Puglia, otherwise known as Apulia, lies in the Southeast of Italy with over 800 km of show-stopping coastline set in a lush carpet of olive trees. Aside from its marvelous beaches and practically perfect weather, this region at the heel of Italy’s boot boasts the same qualities that have made the entire country a cultural inspiration for much of human history. Influenced since the 8th century AD by everyone from the Greeks and Romans to the Turkish and French, Puglia’s multi-faceted artistic, gastronomic, and architectural heritage is as fascinating and diverse as the peoples who have traversed its fertile land. Needless to say, there’s a lot to see in Italy — but Puglia’s a great place to start. Here’s how to get an authentic taste of this charming stretch by the sea (hint: you don’t have to eat spaghetti or look at a naked statue to get the real deal):
Leisurely explore the sights and sounds of Puglia from Masseria Alchemia, a charming apartment-style boutique house just minutes from the Adriatic sea. Converted from an old mansion (aka “Masserie”), the Swiss-owned and managed hotel offers ten entirely different studios for one to two guests, each entirely unique in size, layout, and decoration; some even open directly onto the hotel’s flourishing garden. Though the building itself is very old, playful accents and simple design classics bring it into modern day – like the contemporary art that Masseria Alchemia keeps on continuous rotation thanks to their collaboration with a local gallery. Since the hotel doesn’t offer a daily breakfast or restaurant, its next-door neighbors Masseria Monte, Masseria Lama di Pecora, and Minimarket “Da Franco” will make sure you get your fill of fresh local produce, cheese, bread, olive oil, and, of course, wine.
August may be the best time to visit: between the Sagra dei Vecchi Tempi (a celebration of traditional food) on the 15th to La Notte della Taranta (a folk dance and music festival in the province of Lecce), the people of Puglia are filled with excitement and jubilation. But despite its fascinating cultural heritage, the real star of Puglia is the land itself. Take shade in the Foresta Umbra, a lush oasis and National Park hidden away on Gargano with an impressively diverse population of flora and fauna. You can even take a nocturnal hike through the woods that are teeming with plant and animal life. While you’re there go on a bike tour through the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, which takes you on a scenic route through a local farm, olive oil mill, and a fishing “trebuchet” along the water. The most adventurous visitors can go diving to explore the depths of the lively Adriatic sea or try windsurfing for breathtaking aerial views.
The centuries-old architecture that lines Puglia’s streets is an art in and of itself; take a stroll through trulli of Alberobello or consider a visit to Castel del Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the town of Andria. This impressive medieval castle dates all the way back to the 1400s as a prime example of the area’s incredibly varied cultural and artistic influences. Commissioned by the Duke of Swabia, Frederick II, the architectural monument showcases Romanesque art in the lions by its entryway, classical style in the friezes that cover the walls, and Islamic influence in the design of the intricately-patterned floors.
One could argue that the culinary scene in Puglia is the most beautiful art of all. The agricultural region is famous for its cucina povera (“peasant cooking”), made using abundant homegrown ingredients like durum wheat, tomatoes, artichokes, fava beans, rocket, courgette, beans, fennel, pepper, onions, beef, and lamb. Sample the local favorites at L’Orecchietta in Guagnano, an authentic restaurant that serves up typical dishes like oreecchiete with turnip tops and pitulle. If you find yourself in the province of Lecce, don’t miss the signature Pasticcioto from Pasticceria Natale, a sweet and creamy custard-filled pastry so good you might never leave. Wash it down with an espresso served over ice with almond milk, a summery coffee beloved by locals in the warm climate. Visit in August for the Mercatino del Gusto (or “Market of Taste”), where you can sample the best oil, fruit, cheese, beer, and wine that Puglia has to offer.