The heel of the Italian boot doesn’t even feature in Rick Steves’ Guide to Italy. Rick’s oversight is our blessing. Puglia is one of Italy’s unspoilt treasures. Its beaches are clean and uncrowded. Its many astonishing sites are inexpensive and easy to access. Its cities and towns – Lecce, Bari, Brindisi, Alberobello, Trani, Polignano, Gallipoli, Monte Sant’Angelo, Vieste to mention just a few – are full of architectural and artistic gems, wonderful food and wine, and eccentric, enthusiastic locals, eager to share their hometown’s specialities with travellers.
In truth, Puglia’s geography (it’s nearly 500km in length) means that the region’s differences are more pronounced than its similarities. In its north the Gargano Peninsula juts out into the Adriatic, with isolated coastal towns linked by their connection to the enormous Gargano National Park, a vast, dense forest containing one of Italy’s most diverse ecosystems. Moving towards the interior, the vast plains of Tavoliere and The Murge contain the wheat fields that form the basis of Italy’s bread and pasta basket, sprinkled with remnants from its Norman history, the most famous being the mysterious octagonal Castel del Monte. Puglia’s central strip is home to bustling Bari, Southern Italy’s second biggest city (after Naples), landscapes full the famous conical Trulli homes and spectacular coastal towns like Monopoli, Trani and Polignano-a-Mare, the warrens of their old towns ancient barriers against the Adriatic. The tip of the heel contains the baroque splendour of the Salento region, surrounded by dazzling coastlines with some of the clearest water in Italy, the historic port towns of Otranto and Gallipoli and, of course, Lecce.
Each of these areas has its own dialect, traditions and cuisines. But what unites them all is the locals’ warmth and friendliness.
International tourism, although growing, has yet to leave its footprint in Puglia. That’s why it’s arguably the best region to have an authentic Italian experience. Meals are lengthy. Portions are large. People want to learn where you’ve come from and what’s brought you to their region. They want to share their culture and, of course, their food.
Puglia is a region where making new friends isn’t just easy. It’s inevitable.
Trulli, Madly, Deeply