Puglia (also called Apulia) basks in Italy's southern sun and is a land of extremes. Deep sapphire waters offset intensely white towns; exaggerated miles of olive trees cover the horizon, sprinkled with compacted little towns; peasant art is contained within grandiose architectural jewels. It's also a land of superlatives - many contend that it's the region with the friendliest people, the best food and the cleanest beaches.

The slender southeastern peninsula has seen a diverse host of occupants throughout the centuries - the Greeks followed by the Romans, then the Goths, Lombards, Byzantines and Normans stomped all over poor Puglia. But the resilience and determination of its people and the blending of all these epochs of history give today's Puglia an exotic feeling, and the sun and sea seem to energize them, as seen in their exaggerated gestures, the volume of their conversations and their gregarious laughter. Towns seem to burst with life.

Italy's stiletto heel is surrounded by 500 miles of coastline on two seas - the Adriatic and the Ionian. Despite the water, the climate is semi-arid. Aside from a few hilly areas, Puglia is mostly an outstretched plain with miles of undulating wheat fields. It is also Italy's biggest olive oil producing region. The sun ripens the country's fruits and vegetables, too - it's a veritable hot-house of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, figs, citrus, melons and almonds. The sea gives it a long-standing fishing tradition and the seafood specialties are phenomenal. Vegetable-based dishes play a predominant role in Puglia's culinary repertoire. Excellent wines are produced from heritage grapes - some of them brought here a few millennia ago by the Greeks. Try Negroamaro or Primitivo for a taste of the Puglian sun.

Puglia is often associated with its architectural peculiarity - the trulli. These whitewashed rural homes are surmounted by conical teepee-like roofs made from stacked stones without mortar. The main concentration of trulli is found in the Valle d'Itria area; the town of Alberobello alone boasts more than 1000 of these curious dwellings. Another interesting construction tradition is the masseria - a fortified country farmhouse complex similar to a Spanish hacienda with an interior courtyard and the exterior walls forming a protective perimeter. You'll find them dotted around the countryside of Puglia. All over the region, the houses and towns are swathed blindingly white, punctuated by crimson blooms in flower boxes.

The Gargano is a dramatic cave-pocked promontory full of coves and spectacular scenery. It's a summer destination especially popular with some of Italy's glitterati. The Foresta Umbra is a 1000-hectare park of ancient pines, oaks and beech, reminders of how wooded Puglia once was. The forests drew the Emperor Frederick II to this part of his empire where he built the unusual octagonal Castel del Monte as his hunting lodge. The Gargano gives way to the Murgia, where rippling plains are striped with strange narrow canyon-like ravine formations. Altamura and Gravina are examples of Murgia towns. Bari's busy port is the gateway to the historic center where a Spanish-style fortress, narrow streets and charm beckon visitors. The Valle d'Itria is marked by vineyards and olive groves that are hemmed in by low dry-stone walls. White towns like Locorotondo, Alberobello and Ostuni give glimpses to small-town life with a flash of flair. The Salento is the pointy part of the heel, characterized by beaches, white limestone cliffs full of coves and inlets, and panoramic towns perched above the sea. Elegant towns like Trani, Lecce, and Martina Franca surprise visitors with Baroque splendor and a sophisticated feel.

Puglia is full of surprises and delights - it's fabulous food, historic towns, beautiful beaches and gracious residents delight visitors, who always leave uttering superlatives of their experiences there.

Lecce

Lecce is a city that will surprise you.

Bari

Bustling Bari is the south's seaport city and center of commerce.

Alberobello

Alberobello resembles an architectural fantasy land.

Galatina

A sleeping beauty in the middle of Puglia that will surprise you with its upscale historic center and beautiful buildings.

Oria

Resting on a hill in the northern Salento area of Puglia, Oria is a delight.

Otranto

The cape of Otranto is the eastern-most point of Italy, which made the city of the same name a gateway to Orient.

Acquaviva delle Fonti

This small city south of Bari offers some unexpected charms and treasures.

Alezio

Alezio is a town in the Salento of Puglia, just a few minutes from Gallipoli and the Ionian Sea.

Castellana in Puglia

The town of Castellana Grotte is not to be confused with the "grotte di Castellana" which is the main attraction here.

Ceglie Messapica

A beguiling historic town near Ostuni, Ceglie Messapica is often overlooked by those bee-lining for the beaches.

Cerfignano

Located in the Salento sun of Puglia's south, Cerfignano sits just inland from the Adriatic Sea.

Cisternino

Tthe white-washed city of Cisternino sits on the undulating plains of Puglia.

Cutrofiano

Cutrofiano sits in the middle of Puglia's Salento area, in the heel of the boot.

Diso

Diso sits just inland from the Adriatic Sea, and was a place of refuge for local populations during times of coastal attacks.

Galatone

A surprisingly upscalehistoric center characterizes Galatone, a town with a rural past.

Ginosa Marina

The beach town of Ginosa Marina strings along the Ionian Coast with miles of wide-open beach.

Grottaglie

Amidst the low hills and limestone ravines of northern Puglia, Grottaglie stands out for its dedication to its historic craft - ceramics.

Lizzanello

With an ideal location just a few miles from the gorgeous Baroque city of Lecce, Lizzanello is a small town respite in reach of the Salento's best attractions.

Locorotondo

Lovely Locorotondo is cradled between the Puglia plains of the Murgia and the green Valle d'Itria, between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

Martina Franca

In the low hills of Puglia, Martina Franca is a gleaming jewel.

Melissano

Melissano is a agrarian town in southern Puglia, just inland a few miles from the Ionian Sea.

Molfetta

Molfetta suns itself on the Adriatic Sea in Puglia, midway between Trani and Bari.

Monte Sant'Angelo

On a hilltop of Puglia's Gargano peninsula, the town of Monte Sant'Angelo was a Norman stronghold that became a popular pilgrimage destination.

Morciano di Leuca

Morciano is located on the Cape of Leuca, in the heel of Puglia.

Ostuni

Ostuni gleams like a beacon on its prominent hilltop overlooking the olive groves of the trulli country and the azure sea where the Salento region begins.

Patù

Puglia's Salento is famous for its beaches and vineyards, so Patù, in the center of the Cape of Leuca, is in an ideal position.

Polignano a Mare

Placed a plateau above the sea, Polignano a Mare lies south of Puglia's capital city of Bari along the crystal-clear Adriatic Sea.

Salve

Located in the Salento region of Puglia, Salve is near the Ionian Sea, set in the countryside amidst olive groves and native Mediterranean scrub.

Sannicola

In the tip of Puglia's heel, Sannicola is a small town amidst miles of olive groves.

Spongano

Located among the olive groves of Puglia's Salento, Spongano retains its rural character while being just a few minutes to the Adriatic Sea.

Torre Pali

A summer seaside resort that is noted for its wide beaches, Torre Pali is named for the old watch tower that still stands at its shoreline.

Torre Vado

Near the southern tip of Puglia, Torre Vado is a seaside town with alluring beaches.

Trani

An overlooked gem on Puglia's Adriatic Coast is Trani, a beautiful place worth visiting.

Tuglie

A town of about 5,000 people near Gallipoli, Tuglie gives a glimpse of small-town Salento life among its piazzas and streets.

Ugento

Located along the Gulf of Taranto, Ugento is a referred to as a "citta' di arte," -city of art.

Vieste

Vieste is called the Pearl of the Gargano, a beautiful seaside town on the little-known Puglian promontory.

Brindisi

Brindisi has always been a gateway city.

Castro

Castro rests on the rocky shore of the Adriatic, on the stunning Salento coast.

Fasano

Fasano sits where the low hills and grotto-pocked plains of Puglia lead to the Adriatic Sea.

Gallipoli

The city of Gallipoli- Greek for 'Beautiful City'- is a pearl in the blue waters of the Ionian Sea.

Ginosa

In the Puglia plains known as the "murgia" Ginosa sits on a rocky ledge with ravines cutting through the landscape.

Lido Marini

Sitting on an expanse of extensive coastline, the resort of Lido Marini provides an almost exotic and unspoiled feel.

Manduria

In Puglia's Salento, the city of Manduria is an intriguing warren of lanes jumbled with cream-colored homes and palaces.

Monopoli

Monopoli's name belies its Greek origins - "monos polis" meaning unique city.

Nardò

Nardo's ancient roots are overshadowed by the boisterous Baroque.

Porto Cesareo

Porto Cesareo sits on a prestigious part of the Ionian coast, enjoying a long stretch of beach and sparkling clean seas.

Presicce

In Puglia's sunny Salento region, Presicce is a tranquil town with an air of elegance.

Racale

The town of Ràcale is in Puglia's Salento region, just six kilometers from the Ionian Sea and yet overlooked by many travelers, which is a shame.

Santa Cesarea Terme

On the Adriatic coast where low green-forested hills end in white cliffs at the water's edge, Santa Cesarea Terme stills like a glittering white gem.

Santa Maria di Leuca

Santa Maria di Leuca is the point of the peninsula's stiletto heel.

Sant'Isidoro

Sant'Isidoro is a seaside resort in Puglia's sun-drenched Salento area.

Selva di Fasano

Selva di Fasano is called "the Italian balcony on the Orient" and the name seems appropriate.

Taranto

The city of Taranto sits on the sea and retains relics of its rich and glorious past as a maritime power.

Torre Canne

Torre Canne is a beach resort that is officially part of Fasano.

Torre Santa Sabina

Torre Santa Sabina is a small Puglia seaside resort with a piece of history.

Turi

Turi sits where the Puglia limestone plain, called the Murgia, starts to give way to the Valle d'Itria.

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