserie and hire a car.)
So, as I was planning my trip for 4 days in Puglia, I kind of had to make it up the best I could. For that reason I felt pretty chuffed with myself when it somehow went mainly to plan but to save you bookmarking like a bitch and breaking all the rules of browser tab management, you may as well follow my guide instead! Click to see more of my guide below.
Polignano a Mare -> Alberobello -> Lecce -> Otranto
Start your trip flying into Bari airport. Downstairs you have a shuttle train which takes you to Bari centrale station (about 5 stops and 20 mins away.) Trains are every half hour and the staff are very happy to help English speaker wrestle with the ticket machines.
Come out of the Bari platform to the outside Piazza – hey palm trees! On your right, perpendicular to the station you came out from are the other platforms to take you south down the coast. Head into the station and grab yourself a ticket for Polignano a Mare which is on the Lecce line. Listen out when on the train, we almost hopped out at ‘somewhere-else-a-Mare’ by accident! At Polignano, simply veer left out of the station and follow the road down to the center of the town. It’ll only take 10 minutes.
Visiting Polignano a Mare
I’m an Airbnb girl at heart but I probably left looking for one too late. That didn’t mean that we lost out though, in fact we pocketed an adorable converted garage in a 2-flat house right in the center of the old town for £48 per night. If you haven’t used Airbnb yet but want to give it a go, leave a comment below and I’ll sort you out with £16 off your first Airbnb booking!
The hundreds of tourists walking past in the afternoon doesn’t matter when you’re in the most colourful house in the town! Ada, our delightfully sweet host barely spoke English but that was just part of the fun! Originally I wanted to rent the top floor flat for the terrace views over the sea but it gave us more excuses to go out instead and for two nights, downstairs is really all you need.
When looking up Polignano on Pinterest, the view of the break between the cliffs to the sea was the deal maker. Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’re really going to see what the lenses of Pinterest capture but when we stepped on to the bridge as the sun started to set, there was the money shot – the perfect way to start your trip!
Explore the craggy outcrops and walk along the old streets to outposts where you can look out on the sea. At the weekend, take a snoop around the market. There’s no much but the cacti stand is worth a gander! Ensure you take time to wander all the winding white streets. Whilst you’re sure to find dead ends and spot grumpy looking Mamas staring at you, it’s exciting to get a glimpse into the lives of the locals.
Now this is a bigun. To try the cave restaurant or not to try the cave restaurant? If you haven’t heard of it before, Grotta Palazzese is a summer fine dining restaurant residing in a cave at the bottom of a hotel. You’ll be expected to order three courses if dining in the evening but for lunch, we got away with two and two glasses of wine. You’ll likely be glad considering that main courses are around 34 euros each. Expensive by Puglian standards but when you consider you could be sat right by the water’s edge, it’s a literal splash out that’s worth it plus, everything else on your trip will be cheap.
Be warned of a couple of things though. You’ll need to book so just wander over to it when you arrive in town to secure your table. You also need to be prepared that you may be sat right inside the cave where it’s fairly dark and cold. You can still see and hear water but it won’t be the selfie snap you might have hoped for. I dined just as it opened in May so I got quite chilly but come August it may well be a welcome situation! Lastly, it is pretty posh but we spied Italians sitting on each other’s laps and guys in caps and trackies so don’t worry too much if you’re not wearing your Loubs.
As for other tasty treats, we devoured a traditional mixed terracotta platter of delicious hot cheesy delicacies at Bella ‘Mbriana one night and perfect pizza at the touristic but wonderfully lively Al Buco Preferito Tranquillage. If you’re keen to stick to local plates then opt for a ‘white pizza’ over your usual tomatoey ‘red’.
Visiting San Vito
If you’ve done a couple of laps of Polignano a Mare and are looking for something a little further afield to discover then you might like to take the 50 minute walk following the coast to The tiny town of San Vito. On the train from Bari, I caught glimpse of an abbey with arches that created an intriguing silhouette on the horizon. I figured it couldn’t be too far to walk to, so we followed the road and just caught the sun dipping behind the abbey. Pretty epic! The walk there may not be the safest but it’s rewarding to sit in the abbeys courtyard and watch the cats play. If you have a free afternoon and a meal to settle, then why not squeeze it in?
by day 2, it’s time to take a day trip and Alberobello will undoubtedly be at the top of your list. Why? As I mentioned in my last post, the old village of traditional Trulli houses are totally asking for an amble around. Legend goes that houses were built so that they were easily tumble-able. Pull out the keystone and down came the house without much damage. 6 months later, you’d have re-built the town, all in the name of tax-evasion. Those Trulli builders were on to something with their flat pack design skills!
Getting there is a tricky from Polignano a Mare so a car, is your best bet. A quick visit to the tourist office informed us that a 7:30 bus to Castellana train station (love those early starts!) was the only way. Despite arriving at the bus stop 10 minutes early, we missed it but thanks to my ‘excellent’ broken italian/google translate, we were able to decipher that to help us out, a local man had hailed down his friend to drive us! Once at Castellana, you can visit the famous Castellana Grotte caves, but we opted to get an early start at Alberolbello because come mid-morning, it would drenched in tourists.
We grabbed breakfast at a super friendly bnb round the back of the church and then proceeded to spend an hour and a half trying to find the trulli village. It’s really not that hard to find if you look on maps (yeah, we didn’t do that) but just make sure you know which direction you’re heading and stick to the internal paths rather than taking the car route on foot…
On the way back we caught the bus from Castellana town center, which again was taxing as there are no clearly marked stops. A bit of asking around later, we were in the right spot. You see the bus coming but then it turns a corner (cue running around and panic from us) before coming back around to you again. Yikes! Half an hour later, you’re back in Polignano. Seeing as you’ve got the whole evening left, go grab a drink from the buzzing Casa Del Mojito bar. You’ll be needing it!
We grabbed a simple focaccia in Alberobello as the area doesn’t lend itself so well to sit down meals. Grab something easy, greasy and cheap and sit outside at the bottom of the town to watch the people go by.
Alberobello is known for it’s kitsch tourist shops and whilst I didn’t buy anything, they’re well worth a nosey around. From model cacti and mini trulli houses to local delicacies and lace, there are lots of traditional souvenirs to pick up here!
From Polignano, take the same train you arrived on to Lecce, the principle city of Salento towards the south of the Puglian peninsular. An hour and a half later, you’re in a buzzing university city famed for its history and architecture. Walk for 15/20 minutes straight down towards the old town to your accommodation. Everything you need is within 15 minutes walk so once you’ve arrived you can explore by foot or take the cute little tourist train or bikes.
Now I’m not huge on history and I didn’t visit any museums, but if that floats your boat then this is the city for you. Start by making your way to the impressive tourist office which you can’t miss when illuminated at night siting proudly next to a Roman amphitheater. Follow a walk around to the relatively newly uncovered Greek theatre, a a great example of the entertainment of the time and wind your way around quiet residential streets to the duomo. Lunchtime is your best time to do this for all the locals are home for food.
Be sure to take a gander through the central giardini pubblici too for pretty tiled pavilions, impromptu music and a nice spot of greenery.
Our second Airbnb was situated in a central Lecce town house on the second floor with a roof terrace that looked over the skyline, perfect for sunny breakfasts and sunset views! With a mezzanine floor, a good size kitchen and a quiet street, It was a perfect little base for two from £40 per night.
One thing we had to get our heads around was ‘aperitivo.’ I’ve still not managed to perfect the art of eating the right amount at the right time on holiday and this ‘with pre dinner drinks’, snack-style meal can complicate things. Our first taster of this was at 00 Doppiozero, a place we both spotted and were recommended – winner! The next evening we were sure to try the famous local orecchiette pasta and on the third night we opted for aperitivo again along the pulsing streets of Via Umberto I. It’s best consumed outside with a glass of Prosecco I concluded!
Be warned, after a while you can become sick of oily meats and cheeses (I know, I didn’t believe it either!) so hunt down some fresh fruit and yoghurt for breakfast in the tiny corner shops the evening before. Our only regret food-wise was not being able to get into Trattoria Le Zie, a ring the bell, mamas kitchen, award winning kinda place that we wish we’d booked before hand. It’s not always open so be sure to look into going there before your trip. on the flip side, for those of you craving fast food and a never ending sauce list, the questionably named Natural Chips is a must!
What felt like a potential #travelfail turned out to be my favourite part of the trip! In our original plans, we hoped to take a bus from Lecce to Otranto, a noteworthy coastal old town but tourist informations only option was a minibus tour at 3pm. Fret not, for this is actually the perfect time to travel. You won’t get so hot and by the end of the trip you’ll be treated to views over the sea at golden hour. Bliss!
The bus cost us 30 euros each but was so worth it. Along with one a chatty Brazilian lady, we were effectively taxi’d along the coast to Otranto where we were free to walk along the bay and then around the old town for a couple of hours. After that, we wound along the coast to Santa Cesarea Terme where the mysterious arabic inspired palace dominates the town, stopped at a couple of impressive view points and finally to beautiful Castro – the most southern point of the trip. For a holiday so full of walking, this is a winning way to see the area whilst keeping it personal!
Walk along the full stretch of the bay and then up to the old town. wind your way around the narrow streets and up to the look out points over the bay. The whole town is centred around the water so everywhere is right there in front of you. Peruse the little market stalls along the promenade and pick up some sweets or nuts from the mulitude of stalls around the play areas.
After eating my body weight in dairy and meat it was time for something a little fresher. Snobbery aside, this big, full salad complete with side order of aranccini and Nastro Azzuaro from a kebab style cafe was just what I needed. When you rock up at 4pm wanting food, this may be the only place still serving but it turned out to be quite a gem.
We’d had our hearts set on Gallipoli since the beginning so I was really looking forward to this seaside visit. Although I’m not normally a morning person, this one is another worth getting up early for. Get to Lecce train station in plenty of time as you’ll need to ask where to buy the right tickets. The train runs on a different line so you won’t be able to buy tickets on the main machines. Be aware that the train also splits half way so you’ll need to hop on, along with everyone else, to another train half way. Puglian travel is difficult to get info on but this website was a lifesaver!
Once arrived, take the 15 minute walk straight down towards to island-like center. You’ll arrive just in time for breakfast where you can watch the fishermen bring in their nets and prep their hooks for the next day.
After an al-fresco brekkie, start in the fish market. Even if you’re not into eating the stuff, the small market by the entrance to the old town is worth walking through just to see those eye-opening displays of the days’ catch. If you’re an oyster aficionado, you’re in for a treat as prosecco and lemons await you!
Be sure to walk around the perimeter of the island to suss out your lunch spot and take a little rest on the sandy beach. We were visited by a friendly dog, if you’re so lucky, you might make an Italian four legged friend too. It’s not unlikely seeing as there are cats everywhere too. See if you can spot them climbing the sheer face of the city walls or basking on shrubs growing out of the rocks. And I thought my cat was agile.
Next wind your way around the internal streets, hearing the bells call the locals to church and popping into the local shops.
Our last lunch definitely left the best till last. We chanced on La Riviera restaurant with palm parasols overlooking the sea and ordered seafood parmigana and a traditional open sandwich. The whole meal was absolutely perfect, the view, music, food… oh, and the half litre of prosecco was probably had something to do with it!
For ideas of what to wear in each place, take a look at my outfit posts!
That’s it, my Puglian trip inside out! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or send me questions on Twitter!