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.
The city of Gallipoli- Greek for 'Beautiful City'- is a pearl in the blue waters of the Ionian Sea.
Lovely Locorotondo is cradled between the Puglia plains of the Murgia and the green Valle d'Itria, between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.
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.
The cape of Otranto is the eastern-most point of Italy, which made the city of the same name a gateway to Orient.
Placed a plateau above the sea, Polignano a Mare lies south of Puglia's capital city of Bari along the crystal-clear Adriatic Sea.
Porto Cesareo sits on a prestigious part of the Ionian coast, enjoying a long stretch of beach and sparkling clean seas.
Vieste is called the Pearl of the Gargano, a beautiful seaside town on the little-known Puglian promontory.
A sleeping beauty in the middle of Puglia that will surprise you with its upscale historic center and beautiful buildings.
In Puglia's Salento, the city of Manduria is an intriguing warren of lanes jumbled with cream-colored homes and palaces.
Alezio is a town in the Salento of Puglia, just a few minutes from Gallipoli and the Ionian Sea.
This town's history goes back very far, to prehistoric shelters and Greek settlers.
The town of Castellana Grotte is not to be confused with the "grotte di Castellana" which is the main attraction here.
A beguiling historic town near Ostuni, Ceglie Messapica is often overlooked by those bee-lining for the beaches.
Located in the Salento sun of Puglia's south, Cerfignano sits just inland from the Adriatic Sea.
Diso sits just inland from the Adriatic Sea, and was a place of refuge for local populations during times of coastal attacks.
In the Puglia plains known as the "murgia" Ginosa sits on a rocky ledge with ravines cutting through the landscape.
The beach town of Ginosa Marina strings along the Ionian Coast with miles of wide-open beach.
Amidst the low hills and limestone ravines of northern Puglia, Grottaglie stands out for its dedication to its historic craft - ceramics.
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.
Melissano is a agrarian town in southern Puglia, just inland a few miles from the Ionian Sea.
On a hilltop of Puglia's Gargano peninsula, the town of Monte Sant'Angelo was a Norman stronghold that became a popular pilgrimage destination.
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.
The town of Racale is in Puglia's Salento region, just six kilometers from the Ionian Sea and yet overlooked by many travelers, which is a shame.
Located in the Salento region of Puglia, Salve is near the Ionian Sea, set in the countryside amidst olive groves and native Mediterranean scrub.
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.
What seems like an ordinary seaside town actually holds some impressive history along with its beautiful waterfront setting.
Sitting in south central Puglia, Scorrano is sleepy town that holds some beautiful monuments.
Sitting in the middle of the sunny Salento of Puglia, Soleto has roots going back many millennia.
Located among the olive groves of Puglia's Salento, Spongano retains its rural character while being just a few minutes to the Adriatic Sea.
The city of Taranto sits on the sea and retains relics of its rich and glorious past as a maritime power.
Situated in Puglia's sun-drenched Salento, Taviano is a town of 12,300 people near Gallipoli.
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.
A town of about 5,000 people near Gallipoli, Tuglie gives a glimpse of small-town Salento life among its piazzas and streets.
Turi sits where the Puglia limestone plain, called the Murgia, starts to give way to the Valle d'Itria.
Located along the Gulf of Taranto, Ugento is a referred to as a "citta' di arte," -city of art.
Alessano may look like a remote outpost on the map, but up close you'll find imposing palaces and decorated churches that show it was once an important center in the southern Salento area.
In Puglia's sun-washed Salento just a couple of miles from the sea, Alliste basks becomingly on a rise.
Located in the upper Salento of Puglia where it meets the popular Valle d'Itria, Carovigno is a white-washed city that fans out from its caramel-colored castle.
Near Ugento, the compact and friendly Casarano has a unique atmosphere and some surprising gems tucked around its narrow streets.
With an inland location for protection and an agriculture-based economy, the sleepy town of Corsano is near the sea but retains its Puglia close-to-the-land roots.
A town of low buildings built on a "high" spot above the sea, Gagliano del Capo provided protection from coastal raids.
Sitting on an expanse of extensive coastline, the resort of Lido Marini provides an almost exotic and unspoiled feel.
The seaside hamlet that is part of Alliste, there isn't an actual boat marina but pristine water and less crowded coast.
Marina di Felloniche is a laid-back beach-centered resort at the southern tip of Puglia.
The beach resort for Taviano offers a couple of kilometers of coastline along Puglia's Ionian Sea.
Along Puglia's southly Adriatic coast, the rocky reefs highlight the intense blue of the water at Marina di Novaglie.
In the sunny Salento of southern Puglia, Marina di San Gregorio sits near Torre Vado and Santa Maria di Leuca, washed by the clear Ionian Sea.
In the middle of the Salento in southern Puglia, Parabita is a lovely small town just 13 kilometers from the Ionian Sea but with its own charms.
Marina di Pescoluse is a seaside hamlet on Puglia's Ionian Coast, renowned as one of the best beach destinations in the region.
In the sun-drenched Salento zone of Puglia, Poggiardo rests about halfway between Lecce and Santa Maria di Leuca at the tip of the heel.
A seaside frazione of Fasano, Savelletri is a pretty port town with beaches and great dining options.
Selva di Fasano is called "the Italian balcony on the Orient" and the name seems appropriate.
Been there? Done that? Share your experience and tips!
Haven't visited yet? Have questions about Puglia? Ask them here!