Puglia is made for a road trip and, last summer, we spent ten wonderful days driving around its gorgeous coastline and sumptuous countryside sampling the best of this relatively undiscovered region in southern Italy.
Although there are several potential Puglia road trip itineraries, we wanted to help you plan your own by sharing the route we designed. After many evenings of research, planning and mapping, we decided that, setting off from Bari, this route would bring us to all the highlights we wanted to visit, at a pace which gave us freedom to experience lesser known villages, some of the best beaches in Puglia and its coastal hideaways.
So, if you're in the planning stage for your own road trip and looking for some ideas, information and inspiration on where to visit and where to stay in Puglia, then this is the post for you! Need more inspiration about why you should visit Puglia? Then read this post.
Puglia Road Trip Route: Overview
We chose to go anti-clockwise from Bari because a lot of Puglia's tourist highlights are clustered in the eastern part of the region - we wanted to save those for later in the trip and spend more time on the lesser-visited beaches and towns in the west and south. Our route could easily be done in reverse however if that's your preference.
If you're arriving in Puglia's other airport - Brindisi - then simply follow the same route, factoring in that your first few nights will be better spent in Ostuni - or one of the nearby towns like Locorotondo and Alberobello - rather than Matera.
Before providing a day by day breakdown of our Puglia road trip itinerary for you, we want to give a few pointers on the above map and this post in general:
You can open the above map within Google Maps to give you a full scale interactive view and a little more detail on directions, driving distances etc. We use an offline Google Map as our a main or back-up GPS on all our road trips.
Starred locations are places (beaches, towns or cities) that we recommend visiting on this itinerary - you don't have to go to all of them but most of them should be on your list!
Red marks indicate the five towns and cities where we stayed on the road trip. One of our main tips for any style or length of Puglia road trip is to choose a few 'home bases' and make day trips from them to spots around Puglia, rather than moving to new accommodation each night of the trip. We found and booked most of ours on Airbnb.
The blue line (with A-E marks) indicates our general driving route - it doesn't include each journey we made and isn't 100% accurate in terms of the roads we took, but it gives a good general outline of the overall route we travelled in Puglia.
Note that our ten day Puglia itinerary took in more than just the popular eastern coast of Puglia (which includes Polignano a Mare, Ostuni, Alberobello and Otranto - see 'day five' onwards of our below itinerary for this section if you wish to only stay there). If you are planning for a one week itinerary total, then we'd still recommend taking a road trip as it will allow you to see so much more of Puglia than public transport allows, but you will not be able to cover the exact same route as we did. In this case, we'd recommend that you base yourself in two locations for three nights each, and make day trips from there to the surrounding locations. Note that the eastern section is the most popular part of Puglia with Italian and European tourists, so prices for accommodation tend to be a little higher and its best to book as soon as possible. Not sure where to stay? Then keep on reading!
This post is a general overview to help you plan your own road trip route; we have written several guides to help you plan your trip Puglia in more detail - such as '17 Things to Know Before You Visit Puglia' - and they are linked to throughout this article.
Puglia Road Trip Itinerary: Day by Day
Arrival in Bari Airport
Flying from London, we arrived in Bari's Karol Wojtyla Airport at 8 p.m. We decided to take the easy option and spend a night in the city, returning to the airport the next morning to pick up the car the next morning. In hindsight, we probably should have just picked up the car on the evening we arrived and stayed somewhere on our route.
Bari is not an unenjoyable city but, as you're here for a Puglia road trip, it’s likely that you won’t want to spend too much time here when you could be right by the beach or exploring smaller towns and cities.
However Bari certainly has an old school Italian charm to it, and you won’t regret a night or two here (you can see our favourite things to do in Bari here).
Car Rental | We found and booked our car via Auto Europe, which was cheap, seamless and hassle-free. It covers all the car rental options available for both Bari and Brindisi and has no cancellation fees for up to 48 hours before pick up. If you’ve never rented a car before, we highly recommend your read this post before you fly to Italy - 9 Essential Car Rental Tips for Travellers - which will save you money, reduce stress, and help you avoid scams and hidden fees.
Day One: Bari > Matera
Distance | 64 kms
Exiting Bari airport, you will quite quickly start driving in the copper-hued and cacti-covered farmland which will be a common feature of your Puglia road trip. It's an easy and well sign-posted drive towards the beautiful town of Matera which, although not actually within the region of Puglia, is unmissable if you're in this part of Italy.
On this stretch of route, we chose not to visit Castel del Monte, which is less than an hour from Bari Airport and is actually one of Puglia's most famous sites. From Castel del Monte, you are 77kms from Matera, so it's a perfectly sensible and easily manageable addition to your day one itinerary.
The only other place we considered stopping on our first day was Altamura, which is famed for its unique bread. However, as we had so many plans for Matera (Europe's Capital of Culture in 2019), we drove straight there to our hostel - L'Ostello dei Sassi.
Note that parking and driving in Matera's old town is pretty horrendous, so we recommend you contact your accommodation in advance to confirm parking arrangements nearby.
Read More | You can find more information in our guide on the best things to do in Matera.
Day Two: Matera > Gallipoli
Distance | 180 kms
After a blissful morning photographing the empty streets of Matera, we set off to for a relatively easy day of driving. Upon your departure from Matera, we recommend travelling south via Taranto. Its old town - set on an island - is captivating.
We planned our route to go via Produttori Vini Manduria, a winery where you can fill up bottles by the gallon from petrol pumps. It was a really nice countryside drive, but we made the mistake of arriving literally one minute after closing time on a Sunday (remember that Sundays are still pretty sacred in Italy)!
Nevertheless, a quick stop in the small seaside town of San Pietro in Bevagna for our first taste of pizza of the trip (many many more would follow) marked our arrival on the Puglia's stretch of beautiful western coastline.
Once you hit San Pietro in Bevagna, which itself has a nice stretch of public beach and some restaurants but is otherwise unremarkable, it's a case of deciding whether you're going to visit the sandy beaches today for a few hours, or save them up for Day Three or Four of your own road trip. Punta Prosciutto and Torre Lapillo are nice, relatively undeveloped beaches (by Italian standards at least), whilst Santa Maria al Bagno and Parco Natural Reginoale Porto Selvaggio e Palude del Capitano are also good options. All these beaches are relatively short distances from each other in the car so, if you don't like one or it's too busy, then simply head to the next.
It was to take advantage of this coastline and some of the best beaches in Puglia that we had chosen to base ourselves in Gallipoli for two nights - we would recommend this town to anyone looking for a base for day trips on the western and south western coast.
Upon arrival in Gallipoli, note that you can't park in its old town, so need to find a space in the large car park by the port. We stayed at this great old town apartment with a glorious private rooftop.
Day Three: Gallipoli
After a quiet morning hiding from a brewing storm, we head out to explore the tiny warren-like maze of Gallipoli's old town - with a few breaks for cold beers, large glasses of local wine and plates of bruschetta!
Read more | Check out our Gallipoli guide and photo journal for inspiration, advice and accommodation suggestions.
Day Four: Gallipoli > Sternatia
Distance | 110 kms
We could easily have stayed another couple of days in Gallipoli, but the road was calling (and we had booked all our accommodation months in advance - this is really important for any summer visits!) and it was time to head inland.
One of the benefits of having your own vehicle is the option to plan a road trip route that suits you. Instead of staying in another large-ish city, for this part of our Puglian adventure we cast a wider net, and found probably our favourite apartment rental to date in the shape of Casa Filia (you can book it here or here) in a tiny little town called Sternatia. Just 2000 people but close enough to explore the south of Puglia on day trips.
The morning drive from Gallipoli saw us stopping off at a few beaches for which we had high hopes - Lido Punta della Suina and Lido Samsara. Suina charges 6 Euro for parking and has a very small, overcrowded private beach where your only option is to pay for a sun lounger - the only public and free part of beach is small and covered in rocks.
Samsara on the other hand is a beach club for a young crowd who want music and to dance (think Ibiza-lite). The beach is really nice, but at around 20 euro for 2 sun loungers and an umbrella, all day parking at 5 euro and quite expensive restaurants on site, a cheap day out it is not.
Disappointed at the above, we chose not to stay at either and drove onwards to Spiaggia di Pescoluse, also known as the Maldives of Salento. Google images had raised our hopes a little too high (it was quite crowded, the beach had a bit of litter, and the wind meant the sea was never calm) but it was still the right choice for a few hours of free sunbathing. There are a few simple restaurants offering typical Italian fare and lots of car parks by the beach charging as little as 3 euro per day.
A real highlight of the day was the coast-hugging drive from Spiaggia di Pescoluse to Leuca, a pretty little town at the very southerly tip of 'the heel of Italy'. Although not the prettiest beach in Puglia, we enjoyed passing an hour or so at the end of the day wandering along the waterfront and through its cacti-lined streets. In fact, Leuca would be a perfectly acceptable base if you don't want to stay inland tonight (see Leuca's accommodation options here).
Alternative Bases | For this part of the road trip, we aren't necessarily encouraging all of you to go and stay in Sternatia, but more to look at accommodation options at some of the beautiful properties in the Puglian countryside or lesser visited towns and villages. Take a look at this map of all Puglia’s accommodation options here to see if there's anything special and available in the area on your dates.
Remember, a road trip gives you freedom to stay somewhere a little different, a little out of reach, and a little more like the old Italy of your dreams!
Day Five: Sternatia
Distance | 90 kms
We take road trips all over the world, and we know that it's essential to factor in at least one or two chill out days without any serious driving or sightseeing.
So on day five of our Puglia roadtrip, we rose late in Sternatia, went to the supermarket just down the road and stocked up on treats and food for the next few days. We took brunch on our incredible balcony and strolled around sampling small town Italian life, took a dip in the excellent water at Marina Serra (a place we highly recommended) before capping of the afternoon with a sunset Aperol Spritz in the quiet yet charming Tricase Porto.
La dolce vita indeed!
Day Six: Otranto & Torre Dell'Orso
Distance | 76+ kms
Continuing to use Sternatia as our base, we spent the day visiting a couple of Puglia's most popular spots.
The first, Otranto, is a very pretty port, with a whitewashed old town, a small beach and some wonderful views over the ocean. It wasn't our very favourite place in Puglia, but it's certainly worthy of being on your itinerary.
The afternoon however was dedicated to one of the nicest stretches of sand we visited in Puglia - Torre Dell'Orso. Not only is it the perfect beach spot, but by taking a short walk up to the cliffs which surround it, you can enjoy one of the best sunset views in Italy overlooking Le Due Sorelle rocks.
Note that the only parking available for Torre Dell'Orso is a 3-5 minute walk from the beach, whilst there are a number of restaurants and bars on the beach.
A couple of kilometres away, you can also find the Grotte della Poesia (Cave of Poetry), an extremely popular natural sea sinkhole which you can dive into from a pretty great height. Please note that it does get very crowded during high season, and for a pretty photo you'll want to get there in the morning before it becomes covered in shadow.
Read Next | Eight Reasons to Fall in Love with Puglia
Day Seven: Sternatia > Ostuni
Distance | 135 kms
As the unseasonable wind which had buffeted us on the western coast had now disappeared completely, we agreed to make the most of the last of Puglia's beautiful summer sunshine rather than head to Lecce (we know that Lecce is a highlight for many visiting Puglia and it was with heavy hearts we had to skip it). So, taking narrow back country roads from Sternatia, we returned to the coast by Torre Dell'Orso to try and find some quiet nearby spots to enjoy the sun.
And find them we did.
The first was Torre Sant'Andrea - a picture perfect rocky outcrop with the best water we experienced in all of Puglia. Note that the rock where everyone hangs out isn't exactly the comfiest, but it's a really special spot. Seriously, the water here is just divine.
In high season, we'd imagine it can get very busy, so arrive early to find yourself a spot for the day.
The second was the beach at San Foca, somewhere we hadn't read about at all in our research. Although Torre Dell'Orso was more impressive to look at, San Foca was a much more uncrowded and enjoyable lido-lite beach to just hang out at, and the town is a good spot to find some lunch.
Update 2019 | On our second trip to Puglia, we did in fact make it to Lecce. Let’s just say that we aren’t too annoyed at ourselves anymore for missing out on it the first time round…
Day Eight: Ostuni
Friends had recommended that we would love Ostuni, and so should use it as a base - they weren't wrong! I
t's a gorgeous whitewashed city, full of dreamy streets and shopfronts, and it's also ideally located for short drives to other lovely parts of Puglia and some nice beaches, like Torre Sant Sabina.
The place does see a growing number of tourists, but we continue to recommend it as a fantastic base for both short and long Puglia road trips. However, it’s important to book ahead in summer.
Read Next | Our guide to Ostuni
Day Nine: Alberobello - Martina Franca - Locorotondo
Distance | 50+ kms
On our last full day in Puglia, we took full advantage of having our own car and hit the cacti-filled countryside and to wander around some of the prettiest towns in all of Italy.
The clustered triumvirate of Alberobello, Martina Franca and Locorotondo are all stunning in their own right, and since they are all less than 10kms from each other, can easily be enjoyed at a slow pace on one day. Each is an essential addition to any Puglia itinerary, whilst nearby Cisternino is also definitely worth including.
Alberobello, home of the unique trulli, is probably the most touristic place in Puglia and we ensured we arrived there before the tour buses - we recommend you do the same. Read more of our advice for Alberobello in our guide.
Day 10: Ostuni > Bari Airport
With an evening flight from Bari Airport, we drove along the coast from Ostuni to Polignano a Mare.
Over the course of a few hours, we savoured the last drops of sun on a rooftop bar, got lost in its gorgeous old town, tasted fantastic focaccia, lay on its Insta-famous bay, bought some souvenirs and contemplated just how perfect our Puglia road trip had been.
To underline just how much plans can change when planning a road trip, our heart had originally been set on staying in Polignano e Mare for the first few nights in Puglia. However, we are more than happy with our decision to have only our last sun-kissed day there (but if you want to stay in the town for a night or two at the start or end of your stay, be sure to read our short guide to Polignano a Mare).
What would we have done differently?
In all honestly, not that much.
Aside from not staying the first night when we should have just picked up the car and start the road trip, and travelling less on the motorway (although it's unavoidable at times), we wouldn't really change anything from our own Puglia road trip itinerary. The timing worked, the accommodation we selected was great, and we came away with a deep appreciation of this part of Italy.
And we didn’t wreck the car!
We unfortunately had to skip Lecce because we were more content being outside of a large city and by the coast and, having since visited Lecce, we don't regret this decision at all.
Monopoli, on the other hand, is somewhere we definitely should have made time for and we fell for it quite hard on our most recent visit to Puglia (we haven’t written a guide yet, sorry).
Puglia Road Trip Guide
Driving in Italy has its....quirks...so we recommend you read this post - 14 Things to Know Before a Puglia Road Trip - before you finalise your route and rent your car in Puglia.
As mentioned, we have found and booked our car rental via Auto Europe for each visit to Puglia, as well as on our other road trips in Europe and beyond. If you are inexperienced at car rental on holiday, then we recommend you also read our Car Rental Tips for Travellers guide.
We hope we've given you some inspiration and ideas for planning your own trip to Puglia! Be sure to read our other Puglia guides to help you plan the best Puglia adventure possible, and let us know your own itinerary or suggestions in the comments!
Also, we never travel without insurance - make sure you're covered before you leave. If you don't think you need travel insurance, then read this article.