Luxury holiday Puglia

This is why you should go on a luxury trip to Puglia

Italy’s calm and rugged heel has lived in the shadow of its northern neighbours for far too long. But things are beginning to change

The southeastern corner of Italy is bucolic, beautiful and balmy. From the cave-studded hilltop town of Matera to the rolling, olive-thick sun-lands of Salento, Puglia has sat back comfortably while travel writers swarmed to Tuscany and Amalfi. But as Alister and Owen discovered on a recent research trip, Puglia is easily their rival. Known by Italians as the ‘pantry of Italy,’ the entire region is bursting with fresh produce and amazingly refined cooking. The following guide explains why you should drop everything and go there now – and go there with us.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, then remember to watch our brand new Puglian film – capturing everyday life in this incredible corner of the world.

Puglia isn’t like the rest of Italy

Puglia isn’t the Mediterranean.“Puglia is the Adriatic” noted Luca, our chatty local guide and all-round Pugliese insider. We’d just pulled up on the roadside to study a particularly gnarled olive tree. “1,000 years old, at least,” he remarked smilingly, plucking a plump olive from the branch, before explaining how you can use the shape and colour of the wood to tell its age. He spoke of Italian classics, 1960s pop, and Roman viticulture. This is what Puglia is all about; stoutly beautiful, gently spontaneous, and incredibly easygoing. Fought over by empires; raided by pirates; and carved out of hillsides. “It’s like Cornwall,” we said. “Or California.” 

“Well, Puglia is Puglia” concluded Luca. And that’s the spirit embodied in our years-in-the-making Puglian itinerary. Bright and hot in summer, and still warm and welcoming even in winter.


Why Puglia? The big picture

While Italy’s north was getting messy with factories and futurism, the southeast was perfecting the art of relaxation. Its towns are sun-stroked and stuffed with seasonal restaurants. And you can forget the winter fare of the north. Puglia is all about crisp, fresh, bright ingredients. It also claims to have the best olive oil in all of Italy. The locals treat it like a never-ending summer holiday.

In this burrowed-away corner of Italy – with its hilltop towns, secret coves, ancient olive-oil presses, and swollen low mountains – life has remained exceedingly peaceful. Even if, in the past, it has been invaded and sacked uncountable times. By Greeks, Byzantines, Normans and the Spanish (and they all left something behind). Between olive groves, craggy coves, hillsides and hidden villages are baroque towns and bulkier cities; not least Bari and Brindisi. Both are port towns in their own right, yet wear their muscularity lightly.

It’s no surprise that the region has become a fan favourite among our clients. Particularly with families.

puglia travel

Puglia has some of Italy’s most beautiful towns

And you probably haven’t heard of them. Setting you up with a knowledgeable local – the kind who’ll get you in anywhere – you’ll travel to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Alberobello, with its iconic Trulli buildings. Dating back to the 1500s (as a tax-dodging swindle by the local Acquaviva family), these houses remain in use to this day. Even the local church, Sant’Antonio, is executed in this style. We can also introduce you to winding Ostuni, whose historic roads swirl around the white-washed hill; with each new level revealing an increasingly staggering view. And we know the perfect little lunch spot, tucked away behind the main streets. We’re talking big, meat or vegetable-filled focaccia served with aplomb (and the obligatory can of ice-cold fizz).

Matera, located in the neighbouring area of Basilicata, is an ancient hillside settlement that, over the years, has built up and built down: excavating caves and stores into the limestone itself. Beneath its historic streets lies the Citta Sotterranea, or Underground City. Luckily, our guides not only know the history – but were actually born here. Other areas, such as Sassi – which was excavated in 1952 – house hidden gems such as the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario and the rock-cut church of St. Lucia alle Malve, with its intact 13th-century frescoes. This boisterous and unusual architecture is typical of the region and matched nowhere else in Italy. Our guides will get you access to its most intriguing and unknown areas. Sometimes a familiar face is enough to get you into otherwise closed-off areas. We were once given a rare tour of an ancient olive press, buried deep in the city’s caverns. A Black Tomato guide got us there. Thanks Rosa.

To put it another way, each and every town in Puglia has its own remarkable look and identity. And because our guides and drivers know these places as their home, you’ll be guaranteed a truly local perspective.

We’ll help you get closer to traditional Pugliese life

Life in Puglia is slow, indulgent, and wholesome. But it’s also sociable and enthusiastic. We’ll show you the secret paths, cafes, buildings and bars that keep the locals coming back – like the white-washed old town of Bari or the beautiful jumble of Monopoli. Where owners weave through the tables, chatting and laughing. Where any bright day is an opportunity to plunge into the warm and welcoming sea. We’ll even arrange for you to head out fishing with the locals. There are few better ways to experience Puglia’s warm summer days, the sun glaring brightly off the tufa cliffs.

Volare is Italy’s most iconic pop song. Andrea, our charming guide, was proud to point out that this much-loved work was written by Domenico Modugno after visiting the beautiful seaside town of Polignano a Mare. He also ate at Grotto Palazzese – or the ‘summer cave’: a restaurant dug out of the cliffs themselves. It was built in the 1700s by a local lord who wanted to outdo his peers. Enough said. Elsewhere in the town, you’ll find a dilapidated (and charming) Roman road that leads to the dunes. Traditional fishing boats bob on the waves. In summer, the water is joyously warm.

Lecce, with its stately Baroque architecture, features a stunning central square: Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Our guide knows it like the back of their hand: from the Roman amphitheatre nuzzled against the Chiesa di Santa Croce to the bell tower of the Bishop’s Palace which casts deep shadows across them. Our guides will tell you the town’s secret history – as well as introducing you to the region’s best pusher of cucina povera: the rustic, traditional style of cooking common to the region. This is where you’ll learn your orecchiette from your penne. We can even arrange hands-on cooking classes.

We’ll get you access to the best private coves and beaches in Puglia

With a dual coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian seas, Puglia has some of the best and most varied beaches and resorts in the whole of Italy. There’s Gallipoli, whose curving beach is almost an extension of the pretty town itself. Or there’s Peschici, a commune whose historic houses are built across beautiful limestone bluffs – a guardian arm that protects these warm, fluorescent waters. Or else you can cycle to the sandy folds of Torre Canne beach, backed by ancient groves of olive and wine red earth.

We work exclusively along this sun-hot stretch of rugged coastline with hotels who offer privileged beach access; whether with exclusive coves or special beach and sea-sport programmes.  This means you’ll avoid the crowds of summer and enjoy unspoilt sea-side access. More about those below.

You’ll stay at hotels hand-picked by our discerning Travel Experts. They’re some of the best in the world.

In Puglia, the art of keeping you calm, well, relaxed, and entertained has been taken to the next level. For wellness and quietude there’s pretty Ottolire (read more); a converted 19th-century farmhouse set in stunning landscaped gardens. This is a new addition to our roster, and an incredibly welcome one. Its kitchen serves only local food; much of it pulled from their own kitchen garden. Trulli rooms, a pool, and olive-scented shade make this one to remember.

We’ll be releasing a film about the kitchen and its grounds very soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

For those who want to be totally immersed, there’s Borgo Egnazia (read more). This sprawling hotel-village was built in traditional Puglian style on the former site of a Roman village. Flickering, candle-lit hallways; a bravura of pools; countless eateries; and a vast and ever-changing family programme make this a destination in itself. By night you can almost get lost in this remarkable place. Alister and Owen spent several days in this remarkable place, and will be releasing a second film over the coming weeks (including their much-relished opportunity to tour the local roads in a hired Italian sportscar).

We’re also huge fans of cooly contemporary Masseria Torre Maizza (read more); a former 18th-century watch-tower and church converted into a place of (thankfully) less defensive seclusion. This is a breathtakingly serene retreat; gorgeously fitted and equipped with everything from a beach club and cookery school. We’ll arrange your transfers, day-trips and logistics, meaning you’ll enjoy the region without having ever to worry about luggage or ambiguous transfer rates.

Puglian cuisine is like nothing else in Italy

We’ve talked already about the regionalism of Pugliese cuisine; whether cucina povera or salt-sharp fish pulled straight from the sea. All of the hotels we work with have their own kitchens, many of them exceptional even on a global stage (hats off to Due Camini, the Michelin-starred restaurant of Borgo Egnazia). Our team of Travel Experts and expert foodies will make sure you have access to the region’s best eateries, though our guides are always positioned to make perfect on-the-day recommendations. It’s hard to fight the temptation when you stroll past Cisternino’s, a village butcher’s who will cook their fresh meat straight in front of you – served with local chips and regional wine. A local obsession, it’s probably a good thing not many outsiders know about it. Luca is its biggest fan.

Eateries such as Evo Ristorante offer a more contemporary and high-end update on the cuisine of this historic area; a degustation menu tumbling through canestrato fondue, ravioli and chestnut honey. Most importantly of all, perhaps – besides the region’s unfaltering obsession with fish – is its regional pasta. Orecchiette. It is shaped somewhat like an ear. Either way, it’s our job to hook you up with only the best and most authentic restaurants. The places we eat when we come to this amazing destination.

Throughout, we can arrange cooking classes and food tours to suit your interests and appetites; whether that’s getting behind the kitchen in local trattorias or else learning how to make pasta from the ground up by a traditional cook. And if you’re tempted for dessert, we offer a uniquely food-focused tour through Italy as part of our Eater Journeys itineraries.

Feeling particular about Puglia?

Each of our trips are designed entirely bespoke. If you’d like to experience Puglia, or further afield, then get in touch with our Travel Experts today.