Down in Italy’s gnarly heel, Puglia is having a “moment”. Two decades ago the region was hardly known to anyone outside of Italy, but these days thousands of international holidaymakers are flocking here for a slice of la dolce vita at its most authentic. Between its white-washed towns, endless sandy stretches and cucina povera cuisine, it’s little wonder why. But before you speed south to Salento, you might want to check out some of the prettiest towns in Puglia.
Where are the prettiest towns in Puglia?
Lovely, lively Martina Franca is the highest and largest town in Murgia. Refugees fleeing the Ottoman invasion of Taranto founded the town in the 10th century, though it didn’t achieve any real status until Philip of Anjou granted special tax exemptions in the early 14th century. As a result, it became one of the wealthiest towns in the region, now characterised by its baroque and rococo buildings, airy piazzas and soaring castle.
Ask anyone from Puglia what their favourite seaside town is and you’re likely to hear ‘Polignano a Mare’ more than any other town. Its tiny historic centre is all winding, white-washed streets and beautiful baroque churches. But that’s not even the best bit. Head towards the sea and you’ll find three panoramic terraces offering sweeping views out over the coastline. The town is also a pilgrimage site for fans of Domenico Modugno, the man behind Volare.
This ancient settlement is so well preserved that it’s been awarded Unesco World Heritage status. Located in the Valle d’Itria, northwest of Salento, it’s renowned for its conical beehive stone dwellings that belonged to the region’s poorest farmers. These days most of them have transformed into upmarket boutique hotel rooms, wedding venues and museums. They’re dotted around the region’s hinterland, but you’ll find the highest density of trulli in Alberobello. Around 1,400 trulli line the tiny town’s maze of streets.
Perched high above a carpet of olive groves, Ostuni is one of Puglia’s most Instagrammable towns. Known as La Città Bianca, clusters of uniform white-washed buildings line its winding lanes. In the 17th century, locals decided to lime-wash their houses to brighten up the dark medieval streets.
Since 600 BC, everyone from the Romans and Lombards to the Saracens and Normans has conquered it – and they’ve all left their mark.
Located deep in Italy’s heel, Otranto is the southernmost entry on our list. It’s also Italy’s easternmost town too. Combining a white sandy beach with dozens of seafront trattoria, white-washed buildings and fuschia begonias, it’s one of the region’s most dazzling towns. It boasts a diverse and difficult history too. In 1480, the notorious sack of Otranto saw a Turkish fleet of around 150 ships carrying 18,000 soldiers lay siege to the town. After two weeks of fighting, they won, murdered all the men and sold women and children into slavery. You can see the bones of 813 martyrs displayed behind the alter at the town’s jaw-dropping church.
Most people touch down in Bari or Brindisi and speed south to Salento. But, those who head north instead are in for a real treat. Vieste is a town and commune located in the Gargano Promontory. Perched on top of the Pizzomunno cliffs between two sandy beaches, it’s Puglia wrapped up in the perfect package. As well as beaches and old-worldly sights, there are watersports, hiking and cycling in the area too.
This pretty seaside town is an hour’s drive north of Bari. Built in the 11th century, the town was an important departure point for the crusades, as well as a wealthy commercial centre. It became home to southern Italy’s largest Jewish community in the same period too, and today it boasts a beautiful Jewish quarter. Its iconic seafront cathedral is probably one of Puglia’s most recognisable landmarks, but beyond it, there’s a charming medieval historic heart to explore too.