Everybody falls in love with Italy.
For many, the moment will happen on the streets of Rome, the beaches of Sicily or the colourful coastal retreats of Amalfi. It may be over pizza in Napoli or on that rainy day in Milan.
Our Italian love story however, started on a road trip through the lesser known region of Puglia.
And it’s a love that will endure.
Situated on the ‘heel of the boot’ of Italy, Puglia’s charms are becoming more known to those who are open to venturing somewhere a little different in Europe. For decades, it has been a popular summer location for northern Italians and, thankfully, Puglia remains a place which is unmistakably and unshakeably by Italians for Italians.
Yet, through the whispers and smiles of those who have given into its embrace, more travellers are learning that Puglia is a place that they should visit sooner, rather than later.
Here are eight reasons why.
You will never see prettier cacti
Who would have thought that Italy would be home to the most fantastic array of wild cacti that we’ve ever witnessed on our travels (yep, way better than Mexico)?
With plump pink and orange prickly pears in bloom (fichi d’India in Italian), they line the roadsides in clusters and make the already photogenic countryside of Puglia just that extra bit special.
Instagram succulent fiends will be delighted to know that the cacti also adorn most balconies and apartments.
Every town is beautiful
“Yep, this is the prettiest town yet”.
Emily would utter this each time we arrived in a new town over the ten day road trip - and it’s testament to the fact that Puglia is home to perhaps the prettiest little towns in all of Italy.
With names that roll of the tongue - Locorotondo, Gallipoli, Alberobello - the main draw of each is not simply how gorgeous, well preserved and rustic they are, but that each town has been made even more beautiful by the loving hands of locals.
It won’t break your budget
Now, it would be easy to go to Puglia and spend thousands. The region is home to quite incredible luxury and boutique retreats (like this one, this one, this one and oh, can't forget this one), as well as restaurants where one would happily spend over €50 on a bottle of wine.
But, we don’t travel like that and we know that not everyone who loves to travel is able to spend a small fortune.
Thankfully, Puglia is accessible for travellers looking to discover the region independently on a bit of a budget. A great lunch or dinner can be found for under €6, a glass of wine is affordable and the best attractions are, by and large, available for free.
you will discover the italy of your dreams
There were countless occasions every day where we just had to stop and remind ourselves that we were actually in Italy, not on some fantastically designed film set version for tourists.
Classic Fiats, Vespas, actual Ape being driven by tanned old men, not just to ferry tourists around. The sing-song melody of a gesticulatory Italian argument on a street corner, old boys who looked like Junior from the Sopranos playing cards together, nonnas in long dresses sitting in doorways and keeping a watchful eye on everyone.
Your heart will swell at the sights and sounds of it all.
It turns out that the Italy of our dreams and wildest imaginations (and stereotypes) was here in Puglia all along.
It has great beaches
We visited Puglia because we wanted the sun on our backs, good food and some beach time.
And we found all three in abundance.
Want to know our favourite beaches in Puglia? We've got a post coming up (but our Puglia road trip itinerary tells you a few).
It’s perfect for a road trip
If you’ve followed Along Dusty Roads for a while, you’ll know that we are huge road trip fans - and the ability to discover the best of Puglia with our own car was a huge reason we chose it for our summer trip.
As you’ll fly into either Bari or Brindisi, it makes sense to rent a car from there (we used AutoEurope) and then either head inland and anti-clockwise, or head south towards Polignano a Mare. After that, the route you take is open to endless possibilities based on your time, budget and preferences.
Planning on a Puglia road trip? Then you need to read our '14 Things to Know Before a Puglia Road Trip' post!
Getting fat is a cultural activity
You’ll be thrilled to know that pizza and pasta really are on pretty much every menu - it’s not just for tourists! But, more importantly, a trip to Puglia means you’re entering the region responsible for much of what we love about Italian food.
One of the most fecund agricultural areas in Europe, from its copper-toned soil comes the raw materials for much of Italy’s olive oil, wine and pasta. Italian food also has clear regional variations, and there are certain elements which you will only really find commonly in Puglia - orechiette and other types of pasta, various cheeses (canestrato pugliese, caciocavallo and stracciatella), and the most fantastic little biscuits (Taralli - excellent with wine).
Throw in some incredible seafood and you’re never really going to go hungry in Puglia.
Just note, you might want to start that diet now to make up for all the carbs you’re going to devour every damn night. And that’s before we’ve even talked about gelato...
It hasn’t been destroyed by tourism...yet
We write this knowing that the secret is already out about Puglia and that, one way or another, it’s only a matter of time before this beautiful region which has slowly been emerging to non-Italians becomes the ‘next big thing’.
And that, unfortunately, often means that the magic of a destination starts to fade.
Writing this guide, we are of course playing a part in this, so we sincerely ask you to travel considerately when you’re there and help Puglia to enjoy the much-needed benefits of tourism, without letting it ruin all that is fantastic about it.
Be the sort of tourist that locals will welcome with open arms.
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