From top to toe, Italy is filled with spectacular scenery and beautiful towns. So beautiful that it can be difficult to decide where to visit next! While Puglia is at times overlooked internationally, Italians have long followed the sea and sun to this southeastern region that is the heel of the peninsula’s posh boot.   

Travelers new to the region might wonder: is Puglia worth visiting? We’re here to answer with a resounding yes! 

Here’s why you should visit Puglia: 

The beaches   

With roughly 800 kilometers of coastline, it’s no surprise that Puglia has some of the best beaches in all of Italy. A peninsula within a peninsula, visitors can enjoy pristine beaches on the Ionian and Adriatic coasts. And they truly are pristine – Puglia’s beaches regularly win the Blue Flag, an international eco-label given to the cleanest, most environmentally sustainable beaches. From the “Maldives of Salento” to the views of the “Two Sisters” sea stack, visitors looking to mix cultural touring with the ease of the sea have dozens of gorgeous options to choose from in Puglia. 

Read more about the Best Beaches in Puglia

The trulli   

A village of the unique trulli houses in Puglia with white walls and conical roofs
Visit Puglia to tour the distinctive trulli in Alberobello. Image by Jacques Savoye from Pixabay

There is little more unique to Puglia than its famous trulli houses. These traditional Pugliese homes are ingenious conical structures built with entirely local materials. Unique to Puglia, the trulli are built without any mortar and are devised to be quick to build and quick to dismantle. They maintain a cool interior and the conical roofs lead to a central cistern, usually located under the house, to catch what little water Puglia gets.    

You can find them throughout the Itria Valley, but only in Alberobello can you find more than 1,500 trulli, many in use today and almost all in perfect condition. Today, Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an “exceptional Historic Urban Landscape.”   

The lifestyle   

Visit Puglia to tap into the slow, easy days of southern Italy. Puglia isn’t stuck in the past; it has simply maintained the healthiest aspects of a slower pace of life. Take a cue from the Pugliese and learn to linger over a meal, enjoy the warmth of the sun, gather friends or family around, and soak in a less frenetic atmosphere. It’s the perfect destination for travelers looking to travel slow. Relax and reconnect with nature with the freedom to explore and enjoy some of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy.   

The towns   

The beautiful beach in Polignano al Mare, Puglia

Puglia has a diverse geography and a unique history, both visible in its gorgeous towns and cities. Visit the quaint villages in the Itria Valley, including the trulli of Alberobello, nearby Locorotondo, Cisternino, and lively Martina Franca. There’s the atmospheric town of Polignano a Mare clinging to a rocky cliff over the Adriatic Sea and nearby Monopoli, the whitewashed city of Ostuni, Otranto on the Adriatic coast, and Gallipoli on the Ionian Sea.  

Visit Lecce, Salento’s historical and artistic center, and another UNESCO World Heritage site for its beautiful baroque architecture. And though Bari hasn’t traditionally been on the tourist trail, the recently renovated old town, burgeoning cultural spaces and lively nightlife have put the port city back on the map for many travelers.   

The food   

As in all of Italy, the food in Puglia is incredible.    

Known as the breadbasket of Italy thanks to its large production of durum wheat, Puglia’s pasta and bread are gastronomical staples. Most visitors have heard of the ubiquitous Pugliese orecchiette pasta, fresh pasta shaped like “little ears.” But there is so much more to Pugliese food than that!    

A little-known tradition is the “fornello pronto” in the Valle d’Itria, that is, butcher shops where you can order your meat and have them cook it for you on sight. Other street-food options throughout Puglia include the focaccia barese, fried panzerotto, or the rustico leccese, a puff pastry filled with mozzarella, bechamel sauce, tomato, and black pepper.   

Pugliese cuisine is historically very poor. In the past few could afford meat. Luckily, vegetables abound in this sun-kissed, fertile land. Here you can get fava and chicory prepared in a dozen different ways. Or simply ripe tomatoes with a fresh Pugliese burrata or simple grilled vegetables – all drizzled, of course, with Puglia’s famous olive oil.    

The olive oil   

Visit Puglia to see century-old olive trees

With approximately 60 million olive trees, there are more olive trees in Puglia than there are Italians in Italy. In the Valle d’Itria in particular, travelers can see hundreds of olive trees, including some more than 2,000 years old! Besides a liberal use of the delicious oil during meals, visitors can tour through the olive groves. Today, most of these ancient, millenarian olive trees can be found in the area between Monopoli, Ostuni, and Carovigno. Tour by car or, even better, hike or bike among the olive groves, moving from one town to another.  

The masserie   

Puglia’s cuisine and culture change as you move away from the coastline. In the countryside, the cuisine changes from the fresh fish of the coast and more to meat and vegetables. There, we can also find a treasure unique to the region: the masserie. Ancient structures dating from the 16th century, these farmhouses used to be the home of the massaro, or farmer. Today these masserie range from rustic, renovated farmhouses to luxury hotels. Traditionally agricultural, you can visit to stay the night or simply go for a traditional, kilometer-zero meal. Agriturismi can be found throughout Italy, but only in Puglia can you find them in the traditional style of a Pugliese masseria.    

The history  

Like much of southern Italy, Puglia was conquered by dozens of different civilizations. Its fertile land and strategic and commercial importance attracted the Greeks, Romans, Ostrogoths, and Byzantine Empire; the Normans, Frederick II, the Kingdom of Naples, the Aragonese, the Habsburgs, and … you get the idea.    

This unique and eclectic history left an imprint on Puglia that we can still see today. The Greeks founded Taranto. The Romans brought the long history of wheat, olive oil, and wine production to the region to feed the legions. Gallipoli is fortified thanks to the Byzantines. The Normans brought the relics of San Nicola to Bari and built the Basilica di San Nicola and the French created what is known today as Bari Vecchia. Each new kingdom deeply affected the peninsula’s architectural, agricultural and cultural landscape.    

The nature   

a view of cactus and the seaside in Salento, Puglia

Those looking to explore the natural beauty of Puglia have plenty to choose from even beyond the attractive beaches. Don’t miss the Grotte di Castellana. The longest cave network in Italy with approximately 3 kilometers of underground caves, it is widely considered the most spectacular in Italy as well.    

Visit the stunning islands of the Tremiti Archipelago. Protected by a marine reserve, the only archipelago of Puglia is the pinnacle of natural beauty. Go to explore the wild beaches, snorkel or dive in the pristine water, or enjoy a day on the sea by boat.    

Visitors to the plateau of the Alta Murgia National Park will find a unique mix of nature, archeology, and history. With beautiful flora and fauna year-round, the Alta Murgia is also filled with masserie, jazzi, and poste, or dry-stone buildings used by shepherds to protect their animals. Most notable, however, is the 13th-century Castel del Monte. Built by the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II, the UNESCO World Heritage Site fortification is a mysterious geometric structure built with perfect octagonal walls and eight octagonal towers.  

Finally, those with time to spare can head all the way to the southernmost tip of Puglia in Santa Maria di Leuca to see the place where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet, and explore the nearby caves, beaches, and nature reserves of the Salento Peninsula.   

Visit Puglia to tour the traditional trulli, travel along the picturesque Adriatic coast and cook with an Italian nonna on our Mediterranean Escape to Puglia and the Amalfi Coast. 

  

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Umbria is Italy’s only land-locked region, but it’s not complaining.  

Known as Italy’s green heart, vibrant Umbria is a nature-lover’s paradise. Though it lacks a coastline, the mountains and hills of Umbria are still awash in water thanks to the Tevere River and the Lago di Trasimeno, the largest lake in central and southern Italy.  

Spello, Umbria (Photo by Ken Sandberg)

Though long overlooked for its popular neighbors of Tuscany and Lazio – that’s a huge part of Umbria’s charm. Sometimes called “Tuscany without the tourists,” it’s true that in Umbria you can still get off-the-beaten path with ease. A bit more rustic, more natural than its neighbors, Umbria nevertheless has delicious, high-quality food products, a long history and excellent Medieval and Renaissance art, all while maintaining an atmosphere of peace and serenity. Not to mention enchanting hill towns that you can’t believe you haven’t yet explored!  

Where to Go

Perugia 

Photo by tonixjesse from Pixabay

Umbria’s largest city and the capital of the region, Perugia has a lot to offer visitors. The historical city center is small, but packs a lot of history. There are different ways you can get atop the hill to visit the city center, but perhaps the most suggestive way is with the escalators in the Rocca Paolina. Technically a fort, it feels like an entire a 16th-century city preserved under today’s Perugia. Once in the city center, head to Piazza IV Novembre to dive right in to most of Perugia’s tourist sites: the beautiful 13-century Fontana Maggiore, the unfinished San Lorenzo Cathedral, Palazzo dei Priori and the adjacent Sala dei Notari.  

Home to the oldest university in the region, Perugia isn’t just an ancient city on a hill, but is lived and lively, with actual locals along with the students and visitors (something that some big-hitting Italian towns are starting to lack). Equidistant from Florence and Rome, Perugia is easy-to-reach and a great introduction to Umbria.  

Lake Trasimeno 

Lago di Trasimeno, near Perugia, is the largest lake in central and southern Italy and a veritable natural paradise. A popular vacation place for Umbrians and Tuscans nearby, there are several charming towns along the lake to explore. 

Castiglione del Lago sits above the ruins of Etruscan tombs. Tour the castle, the medieval walls of Palazzo Ducale and the nearby Rocca del Leone fortress. Visit Città del Pieve to walk down the narrowest alleyway in all of Italy and see several works by Pietro Vannucci (also known as the Perugino) who was born there. Or, take a boat to tour the three islands on the lake. Maggiore Island is the only one still inhabited. The largest island on the lake, Polvese, is used as a public park. 

Assisi 

Photo by Valter Cirillo from Pixabay

Assisi is known the world over thanks to St. Francis of Assisi, the city’s patron saint and one of two patron saints for all of Italy. Pilgrims have been visiting the Basilica since its construction in the 13th-century to pay homage to the saint. The gorgeous St. Francis Basilica with upper and lower levels truly is worth a visit, but you don’t need to be religious to visit Assisi. One of the best-preserved medieval cities in all of Italy, the entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Most of the major sites to visit are churches in Assisi – a testament to the city’s deep religious history – but there is also the Rocca Maggiore atop the hill, with views of Perugia to the North, Assisi below and the surrounding valleys beyond. Try visiting the city during the Christmas season. St. Francis is considered the first person to create a live nativity scene and today you can find nativity scenes throughout the city, as well as a living nativity scene with town participants and actors.  

Montefalco

Often called the “balcony of Umbria” for its position and panorama (from here you can see to Perugia, Assisi and even Spoleto), Montefalco is most celebrated for its wine. Città di vino, this tiny town is the home of the celebrated Sagrantino red, a DOCG wine whose dark and dense wine is unique to Umbria. The area’s extra virgin olive oil is nearly just as prized, thanks to its fresh yet intense flavor.

Besides excellent wine, Montefalco also produced six saints over the centuries. The town itself starts from five different gates located at five different parishes. Five lanes climb up the hill until reaching the central piazza and the town’s highest point.

Gubbio  

Photo by Giacomo Zanni from Pixabay

Located in northeastern Umbria, Gubbio is a gorgeous Medieval town filled with lengthy stories and quirky traditions – like an annual race up a mountain carrying enormous wooden prisms that weigh anywhere from 600-700 pounds.  

Known as the Festa dei Ceri, the race is held every year in May to celebrate St. Ubaldo, the patron saint of Gubbio, as well as St. George and St. Anthony. Participants run from the main square in front of Palazzo dei Consoli to the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, on the top of the mountain, all while carrying a statue of their saint on an enormous wooden prism. Maybe that’s why Gubbio is traditionally called the “città dei matti,” or city of crazy people!

Both locations are sights to see, race or no race. The massive, 14th-century Palazzo dei Consoli towers over the central square, Piazza della Signoria, one of the most beautiful in Umbria. Then, be sure to take the funicular from the Porta Romana to the beautiful St. Ubaldo Basilica to see the planks for the famous Ceri race as well as some of the best views of the town. 

Foligno

Foligno was severely bombed in World War II and suffered a powerful earthquake in 1997. Since then, much of the city has been rebuilt and today it is an industrial and commercial center in Umbria.

Visit the two-faced Duomo, with an official facade opening to Piazza del Duomo and another, perhaps more interesting, facade facing south on Piazza della Reppublica and be sure to tour the Trinci Palace, but the real draw is the city’s atmosphere. With a modern appearance and an important commercial background, Foligno is an active, lively city with great shopping, restaurants and aperitif spots and, of course, wine!

Spoleto

Spoleto is a stunning sight framed by the Apennines. Founded by the Umbri, it was quickly taken over by the Romans who built one of the most popular sights of the city: an aqueduct that became the foundation for the Ponte Delle Torri. A huge medieval bridge sitting over a deep gorge, it’s awe-inspiring even today. There’s also a nearly completely intact Roman amphitheater. Later, Spoleto changed hands again, to the Lombards, but its beauty and strategic location ensured that the town flourished. 

Today, it is best known for its three-week summer festival, the Festival Dei Due Mondi, featuring events in opera, dance, music and art.

Spello 

One of the ancient gates that still exist in Spello, Umbria. Photo bychatst2 from Pixabay

Build on a slope of Monte Subasio, The village of Spello is circled by remarkably intact fortified Roman walls that seem to drape around the centro storico. Originally a Roman settlement, the walls are a testament of Spello’s strategic position along the road to Perugia, but the magnificent gates to the village are just as impressive. Head to the west side of town to see the Porta Venere, a gate flanked by a pair of 12-sided towers. The Renaissance artist Pinturicchio had the biggest artistic impact on the town. It’s here that he painted the Madonna in Trono e Santi, his masterpiece for the altar in St. Andrew’s, as well as the colorful frescoes in the Baglioni Chapel inside Santa Maria Maggiore. 

Small Spello is the Italian village you’ve dreamed about with winding streets, stone houses and beautifully decorated balconies. In fact, it’s these floral balconies that have helped Spello officially win the title as il borgo più bello d’Italiaor one of the most beautiful villages of Italy. Flowers are also the star in the Infiorata del Corpus Domini, without a doubt the village’s biggest event of the year. Every summer, various cities throughout all of Italy decorate their streets with elaborate designs made of flower petals. Spello carpets more than a kilometer of road with flowers for the event. 

Norcia 

Located in southeastern Umbria, Norcia is known for its fresh air and spectacular scenery. Sitting under the high peaks of Mount Sibillini, many use the town as a base for mountaineering, hiking and other outdoor sports. It is also a popular hunting zone, especially for wild boar.

Those looking for a more relaxing visit can enjoy the cuisine as Norcia is especially known for its high-quality cured pork products. Norcia’s pork butchers have become so accomplished that they’ve been given their own title. In Norcia it’s not a butcher, macellaio, but a norcinoWherever a norcino goes he can open up a norcineria to sell the Umbrian wild boar and pork products famous throughout Italy. Today a norcineria has become a synonym in Italy for a place that sells prestigious salumi. 

Orvieto 

Orvieto is a tiny town with an oversized appeal. First and foremost, there’s the town’s impressive 14th-century Duomo, with its gold-plated Italian Gothic façade. Besides the pleasant town streets, there’s also a 7 km path that circles the entire city, a double-helix well dug deep into the town’s tufa rock and a veritable city underground.  

Orvieto is built atop soft tufa rock made on an old volcano neck. Easy to dig, over the centuries the entire town has essentially been carved out into cellars and basements, offices, bomb shelters and pigeon breeding rooms. Today you can take a tour underground to visit just some of the approximately 1,200 various caves, tunnels and cisterns carved under the streets and buildings of Orvieto. Come while you can – nearly entirely hollowed out, the fate of the town is clear, just not the when!

What to Do

Umbria is filled with festivals. You can find food festivals, music festivals, sports events and more. From local, traditional events to international affairs, it seems there’s something to do year-round.  

Music aficionados will enjoy the Umbria Jazz Fest, held twice a year. Nearly a week-long event of jazz concerts and encounters, it’s held in Perugia in the summer and Orvieto in the winter.   

Perugia is also home to the annual EuroChocolate Festival (no wonder, with its roots in chocolate production) as well as the International Journalism Festival for journalists and media members.  

In Spoleto, you can find the Festival dei Due Mondi in June and July, when the city becomes the busiest town in central Italy. The festival is an immersion of music, dance, theater and literature in a picture-perfect setting. 

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Photo by crilaman from Pixabay

Nature-lovers can visit the Marmore Waterfalls near Terni; hike, cycle or horseback ride in the Monte Subasio Natural Park; or fish in Lake Trasimeno. The more adventurous can go on an excursion in an underground cave on Monte Cucco

Finally, deep-dive into the Umbrian culture with a traditional festival like the aforementioned Festival of the Ceri in Gubbio

What to Eat 

The food in Umbria is generally simple, rustic fare, but the high-quality pork from Norcia and the legendary black truffles of the area elevate the cuisine to something well-worth tasting. In fact, Norcia and its surroundings are perhaps the true birthplace of Umbrian cuisine, but the fish-based meals from Lake Trasimeno offer something different to the rich dishes of the land-locked country.  

Remember, Italian food is entirely regional. So when in Umbria, here’s what to eat:  

Zuppa

A classic minestrone (vegetable soup) with the addition of farroa local grain. Soups in general are popular in Umbria, especially with legumes and beans like the fagiolina from Trasimeno, lentils or chickpeas.  

Black Truffle 

The prized black truffle of Umbria is a must-try while in the region. With a strong, earthy taste, these delicacies are hometown heroes. Choosy about where they grow and difficult to find, they’re perhaps the most sought-after delicacy in Europe and they grow naturally in the Umbrian countryside! More abundant here than anywhere else in Italy, black truffles are integral to Umbrian cuisine. Try them shaved fresh on top of homemade pasta, eggs or risotto.  

Go on an authentic, private truffle hunt in the countryside of Umbria with a local truffle hunter and his trained dog. Then follow your outing with a truffle tasting (along with pasta, bruschette and wine) on a private Ciao Andiamo tour. 

Pasta alla Norcina 

Pasta made with a black truffle sauce with anchovies or else with sausage and cream. Be sure to ask which sauce you’ll have before ordering as both dishes go by the same name. 

Strangozzi  

A long, curved pasta strand, this pasta gets its name in a rather unique way. When Spoleto was under the papal rule the citizens who didn’t pay their taxes were given fines by esattari, or collectors, sent from the pope. Angry, they often plotted to strangle these collectors with a long leather cord called a strangozzo and supposedly that’s how the similarly-shaped pasta got its name.  

Norcino 

Photo by GBSurf from Pixabay

The cured pork from Norcia, known as norcinois so delicious that it’s worth mentioning twice…or even more. You can enjoy the norcino in a ragù, but perhaps the best way to really appreciate the meat is with an appetizer plate or in a simple sandwich. Two favorites to try are guanciale (for pasta dishes) and coppa for sandwiches.    

Polombacci 

This is wild pigeon, sometimes served with grapes or a sauce called la ghiotta, meaning the gluttonous, made with cooking juices, olive oil, vinegar, anchovies, olives, lemon, safe, salt and pepper. In a fight with the Vatican, Orvieto was completely surrounded and cut off from the outside world. To survive, the town dug a well for water (the famous double helix well) and bred pigeons, the only animal that could fly off to feed itself and return to roost, and the meat has been on menus ever since.  

Anguilla and perch  

Eel from Lake Trasimeno served grilled or braised in wine, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Try also fish stock, risotto with fish or freshly grilled perch fillets. Every year in September the area hosts the festival of fish. Said to have the largest frying pan in the world, they fry up to two tons of fish per hour. If you’re not there during the festival, try tegamaccio, a stew of carp, pike, trout and other fish straight from the lake.  

Sagrantino Wine

When in Italy, drink as the Italians do – with delicious, local wines. In the hills around Montefalco the celebrated Sagrantino wine is made. There are two different Montefalco Sagrantino’s with DOCG status: the Montefalco Sagrantino Secco, a dry wine, and the Montefalco Sagrantino Passito, a sweet, dessert wine. The Secco is aged for at least 30 months, 12 of which are in oak barrels, producing a rich, full-bodied red with high tannin levels. It pairs perfectly with meat, game or with the regions infamous black truffle! 

Perugina chocolate 

Photo by timothy green from Pixabay

Perugia is famous for its chocolate production and home of the Perugina chocolate factory. Travelers to the city can tour the factory, but anyone can enjoy a decadent Perugina chocolate. Similar in idea to the American Hershey Kiss, a Baci Perugina is made slightly richer with the addition of hazelnut and wrapped in notable silver and blue wrapping, each with a romantic message tucked inside.  

In general when eating in Umbria you want to look for specific ingredients rather than specific dishes, such as black truffle, sheep cheese, lentils (those from Castelluccio are considered the best in all of Italy), mushrooms and farro, an ancient but popular local grain. 

How to Get There and Around 

Get there fast, then take it slow. Photo byMarco Pomella from Pixabay

The closest airports to Umbria are Rome, Pisa, and Florence. Perugia also has a small airport with flights coming from other parts of Italy and Europe.  

It is easy to take a train from Rome or Florence to major cities in Umbria such as Perugia or Orvieto. Unfortunately moving from town to town in Umbria by public transport is a bit more complicated.

Though there are trains, they only connect between major cities and sometimes you’ll have to change trains multiple times.  

The absolute best way to get around Umbria is with a private car. With a private driver it’s easier to take in the beauty of Umbria: the winding roads, country scenery and improbable Umbrian towns. Or, let us take care of the transportation for you!

Wine-taste in Montefalco, cook in an agriturismo in Assisi, tour the medieval town of Spoleto and get a pizza inside the ancient Roman walls of Spello on our Food, Wine and the Rolling Hills trip in Umbria and Tuscany!

 

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Located in the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia has romantic white-walled towns, dramatic landscapes and ancient culture. 

It also has some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Italy.   

With roughly 800 kilometers of coastline, Puglia has an incredible diverse coastline. Travelers can find sandy beaches, pebble beaches and steep cliffs. There are rocky coves and grottoes, pine woods that grow right up against the sea and towns teetering atop cliffs, barely protected from the sea foam. 

Not only that, but Puglia’s beaches are regularly awarded with the Blue Flag, an international eco-label “awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators” who follow a series of strict environmental, safety and accessibility criteria.

There are hundreds of beaches in Puglia to choose from, so let us help you find the region’s best beaches

We’ll start in the north in the Gargano area, a nature reserve and small peninsula that juts into the Adriatic Sea like a spur on Italy’s boot.

Nearly all of the Gargano promontory is protected by a national park. With approximately 150 kilometers of coastline, this overlooked oasis has dozens of notable beaches. Travelers can choose between pebble beaches or lush sand, as well as caves, rocky inlets and even islands off the coast to explore! 

Then we’ll head south down the Adriatic coastline to explore the beaches of Salento, the area sandwiched between the Ionian and Adriatic seas and the dream of travelers to Puglia.

Explore the best beaches in Puglia:

Baia delle Zagare (Mattinata) 

The Zagare Bay is a small pebbly beach with a gorgeous view of two distinctive white sea stacks near the shore. The beach is protected and only allows 30 people to visit per day beyond the hotel guests from one of the two hotels located on the site, making it one of the most pristine, not to mention exclusive, beaches in the region. Though not the easiest of Puglia’s beaches to visit, it is certainly something special! 

Mattinatella Beach (Mattinata)

Mattinatella, though technically one beach, feels like two with two totally different directions, geographies and atmospheres. Photo by Vito Manzari (flickr)

This beach, also called the Fontana or Acqua delle Rose, is actually two beaches separated by a rocky spur. The north side can be reached only by sea, so it’s free and all but untouched. The beach to the south has lidos and other services but both beaches share the gorgeous blue sea, striking cliffs and green Mediterranean vegetation. 

Pizzomunno Beach (Vieste)

The Pizzomunno beach is located just south of Vieste, a charming Medieval town with whitestone houses and a popular hub for visitors to the Gargano. Named after the 25-meter tall limestone monolith (a natural obelisk) that rises out of the sea, Pizzomunno is one of the longest beaches in the Gargano with a sandy beach and an unforgettable sea.  

The Beaches of the Tremiti Archipelago (Gargano)  

The Tremiti Archipelago is a group of five tiny islands off the coast of the Gargano peninsula. A part of a marine reserve, the islands ar eprotected, pristine and stunning. Only two of the islands are inhabitated but all can be visited by boat. San Domino is the largest of the islands and most popular for its beauty. It’s the perfect place to go snorkeling or diving or just to relax on all but wild sandy beaches. 

Lama Monachile (Polignano a Mare)

The beautiful town of Polignano a Mare is often called the pearl of the Adriatic. The oldest part of the white town sits atop the limestone cliffs overlooking the sea. Here you can find the smallest of bays providing a town beach, Spiaggia Lama Monachile (also called Spiaggia Cala Porto) made of fine white pebbles and beautiful water. When the beach gets too crowded you can escape to the cliffs above to watch the locals do daredevil dives into the sea below, or dive in yourself!  

Torre Guaceto (Brindisi)

One of the most popular beaches in the area around Alberobello is Torre Guaceto, named after a 16th-century defensive tower built on the shore. Today it’s a natural protected marine reserve and home to cave men archaeological ruins for history buffs looking to take a break from the sun. The beach is long, ensuring that you’ll always find a patch of sand to lay your towel.

Torre dell’Orso (Lecce)

Beware: Torre dell’Orso can get packed in the summers, but it’s iconic Two Sisters sea stack is worth seeing! After, stay to enjoy the beautiful waters or visit any of the other nearby beaches of Melendugno. Photo via Wikicommons

Located relatively near to Lecce, Torre dell’Orso is most known for its two sea stacks known as the Due Sorelle, or two sisters. The tale is that two sisters came to the beach to swim every day. One day after diving into rough waters they weren’t able to make it back to shore. So the gods took pity on the lost sisters and turned them into two beautiful sea stacks.  

The crescent-shaped bay is just short of a kilometer long and packed with lidos and beach resorts, but the extra-fine white sand and Le Due Sorelle are a picture-perfect image of Puglia. Torre dell’Orso is one of the Marinas of Melendugno, a long stretch of coast from Torre Specchia Ruggieri to Torre Sant’Andrea, nearly all worth exploring!

Baia dei Turchi (Otranto)

The Baia dei Turchi is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Puglia. Legend has it that this is where the Ottoman Turks landed in the 15th century to sack the city of Otranto. Today it’s hard to imagine the gorgeous beach as the site of a bloody massacre. A part of the protected oasis area of the Alimini Lakes, it can only be reached by foot or bike, helping it to remain one of the most pristine beaches in Puglia.  The fragrance of the Mediterranean pines and the sea air along with the filtered light and the sound of the lapping waves create its own little paradise.   

Porto Badisco (Otranto)

Porto Badisco is one of the few notable beaches along the rocky coastline between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca. According to legend Porto Badisco was the site of Aeneas’s first landing in Italy after his escape from Troy. Today mostly locals visit the small fishing village town and the even smaller sandy beach, but the natural harbor is a beautiful place to snorkel, dive or have a picnic under the trees just beyond the beach. Nearby you can also find the famous Grotta dei Cervi, an underground caves complex that hosted first inhabitants of the area and still preserve thousands of inscriptions and paintings. 

Marina di Pescoluse (Maldive del Salento) 

Located in the Maldive's of Salento, Marina di Pescoluse's crystal-clear water (shown here) is one of the best beaches of Puglia
Photo by Brunokito (wikicommons)

The area’s evocative name isn’t without reason: the Pescoluse beach is roughly 5 kilometers of fine white sand, shallow water and dunes that form tiny islands along the coastline. Dunes behind create a natural barrier between the beach and the main road. Besides the white sand, the beach gets its name from the crystal clear but vibrant blue, turquoise and green water. One of the longest beaches in all of Puglia, its shallow waters make it a great option for those with small children.

Nearby Torre Vado and Torre Pali and even Torre San Giovanni in Ugento are great options to check out right “next door.” 

La Purità (Gallipoli)

Gallipoli’s name means the “beautiful town” in Greek, and in fact this beautiful town has been invaded and conquered for centuries. The pearl of the Ionian Sea, it also has a variety of gorgeous beaches to choose from. While Baia Verde teams with beach clubs that attract those looking for non-stop nightlife, the real beauty is la Purità, or the Purity Beach. A crescent-shaped beach with pure golden sand and a fluorescent blue beach, the ancient city walls and the iconic lighthouse of Gallipoli only add to its charm.

Porto Selvaggio (Nardò)

A wide view of the blue waters of Porto Selvaggio's bay, one of the best beaches in Puglia.
The bay of Porto Selvaggio. Photo by Yellow.Cat (flickr)

Located in a national park and protected marine area, this beach’s name is apt. “Wild,” in Italian, Porto Selvaggio can only be reached on foot from near Santa Caterina. A short hike through a pine forest will lead you to the completely unspoiled pebble beach. Follow different routes in the forest to find even more solitary inlets and bays.

Punta Prosciutto (Porto Cesareo)

Punta Prosciutto on the Ionian coast offers far fewer amenities than the Adriatic coastline, but for many that is its biggest draw. Here you’ll find high dunes covered with classic Mediterranean plants and scrubs and wetlands beyond that. There are few beach resorts but plenty of white sand and clear sea, giving it the ultimate tropical beach feel. Nearby Torre Lapillo deserves a mention in its own right. A four-kilometer-long bay flanked on either side by two towers, Torre Lapillo and Torre Chianca, the water is shallow and crystal clear. Also located in the Porto Cesareo area, this is the perfect beach for those wanting a slightly less wild feel.

Marina di Ginosa (Ginosa)

Finally, we come up the Ionian coast to Marina di Ginosa, a long, sandy beach with a low, shallow sea. Marina di Ginosa is to the west of Taranto and just 17 kilometers from Matera. It’s been awarded a Blue Flag several times for its gorgeous sea and is another great location for families or those vacationing on this side of Salento.

If you’re looking for a beach vacation – Puglia is the perfect option. It’s got hundreds of beaches, not to mention islets, bays, coves, grottoes, cliffs and islands. Though these are some of our favorites, if you find the beach crowded or not to your liking, pack up and head ten minutes or so in another direction on the coast, there will be another beach to try out before you know it!

Revel in the seaside beauty of southern Italy on our Mediterranean Escape trip to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia. Tour UNESCO World Heritage sites and quaint towns, indulging in beach days and delectable cuisine. Sign up now!

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What better way to enjoy springtime in Italy than a stroll through one of its breathtaking gardens? Springtime is a great time to visit Italy. Visitors during the shoulder season save money on flights and accommodation and enjoy fewer crowds than the jam-packed summer months. Mild temperatures reign with hot days possible in the south as the spring season bursts into bloom throughout the entire peninsula.

Take advantage of the excellent weather to tour some of Italy’s most beautiful gardens and parks, from north to south: 

Isola Bella and Isola Madre; Lake Maggiore, Piedmont 

Photo by Ed Webster

Two of the five Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore, these two are most noted for their gorgeous gardens. Isola Bella, (literally, ‘beautiful island’ in English) is an Italian-style garden whereas Isola Madre (mother island) was created in the classic English style. Both were made to accompany the beautiful villa dominating the small islands. Huge amounts of soil were shipped over to Isola Bella in the 17th century to create the gardens. Today you can see statues, obelisks, staircases and a remarkable amphitheater, not to mention the island’s infamous peacocks! Isola Madre has served as an orchard, olive tree grove and a citrus grove. Today it’s a gorgeous botanical garden with long, green boulevards and hundreds of different plant and vegetable species. 

Villa Carlotta; Tremezzo, Lombardy

Photo by David Spender

This 17th century Villa was built for a local nobleman, and though the opulent house is worth a visit, the real draw is the nearly 20 acres of gardens overlooking beautiful Lake Como. Tucked between the lake and the mountains, the botanic gardens are filled with a variety of camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, tropical plants, and centuries-old Cedar trees. Though beautiful year-round, see the gardens turn into a veritable heaven-on-earth come spring.

Parco Giardino Sigurtà; Peschiera del Garda, Veneto

Gardens of Italy
Photo by Gabriele Vincenzi

Located near massive Lake Garda, this park is enormous in its own right. In fact, it’s Italy’s largest garden! Covering nearly 60 hectares, the landscaped gardens feature a maze as well as a petting zoo with donkeys, goats, chickens and horses for children. Explore the park on foot or by bike to see the more than 1 million tulips in March and April and nearly 30,000 rose bushes that bloom come May.

The Boboli and the Bardini Gardens; Florence, Tuscany

Boboli Gardens
One of the most iconic views of Florence is seen from the beautiful Boboli Gardens. Photo by stevekc

Behind Florence’s famed Palazzo Pitti is the city’s most celebrated garden: The Boboli Gardens and the Bardini Gardens inside. Covering 111 acres in the center of Florence, this huge park has plenty to explore, from ancient to modern statues, fountains, grottos and greenhouses. Take a break from sightseeing in the city with a relaxing stroll through these impressive gardens. Be sure to visit the Bardini Gardens as well (there is a ticket that allows you to visit both) for one of the best views of Florence you can find.

Borghese Gardens; Rome, Lazio

Borghese Gardens
Photo by Larry Koester

The Borghese Gardens are now a free public park open to all. Once a private garden for the Borghese Villa (now the Borghese Gallery), the Gardens span 148 acres, making them the third largest park in Rome. Though they are a priceless refuge from the Roman heat in summer, come in spring to enjoy this city oasis in full bloom and a pleasant temperature.

Rose Gardens; Rome, Lazio

Opposite the Circo Massimo lies the Roman Rose Garden, first created in the 1930’s and home to over 1000 varieties of roses. It’s an ideal setting for a romantic stroll, but hides a darker past: the area once formed part of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, and housed the Jewish cemetery. Look closely and you’ll see that the footpaths form the shape of a menorah in a nod to the district’s past.

Ninfa Gardens; Ninfa, Lazio

Ninfa Gardens – Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy
Photo by Bojana Brkovic

Once a populous medieval town, Ninfa fell abandoned after economic struggles and a malaria outbreak. It sat mostly unused until the 1900s, when it was rediscovered and transformed into a botanic garden. Though you can only see the gardens at certain times and on a guided tour, it’s worth it to learn the history and soak in the atmosphere. Here you’ll find plants of all types among the town’s ruins. There’s even a castle!

Villa d’Este Gardens; Tivoli, Lazio

Villa d'Este – The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy
Photo by Dmitry Dzhus

These Italian Renaissance gardens are perhaps some of the most famous gardens on the entire list. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli, near Rome, they’re also considered some of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy. Go to see the unique fountains that dot the gardens, including the large shell-shaped Fontana del Bicchierone, the Rometta Fountain with a wolf-suckling Romulus and Remus statue and the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains.

Buonaccorsi Garden; Potenza Picena, Le Marche

Though few know of this 18th-century garden, the Baroque, Italian-style gardens are an incredible testament to the era’s attention to detail. Perfectly preserved according to its original design, the Buonaccorsi Garden is laid out with perfectly symmetrical geometric patterns of diamond and star shapes. The garden is free to visit, so go to explore the grotto, the tiny lake and the super-romantic secret garden.

La Mortella Gardens; Ischia, Campania

The most beautiful gardens in Italy
Photo by Andrew Fogg

Invented and created by Susana Walton, the Argentinian wife of British composer William Walton, these tropical gardens completely surround the couples home on the island of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples. Here you’ll find more than 3,000 species of exotic, tropical plants, vertical terraces of plants and enormous tropical waterlilies that fill the pond in front of “La Bocca”, a sculpture of a face with a water sprout out of its mouth. Though created relatively recently, in the 1950s, the gardens are a tropical paradise in the Mediterranean sea.

Villa Rufolo; Ravello, Campania

Villa Rufolo
Photo by Curt Smith

The Amalfi Coast is filled with incredible vistas, but at Villa Rufolo you can enjoy the panorama in a gorgeous atmosphere as well. The 14th-century villa in Ravello is a masterpiece of medieval architecture, but its true draw comes from the flowers that cover nearly every centimeter of the property. Stroll under abundant wisteria arches while enjoying a view of the Mediterranean from on high.

Lama degli Ulivi Botanic Gardens; Monopoli, Puglia

The name is apt for these botanic gardens: the highlight is the olive trees. Gnarled and ancient, these olive trees are a testament to the area’s agricultural history, but that’s not all you can see here. The sun-bleached dirt paths will take you past more than 2,000 species of plants, as well as obscure rock churches.

Kolymbetra Garden; Agrigento, Sicily

A view of the Temple of Dioscuri from among the olive trees. Photo by Giulio Nepi

This botanical garden with a strange name is located in Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples. Dating back to ancient times when the garden was an important lake surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers and filled with fish. Despite this, it sat abandoned for centuries until 1999 when the Italian Environmental Foundation (FAI) took over, drawing out its former beauty with citrus trees, olive groves and tropical plants. Today it’s a verdant oasis beneath the ancient Greek temples.

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Driving up to the Dolomites from Milan or Venice, it’s impossible not to be awestruck by the iconic snowcapped peaks. They rise from lush valleys dotted with ski towns. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique sawtooth limestone cliffs, the Dolomites are known for breathtaking natural beauty. The mountain range is also recognized as one of the top ski destinations in the world, in part for its famous Sella Ronda run – a chain of nearly 25 miles of trails linked by chairlifts. Located in the northeastern corner of Italy in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto (the latter also home to Venice and Verona), the Dolomites make up a part of the extensive Alps range, which spans eight countries and around 750 miles.

If you’re overwhelmed on where to begin, read on to discover the Dolomites:

What to Know

Traveling north through Trentino-Alto Adige, one of Italy’s 20 regions, you’ll notice a point when the architecture, culture and even language switch from Italian to German. This indicates you’ve moved from the sub-region of Trentino, which became part of the Republic of Italy in 1919, to Alto Adige, annexed by Italy in 1920. Alto Adige, also known as Südtirol, has deep Austrian roots. German is actually the most common language spoken here, together with local mountain dialect Ladino, though Italian is spoken almost everywhere in the province (likely with a thick Austrian accent).

Under the rule of Mussolini, a great effort was made to “Italianize” Südtirol. This included giving all the towns Italian names and calling the province “Alto Adige,” because of its position above the Adige river in Italy, rather than its Austrian name of “Südtirol.”

Despite this “Italianization”, this part of the region still feels like entering into another country. Although they’re less than an hour apart, the differences between the cities of Trento and Bolzano are dramatic. Bolzano feels more like Salzburg than Siena, with signs listing German most prominently and dishes like canederli (or Knödel, in German), speck and schnitzel featured ubiquitously on menus in local restaurants.

Where to Go

Discover the Dolomites

 

Perhaps the most noteworthy luxury destination in the Dolomites is the iconic Cortina d’Ampezzo, a haven for jetsetters and VIPs looking to hit some of the Alps’ most striking slopes by day, and then enjoy apres ski, Italian aperitivi and ski village life by night. Located in the Veneto region (think Venice, Verona and Lake Garda), Cortina is a more bustling mountain town with a distinctly Italian feel. Travelers to Cortina can select from an abundance of lovely luxury properties, including the boutique mountain resort and spa Rosapetra.

 


 

The two other major towns are Bolzano in Alto-Adige and Trento in Trentino.

Bolzano is the capital of Alto-Adige (Südtirol) and the largest city in the region. A city straddling two countries and two cultures, Bolzano is has learned to embrace the best of both worlds.

Fun fact: Bolzano is also home to “Otzi the iceman”, one of the oldest preserved human mummies discovered in a nearby glacier and currently displayed in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. 

Trento is the capital of Trentino and home of the 16th century Countil of Trent, during the Counter Reformation of the church. Today it’s a modern university town and the perfect jumping-off point for activities. Relax on a wine tour among the surrounding vineyards or get your heart rate up by hiking, skiing or cycling on some of the 400 km of paved cycling paths parting from the city.

 

Discover the Dolomites

 

Heading west from Cortina into the Alto-Adige portion of the Dolomites, you’ll reach three main valleys: Val Gardena, Val Badia and Val di Fassa.

Those in search of more moderate slopes, including families and beginner or intermediate skiers, will find Val Gardena ideal. Stay in the charming towns of Ortisei, Selva or Santa Cristina.

 


 

On the other side of the famed Sella Ronda is Val di Fassa, home to towns such as Canazei. The third is Val Badia, comprising the towns of La Villa and San Cassiano. Some of our favorite boutique hotels are located in San Cassiano, including Rosa Alpina and Ciasa Salares.

What to Do

Unlike most other regions of Italy, Trentino Alto-Adige is most popular in the winter, when its world-famous slopes open to skiers from across Europe and beyond. The Dolomites became even more fashionable for skiers after hosting the Winter Olympics in 1956 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, today one of the region’s most posh and famous cities. With over 1,200 kilometers of trails and a network of gondolas and chair lifts connecting many of the area’s mountain ranges, the Dolomites are ideal for ski bunnies who wish to hop from one slope to the next.

In summer, when the snow has melted, the mountains attract adventurers looking to hike, mountain bike and soak in the natural beauty of the Italian Alps. Hikers can take advantage of the long-distance footpaths criss-crossing the Dolomites, called the alte vie. One popular hiking destination is Lago di Braies, a stunning lake whose emerald waters reflect the mountains above.

Though the Dolomites are an outdoor lover’s paradise, it’s not all adventure sports and energy. The views alone are enough for a visit. Enjoy the gorgeous panoramas along the Grande Strada delle Dolomiti, or the Great Road of the Dolomites. Those looking for some R&R can tap in to the region’s healthy thermal bath culture. Though spas abound, we’d recommend baths built around natural hot springs. Try the massive Terme di Merano with 25 pools to choose from, saunas, a full spa and even a snow room. Added recently, the room is kept at about 14°F and filled with snow!

 

Local Tips

The Dolomites are dotted with baite, small mountain cabins constructed with stone or wood to withstand heavy snowfalls. Traditionally used as seasonal residences for sheep and cow herders, a recently restored baita may now be used as a holiday home or rented to travelers looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience.

On top of the mountains, skiers and mountaineers may find a rifugio, a shelter built as a point of refuge in case of sudden weather changes. Some rifugi today have become culinary hotspots, serving local dishes to hungry wanderers.

 

 

Food in the Alto-Adige shows the region’s German influence, with specials like canederli, bread balls made from leftovers including bread, milk, cheese and often speck (lean, lightly smoked ham). Gnocchi verdi, ghoulash and spetzel are all on the menu, and the region also produces apples. Wine in the region includes Teroldego (in Trentino) and gewürztraminer (Alto-Adige).

Plan Your Northern Italy Adventure

The Dolomites are easily accessible from Venice or Milan, and can be paired easily with a romantic, northern city like Verona or the towns along beautiful Lake Garda. If you’re ready to discover the Dolomites, touring picturesque resort towns, hitting famed ski slopes and warming up in charming lodges then check out our itinerary and let us do the work for you!

 

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