Surrounded by coast on three sides, the heel of Italy’s boot is a glistening jewel in the crown of this sun-drenched country, perfect for a break packed with beaches, beautiful hilltop towns and of course, plenty of pasta. It’s the ideal destination for a week-long road trip. So whether you pack light and fit everything into your hand luggage or take options for every occasion and travel with hold luggage, here’s how to plan the ultimate week-long road trip around Puglia.
Day 1: Bari - Polignano a Mare - Ostuni
Touch down in Bari and head south, straight from the airport, stopping first at Polignano a Mare. You’ll likely have seen its photogenic highlight, Lama Monachile beach, on Instagram but like everything, it’s far better in real life. Take a dip amid crashing waves, wander around the old town then rest up for your first (of many) gelato. Next, hit the highway to Ostuni, which appears ahead like a mythical city, its white-washed walls sitting high on the hill.
Packing tip: Did you know we do packing cubes? They're the ultimate way to organise your suitcase.
Day 2: Ostuni
Spend the morning pottering around Ostuni old town. Heading up the hill, meander the back streets, knocking back an espresso and trying a local puccia - a type of sandwich particular to Puglia. Come afternoon, take a leisurely drive out to the Torre Guaceto – a marine protected area of coastline, for some blissful beach time.
Day 3: Alberobello
Basing yourself in Ostuni, set off for a day trip to Alberobello, a Unesco World Heritage site. It might be firmly on the tourist trail but for good reason - it’s packed with trulli - conical roofed whitewashed local houses. Head to the Rione Monti quarter to find over 1,000 trulli, take a break in any of the many trattoria then head home for a relaxed dinner as the sun sets.
Day 4: Lecce
Leave Ostuni and head south to Lecce, the so-called Florence of the south. Stroll through Piazza del Duomo, try a plate of orecchiette and browse the local stores stacked high with pottery. Spend your evening on Via Umberto I, a street packed with restaurants and bars.
Day 5: Torre dell’Orso - Otranto
Set out for a day trip to nearby beaches. First up: Torre dell’Orso, a long stretch of beach with plenty of room to roam. Another 20 minutes down the coastal road you'll find the beautiful walled city of Otranto—well worth the pit stop. Wander the old town and spend the afternoon on the spacious city beach before returning to Lecce for a late dinner—locals rarely eat before 9pm.
Day 6: Santa Maria di Leuca - Gallipoli
Leave Lecce behind and head to Gallipoli via the very tip of Puglia—Santa Maria Di Leuca. For a perfectly picturesque stroll, follow the board walk around the harbour, where boat sails slap against masts in the breeze. Fuel up to ascend the 284 steps to the functioning lighthouse, where you’ll look out over the merging seas; this is where the Adriatic meets the Ionian.
Day 7: Gallipoli
Gallipoli is an old town on a limestone island, accessed by a single bridge built in the 16th century. There’s a beautiful city beach with shallow, crystal clear water, so spend the day sun baking, then stroll to Café del Mare for a local lunch - its straw umbrellas shade a corner just inside the city walls, where the harbour meets the beach.
Day 8: Matera - Bari
From Gallipoli it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Matera—the longest drive so far and just over the border in Basilicata, but well worth the detour. Already on the map, it’s set to draw an even bigger crowd when it acts as the backdrop for a car chase in the upcoming Bond movie. Famed for its sassi – cave dwellings built into the hillside, it’s one of the prettiest Italian towns there is. Stop in at Il Buon Gastaia on Piazza v. Veneto, and fill your boots (or cabin bag) with as much local cheese, hams, salamis, pasta and local pesto as you can carry.
Up next in our series of European holiday itineraries is how to spend 12-days exploring Portugal's untouched coastline.