Oh, Puglia. There’s a reason this underrated Italian region is becoming increasingly popular. While lesser known than the hills of Tuscany, chic Capri, or one of our favorites, the picture-perfect Amalfi Coast, Puglia (Apulia) is no lesser for its lack of hype. It happens to be one of Italy’s finest culinary gems, a thallasophile’s dream, and a food lover’s paradise. Whether you’re charmed by its whitewashed buildings, the conical roofs of its signature trulli, or the best olive oil you may ever taste, Puglia is a place that will capture your heart (and taste buds) for life.
Located in the “heel” of Italy’s boot, Puglia is a Delectable Destinations favorite and always a wonderful surprise, even for seasoned travelers. People are often shocked when they arrive, and its incredible culinary scene impresses even the most refined palates. Add to that its authentic culture, warm people, and the beauty of the Adriatic and Ionian seas, and you have a destination you’ll dream of returning to for years. If you’re us, you will return again and again! Read on to discover more about this hidden treasure of Italy and why you may just have to make it your next Italian destination.
Trulli at the UNESCO town of Alberobello
Puglia has a rich history that dates back to some of Italy’s first human settlements, evident through its architecture, artisans, and historic sites. Puglia has been settled by many different cultures and people over time, and you’ll find that its architecture has diverse influences from the Greeks and Byzantine culture, the Romans, the Normans, and more.
One of our favorite unique historic places is the town of Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to over 1,500 of Puglia’s signature trulli. The “trullo” – singular – is a fascinating, adorable tiny dwelling with a conical roof. There are also adorable artisan shops located here.
Matera is another must-see UNESCO heritage site in the region. The town’s settlement dates back to Paleolithic times, and simply being there gives you the feeling of having stepped into a time machine. Located in the region of Basilicata, Matera’s Sassi (ancient town) is said to be among Italy’s first human settlements. It’s home to cave dwellings that, while no longer inhabited, offer a look at what life was like long, long ago. The town itself is situated picturesquely on a hill and is the type of place where you could lose yourself in hours of wandering and marvelling at the sites.
Puglia’s artisans and craftsmen also keep unique creations and traditions alive with fervor. There are oh so many, but one of our favorite signature items found throughout Puglia is the acorn-like Pumo de Fiore (you can learn more about these in another one of our blog posts). These are an adorable good luck charm, but their meaning is deeper. They are said to be symbols for the metaphysical Third Eye and have important spiritual connections. Through these traditions, we’re reminded that Puglia connects Italy to the East and has been settled by many people, including the Greeks and Romans, who all traded with many other cultures.
Puglia also has a rich tradition of artisans working with ceramics and terra cotta dating back to ancient times. In the past, many vessels were created here for storage. Over time, traditions have evolved, and you can find many artful ceramics and sculptural creations. From the symbolic Pumi that look like a bud ready to bloom to playful whistles and home-ready ceramics, Puglia’s artisans and traditions are unrivaled. It’s hard to visit without bringing something unique back home with you!
Finally, one of our favorite local artisans creates hand-made botanical prints inspired by the raw, unspoiled nature of Puglia. STAMPALANATURA ‘s vision comes to life on recycled, hand-made ecological papers, organic fabrics, cotton, and linen. Their pieces are made with a special technique that involves pressing preserved leaves and flowers, thus paying homage to nature through both highly their detailed process and the final result.
Incredible culinary & wine scenes
While you may think of other more popular Italian destinations as culinary leaders, Puglia is home to many Michelin-star restaurants. There are currently 12! We visit three on our trip alone and only wish we had time for more! Thanks to thoughtful local sourcing, delicious raw ingredients, and some of the most talented chefs in Europe, the dining is unparalleled.
One of the restaurants we do visit on our trip is called Al Fornello da Ricci and hails as being the first restaurant in Southern Italy to receive a Michelin-star. As a bonus, we always get invited into their kitchen and see the chefs in action.
A group of us outside of the incredible Al Fornello da Ricci with the chefs!
With all these beautiful dining experiences, it is hard to imagine how this southern region of Italy has traditionally been a poor one. Historically, Puglia is one of the most impoverished areas of Italy and is known for its “Cucina Povera,” which translates as “The Kitchen of the Poor.” Its people learned very early on how to be creative and resourceful with what they had, namely vegetables, wheat, and olive oil.
Notably, the region is surrounded by water (the Adriatic Ionian Seas), so there is no lack of fresh fish and seafood. We could write an entire blog post on the history of Puglian cuisine alone! From Michelin-star dining to local trattorias, Puglian cuisine covers it all, and they are proud of their cooking and traditions.
A delicious clam pasta from one of our private boat excursions.
Puglia is not only a world-class destination for food-lovers, but its wine is also incredible. Thanks to its fertile soil and unique climate, it’s easy to grow grapes in the region. Puglia produces delicious wines, notably reds. There are several local grapes (Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Bombino Nero) cultivated that pair well with a variety of foods.
Thanks to fresh food and delicious, unique wines, mealtime in Puglia is always a treat.
Making orecchiette pasta by hand at one of our cooking classes with Masseria Garappa
Oh, the olives!
It’s also home to ancient olive groves, with some trees over 4,000-5,000 years old. The trees themselves are a remarkable sight whose thick trunks and gnarled branches seem to tell a story. But perhaps the greatest story these trees have to tell comes through what they bear and the magic that ensues when said product is pressed. Enter olive oil. Our Fall trips (when we get lucky) coincides with the Pugliese olive harvest, a time when local olive farmers and workers set to work harvesting olives at their peak for flavor and antioxidants. Real, unadulterated Pugliese EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) has a rich, greenish golden color and potent taste. Once you try it, you won’t be able to go back.
The groves are so beautiful they’re cinematic. In fact, Sophia Loren recently starred in a film called “The Life Ahead” where some scenes were shot at Masseria Brancati, the very olive orchard we visit on our Delectable Destinations trip!
Dreamy seaside towns and rustic landscapes
Dreamy Polignano a Mare
Overall, Puglia has a more rustic vibe than much of mainstream Italy. Sites of agriculture commingle with minimal, chic villas. Part of what makes it so magical is simply the sea. Bordered by the Adriatic and Ionian, Puglia’s culture, cuisine, and identity are intimately connected to its seaside geography. Its seaside towns, such as the famous Polignano a Mare, feature charming, white-washed buildings that call to mind the architecture of Greek islands. Its white-pebble beaches are a sight to behold, and during the summer months, it becomes quite busy with families and people looking for a sea-side respite.
Have you visited magical Puglia? It’s one of the destinations we’re currently dreaming of returning to in 2021!