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Updated: 9th August 2021
Three friends, two regions, one flight; that was the mission for a sweet road trip through Italy. In just seven days in each region, we would be lounging on rugged beaches, gorging on countless cuisines, shopping in fashion metropolises, gawping at castles alongside lakes and visiting villages so adorable they could have been lifted from a fairytale.
If you’re anything like me and want to maximise your vacation days, then you’ll also be looking for ways to explore as much of a country as possible on your annual leave. In just over a week, we embarked on an epic journey, fast enough to feast on many magical moments but slow enough to still live the La Dolce Vita.
I’ve also noted a shorter itinerary below, in case you’re that way inclined, and the longer route includes some extra places that I’ve visited on previous visits to these beautiful regions of Italy.
Usually, I prefer to travel around Europe by train and bus as much as possible, which is why I have tried to give the best public transport or tour suggestions I can. For the most part, that means this one-week Puglia itinerary can be followed by using public transport. However, there are times when renting a car in Italy does make things easier, and that is especially true when it comes to visiting some of the small inland villages or museums that I’ve noted here.
Still, nearly everywhere on this itinerary cant be reached by bus or train; you may just need to travel slower, make one or two fewer detours, or pick one mountain village over the other. There are a few different bus companies in the region, so I’ve tried to leave the relevant links to each place – just double-check the route and schedule when planning your trip.
Here is an overview of my suggested two-week itinerary in Puglia and Lombardy. You can find full details, including route, accommodation, and tips on what to see below.
Day One: Otranto and Lecce
Day Two: Lecce, Manduria and Locorotondo
Day Three: Locorotondo, Ostuni and Torre Canne
Day Four: Alberobello and Valle d’Itria
Day Five: Polignano a Mare and beach day / Bari
Day Six: Bari and Bovino and Sant’Agata di Puglia
Day Seven: Travel day/More time in Bari
And while you could also use the itinerary to plan a one-week trip, here is a shorter and more fast-paced itinerary that I took the first time I dashed through the region. Chop and change the below Italy itinerary to best suit your needs.
Day One: Otranto and Lecce
Day Two: Manduria, Torre Canne, Locorotondo, Alberobello
Day Three: Alberobello, Valle d’Itria, Polignano a Mare, Bari
Day Four: Hills of Puglia: Sant’Agata di Puglia, Bovino
Day One: Brindisi – Otranto – Sant’Andrea -Lecce
Total drive time: 2 hours | Sleep in Lecce
Day one is all about lapping up what the far south-eastern coast of Italy has to offer. From waters so inviting to red-sand quarries that could have been lifted from the centre of Australia. The pace of life is slower here, the gelato is cool, and the welcoming smiles are everywhere.
What to do in Otranto
Otranto has quite a few surprises to enjoy, including the most easterly point of mainland Italy, a short drive from Otranto centre, where the Punta Palascia Lighthouse sits amongst wild herbs.
The Laghetto Cave di Bauxite was once a quarry but has been reclaimed by nature, and bright red soil surrounds the lake.
Inside Otranto, beyond the city-beach bathing opportunities and the massive castle complex, the unique Otranto Cathedral is well worth a visit. The floor is laid out with incredible mosaics depicting heaven and hell, and in the back Chapel sits the bones of Christian martyrs who passed away here. A fascinating place and a worthy hidden gem in Italy.
Also, be sure to try Puccia here, an open sandwich stuffed with whatever delicious local ingredients you choose; we went to a great little spot called Postofisso, just down from the Castle which dominates Otranto, and enjoyed a Buratta stuffed version, which is a type of creamy mozzarella.
On route from Otranto to Lecce, stop to explore some more of the coast at Sant’Andrea, a popular cliff-jumping spot and, although busy in the summer months, absolutely breathtaking.
What to do in Lecce
One of the best places to visit in Puglia, Lecce, is quite often referred to as the Florence of the south due to its beautiful architecture and its golden tone.
You’ll naturally be drawn to the Roman Amphitheatre in the heart of the city and to admire the Cathedrals and grand squares, but they’re also plenty of fantastic restaurants and super modern cocktail bars to be found on the little streets. I got up for sunrise to walk around here and basically had the whole city to myself; it was dreamy.
Another thing not to miss in Lecce is the signature coffee of the city, caffè in ghiaccio, an iced drink with almond milk, sweet and delicious on a hot day.
Prefer a guide or tour?
We had an awesome guide, Francesco, in Otranto who whizzed us around on an Ape Calessino, a three-wheel type tuk-tuk that comes from Southern Italy. Likewise, in Lecce, it was nice to have a guide and learn more about the Baroque buildings and the local food scene. You can get in touch with Francesco here.
Prefer public transport?
Where to stay in Lecce (best choice) or Otranto or Brindisi:
Lecce: We stayed in the delightful Donna Teresa Guesthouse right in the centre of town, where after dipping through a wooden door to a courtyard and climbing some stairs, you arrive at a handful of beautifully decorated and restored rooms. All mod-cons, giant bathrooms, some with round tubs, and clean furnishings made this a great place to spend the night.
Otranto: I haven’t spent a night in Otranto personally, but Hotel La Plancia looks to offer good value simple rooms right by the beaches, which is where I would stay just outside the city centre.
Brindisi (ideal if you want to check-in after the flight): If you are arriving late as we did and just want a place to crash, then Handy B&B in Brindisi is ideal as the clean, modern rooms are accessed via KeySafe, a small breakfast is served on the roof terrace, and it’s moments from the main sights of Brindisi if you head for a walk.
Day Two: Lecce – Manduria – Locorotondo
Total drive time: 2 hours | Sleep in Locorotondo
After an early morning stroll around Lecce to enjoy it at its most peaceful, today is about wine and white-washed villages.
What to do in Manduria
The main reason for visiting Mandruia is the fascinating Museum of Primitivo wine, where the local delicious wines are bottled.
You’ll be greeted with what looks like petrol pumps, but they are actually used for pouring great value wine into containers shoppers bring themselves to be refilled. Underground you can tour the rooms which used to hold the wine rather than barrels but now house a museum before enjoying a wine tasting.
What to do in Locorotondo
Locorotondo became one of my favourite places in Puglia, and I absolutely fell in love with it. The name of the town comes from the circular shape it was built in, although this isn’t obvious from ground level.
This is a dreamy town where white-washed walls are brightened up by purple and pink flowers in pots, and little restaurants offer alfresco dining in the quaint streets. There isn’t a whole host of things to do here, but strolling around the charming town will more than put a smile on your face.
Prefer public transport?
To get from Lecce to Manduria, you’ll need to take a combo of buses and trains and then walk or jump a taxi to the wine museum, so you may prefer if relying on public transport to skip Manduria and head straight to Locorotondo or Ostuni. Busses to Ostuni take around 90 minutes, and to Locorotondo, you’ll want to take a bus through Martina Franca or a train, with a total journey time of around 3 hours.
Where to stay in Locorotondo or Ostuni
Locorotondo: One of the most charming and authentic places to stay in Locorotondo is Sotto Le Cummerse, which operates as a hotel diffuso. Literally translated as a dispersed hotel, this unique concept has a range of apartments and suites dotted around the historical centre, with breakfast and other services offered from a central location. Established by a couple who were born in the village, it’s helped to bring some of the town’s abandoned buildings back to life, and you can be sure your money is staying within the local community.
Ostuni: You might decide to change the route of this itinerary slightly, and if you do head to Ostuni first, then consider staying at B&B Scuderie Maresca, a characterful converted stable in the heart of Ostuni.
Day Three: Locorotondo – Ostuni – Torre Canne – Alberobello
Total drive time: 2 hours | Sleep in Alberobello
From the streets of Locorotondo, set off early to explore another fantastic white town, see the wind-battered coast, and end the day amongst the UNESCO-listed Trulli of Alberobello; this is a busy day on your Puglia road trip!
What to do in Ostuni
The ‘white city’ of Puglia, Ostuni, gracefully grows up from its prime position slightly inland from the coast, and the drive towards the white-washed exterior gives you some stunning viewpoints to admire it from.
The historical centre is charming, a running theme in Puglia, and you’ll be blown away the second you step through an old medieval gate into the centre. A mix of Gothic, Byzantine and Roman elements are combined in the Cathedral, while the labyrinth of alleyways brings never-ending photo opportunities.
What to do in Torre Canne
After exploring Ostuni, take a short drive to the coast, where you can either have lunch in Torre Canne, a town jutting out into the ocean, or at one of the beach restaurants in Parco Naturale e Regionale delle Dune Costiere.
This sand-dune national park is a windsurfers paradise, so if you want to sign up for a lesson or are a pro, this is a chance to get some adventure into your Puglia itinerary.
What to do in Alberobello
The main draw to Alberobello is, of course, the UNESCO-listed Trulli, the conical roofed typical houses.
As well as walking through the streets and marvelling at the conical roofed buildings, you can slip inside museum-style Trulli, still decorated as they would have been traditionally lived in, or enjoy food and drinks inside them.
It’s a charming town, and there is also a new part just outside the Trulli area where you can pick up road trip supplies.
Prefer to do a tour?
If you fancy learning a little more about Ostuni and treating yourself, then a 2-hour walking and gelato tour might be just the ticket. There are also group tours of Alberobello you can join to learn more about the (sometimes disputed) history of the Trulli here.
Prefer public transport?
Depending on where you are coming from the night before, I’d likely suggest if reliant on public transport, you head straight to Alberobello for ease. Getting between Ostuni and Locorotondo looks like it actually requires two buses and a couple of hours. Getting to Alberobello from Locorotondo is easy with a 10-minute bus. From Ostuni to Locorotondo, the 370 bus to Ceglie Messapica and then the Marozzi service from there is a less than ideal and quite long best option from what I can see.
Where to stay in Alberobello or the Valle d’Itria
Alberobello: On this itinerary, I’ve put two nights staying here, as it gets exhausting on a road trip changing location every night and given the host of restaurants and tourist facilities nearby, it’s a sensible option.
We stayed about a 10-minute walk from the Trulli in a really friendly guesthouse, Hotel Silva, which was nicely decorated and offered the best breakfast buffet of the trip. The owners were super helpful and dropped us off at their favourite restaurant in town.
If you would prefer to stay in an actual Trulli, consider Il Trullo dell’Agricoltore.
Valle d’Itria: If you would prefer to stay outside Alberobello, as you may be here two nights, consider renting one of the beautiful Trulli-style accommodations in the Valle d’Itria, you don’t even have to go far outside the town to find some beautiful Trulli resorts with pools, such as Il Gabellota Resort.
Day Four: Alberobello – Martina Franca – Valle d’Itria
Total drive time: 1 hour | Sleep in Alberobello
Day four on the Puglia road trip is about enjoying the natural beauty of Puglia, ideally by bicycle.
What to do in Valle d’Itria
The Valle d’Itria is awash with olive trees and vineyards, and we decided to ditch the car for much of the day and explore by bicycle.
There are plenty of great bike trails here, and they are relatively flat, although I imagine on super hot days a bit too intense. It was a really nice way to see the Valley, passing Trulli on the way.
What to do in Martina France
Martina France is a delightful town, famed for cured meats which are eaten all across Italy.
Head here to get lost in the maze-like mesh of alleyways before indulging in a delicious lunch in the main square – I highly recommend dining at Ristorante Garibaldi by the main Cathedral.
Prefer a tour?
Get in touch with Puglia Cycle Tours, who can arrange a guide and bike rental for you.
Prefer public transport?
If you are following this route by public transport, you might have found you’ve already visited Martina Franca coming up. As such, I’d suggest for exploring the Vale d’Itria you just join one of the cycling tours or similar, or simply take a local bus out of Alberobello. No need for anything too complicated here.
Day Five: Polignano a Mare and Bari
Total drive time: 1.5 hours | Sleep in Polignano a Mare
For day five of the Puglia road trip, it’s time to unwind on one of the most famous beaches on the coastline and discover the culinary gems of Bari.
What to do in Polignano a Mare
It’s no surprise the beach here gets busy, given it’s an Instagram star in its own right. This is also where you’ll find the grotto restaurant, another popular Instagram shot.
What you might not realise, though, is just how charming Polignano a Mare is inside the cluster of houses that hang out over the ocean. Cute streets, delightful restaurants, and lovely bars to enjoy a Spritz at complete the visit here, and you might even find you want to drive a little further out of town to get a slightly quieter stretch of beach or escape the heat in the Pino Pascali contemporary art museum.
What to do in Bari
Tip: If you have a late flight on day seven, then perhaps leave Bari until your last day and use this day for a lazy beach day. If you don’t have time to explore the city on your final day, then head there for an afternoon.
I’ve been to Bari twice; the first time, I didn’t love it – which is why a lot of people skip the city – the second time, thanks to the tour we did, I really enjoyed it.
Bari is a port city and the capital of Puglia, and it’s going through somewhat of a comeback, having earned a reputation for being a bit rough around the edges.
To be fair, I think it kinda is, but in a more charming way than it once was. With an impressive Cathedral here and lots of little alleyways to get lost down, usually with Nanna’s outside making fresh pasta, it warms to you the more time you spend here. It’s also got some cracking nightlife, a casino if you fancy a little gamble, and plenty of fantastic food options, all of which I visited on our rickshaw tour, came with personal stories and hearty laughter.
Prefer a tour?
I’d highly recommend the rickshaw tour of Bari we did, as it was a great way to discover some hidden gems, learn more about the city’s past, and taste some delicious local dishes. Velo Service Tours runs a range of different options in Bari.
Prefer public transport?
From Alberobello to Polignano a Mare, you’ll most likely have to take a bus to Bari and then join the train line, which links the two there; as such, you might swap the plan around a little bit compared to driving. The trains between Bari and Polignano a Mare are regular. There does appear to be a limited bus that connects to Conversano, but I can only find limited information online.
Where to stay in Polignano a Mare or Bari
Polignano a Mare: If you are going to stay in one of the gems of Puglia, then be sure to get a room with a view. Prices here range up to the crazy expensive, but B&B Dei Serafini offers fairly reasonable rooms, some with balconies and terraces out to the water.
Bari: If you opt to stay in Bari instead (it might be better to stay here on the last night if your departure is from here), consider having a little splurge on the historic Oriente Hotel right in the centre of the city, or checking out my recommendations below just outside the city for more accessible parking.
Day Six: Bovino and Sant’Agata di Puglia
Total drive time: 2.5 hours | Sleep in Sant’Agata di Puglia
Today on the Puglia road trip, it’s time to head to Foggia, an inland and hilly part of the region where medieval towns and villages perched on mountainsides reign supreme.
What to do in Bovino
In Italy, there is an official society for the ‘Most beautiful villages of Italy’, and Bovino is proudly on that list. It’s the kinda place you get lost in and stroll around, but there are a few main attractions, such as San Pietro Church and the Norman Castle.
One of the most exciting foodie experiences I had in Puglia was in between my visits to Bovino and Sant Agata’ di Puglia, where Olga and Massimo welcomed us to their old watermill dating back to the 1600s. Here we learnt how to make pasta and enjoyed a hearty lunch, as arranged by our local guide.
What to do in Sant’Agata di Puglia
You’ll be whisked back in time as you drive the less-than-perfect road higher and higher to Sant’Agata di Puglia; what greets you though is a town that clings onto the mountain in a postcard-perfect way.
Here you can discover old mills and wine cellars, admire the epic views from the castle, which is at the top of the town like a star on a Christmas tree, or slip into slow-paced cafes and restaurants on the squares where locals sip wine and coffee.
Prefer a tour?
As this is a less traverse region of Puglia, you might want to enlist the same local guide/company we did to help make some of our arrangements.
Prefer public transport?
Public transport options seem to get more limited when exploring the hills of Puglia, so visiting multiple places in one day is hard. You’ll need to get to Foggia town, and from there, you can take a bus to one of the towns (as you would then need to backtrack to get to the other). The schedules change frequently, I was told, so be sure to check in advance. Consider a tour as the easiest option; otherwise, take a train from Bari to Foggia, and from there, consult the local bus timetables or taxis to continue.
Where to stay in Sant’Agata di Puglia or Bovino
Sant’Agata di Puglia: The lovely L’Antico Monastero offers a historical setting and great views of the town, with modern, spacious rooms. If you want great views, check in here!
Where to stay in Bovino
Bovino: In the heart of Bovino, Palazzo San Procopio offers a historic building, complete with some stone walls and a wellness centre. It’s a stone’s throw from the many attractions of Bovino. If you don’t mind staying slightly out of the centre, Bed and Wine Rocco Zambri has some stunning views across vines and the valley.
Where to stay near Bari Airport
If you prefer to stay near the airport, or even when in Bari, want a more comfortable parking option, then the surprising Le Tre Sorelle in Palese is a great option, as there is a train station here, and it’s a short drive to the airport. Behind the unassuming doors are a grand courtyard, a vast garden where breakfast is served and good-sized rooms with very noble and royal decorations. For sure, the most surprising accommodation of our Puglia road trip.
Day Seven: Travel Day / More time in Bari
Day seven is somewhat of a travel day and will depend on which flight you take from Bari – or if you need to get to another airport. Use whatever time you have to explore more of Bari’s old town.
Airport public transport
If you are going from Bari or Palese to Bari Airport, train and bus are easy options.
Car hire and driving in Italy
Make sure you have your international driving permit for Italy. Car hire costs will vary between seasons, but I suggest using a car-search platform to find the best value. You won’t be going too off the beaten path on this road trip, so there is no need to have a supercharged car.
Be aware when parking for restrictions, which can change from space to space and will be marked on signs. A lot of places allow free overnight parking, but you may need to move them. Also, parts of some Italian cities have restricted zones that you may not be able to go into, even if others have – this will usually be followed with a fine letter a month later. Most of the time, the signs are just in Italian though, so keep an eye out!