When we left for Italy early November last year, the plan was to explore Napoli and the Amalfi Coast. Nothing was booked in advance and due to a few days of less good weather, we finished our checklist of sights over there sooner than expected. Now what?
The weather around Napels wasn’t going to get better for our last two days or the trip, so just hanging around in the rain didn’t really seem like a lovely way to end our holiday. On a whim we decided to cross the country to the East, to get a few quick impressions of another beautiful Italian region; Puglia.
The weather was supposed to be better in the south, so we decided to focus on that part, leaving the city of Bari and the Gargano National Park for another visit. We only had two days after all.
Polignano a Mare
After a three hour, dark, drive, we arrived in the small coastal town of Polignano a Mare. Polignano a Mare is the postcard of Puglia, situated on top of 20 meters high limestone cliffs along the beautiful, blue Adriatic sea. It was also a sea-view, like we had in Naples and the Amalfi Coast, but it was so completely different. Like a whole new world!
It was already pretty late by the time we had checked into our hotel, so we just went into the old historic center for a quick bite before retiring for the night. The next morning, it was time for a more in dept exploration of the old center.
When you’re wandering through the small streets of the historic center, pay attention to the poetry that can be found in one particular quarter. The Pablo Nerudo poem on the stairs is the most famous one, but there are many more to be found. It gives the already charming streets a romantic extra touch. I absolutely adored this place and it made me all the more excited for explore more of Puglia.
The reason we stopped in the city of Monopoli? The name. Yup. The name. I don’t know what we expected, but since we were driving through anyway, we figured we might see if there was anything worthwhile.
Walking through the streets didn’t leave us wild with enthusiasm and while the little harbor was pretty neat, it wasn’t much to write home about. I don’t regret taking a peek, but after less than one hour, we were on our way again, eager for the next adventure.
Alberobello is another one of the must visit places of Puglia. This small town houses over a thousand trulli houses; little white, limestone houses with conical roofs. It’s a unique view and amazing to wander through. Many of the houses are – of course – turned into souvenir shops which makes it feel quite commercial but at the same time gives the place some ambiance as well.
From the Piazza Lucia you get a stunning view over all of the dwellings, giving you a better idea of just how many there are. A place you cannot miss on your trip through this part of Italy.
Also known as the white city, Ostuni gives you just what it promises; a whole bunch of white houses and streets. I’m sure it’s most impressive with a blue sky and the sun shining down on it, but we weren’t that fortunate. We were also visiting around noon and the place seemed pretty deserted. Residents were enjoying their siesta and because of the off-season there weren’t a lot of other tourists mingling around.
Nonetheless it was a beautiful city and it gives off an amazing sense of unity. The small medieval streets, narrow stairways and little passages, it’s easy to get lost, but to me, that’s the whole thrill of it!
Our first day in Puglia ended in one of the biggest cities in the region; Lecce. From one Baroque building to the next, it seems like there is no end to the beautiful architecture in that city.
Sadly we arrived just too late to visit the amazing amphitheater but we were able to still get a glimpse of it through the fence. Bummed we took our seat at Liberrima All’Ombra del Barocco and drowned our sorrows with a Expressino and Pasticciotto. A not to bad alternative.
The rest of the evening we wandered through the city, peeking inside the beautiful buildings whenever possible. The major churches all had an entrance fee, but since were limited in time, we decided against buying tickets to visit. It did seem worth it, so if you have the time, go for it!
Grotta della Poesia
The next morning, we drove a little more south, even though that wasn’t the plan. Pictures of the coast lured us to the Grotta della Poesia. We parked our car along the road, about one kilometer from the cave and I’m glad we only seemed to have that option. The walk to the cave, along the rough coast with its blue, blue water was just as worth it as the cave itself. A couple of fishermen were bringing in – what seemed like – sardines at a tempo I couldn’t follow and the sun was shining brightly on the blue waves crashing against the rocks. It was just a moment of peace and quiet and I reveled in it!
But then onto the cave itself. Absolutely stunning! We once again had the place all to ourselves and for a fleeting moment I really, really wanted to jump in the crystal blue water. The cold wind sweeping through the air quickly made me change my mind. No towel at hand, so I’d probably have regretted that adventurous dive soon enough.
Since we had only decided last minute to head to Puglia, I didn’t have any time to prepare our visit. I had to do with what the first few pages on Google provided me with. But fortunately I also got a few tips from friends who’d visited this region before. When one friend mentioned that Otranto had been her favorite place in Puglia, I had a hard time just leaving it be. So after visiting the cave, we drove an extra half an hour south, to Otranto.
Otranto is another coastal town, with an UNESCO heritage old center. Yup, count me in. There is an amazing medieval castle and Romanesque cathedral with a stunning mosaic floor that’s definitely worth your time. With the sun shining down on us, I instantly got a holiday feeling whilst wandering through these streets.
Gravina di Laterza
Unfortunately all good things come to an end and we still had a long drive back to Napoli airport ahead of us. From Otranto it was little less than five hours. Too much to do in one go. A few weeks before, a friend of mine had also been traveling through Puglia and her hike in the Gravina di Laterza had caught my attention. One of Europe’s largest canyons along our drive back to Napels? It would have been impossible to stop me!
So we put on our hiking boots again, and made our way along the top of the canyon. Stunning views all the way on this trail through this gorgeous bit of nature.
We also had the place to ourselves, only passing one other couple close to the small parking area and view point at the start. And being alone means wildlife spotting! Completely unexpected we ended up almost eye to eye with a whole family of wild boars. Heart rate up exponentially but boy what a thrill!
We watched the sun go down over the canyon before piling back into the car, driving our last few hours back to Napoli. The end of an amazing holiday in Italy. A holiday where we saw a lot more than we had planned so a complete win in my book!