The ultimate Puglia road trip itinerary

Things to do in Ostuni

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Looking to organise a Puglia road trip but don’t know where to start?

This guide will take you through everything you need to know about planning a road trip in Puglia, including a pre-organised two week Puglia road trip itinerary taking in all the best parts of one of Italy’s most beautiful and undiscovered regions…

Why take a Puglia road trip?

With its gorgeous countryside, little picturesque villages and long stretches of pristine coastline, a road trip is by far the best way to explore Puglia.

Travelling in Puglia by public transport is possible, however, compared to elsewhere in Italy, the rail and bus network can be a little limited, especially in the more rural parts of the region.

Visiting Puglia on a road trip gives you complete freedom to explore in your own time and at your own pace, without having to stick to train schedules. You’ll also be able to see far more of the beautiful Puglian countryside and stop at the more authentic off-the-beaten-track towns and attractions.

 

How long do I need for a Puglia road trip?

For this Puglia road trip, I’ve suggested doing it over at least 2 weeks. You could probably cut it down slightly to 10 days if that’s easier but ideally no less than this.

I’ve seen other Puglia itineraries that have you speeding through every town in the region in a week or less, stopping in multiple towns each day, but in my opinion, that’s not the right way to experience Puglia.

Puglia is somewhere that needs to be savored and to be enjoyed slowly. It’s somewhere for long wine-filled lunches in the sun, slow strolls around beautiful historic cities and lazy afternoons on the beach.

The best way to really experience Puglia is to fully embrace the slow and laid-back southern Italian way of life, so the longer you have for your Puglia road trip the better.

I was lucky enough to spend 2 amazing months in Puglia and I still didn’t get to go everywhere or do everything I wanted to. Don’t be surprised if you leave – even after 2 weeks – already desperate to return!

 

Renting a car in Puglia

The easiest place to rent a car in Puglia is at the airport when you first arrive.

The two main airports in Puglia are the Karol Wojtyla Airport in Bari and the Airport of Salento in Brindisi.

 

Things to know before your Puglia road trip

    • Drive on the right side – just in case you didn’t already know.
    • Careful of Italian drivers – sorry for the stereotype but it’s true that Italian drivers can be a little on the erratic/speedy side so keep your wits about you when driving.
    • Avoid ZTL’s – Zona Traffico Limitato (limited traffic zones) can be found in the historic center of most cities and towns in Puglia and are strictly NO GO areas. If you drive or park in these zones you will end up with a rather large fine. ZTL’s are well signposted so are pretty easy to avoid.

 

Puglia road trip itinerary – overview

    • Day 1: Bari (day trip)
    • Day 1-4: Monopoli (base for 3 nights)
    • Day 3: Polignano a Mare (day trip)
    • Day 4: Grotte di Castellana (morning)
    • Days 4-5: Alberobello (base for 1 night)
    • Day 5: Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca (day trip)
    • Days 5-7: Masseria stay (base for 2 nights)
    • Day 6: Ostuni (day trip)
    • Day 7: Lecce (day trip)
    • Days 7-10: Otranto (base for 3 nights)
    • Day 10: Santa Maria di Leuca (day trip)
    • Days 10-12: Gallipoli (base for 2 nights)
    • Day 12: Manduria (day trip)
    • Days 12-14: Matera (base for 2 nights)
    • Day 14: Back to Bari

 

Puglia road trip itinerary – map

 

Puglia road trip itinerary – a detailed breakdown

This Puglia road trip itinerary is a loop that starts and ends in Bari. If you’re flying into Brindisi airport instead, start in Lecce (day 7) then continue on the loop until you end your trip in a Masseria near Ostuni.

 

Days 1-4 Bari, Monopoli & Polignano a Mare

Day 1: Bari (day trip)

After picking up your hire car from the airport in Bari, spend your first day exploring Puglia’s capital city.

There are plenty of things to do in the coastal city of Bari, from exploring the historic buildings of the old town to taking a shopping spree in the newer Murat district and enjoying a glass of wine on the long Lungomare Nazario Sauro promenade at sunset.

Don’t forget to pick up a bag of pasta or two on Strada delle Orecchiette (Via Arco Basso), a small street in Bari where you’ll find elderly local women making orecchiette – Puglia’s characteristic ear-shaped pasta – at rows of little tables on the street outside their homes.

 

Day 1-4: Monopoli (base)

Monopoli Porta Vecchia

After your day in Bari, drive around 45 minutes along the coast until you reach the seaside town of Monopoli which makes the perfect base for the first few nights of this Puglia itinerary.

Monopoli is a charming coastal town which unfortunately all too often gets missed by people visiting the region, despite its historic old town, many beautiful beaches and authentic laid-back Apulian atmosphere. A true hidden gem in Italy, Monopoli is my personal favourite town in all of Puglia.

 

Day 2: Monopoli

Leave the car and spend day two of your Puglia itinerary relaxing in peaceful Monopoli. Spend the morning exploring the narrow alleyways and impressive churches of the historic center, stop for a tasty lunch at one of the many great seafood restaurants or pizzerias overlooking the water, then pitch up on a sandy beach along Monopoli’s coastline for an afternoon enjoying the sun with a gelato and a spritz.

For the evening, pick a restaurant on lively Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi in the heart of old town.

 

Day 3: Polignano a Mare (day trip)

Polignano a Mare beach Puglia

Drive just 15 minutes from Monopoli to the neighbouring town of Polignano a Mare for a day trip.

Polignano a Mare is one of the most famous towns in Puglia thanks to the picturesque Cala Porto (or Lama Monachile), a small pebble beach unsuspectingly tucked away underneath the city’s limestone cliffs and whitewashed houses.

A walk down to the little beach is a must, however, the best thing about it is actually the views from the many surrounding viewpoints in Polignano’s old town – one of the most iconic views in all of Puglia.

Other than its famous beach, there are a few other things to do in Polignano such as searching for poetry in the streets and visiting the statue of famous Italian singer Domenico Modugno.

While a trip to Polignano is a must while in the area, it is a pretty small town so if you do find yourself running out of things to do after half a day, just head back to Monopoli for another few hours on the beach.

 

 

Days 4-7: The Valle D’Itria

From Monopoli, take a short drive into the Valle D’Itria, a region in the mainland of Puglia know for its historic hilltop towns and beautiful scenery. This is where visiting Puglia on a road trip really comes in handy as travelling around the Valle D’Itria by public transport can be pretty difficult and time-consuming.

 

Day 4: Grotte di Castellana (half day trip)

Grotte Castellana, things to do in Puglia Italy

Photo credit: Grotte di Castellana

For your first stop of the day, drive around 25 minutes from Monopoli to Grotte di Castellana at the entrance of the Valle D’Itra.

Grotte di Castellana is a 90 million-year-old karst cave system more than 60 meters underground.

The caves are open to the public and you can explore the many amazing canyons, stalagmites and stalactites of Grotte di Castellana on a guided tour with the proper safety equipment.

With either a short tour of around 50 minutes or a longer 2 hour tour to choose from, spend your morning taking in one of the most amazing natural wonders in Puglia.

 

Day 4-5: Alberobello (base)

Trulli in Alberobello

From Grotte di Castellana drive another 20 minutes to Alberobello, arriving around lunchtime.

Alberobello is one of the most famous towns in Puglia and an absolute must on any Puglia road trip. The charming little town is known for its many Trulli, the unusual mortarless limestone buildings with cone-shaped roofs that have earned Alberobello its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While most Puglia itineraries would recommend visiting Alberobello as a day trip, my number one piece of advice would be to stay overnight.

This way, not only will you be able to have the unique experience of staying inside a traditional Trulli overnight, but you’ll also be able to see the magical little town all lit up with rows of fairy lights at night and in the peace and quiet of the early morning before the busloads of day-trippers arrive.

 

Day 5: Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca (day trip)

Valle d’Itria countryside in Puglia

A view over the vineyards and countryside from Locorotondo

After checking out of your Trulli in Alberobello in the morning, jump in your car for a day of exploring some of the Valle D’Itria’s historic whitewashed towns.

All within a short driving distance from Alberobello and from each other you’ll find the hilltop towns of Locorotondo, Cisternino and Martina Franca.

Though I did say at the start of this post that you shouldn’t be ticking off multiple destinations in one day, these towns in the Valle D’Itria are very small and really can be explored within a couple of hours. You could choose just two to visit at a slightly slower pace or go for all three if you feel like you’ve got the time.

Locorotondo – A hilltop town which is known for its surrounding vineyards and DOC white wine.

Martina Franca – Important 14th-century town with many historic palaces and churches.

Cisternino – A small picturesque town with a maze of little alleyways.

 

Days 5-7: Masseria Stay (base)

Finally, end your exploration of the Valle D’Itra by heading towards another of its most famous towns, Ostuni, however instead of staying in the town itself, choose a beautiful Masseria in the surrounding countryside to use as your base for a couple of nights.

A Masseria is a restored traditional 16th/17th-century Apulian farmhouse that has been converted into a charming B&B or luxury agriturismo hotel and is a must-have experience on any Puglia road trip.

One of the perks of staying in a Masseria is that most usually still sit within large working farms and offer agricultural experiences to guests which include tours of their land and farms, tastings of local produce such as olive oil, wine and cheese, delicious home-cooked breakfasts and special dinner tasting menus using all home-grown and local produce.

The countryside surrounding Ostuni is where you’ll find some of the best Masseria in Puglia. Here are a few of my personal recommendations to get your search started;

    • Masseria Salinola – a luxurious B&B with an outdoor pool, large terrace and restaurant serving delicious Apulian dishes using locally produced ingredients. Masseria Salinola has won numerous awards and accolades for the best farmhouse stay in all of Puglia.
    • Masseria Il Frantoio – organic farm close to the beach and surrounded by citrus gardens and olive groves, featuring a 15th-century mill which is still producing quality olive oil today.
    • Masseria Grieco – a charming B&B inside an old farmhouse in a large olive tree orchard with an outdoor swimming pool and terrace.
    • Masseria Valente – one of the cheapest Masseria options around Ostuni but just as charming, offering studio apartments with private verandas within a property with its own renovated oil mill and large garden dedicated to organic farming.

 

Alternate: Depending on which you pick, Masseria stays can be a little more expensive than hotels. If you’re doing your Puglia road trip on a budget, you could opt for just one night in a Masseria then a night in a hotel in Ostuni instead. Alternatively – if you have the budget and want to take things even slower – you could stay for 3 nights in a Masseria and take a full day to enjoy the Apulian countryside and activities around the farm.

 

Days 6: Ostuni (day trip)

Whitewashed hilltop town of Ostuni

After a leisurely breakfast and morning at your Masseria, take a short drive to the hilltop town of Ostuni.

Often referred to as Puglia’s ‘White City’ due to its whitewashed old town, Ostuni is an enchanting labyrinth of steep sloping staircases, narrow Medieval streets, historic archways and small squares perched on three hills with amazing views over the surrounding Itria Valley.

Ostuni’s old town is an easy place to simply let yourself get lost in for an afternoon, stopping every now and again for a spritz or glass of wine in one of the cute little cafes.

 

 

Day 7-12: Salento Peninsula

From your Masseria in Ostuni, drive south out of the Valle D’Itria and into the Salento Peninsula – the southern-most region of Puglia.

 

Days 7: Lecce (day trip)

The drive between Ostuni and Lecce takes around one hour.

Lecce is the main city on the Salento Peninsula and is often called the ‘Florence of the South’ due to its many striking Baroque buildings and amazing architecture. A day in Lecce Lecce is a must if you enjoy wandering around beautiful historic cities.

 

Days 7-10: Otranto (base)

Next, drive around 45 minutes from Lecce to Otranto.

Otranto is another charming coastal town that makes for a great base for a few nights during the summer. Fun fact – Otranto is Italy’s most eastern town.

Where to stay in Otranto;

Palazzo De Mori – a beautiful B&B in Otranto’s historic center with balconies overlooking the port, sea and castle. Located in the ZTL, however, the hotel offers parking passes for a car park nearby.

 

 

Day 8: Otranto

Busy Otranto beach with sunbeds in Puglia

Photo credit: Massimo Virgilio via Unsplash

Spend your first day in Otranto without the car and enjoy some time exploring the lovely seaside town.

The large 15th-century Aragonese Castle of Otranto, with its ancient fortified walls and watchtowers, is one of the most prominent landmarks in the town and is a definite must-visit. Other than the castle, historic Otranto also has a small port and its own white sand beach with beautiful turquoise waters.

 

Day 9: Salento East Coast (day trip)

 Salento coastline in Puglia

Faraglioni di Torre Sant’Andrea. Photo credit: Massimo Virgilio via Unsplash

Jump back in the car and spend a day exploring the iconic Salento coastline around Otranto.

Grab your swimming gear and drive just a short distance north along the coast from Otranto to find some of the most beautiful and famous stretches of coastline in all of Puglia. Some stops not to miss include;

Roca Vecchia & Grotta Della Poesia (Cave of Poetry) – an archaeological site on the coast that has produced some of the best-preserved Bronze age architecture in Italy, as well as the most famous sea cave in Puglia which you can swim in after descending a staircase built into the rocks.

Torre Dell’Orso – a large crescent bay with stretches of idyllic white sand beach and numerous beach resorts framed by picturesque cliffs, characterised by its 16th-century watchtower and the two sea stacks rising from the clear turquoise water known as Le Due Sorelle (the two sisters).

Torre Sant’Andrea – a series of dramatic sea stacks, arches and caves jutting out into the pristine waters lining the small finishing village of Melendugno. One of the most gorgeous places to stop for a swim along the Salento coastline.

Grotta Sfondata – a picturesque natural oasis close to Baia del Mulino d’Acqua in which a huge hole in the rocks leads down into a pristine turquoise pool surrounded by Mediterranean scrub. A photo op not to be missed!

 

Day 10: Santa Maria di Leuca (day trip)


Pack up your car and make your way along the coast from Otranto down to Santa Maria di Leuca, then finally back up the west coast of the Salento Peninsula to Gallipoli (2 hour total drive without stops).

Make sure to get up early as today’s a busy day of exploring the southern tip of the Salento peninsula, home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Puglia.

In the order you’ll come across them on the route, with Santa Maria di Leuca as the middle point, here are a few of the best stops to make along the southern Salento coast;

Faro di Punta Palascìa – the lighthouse which marks Italy’s easternmost point.

Castro Marina – a little historic town on the coast with numerous bars, cafes and restaurants along the seafront as well as a popular beach and some of the most beautiful blue-green waters you’ll ever swim in.

Ponte del Ciòlo one of the region’s most impressive and scenic bridges which overlooks a stunning natural fjord, with a steep staircase that leads you down from the bridge to the small rocky beach below.

Santa Maria di Leuca – a town on the southernmost tip of the Salento Peninsula where the Ionian and Adriatic Seas meet. Visit the town’s famous lighthouse and the impressive Sanctuary of Santa Maria.

Marina di Pescoluse – a coastal hamlet known to be one of the best beach destinations in the region, with the beautiful white sand beaches of Spiaggia di Pescoluse and Spiaggia di Posto Vecchio earning the area the nickname of ‘the Maldives of Puglia(Maldive del Salento).

Marina di Ugento – Torre San Giovanni is the coastal area of the hamlet of Ugento and another popular beach destination with delicate white sand beaches, cliff diving and plenty of watersports.

 

Alternate: There is a lot to see on the southern Salento coast, so if you have the time on your Puglia road trip, you could always add an extra night and stay in a beach resort in Pescoluse or Ugento or one of the little towns along the coast so you’ll have two days to enjoy a more leisurely drive with longer stops.

 

Days 10-12: Gallipoli (base)

After exploring the southern tip of the Salento Peninsula you’ll finally make it round to Gallipoli.

Located on the west coast of the Peninsula, Gallipoli is split between its historic old town, built on a fortified island connected to the mainland by a 17th-century bridge, and a more modern area on the mainland.

Living up to its name which means ‘beautiful city‘ in Greek, charming Gallipoli’s mix of grand architecture, beautiful beaches and exciting nightlife make it one of the most popular summer holiday destinations in the Puglia region amongst Italian tourists.

Where to stay in Gallipoli;

Grand Hotel Costa Brada – a luxurious beachfront hotel with its own private beach just a short drive down the coast from central Gallipoli.

Al Pescatore Hotel – one of the few hotels with parking right in Gallipoli’s old town, set inside an impressive historic building from the 1600s and just a short walk to central Purità Beach.

 

Day 11: Gallipoli & its coastline

Gallipoli beach

Purita Beach. Photo credit: Edoardo Galati via Unsplash

You can either spend the entire day exploring Gallipoli and relaxing on central Purità Beach which sits at the foot of the old city walls or spend half a day in the town then jump into your car and head to one of the beautiful nearby beaches along the Gallipoli coast;

    • Rivabella
    • Spiaggia Baia Verde di Gallipoli
    • Spiaggia di Punta della Suina

 

Day 12: Manduria (day trip)

Take a leisurely morning in Gallipoli then hit the road north along the coast on route to Matera. This is one of the longest drive days of this Puglia road trip, taking around 3 hours without stops.

For a pit stop on your drive between Gallipoli and Matera, make a stop in Manduria.

The quaint town of Manduria is important in Puglia’s booming wine industry, being home to the production of Primitivo di Manduria DOC red wine.

You can take a drive through the many vineyards which lie between the towns of Manduria and Avetrana, stop at a winery for a tour and tasting, and visit the interesting museum of Primitivo wine in Manduria itself.

 

Days 12-14: Matera

For the final leg of your Puglia road trip, head to the ancient city of Matera.

Although technically in the region of Basilicata, Matera sits close to the border of Puglia and is commonly incorporated into a Puglia road trip.

 

Days 12-14: Matera (base)

Matera Italy

Photo credit: Daniele Levis Pelusi via Unsplash

Once somewhere that was ridden with poverty and disease, Matera is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most fascinating places to visit in all of Italy.

The town is known for its ancient sassi (cave dwellings) which date back thousands of years, making it potentially one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in the world.

While still retaining much of its ancient charm, many sassi have been renovated into unique B&B’s, hotels, shops, restaurants and museums, catering to the tourists that now come to explore this unusual town.

A full day exploring the charming ancient streets of Matera is a must!

Where to stay in Matera;

La Corte Dei Pastori – a centrally located boutique B&B inside a traditional sassi cave dwelling with a beautiful terrace for enjoying breakfast with an amazing view out over the city.

 

 

Day 14: Back to Bari

From Matera, you can drive back to Bari in around an hour, making it a convenient final destination to end your Puglia road trip.

 

 


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Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the south west. She has a masters degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works as a freelance travel writer, digital marketer and VA, splitting her life between London and travelling the world.

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