For anyone who has ever had the pleasure of visiting Puglia, it will come as no surprise to hear that this region of southern Italy was featured in National Geographic Traveler’s Best Trips 2014 list. With this year’s list including destinations that NGT describes as, “authentic, culturally rich, sustainably minded—and, of course, superlative in the world of travel today,” Puglia, which occupies the land in the heel of Italy’s unmistakable boot-like shape, is an obvious choice.
With the Adriatic and Ionian Seas as its borders, Puglia is home to beautiful sun-kissed beaches, picture perfect coastal towns with impressive cliffs that overlook the water, and a growing cruise port industry. A trip inland takes visitors to medieval castles, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and sprawling vineyards that invite guests to spend the night relaxing in a cozy farmhouse, sipping the wine made on the property.
Puglia is praised by some for being a place uniquely and charmingly stuck in the past. The people of this region do not ignore the new but embrace it alongside their old traditional ways in a perfect harmony. The lifestyle of the fast paced world around them has yet to infiltrate Puglia where slow, relaxed and lighthearted living still reigns.
For travelers on a budget, Puglia’s stuck in the past, low prices also make it an appealing destination. As the Lonely Planet website noted when it voted Puglia to its Best Value Destinations of 2014 list, this region is an excellent alternative for those in search of a fun in the sun, beachside vacation that won’t break the bank like a trip to Italy’s notably pricey Amalfi Coast might do.
With this boost in international recognition, Puglia is expected to see a rise in tourism in the coming years. Luckily, I got my chance to visit Italy’s heel while it was still a relatively underrated and undiscovered destination. If you plan to take the experts’ advice and pay a visit to this must-see region of Italy, I highly recommend adding Alberbello and Polignano a Mare to your itinerary. They are just two of the many wonderful towns that can be found in this area.
Walking through Alberobello is like stepping into a mystical land straight out of your favorite childhood fairytale. This charming village that sits in the Itria Valley is known for one thing: the trulli. A perfect example of prehistoric building techniques, the trulli are small, cottage-like homes made from smoothed out limestone boulders with a roof also made of thin, brick-shaped limestone slabs. What makes the trulli unique is their shape. Alberobello is filled with 1,400 trulli all with cone shaped roofs that resemble a gnome’s hat. With so many trulli concentrated in the village’s small historical center, this is what creates the fairytale feeling. You can’t help but think that a smurf, a hobbit or some other mythical creature could emerge from one of the trulli.
It is the intriguing architecture, the preservation of this prehistoric technique and the uniformity of Alberobello’s center that earned it its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is also what makes this one-of-a-kind village worth seeing. Visitors to Alberobello can start the day off by simply taking a walk around the town center and admiring the trulli, some of which are still homes for the locals while others serve as restaurants and shops that often sell locally made goods.
For a look at what life in a trullo was like in the olden days, visitors can check out the 18th century Trullo Sovrano. It’s the only two-story trullo in town and has been converted into a small museum filled with information about the history and culture of the trulli and Alberobello.
Although the trulli are the main attraction of Alberobello, tourists can also visit an olive oil factory, nearby vineyards and the town’s beautiful centuries old churches.
Polignano a Mare:
Polignano a Mare is perched atop a cliff overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The cliffs include three terraces that allow for stunning views of the water and even beautiful stone steps that lead directly to the sea. Taking a stroll through the town center will lead you down small winding roads between white and ivory buildings that are adorned with simple, iron bar balconies and fresh, vibrantly colored flowers. Around every corner there are small cafés, family owned stores selling handmade crafts, churches and ice cream shops. It’s a picturesque town whose charm is enhanced by the “graffiti” found on almost every street. Instead of obscenities and declarations of undying teenage love, the graffiti of Polignano a Mare scribble the walls with profound quotes from some of the world’s most influential writers, artists and philosophers.
Although Polignano a Mare makes for an excellent trip at almost any time of the year (I went in late December), it is best to visit this coastal town in its prime during the summer. During those hot summer months, Polignano a Mare becomes a beach-lover’s dream. For the thrill seekers who can’t tolerate a lazy beach day for so long, the cliffs of this town are good for more than just creating a lovely view. In recent years, Polignano a Mare has hosted Red Bull’s diving competition, and the bravest visitors are always free to try their luck at cliff diving into the clear waters of the Adriatic Sea.
For more information about vacationing in Puglia, visit www.weareinpuglia.it.