Puglia, Italy’s most underrated holiday destination

Puglia is one of the most underrated regions in Italy, flying under the radar as regions like Chianti, Tuscany, the Venetian Riviera, and the Cinque Terre take centre stage.

But sometimes a ‘getaway’ requires a place which is isolated from the hustle and bustle of tourist-laden cities. This is the cue for Puglia to excite you with its age-old history and hidden charms.

With a more authentic taste of Italian culture, sun-drenched vistas and an overload of impressive architecture and history, Puglia awaits. And will not disappoint.

A bit of background

This fertile area in Southern Italy forms the heel of country’s boot. 

Its unique geographic position delivers rolling countryside, towns and cities dripping in history plus some of the best beaches in the world. While the interior of the region is dotted with olive groves, orchards and various aromatic crops.

Puglia’s architecture reflects its varied history. Once upon a time, it was subject to the invasion of the Byzantine, Arab, Balkan and Roman empires during different time-periods. However, it is the Greek influence that dominates this region.

wine glasses against Alberobello in Puglia

A varied geographic and cultural landscape

Not widely renowned as a tourist hot spot, the area’s varied charms will enchant you, from its baroque towns, blue sea and beaches to its excellent cuisine.

White is a prominent colour for the houses and buildings because it reflects the sun beautifully. Ostuni, for example, is a city located between Bari and Brindisi and it is known as the “White City” due to its white walls and typically white-painted architecture. Ostuni’s largest buildings include its Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace, visits to which shouldn’t go amiss as they truly are architectural jewels.

Puglia is also home to the Trulli – limestone houses with cone-shaped roofs that make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy-tale. Alberobello is filled with these unusual dwellings and many owners are happy to give you a tour if you ask with a smile.

A taste for organic cuisine

The region is the organic capital of Italy and because of its dry climate, the communities are able to grow vast amounts of fruit and vegetables.

Subsequently, their cuisine is filled with locally-farmed products like beans, chicory and broccoli. On top of these organic ingredients, a Puglian kitchen always requires wheat and olive oil.

Semolina flour is transformed into a variety of handmade pasta, and then boiled with wild or cultivated greens, tossed with a hearty meat ragù or cooked into soups. Orecchiette pasta originates here and is as easy to learn to make as it is delicious (i.e. VERY!).

The local Apulians, shepherds by trade since ancient times, tend to prefer lamb, mutton, kid, and goat, which they cook simply with fragrant herbs, olive oil, and perhaps a handful of tomatoes or potatoes.

Almost every dish is typically doused with olive oil. After all, Puglia is Italy’s largest producer of olive oil.

Orecchiette Italian pasta dish with broccoli

Finally, if you’re left with a sweet tooth, the Apulian appetite for honey, nuts, and dried fruit creates a number of pastries, cakes, and fritters with roots in ancient Greece and echoes of the Orient.

Must-have local cuisine in Puglia

Here are some dishes famous in the region that you need to try:

  • local cheese in all forms
  • orecchiette alle cime di rapa (that pasta we mentioned)
  • taralli (biscuit/cracker-like snacks)
  • fresh ‘polpo’ (octopus)
  • friselle rustic bread

A burgeoning region

The popularity of Puglia is growing. Especially with Italians, drawn to the sunny climate, the blue coastline and the vast countryside.

With an ever increasing amount of attention from travellers, the area still manages to avoid the tourist practices adopted by Italy’s northern cities and regions.

Everything closes for lunch, not opening again for hours, so you can rest and bask in the sun during this Italian siesta. English is not widely spoken, and you will be hard-pressed to find a cup of British tea, but that’s part of Puglia’s charm.

As you step away from the drawls of generic tourism, you can fully immerse yourself in an authentic Italian experience. Just maybe learn a few Italian phrases before you go.