Having enjoyed the Gargano delights we headed south to the Ionian coast south of Bari and the small resort of Torre Canne, set on the ancient Via Appia. What were we looking for in a Puglian beach holiday? Basically a lovely beach, nice hotel, small town and easy access to plenty of sights – we got it all. Torre Canne had a stunning series of beaches running south of the small port – the town itself, less than 100 inhabitants in winter, was a couple of streets behind the beach and a series of excellent restaurants along the shore. We strolled along the beach each night into town for dinner, spreading our favours liberally amongst the eateries and fixing immediately on the best gelateria for afterwards! We ate extremely well each night.
So was it all just lying by the pool or using the beach club, all of two yards away? With so much to see in Puglia we found Torre Canne to be the perfect location for short trips out. We explored the pretty coastal settlements and the charming hill towns (and their trullis) of the Valle d’Itria and beautiful Lecce was only just over an hour away.
Working south along the coast the jewel in Trani was the dramatic cathedral right by the sea, is there one closer to the water anywhere in the world? Alongside this lay the 13th century Swabian castle, almost modernist in style. Bari is often passed by however don’t miss its magnificent old town with a medieval labyrinth of narrow alleyways and squares. At its heart lies the early Norman Basilica of St Nicholas – with a stark and simple interior the beautiful crypt house the Saint’s relics and is the subject of veneration from both Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims.
Polignano a Mare is regarded as a gem on the Ionian coast with its famous ravine beach and compact historic core. Its cliff-top centre, higgledy-piggledy lanes and rock caves are understandably popular and worth stopping at. Personally we found nearby Monopoli to be our favourite – the working fishing harbour guarded by small forts, a petite town beach, walled and pretty much pedestrian old town with narrow streets (would you live in Purgatory street next to the old charnel house?) and atmospheric lanes.
All four of these coastal towns/cities can be easily reached from Torre Canne and the Valle d’Itria however it is the latter that is probably the most famous part of Puglia. Here in the central valley of rolling green hills you will find some of the prettiest towns in the south ad throughout the region the extraordinary trulli, concial stone huts that seem to sprout from the ground everywhere. This also the home of the most famous and luxurious masserias, converted farms or small manor houses.
The hilltop town of Locotorondo has a dazzling white centro storico and fine views across the Valle while nearby Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is unique. The zone dei trulli is a mass of over 1500 of these buildings ranging from houses (a few) to bars, restaurants and shops. It is understandably popular so visits here might be best late in the day when the number of day-trippers falls away. Whitewashed Cisternino is a quieter version, but no less atmospheric, and is well known for its Rosticerrias – butchers shops cum grills where your meat ordered is cooked then and there. The menu is simple, whatever is on the butchers counter, and delicious. Last but not least is Ostuni, perhaps the gem of the lot. Lying draped across three hill-tops, with a cathedral at its centre, this is charming and chic with many fine restaurants.
From here south you enter the much drier Salento region – remote with a Greek heritage this is a flatland with endless olive trees. As well as number of attractive coastal towns: Otranto, Gallipoli, St Maria di Leuca and Castro; the centrepoint, and perhaps highlight of the whole south, is Lecce. This 17thc baroque masterpiece has expressive and decorative architecture with a graceful and relaxed feel. A wonderful city in its own right its also a greast base to explore the Salento from and yet is only an hour away from Torre Canne and the Valle d’Itria.
So was it all lying by the beach? Yes and no – there’s so much to see and being so accessible you can easily combine both! Of the other highlights in the south we didn’t have time for the main omission would be Matera, the famous cave-dwelling town set on a gorge.
You really can visit Puglia all year round with flights into Bari and Brindisi or, at a pinch, Naples. A lot of the seaside towns will close down from November to April however the Valle d’Itria and Lecce will be open, without the crowds, and the food and wine will be just as good. Why not talk to us about holidays in Puglia or anywhere else in Italy.