The wild coast, olive groves as far as the eye can see, and beautiful cities – Puglia is the perfect travel destination for a road trip through southern Italy. Puglia is the heel of Italy’s boot and situated between two seas – the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea. Therefore, you will be surrounded by maritime flair while on a road trip through Puglia.
If you ask us: Puglia is also very charming inland. There you will find many beautiful cities such as the baroque town of Lecce or the “White City” Ostuni. Puglia is certainly not only a beach holiday destination. It is also exciting from cultural perspective.
Perhaps you are thinking about taking a road trip through Puglia and are looking for helpful tips for your trip? We have packed all the info and practical travel tips into this travel guide, so you can perfectly plan and prepare for your road trip.
- 1. Puglia road trip: overview of initial travel tips
- 2. The most beautiful places in Puglia for your road trip
- 3. Itinerary: tips for route planning
- 4. Staying the night in Puglia: our accommodation tips
- 5. Getting There & Transport: car rental info and tips
- 6. Safety: tips for a safe roadtrip
- 7. Map for your road trip: overview of all the places in Puglia
1. Puglia road trip: overview of initial travel tips
What awaits you in Puglia
- Rugged coastline
The east coast of Puglia is surprisingly spectacular. The rock formations “Torre Sant’Andrea” are so spectacular that we almost felt as though we had ended up at the Great Ocean Road in Australia. It isn’t without reason that the eastern coastal road to the south of Otranto is considered one of the most beautiful roads in Puglia.
- Beautiful baroque – and medieval cities
You will get to know many great towns on a road trip through Puglia, such as the two baroque cities of Lecce and Martina Franca. Or the small medieval cities with their whitewashed houses, especially Ostuni. And last but not least: the (very touristy) town, Trulli of Alberobello – one of the most classic photo opportunities in Puglia.
- “Dolce Vita”
Pizza, pasta, gelato, aperitivo? Sì, per favore! Puglia is simply a dream when it comes to really enjoying the southern Italian way of life.
The best time to travel time to Puglia
Firstly, an important tip that probably won’t surprise you: if possible, avoid the main season in the months of July and August!
The “problem“: Puglia is also an extremely popular holiday destination amongst Italians and it is not uncommon for almost every inch of the beaches to be crowded in the main season. This especially applies to the time around the holiday “Ferragosto“ on 15 August.
In addition, it can get really incredibly hot during summer. Exploring cities can be very tiresome at 35 degrees plus. (And that’s exactly what you don’t want to miss on a road trip through Puglia.)
It is more quiet in September and the temperature more relaxing. So if you really want to swim, you’ll be in good hands in this month.
We personally were in Puglia in mid-October and found this travel time ideal. During the day we had temperatures between 20 to 23 degrees. It was a little fresher than expected, but bright and sunny. Of course, you can always also be unlucky with the weather in October – be sure to keep that in mind. Naturally, it is also possibly to travel in springtime, in May or June.
Note: olive trees are dying in Puglia
Olive trees have characterised the landscape in Puglia for centuries. It is said to be over 60 million (!). However, since 2013 the olive trees in Puglia have suffered a terrible fate. A bacteria (“Xylella fastidiosa”) has been plaguing Puglia since then. It blocks the transport of water and oxygen inside the tree and literally makes it die of thirst.
It’s a tragedy for the region. Some of the olive farmers can merely sit and watch as their ancient trees perish – and their livelihoods along with them.
As a traveller you will come face to face with the dying olive trees in Puglia, especially if you travel right to the south. We found parts of Salento to be particularly frightening.
Meanwhile people are trying everything to stop the spread. For example, healthy trees are given a kind of “vaccination”. Only time will tell if it works.
2. The most beautiful places in Puglia for your road trip
In this chapter we show you the most beautiful places in Puglia and reveal what awaits you there. Would you rather know exactly which travel route (including overnight stops) we would recommend? Then skip ahead to the next chapter.
In our eyes, Lecce is one of the cities most worth visiting on a road trip through Puglia. The baroque city is bursting with impressive sights. It isn’t without reason that Lecce is sometimes referred to as the “Florence of the south”.
The Piazza del Duomo is especially impressive with the gigantic cathedral of Lecce. Rather interestingly: in the middle of the old town is a Roman amphitheatre. It originates in the 2nd century and was actually only uncovered by chance during excavations at the turn of the 20th century.
We ourselves spent a night in Lecce. If you only want to visit Lecce on a day trip, we would recommend at least half a day.
You can find our more detailed blog article here: Lecce Travel Tips (coming soon)
Ostuni – the “White City” – is in our opinion a mandatory travel destination on a trip through Puglia. Ostuni is impressive simply from afar: the town with its whitewashed houses is enthroned on three hills and is simply beautiful to look at.
Ostuni’s old town is also pretty spruced up. A wonderful photo opportunity awaits you around every corner. The cathedral of Ostuni and the “Arco Scoppa”, a historic bridge arc, are particularly worth seeing.
We spent two nights of our road trip on the outskirts of Ostuni and explored the town and other travel destinations from there. Ostuni is relatively small, we recommend at least two hours for a visit. Important to know: Ostuni is fairly touristy.
You can find our more detailed travel article here: Ostuni Tips (coming soon)
Probably the most famous photo motif in all of Puglia is found in Valle d’Itria (Itria Valley): the so-called Trulli. The tiny, whitewashed, round houses rise up out of the landscape like pointed hats.
The “Trulli capital” of Puglia is most certainly Alberobello. Only here can you find whole districts of the characteristic conical houses. As you can probably already guess, the travellers flock to Alberobello like magic. Therefore, the town is insanely touristy.
Just as worth visiting in Valle d’Itria are Martina Franca and Locorotondo. We visited Valle d’Itria on a day trip and had enough time for each place.
Click here for our detailed article: Valle d’Itria Travel Tips (coming soon)
Polignano a Mare
The coastal town Polignano a Mare is among the most photographed places in Puglia and should not be skipped on a road trip through Puglia. Polignano is perched on the edge of a cliff and is really spectacular to look at. One of the most well-known beaches in Puglia can also be found here, the Lama Monachile.
Polignano am Mare’s old town is very pretty, but the highlight in our eyes are the many viewpoints from which you always gain different perspectives of the coast and the city.
We ourselves visited Polignano a Mare as a day trip and spent around five hours (although including dinner) there. Otherwise, two to three hours would also suffice. In our opinion, more time isn’t needed, especially since it is always busy in Polignano.
You can find our detailed article here: Polignano a Mare & Monopoli
With its whitewashed houses, the pretty alleyways and many cacti, Monopoli is considered one of the most beautiful coastal cities in Puglia.
It is not so much the impressive sights in Monopoli that make the city so special, rather the relaxing flair. The city beach, the cathedral and the old port (“Porto Vecchio”) are worth visiting. Monopoli’s old town is small and compact, two to three hours is easily enough for a tour around.
You can find further tips in this article: Polignano a Mare & Monopoli
Otranto is also located next to the sea, more precisely in Salento, the southernmost region in Puglia. The port town with its relaxed flair immediately appealed to us.
The most well-known church in Puglia is enthroned in Otranto, the Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata. It is known for its floor mosaic from the 12th century. We can also highly recommend a stroll along the promenade to Otranto’s city beach.
You can find even more information about Otranto in our Salento article: Salento Travel Tips (coming soon)
On the west cost of Salento lies the pretty port town of Gallipoli. As in many other cities in Puglia, a labyrinth of small alleyways also awaits you in Gallipoli.
We were here at sunset. You can best experience it from the city beach (Spiaggia della Purità). Gallipoli is fairly compact, so two or three hours is enough for a visit.
You can find more information about Gallipoli in our Salento article: Salento Travel Tips (coming soon)
Last but not least: Bari – Puglia’s capital (and largest city). Most travellers land in Bari (the main airport in Puglia is here), so it makes sense to visit the city while on a road trip through Puglia.
Bari is a little different to the other Apulian cities. Larger, louder and in many corners of the old town the plaster is crumbling. If you want to dive into the Southern Italian lifestyle, Bari is the place for you. Local flair before souvenir stands is the motto.
We ourselves didn’t stay the night in Bari, instead we “only” took a day trip and would do so again any time. We would recommend at least half a day for your visit – there is a lot to see.
You can find our more detailed article here: Bari Tips (coming soon)
3. Itinerary: tips for route planning
Perhaps you are like us before our trip, you have no idea which places in Puglia are good to stay and how much time you should spend in each place? We understand it all too well.
Here is the thing: there is no right or wrong and the decision of the exact travel route is of course a matter of taste. After a lot of research, we decided on the route below and reflecting back, we also would not change any part of it.
Matera: 2 nights
Ok, slightly confusing: Matera is not a part of Puglia at all. However, the spectacular rocky city in the Basilicata region is so impressive that we would whole-heartedly recommend you make the detour on your road trip through Puglia.
Detailed blog article: Matera Tips (coming soon)
Lecce: 1 night
From Matera we headed for the baroque city of Lecce (travel time ca. 2 hours 15 minutes). We were happy to have planned an overnight stay night here. Although, of course you could also visit on a day trip (see next stop).
Detailed blog article: Lecce Tips (coming soon)
Salento: 2-3 nights
The next stop on our road trip was the southernmost point of Puglia, Salento. (Lecce is also part of this area, to be exact.) From here we explored for example Gallipoli, Otranto and of course the spectacular coastal road between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca.
Detailed blog article: Salento Travel Tips (coming soon)
Ostuni: 2 nights
Now back towards the north, more precisely to the beautiful city Ostuni. Ostuni is a jewel, surrounded by beautiful landscape and last but not least, a super home base for a day trip to Valle d’Itria (Alberobello).
Detailed blog article: Ostuni Tips (coming soon)
Putignano: 2 nights
For the final stop on our road trip, we were looking for a place to explore Bari, Polignano and Monopoli – and landed in the sleepy town of Putignano. It was perfect for us.
Detailed blog articles: Bari (coming soon) | Polignano & Monopoli
Another note for route planning
As you may have realised, we wanted to discover as many corners of Puglia as possible – so our travel tempo was quite brisk. Is all the changing of locations too stressful for you? Then we would recommend you choose two home bases: one in the south (Salento) and one further north, e.g. the area around Ostuni.
4. Staying the night in Puglia: our accommodation tips
Special feature of Puglia: Masseria & Trulli Hotels
As soon as you start researching accommodation in Puglia, one word in particular will catch your eye: Masseria. A Masseria is a speciality in Puglia and signifies a historic, usually beautifully renovated estate – most are old farmhouses or oil mills.
Several Masserie (= the plural in Italian of Masseria) have been converted into accommodation four tourists. Many of these are really hip and, thanks to their minimalist designs, have become “Instagram hotspots”.
Small tip: be sure to pay attention to the rating when looking at the Masseria. As you can probably imagine, old houses are particularly prone to moisture.
Another specialty are the Trulli Hotels, hotels inside of the famous Apulian round stone houses. Here they have larger complexes as well as small holiday apartments.
Tips for accommodation in Puglia
Masseria Corte degli aromi (Salento)
A luxurious Masseria in the south of Salento. Every suite is completely individually furnished. Nothing is missing in terms of equipment. The perfect spot to explore Salento.
Palazzo Bignami (Lecce)
If you want to stay the night in Lecce on your road trip, we can highly recommend this family run bed & breakfast. The location is ideal, and so is the value for money.
Masseria Dagilupi (Ostuni)
A small Masseria run with a lot of love, which can be found in a completely peaceful setting in the middle of hundreds of olive trees. Amazing breakfast and a very accommodating host couple.
Dimora Clementina (Putignano)
A jewel of a place to stay in the small town of Putignano. From here we explored several travel destinations such as Bari, Monopoli and Polignano.
5. Getting There & Transport: car rental info and tips
Getting to Puglia
The main airport in Puglia is located in Bari. There are many direct flights from German speaking areas (such as Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin and many more).
Alternatively, you can also travel by train, although the trip of approximately 20 hours is more for the slow travellers. We personally wouldn’t drive our own car to Puglia.
The risk of theft and break-ins is too high for us here.
Booking a rental car in Puglia
The first important tip: definitely make sure when booking your vehicle that you book fully comprehensive insurance at the same time – with no excess or with reimbursement of the excess by the rental company.
The reason: Even if you are very cautious on your road trip, damage through no fault of your own can easily happen (e.g. to your parked car). And if there is no fault, then you are simply left with the costs.
We always like to book our rental cars through Sunny Cars. The practical part: fully comprehensive insurance is already included. SunnyCars is a comparison platform, so you book via SunnyCars and then pick up your vehicle at the local rental company (e.g. Hertz).
When selecting a vehicle, we recommend: As small as possible, but big enough to completely fit your luggage (and not visibly) in the trunk. We had a Fiat 500X, so a little larger than a Fiat 500. There was enough space in the trunk for a large suitcase and one piece of hand luggage.
Traffic on the roads & road conditions
You won’t like what we are about to tell you: YES, the driving conventions in southern Italy are actually different. The driving style of the people is (there is no other way to describe it) chaotic, offensive and often not by the book.
Unfortunately, you always need to expect that other drivers will suddenly do things that would be highly unusual in Germany or Austria – such as daring overtaking manoeuvres. And we also got the feeling that stop signs are simply a suggestion in Puglia.
The road conditions themselves are also not always ideal either. Or in other words: you should be prepared to be jolted by potholes quite often. Most of the roads are bumpy, but paved at least. We very rarely had to conquer gravel roads on our road trip. And of course, there are always exceptions: the main routes between the large cities are in good condition.
With all of the negative aspects: don’t let yourself be put off. If you are reasonably experienced at driving defensively and cautiously, you will soon get used to the traffic in Puglia.
6. Safety: tips for a safe roadtrip
If you start to research safety in Puglia, you will soon come across problems such as car theft and car break-ins. We won’t sugar coat it: of course these things are part of the day to day and with a little bad luck you could also be affected by them too. (It’s not without reason that they give you a folder with safety tips when you rent a vehicle in Puglia!)
Although: the chance that nothing happens to you (as it was with us), is still always higher. We can give you a tip in this regard: relax yourself, follow a few safety recommendations and hope for some luck. You can’t do much else. Here are a few points that we adhered to on our trip:
- Don’t leave valuables in your car (also not in the glove box!). And always carry them well protected, as close to your body as possible. That means, for example: the back pocket is taboo.
- We personally always made sure we never made a stop-off in a city with a full trunk. Meaning: we always checked in first and then drove on (with an empty car).
- Always (manually) check if the car is locked properly and that all the windows are closed.
- We mainly parked at large carparks, but very often also right beside the road. If you’d like an advantage in terms of security, the carpark/parking garage should be under video surveillance.
7. Map for your road trip: overview of all the places in Puglia
We have marked all our highlights on this map, so that you can get a better overview of the areas with the most beautiful spots in Puglia. Our hotel tips are also marked on here. We wish you a wonderful road trip!
Disclaimer: Affiliate Links
This travel guide contains our personal recommendations in the form of affiliate links. If you book or buy something via the links, we will receive a small commission. This will not change the price for you at all. A million thanks from the both of us!
Have you already been on a road trip through Puglia? What were the nicest places and stops on your road trip? Perhaps you have a few additional tips to share, or have questions about planning your trip? We look forward to your comments.