While no longer as ‘undiscovered’ as it was just a few years ago, Italy’s southern region of Puglia still feels rather untouched with its superb beaches, rocky coastline, and wonderfully preserved old towns. Making up the heel of Italy, Puglia (or Apulia) is exceptionally sun-soaked and dry and is an ideal holiday road trip with plenty of stunning sightseeing and some of the best food and wine in the country.
Starting from the north and driving down the coast, the first town worth stopping by is Trani, known as the ‘Pearl of Puglia’.
The beautiful stone-built port and fishing village was once one of the most important medieval Italian ports and a prosperous trading centre.
One of the numerous castles dotting the coast stands at the end of the harbour, hinting at the threats that must have been coming frequently from the Adriatic sea.
Trani’s true landmark though is its splendid 11th century cathedral, right on the sea at the edge of the old town. The cream-coloured three stacked churches are a stunning sight against the blue sky and sea.
Dedicated to San Nicola Pellegrino, it is one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture in the region with the austere facade, pretty rose window and slender bell tower soaring into the sky.
Wandering through the streets around the harbour gives a good impression of the medieval city, looking unusually sophisticated thanks to the use of the local limestone of a warm golden white.
Despite the slight drizzle, it was a delight to walk the paved, narrow roads of the very well maintained historical centre, catching glimpse of the fishing life as well as private palaces from centuries ago.
For a bite, pick any of the small restaurants along the harbour front where you can enjoy fresh fish caught locally and delicious wine from a few miles away.
Fresh fish served raw with only a drizzle of green olive oil is a delight and a specialty of the coast.
Further down the coast, another fishing village worth a stop is Monopoli.
Here again you should head straight to the small port, picturesque though smaller than Trani’s, with a handful of fishing boats and fishermen untangling their nets.
An imposing 16th-century castle sits between the port and the start of the old town.
There’s not a ton to see in Monopoli but you could easily spend a few hours wandering through the centro storico as well as outside its fortified walls.
The village was first established by the Greeks before falling under Venetian control which will explain a lot of the architecture and the stark white and blue colors that make the old town so strikingly beautiful.
Flowers and all sorts of greenery abound at every corner.
You’ll stumble upon quite a few churches, their spire peeking out from narrow alleyways wherever you look.
They contrast beautifully with neighboring white buildings, showing how old the town truly is.
The imposing Baroque cathedral would be hard to miss and can be seen from almost any vantage point.
Finish your visit by stepping outside the old city walls and witnessing one of Monopoli’s real draw – the hordes of locals taking up any rock or bit of sand to sun themselves on the city beach…
If you want a proper beach though, just head a bit further south and suddenly you’ll see the coast changing from rocky to wild, passing innumerable sandy beaches with parked cars and BBQ, and even more beach clubs offering all the services you could ever want.
We decided to stop at Lido Bosco Verde which not only offers a nice stretch of sandy beach, a few bars, and main facilities, but also an excellent fish restaurant since a day at the beach without an epic lunch would hardly be worth it…wouldn’t it?
Take a seat on the terrace shaded with olive trees and don’t forget to take a look at the daily catch on offer, can’t do any fresher than this! Whether you opt to have one of these beauties simply prepared or dig through the menu of contemporary though unfussy take on Puglia’s traditional specialties, this is an excellent way to spend a few hours and finish your day on the coast.