Europe Travel

Adoro la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

Puglia, a little secret – at least it was to me. Having traveled to the big five of Italy; Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice and Naples, I kinda thought I had “done” Italy. We were researching Bologna, and then I stumbled upon Puglia. And now Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

Puglia in SE Italy on the Adriatic

Our five days in the Puglia region was a whirlwind. I thought it would be plenty of time. Re-examining I wish we had ten days, even though we made it work. Interestingly, visiting in February had the advantage of almost no tourists but the disadvantage of many shops and restaurants closed for the month. Evidently this is when many business people take a vacation. It was not a hardship for us, we found plenty to see and do and really loved how quiet and uncrowded it was. We had beautiful weather which we were very grateful for.


In the course of our five days we hit nine cities and villages. Most places we just wandered aimlessly through the streets, astonished at the history, architecture and beauty. In a few other places we hired a guide to give us more in depth knowledge. And everywhere we ate the incredible food, and drank the incredible wine.

Sassi di Matera

Below is a list of the nine places we visited over our five day visit. For your planning purposes I would recommend you look beyond these nine, as there are other places we did not get to. But for this blog post, this is what we did – Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

A Note – you can do this tour by train, but I really recommend a car. It is a law to have an International Drivers License in Italy so plan ahead. During our visit we used an app called Easy Park to help us find and pay for parking in every city we went to. Italians drive like crazy people. Take it slow and safe and they will go around you.


This beautiful little town is what first attracted us to the Puglia region. After seeing a photo of the iconic Trulli architecture of Alberobello we were smitten. We spent our five days in a historic Trulli turned Airbnb, and used Alberobello as our Puglia base. Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage village and has grown in popularity for visitors and group tours over the past few years.

Our historic Airbnb
Our Airbnb, part of an old farm


What is a Trulli? In the 17th and 18th century Alberobello was overseen by a feudal lord. In his effort to avoid taxes, he had all the peasants live in the Trulli – a stone house with a conical roof that were built without mortar. The lack of mortar made the structures “temporary” and thus no taxes. At the time, the area was a vast forest (Alberobello means beautiful tree) and the peasants were clearing the trees. Until the late 1700’s Alberobello was not a designated town.

Beautiful Alberobello
Spring is in the air
Alberobello Aia Piccola
Looking towards Rione Monti

Aia Piccola

Today, throughout the region for miles around Alberobello you will see historic Trulli dotting the landscape, including the Airbnb we stayed in. But within the historic center of Alberobello there are two distinct areas of tightly compacted Trulli. We did a private walking tour with a local through both areas. Our guide Guido showed us the smaller Aia Piccola which is still home to many locals. It is a small neighborhood of friendly people. We went inside one home to see how people once lived.

Rione Monti
Cats of Alberobello

Rione Monti

The larger more touristic area is Rione Monti. This neighborhood is positioned on a hill and provides perfect photo opportunities. This is also where the shops and restaurants are. Many shops are local products including popular wood and ceramic works as well as jewelry and clothing. I purchased a beautiful scarf, a small Trulli shaped olive oil decanter and a charm for my bracelet. On our first day we discovered two delicious local specialties; Orecchiette with turnip tops and Braciole, a delicious slow roasted rolled beef.

Beef Braciole at the tiny but delicious My Grandmothers Pantry

Monopoli & Polignano a Mare

After our morning walking tour of Alberobello and a quick lunch, we headed out towards the coast and the two larger cities; Monopoli and Polignano a Mare.


An ancient fortified city, Monopoli was founded in 500 BC by the Greeks. Similar to much of this southern part of Italy, Monopoli passed through the hands of the Romans, Goths, Byzantines and Normans. Today it is a beautiful seaside city with a gorgeous Basilica of the Madonna della Madia, sparkling turquoise water dotted with quaint fishing boats and lots of restaurants and shops for visitors. In the summer it is a popular beach destination.

Basillica of the Madonna della Madia
So picturesque

Polignano a Mare

Another seaside town perched ontop of limestone cliffs with beautiful views of the Adriatic. A rich ancient history beginning in the 4th century, Polignano was likely originally named Neopolis by the Greeks, while some historians say Julius Caesar founded it as a hub along the Via Traiana, one of several ancient Roman roads in the region. Today Polignano a Mare celebrates itself as a modern city popular with tourists all year long. A statue of native son Domenico Modugno, best known for the song Volare, is a popular tourist photo spot.

Next time I’d love a hotel room with this view
Domenico Modugno

Ostuni, Cisterno, Martina Franca and Locorotondo

On day three we set out early to explore four ancient hilltop villages all within about an hour or less from Alberobello.


We actually arrived in Ostuni so early nothing was really open yet. But we parked the car and took a long walk around the “white city” – referred to for it’s white walls and buildings. Ostuni is very popular with visitors and the population explodes in the summer. On the morning we were there we seriously had the place to ourselves. It was wonderful to just wander and peek into the various alleys and stairways. The original settlement here can be dated back to the stone age.

Hidden treasures in Ostuni
One of many artful doors in Ostuni
Ostuni Citadel


We really enjoyed the hilltop village of Cisternino, with views across the valley to neighboring Martina Franca. The village was just coming awake on our arrival. We enjoyed an espresso before wandering the streets, taking in the view from the panorama vista and visiting some local cathedrals.

The original town is said to have been destroyed by the Goths, and it was rebuilt as a monastery by the Basillian Monks in the Middle Ages. Today it’s dense interior gives it a maze feel and offers visitors to enjoy a treasure hunt as they wander.

Cisternino high on the hill
A wonderful view

Martina Franca

Named for Saint Martin and founded in the 10th century, Martina Franca is famous for its olive oil production and its Baroque architecture. It’s another good place to take a slow stroll within its gated walls, or wander outside the gates where commerce continues and locals sit and watch the world go by.

One of the Baroque gates of Martina Franca
The main square in Martina Franca


One of my favorites of this day was our final stop in Locorotondo. Another very small hill top village, with the name meaning “round place”. The village was a unfortified walled city from about 1000 AD, founded by Benedictine monks. Today it is a tourist mecca for its beauty and architecture.


We had a late lunch/early dinner here in Locorotondo, and it was one of the best meals we had anywhere in Italy. We just stumbled into Osteria Il Rosoni, one of the few restaurants that were open. It was a great discovery. We drank the local Verdante wine and ate several local specialties. It was a great way to end day three.

One of the best meals we had in Italy at xx
Lamb Shank

Sassi di Matera

Day four we headed out from Alberobello about an hour and 15 min drive to Matera. I had seen photos of this place and I knew it had a unique history but was not prepared for how amazing it was. We spent the entire day in this town and if I were to visit again I would spend a night or two in this remarkable UNESCO site.

Looking across the ravine to Matera
Astonishing history

You definitely should start your visit on the Murgia side, across the ravine, to get a good look back at this astonishing cave city. What you are looking at is a prehistoric troglodyte village, thought to be among the first human settlements of what is today Italy. The oldest Neolithic pottery found dates to 7500 BC. It is truly one of the oldest inhabited settlements in the world.

Today’s city is built on top of the original caves, but many cave dwellings still exist and are occupied in their updated form. In the 1950’s it was considered the “shame of Italy” because the inhabitants were so poor. The government relocated them to a new area. But eventually in the 1990’s the potential for tourism and commerce started to be noticed, and today it is really one of the most remarkable places in the world. Read the Smithsonian story about it here.

Ancient but living
A fascinating way of life
Such a great day

We enjoyed a really delicious meal in Sassi di Matera at Il Terazzino within a cave. Great food and service too. It was a favorite day and I am so glad we visited this remarkable place.

Eating in a cave
Melon and Prosciutto so delicious


Our time in Pugla flew by, and on our last day we were tired, but decided to make the hour and half drive south to Lecce. We figured it was unlikely we would ever return to this area, so we didn’t want to waste a day. The drive was on a good freeway much of the way and we arrived with plenty of time to find parking and then search out the tour we had booked ahead.

Symbol of Lecce
Roman Coliseum

Lecce has a fascinating history. Most of the architecture is Baroque dating back to the 12th and 13th century. But legend dates the original city to the 5th BC. Below the current town only recently (early 1920’s) was discovered an entire coliseum, and nearby an entire Roman theatre. Both areas are still to be full excavated but will eventually be opened to tourists.

Roman Theatre

Lecce has several stunning cathedrals, including the recently restored Basilica de Santa Croce. You should also visit the city’s Bell Tower, popular with tourists and you can climb to the top. The walls of the original city, dating back 2000 years, can still be seen in several places around what is often referred to as the “Florence of the South”.

Lecce hidden gems

Back to Alberobello

We made the drive back to Alberobello, where we wanted to enjoy this little gem after dark on our final night. We had an outstanding dinnner at 100Metricubi, a unique menu of local octopus, bean mash (a local favorite) and of course, wine.

Alberobello at night
Beautiful scene Alberobello
Our final meal was amazing
Primativa our favorite

I do not take lightly how astonishing my travel life is. It can be exhausting and sometimes it’s a lot of work for the planning and execution. However, the result is a treasure chest of memories of people, places and experiences that have forever changed me, taught me, inspired me and made me a better steward of the earth. Thank you Puglia, you were something special. Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”.

Ciao Bella, Puglia

Thank you for reading my post Adora la Puglia – I love Puglia, Italy’s “Segreta”. I hope you will consider adding Puglia to your travel bucket list.

See last week’s post San Marino Hiding in Plain Sight.

See this week’s book review Still Life by Sarah Winman here.

We love it when you pin, share and comment on our blog posts. Grazie!

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  • Reply Bejal

    This is just the guide I need as I’ve been looking to go for a couple of years. It’s thorough and has given me some inspirational on where to start. Lecce looks beautiful

    March 9, 2024 at 3:14 am
    • Reply Laureen

      You will live it all.

      March 9, 2024 at 5:10 am
  • Reply Sonia

    Puglia is a must add to our travel list. Are there any issues with traveling during the off season in terms of restaurants and shops being open in this region?

    March 9, 2024 at 4:42 am
    • Reply Laureen

      There definitely were some restaurants closed but also plenty open too.

      March 9, 2024 at 5:09 am
  • Reply Linda (LD Holland)

    We discovered Puglia on a long visit to Italy in 2014. Back then it was really off the beaten path but I know it has become more popular. So great to have seen all the spots you visited. It brought back such great memories.

    March 9, 2024 at 9:17 am
    • Reply Laureen

      I’d love to go back.

      March 9, 2024 at 8:42 pm
  • Reply Moona

    Ahh… I love exploring places like this. Although I haven’t yet visited Puglia in Italy, it’s definitely on my bucket list because of its charming beauty.

    March 9, 2024 at 11:52 am
  • Reply Sharyn

    What a treat to have most of these places in Puglia to yourself!

    March 9, 2024 at 1:39 pm
  • Reply Lisa

    We have done the “Big 5” also, but definitely need to explore more of such a beautiful country. We love to be able to spend time exploring places like this.

    March 9, 2024 at 3:30 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      I hope you can. It was lovely.

      March 9, 2024 at 8:40 pm
  • Reply Piritta Paija

    Nice, long, and interesting post. Someday I’ll also have to explore Italia more in-depth, too.

    March 10, 2024 at 3:08 am
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