Our summer vacation in Puglia, Italy - summer 2017

Here we are! Backpacks are ready, the swimsuits, sunglasses and flip-flops are well packed. We are at the airport ready to start our summer holiday in Puglia, Italy... One of my favourite airlines - Wizzair will fly us there in about an hour... Let the adventure begin!

Day 1: Bari Airport - Maglie
We arrived at Bari International Airport in the early evening. The plan for the night was to get our rent-a-car and to drive all the way up to our first point of stay, a little cute village in Salento region - Maglie.
In our previous travels in Italy we had enjoyed quite a lot the small and budget option of Fiat Panda - this car is a perfect combination of size and power for two passengers with their luggage, and most of all it was really easy to maneuver and park in the narrow streets of the small Italian villages. Of course a more expensive, but still a very good option for the Italian streets is a Mini. Nevertheless, being a smartworldtraveller I booked again for our Apulian adventure a Fiat Panda, and you could understand my disappointment when at the rent-a-car terminal (which is very easily findable just on the left corner of the arrival hall) we were informed that there is no Fiat Panda available at the moment and that's why we will be given a different car. Mamma Mia! Italy is the only country in which I definitely do not want an upgrade of the car model, because everything above the size of the Panda will be crazily difficult to park and to maneuver around. Finally when we saw the car replacement we were relieved because it was a Lancia Ypsilon - very similar to the size of Fiat Panda.  (somewhat wider but shorter). You could guess that our Lancia was driven in Italy by Italians by the number of scratches it had (note that scratches below 5 cm were not even counted as scratches :) and still there was barely a part that was not described as damaged in the checkout form). After signing off the initial protocol with all noted scratches we were good to go.
(the Lancia and my beloved wife)

And like this our 2 hour drive on the roads of Apuglia began. There the car ride was not very interesting as soon it was dark and not many things could be seen from the car. Just we were surprised by the heavy traffic even at this time of the day. By 22.30 pm we were at our final destination: Maglie. We stayed at a very nice traditional apulian house we found through Airbnb (see this article for hotel alternatives and why we prefer this option). Very charming small town with great restaurants. We were starving, so we went to the closest restaurant we found - Osteria La Trombettiera. Good news that the restaurants in South Italy work till very late - 1:00 am or even 2:00 am! Later on it turned out to be the best restaurant in the whole town. Strongly recommended! They have a small menu written on a black board that changes every day. The pasta (try the orecchiette!) and the Bombette (small pork fillets filled with cheese and wrapped with bacon) are especially delicious!

Day 2: La(z)y on the beach
Our first day at the beach. Big expectations. Our vacation in the beautiful Apulia is starting.
For the first beach destination we had chosen the beach of Torre Dell'Orso, based on the high reviews and beautiful google images that we had seen. After 40-minute drive with our precious Lancia we were already near the beach. The first challenge that we faced was WHERE TO PARK at this top-rated beach – the whole small village, and the public paid parking near the beach were occupied. The seaside village was bustling with tourists – most were big Italian families, as Apulia is known as the region where Italians traditionally go for their summer vacation.  We managed to find a parking spot quite far away from the beach on some public parking, where you are supposed to pay in a machine with coins... if you have coins...

Tip: ALWAYS have coins in Italy J most of the street parking payment machines do not accept bank notes or credit cards. So do not be surprised if you have to pay 10 EUR or even more in coins. Also, as a recommendation do not test your luck by leaving your car without a parking ticket – because we saw quite on some occasions cars being locked and slips for wrong parking penalty being left on the driver’s window. Even on a late Sunday evening, at 21 pm there were some officers from the municipality who were writing tickets to the cars who had not paid for parking.

Having successfully parked finally we reached out to the beach. Our first location Torre’d Orso was on the Adriatic Sea. This sandy beach was very big, with long sections of paid/private umbrellas and sunbeds, and also every now and then some smaller sections of free (spiaggia libera) beach where you could bring your own umbrella.  Both the private and public sections of the beach were completely filled with happy people enjoying life and summer. The most amazing thing about the Italians, is that they seem to enjoy big crowds, and are totally undisturbed from the fact that while lying on the sand somebody could step on your towel, a merchant selling fresh coconut or sunglasses may jump over you in order to make his way through the crowd, or that you could feel the delicious aroma coming from the just opened boxes of fresh pasta or rice salad, that the big familia next to you took out for lunch on the beach. 

There is no hurrying, no stress, you could feel only the happiness in the atmosphere and the splash of the beautiful water. We went in the mode 'lay-swim-enjoy-repeat'. 
The sea water was clear and blue, but due to the stronger wind coming from the sea, there were a lot of waves, and you could not really enjoy the crispy clearness of the sea water when staying still.
For a rating of our beach experience in Apulia, see our article

Tip: If you go for the option of using your private umbrella, beware that due to the strong winds in entire Apulia it is recommended that you also have a rope to secure the umbrella in the nearby sand/rock so that it does not get blown away by the wind. Ask a local if you are unsure. Italians are great at securing their umbrellas so that nothing ruins their relax time. 

After a whole day of sun, sea, sand and beach we returned to the small village Maglie in which we were staying. The house that we had rented was an old beautiful building, very close to the old town of the village.  This was a perfect location – because we were in a quite small street with plenty of parking spaces, while just few minutes away from the heart of Maglie. The population of the village is around 14,000 people. The buildings in the Centro Historico are really old, beautiful and well preserved.  Maglie, initially a countryside casale, developed around the castle built in the 13th century, probably under the Angevine kings of Naples. But enough history... 

We had a nice dinner at another great place in Maglie (pizzeria Focu Meu). They serve amazing one meter long pizza that is very traditional and very delicious. Many locals try the pizza with pommes frites on top, but I personally prefer other tastes.

Day 3: Trip to the Maldives... of Salento
This is maybe the most famous beach in entire Salento - Spiaggia di Pescoluse (also known as the Maldive del Salento) and we could not miss it. It is definitely worth visiting... just maybe not necessarily in August when most of Italy is there. Literally most of Italy. The sand is so fine and the water is so clear, that you really think you are on the Maldives. We enjoyed the experience a lot... just the people were quite a lot.

Tip: Do not forget your snorkel to enjoy the various opportunities to spot the sea wild life.

In the evening our host recommended that we visit a festival in the nearby town of Otranto. It was full of people and lights and quite charming. It was rather surprising to find out that the various stalls were selling everything - from caramelized nuts through chinese merchandize and (most surprisingly) shower taps and mixers and even vacuum cleaners! But you could easily find traditional italian food and products as well. That is why I really like such nice fests. Otranto itself has a wonderful old part which is well preserved and is worth visiting while you are in Apulia.
(crowded streets of the fest in Otranto)

Day 4: Moving to wilder beaches
After we experienced all the hundred thousand people on the beach, we decided to go somewhere more quiet and this time we were lucky to find the Punta della Suina, a nice rocky beach on the Ionian Sea. There was barely any sand on the rocks and there were also some rocks when you enter the water, but less than a meter away these were replaced by a nice fine sand! It was great for snorkeling as there were lots of fishes. We went a bit north of the bars where the people were significantly less. There was a nice pine forest just near the rocks. Amazing waters and a lot of sun! Perfect summer day!

Tip: Just do not forget your swim shoes in order to fully enjoy the wilder rocky beaches of Apulia. 

Day 5: Wilder beach experience continues... 
We were so excited to discover that also in the high season one can still find some less crowded beaches, that we decided to explore further. We knew that Punta Prosciutto was supposed to be great, but based on our experience with other overcrowded beaches we decided to skip it and move a bit North. We found the amazing Torre Colimena beach. Very wild and nearby a lake. The sand was rather coarse but you could find a lot of tiny sea shells in it so laying on the towel was a real fun experience exploring the nice surprises hidden in the sand. The water was emerald green and under the water it was predominantly sandy. There were a lot of fishes as well. Another great place for snorkeling. There was also a nice cold river flowing into the sea, so you could easily get refreshed in the hot summer day.

Day 6: Wild experience again! 
We were impressed by the water of the Ionian sea so we decided to repeat the great experience. This time we headed to the amazing Campomarino of Maruggio Beach beach, a bit North from the Torre Colimena, which was just as sandy and nice as the Punta Prosciutto. Great fine sand and wonderful wild fishes. There were not that many Italians around so we really enjoyed our sunny day there.

Day 7: Time for history. city breaks and changing the houses
We decided to visit Corigliano d'Otranto - small medieval town with a nice preserved castle just a few kilometers from Maglie. We were lucky to get there on the market day and had the chance to buy some local products from the local farmers.

We learned how to clear cactus fruits and discovered the amazing taste of pure italian dried tomatoes.

We also visited the castle where they have a beautiful terrace with a view over the city.
The next stop was Lecce. Be prepared to be wowed by the charming little streets of Lecce's historical center. The main Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta) is a masterpiece of this lovely town. Be prepared to stay at least half a day to have enough time to explore its charming streets and to enjoy the lovely restaurants. We sat at a nice local restaurant where we tried the popular Pucce - great sandwiches with tasty bread and amazing filling - in my case octopus in tomato sauce.

Tip: Beware to have enough spare space in your luggage for the nice souvenirs you will find here. Surely you will be tempted by the local ceramic masterpieces. Some of the most popular ones are the ceramic lucky bell, sea stone carved lamps and other ceramic plates and mugs. We shopped a nice stone lamp for a reasonable price at a shop that happens to have also a website (which is not that popular in Italy) - you can check their products here.
Here is our charming bell :)
Check here for the history of the bell.

To finish the day we decided to visit Torre Pozzelle beach - nice small sandy beach but the sand looked like industrial. The water was somewhat muddy. This day the sea was rather stormy so we could not enjoy this small beach enough.
Time to switch the houses. Tonight we are staying at another house in Martina Franca. It is smaller but just as charming and comfortable and in a very Apulian style. Hosts are also very kind and gave us a present - local wine, tomatoes and Frise (typical Apulian bread) and some sweets.
Very conveniently, just outside our house there was a pizzeria (Pizzeria Trattoria L'Archetto) and we decided to give it a try. It turned out to be a great pizzeria with wide choice of pizzas. Very traditional ones with locally produced ingredients. Also you should definitely not miss the meat and cheese platters because the region is famous for its high quality and variety of meat and cheese. Great pizzeria. Strongly recommended. Just be careful if you order the 'Antipasto della casa\. It is huge. Consists of 8 separate small dishes and is enough for a full dinner for two. But it is so delicious, that you must try it.

Day 8: Time for a city break
Today is a day for travelling and exploring the beautiful villages nearby.
We start with a coffee in Locorotondo - charming small town that won our hearts with its white facades, small terraces and plenty of colorful flowers.

Afterwards we continue to Alberobello, which is famous for its old Trulli houses from the 16th – 19th
century. Trullis are small stone houses with conical roofs on which often there are painted religious, magical or family symbols. Trullis were initially built as agriculture structures and later used also as houses. The initial idea was that the house could easily be disassembled when the tax authorities were visiting the town and rebuilt afterwards. Clever Italians, eh?
There are Trullis on both sides of the main road as we pass from Locorotondo to Alberobello, but the most famous ones are exactly in the old part of Alberobello, which is now a UNESCO heritage. These charming stone houses are ideal for some great photo shoots! The only disappointing thing in Alberobello was the food (for the first time in Italy) - too touristy and not especially delicious. Except for 1-2 nicer looking restaurants, which, unfortunately were fully booked and (rather rudely) refused to sit us. We ate small meat sandwiches and continued our trip.
(original agricultural Trulli)

(Trulli in Alberobello)

Cisternino is the last stop for today. Great small white town with lovely streets, charming restaurants and beautiful flowers. We were lucky to be there in the afternoon, when most of the citizens are having rest, so the streets were almost empty. We refreshed ourselves with a strong coffee and a delicious gelato (Italian ice-cream) at L'Era Glaciale Gelateria. We could not resist the charm of this small Apulian town so we decided to get back the next day for a dinner.

Day 9: Beach time again
Today we decided to visit the famous Marina di Ginosa beach and did not regret our decision. The beach was a bit hard to reach as you have to cross a railway on the path to the free part of the beach, but the effort was worth it. The sand was fine water clear and sun was shining. Almost no wind. Perfect day for laying on the beach.

In the afternoon we had dinner at Cisternino. It was a surprise to see this tiny village bustling of tourists in the evening. All restaurants were filled up with groups of American and French tourists and one could not fully enjoy the charm of this little town.

Tip: Plan your day so that your lunch is before 2:30 pm. Most restaurants close for an afternoon break between 2:30pm and 7:30-8:00pm. Italians have hearty lunch and tend to dinner late in the evening - normally after 9:30-10:30pm. Restaurants are empty till late (1:00-2:00 am) but almost everything is closed in the afternoon. 

Day 10: More charming towns and sea
Today we are visiting Polignano a mare. This lovely small town located right on the seaside was definitely one of our favourite locations which we would definitely want to visit again. Even the big crowds of tourists due to the high season could not spoil our perfect experience in Polignano. The long pomegranate gives spectacular views both on the sea splashing on the cliffs and on the old town as well. One of the biggest attractions is the small pebble beach in the heart of the old town. The water there was crystal blue and it was a real pleasure to just sit by the water and gaze at the vastness of the blue sea.

In the afternoon - Ostuni. Ostuni is a typical white village in this region: most of the house facades are crispy white. The only contrast are the bunch of flowers and cacti here and there. Here was the only awful experience in an italian bar we have ever had for this trip. The waiter was rude, half of the order never arrived and we were charged for the missing part. Coffee tasted pale and service is horrible. Do not recommend the coffee bar Borgo Antico.
Other than that the town is worth visiting with its old white houses and charming streets. The old part is really small so just an hour or two are enough.

Day 11: Bari
Most of the tourists in Apulia miss Bari as it is rather big. Big mistake. This town has a lot to offer.
We started the visit from the Arco Alto and Arco Basso. These are not memorable arcs and you can easily miss this part of the town. Rather look for small tunnels between the houses, which will lead you in an entirely different world. The streets behind these arcs are full of women preparing fresh pasta (mainly Orecchiette) just in front of their houses. And they seem happy from their work. You can buy some fresh pasta or just look how fast and confident they are preparing it. Turns out that each Orecchiette piece is hand made but the precision with which they make it is amazing!

We discovered a small square full of Ikea stuff. Seems that the shop has sponsored this area, as its name is mentioned on a little notice on one of the buildings. Looks a bit funny but is still quite charming.

We head towards the sea and discover a beautiful seaside walk that leads us back to the old town where the life is just starting (and it is almost noon).

There are lots of churches! It feels like if every third building is a church. There are some desolate buildings which make some streets a bit sketchy. On the other hand there are also a lot of really well maintained and polished houses. Like two worlds living together.
If you are wondering where to go in Bari for lunch - my recommendation would be Mastro Ciccio who offers very delicious sandwiches with very fresh and tasty ingredients and great beer!

Bari would be the last stop of our journey and we have to get back to the airport for our trip home. Back to the broken small Lancia and to the airport.
Eh, Puglia, we really fall in love with you and will definitely come back for more... soon!

Expect more photos and more articles soon!


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