To us the question was “why not”? We have each been to Italy quite a few times but as Puglia gained traction as a destination for travelers our curiosity grew and we began to plot a trip to the region.
When Go Ahead Tours offered to host us on their Puglia and Southern Italy tour we accepted with unseemly alacrity.
So why did we want to go there?
The beautiful coastline of Puglia and Southern Italy
Puglia has the longest stretch of coastline of any region in Italy. If you’re devoted readers (is it too much to hope for a few?) you know that we love to be in, on, or looking at water as often as possible.
Sometimes we were looking at the Adriatic Sea (above) and other times at the Ionian Sea but truthfully we didn’t care which was which. They both had water of such beautiful variations of blue that we kept removing our sunglasses to prove to ourselves that the color was real. (It was.)
The coastal topography is karst which we have learned over time is one of our favorites. Karst means it’s made of soluble rocks such as limestone and dolomite. We like the way it makes interesting formations which often include caves and underground rivers. It generally makes for rocky beaches but in Puglia there are also sandy beaches.
UNESCO sites everywhere you turn
Our years of travel have taught us that an easy way to find the most interesting places wherever we go is to check out the UNESCO sites. On our trip to Puglia and Southern Italy we visited five sites.
Our favorites were the trulli in Alberobello. They’re the iconic image of the area shown on every postcard, guidebook or website.
Our other favorite (if we have to pick) was Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches in Matera. This area has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period (roughly when Brunette was in high school) and is still inhabited and being expensively and tastefully gentrified.
We were interested to learn that Matera is going to be the European Capital of Culture in 2019 but perhaps more intrigued to find out that it’s one of the locations where the movie Wonder Woman was filmed.
The Passion of Christ was also filmed there and we think Mel Gibson might be lucky he didn’t meet up with Wonder Woman and her Amazon friends.
Admittedly, despite having been told many times by well-informed guides, we often can’t tell Classical from Roman but we can usually identify Baroque architecture. We also know Islamic motifs when we see them and all were apparent in Puglia; often in the same building.
Because of the region’s coastal location it has been invaded by a Who’s Who of history. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Empire, Normans, Turks, Austrians, Spanish and French have all been in charge at one time or another. That may make for an identity crisis but it also makes for a lot of visual variety.
The food and wine
Puglia and Southern Italy produce 80% of Italy’s pasta and olive oil. The region also claims to be home to 60 million olive trees and since the internet agrees that makes it true for us!
Our Go Ahead guide arranged for us to visit a high-quality olive oil producer and various local merchants so we could sample regional products. That’s how we ended up with olive oil and pesto in our luggage…
We were also very pleasantly surprised by the wines of the region. We have ridiculously low tolerances for alcohol and getting wine by the glass is often an iffy prospect. But in Puglia and Southern Italy we consistently had good house wines. The region has been quietly producing higher quality wines in recent years and has even begun to win some international competitions.
For those who enjoy shellfish, you will be very happy. Every menu in the region has lots of options in terms of both type (lots of mussels) and preparation.
Puglia is heaven for pasta lovers – none of that old dried out stuff in a box from the grocery store here!
The relative lack of crowds in Puglia and Southern Italy
Make no mistake – Puglia and Southern Italy can no longer be honestly described as “undiscovered”. However, the region is considerably less crowded than Tuscany and its medium-sized cities aren’t yet as over-run by tourists as Florence, Venice and Rome.
However, it will only get more crowded as word continues to get out so hurry up and go as soon as you can!
Disclosure: We were the guests of Go Ahead Tours but they already knew us and were aware that we sometimes go off-script..