Trip Report: Puglia (Apulia) Italy Part III

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At the conclusion of June I rented a car and drove south down the Adriatic coast of Italy. In English, the region I explored is called Apulia. Italians call it Puglia.

This was the route I took, as the crow flies.

  1. Polignano a Mare
  2. Spiaggia di Porto Verde (outside of Monopoli)
  3. Alberobello
  4. Ostuni
  5. Masseria il Frantoio (outside of Ostuni)
  6. Torre Guaceto
  7. Lecce
  8. Otranto
  9. Torre Sant’Andrea
  10. Matera
  11. Bari, the departure point

Otranto

Otranto is the farthest south I ventured in Puglia. The town is also the eastern most in Italy.

I took a boat tour along the coast to get a good view of the cliffs and caves, and to swim amongst beauty that is otherwise difficult to access from the other side (not many roads/paths across these cliffs).

I took the tour with Hydra Escursioni in Barca, a company run by a friendly and informative father/son duo. The son speaks English and will explain everything he says in Italian in English as well.

Like I said in part I, a hat in Puglia is MANDATORY! So sunny.
Like I said in part I, a hat in Puglia is MANDATORY! So sunny.

I chose the three hour tour that took us north to Alimini. We took two different breaks to swim. I borrowed one of the boats snorkeling sets and explored the caves.

After the boat tour, I took a drive south to Porto Badisco. The way there ended up being even better than the destination, as I caught the landscape with perfect lighting.

The rugged coast drops steeply into deep blue waters. It’s moments like these when I rejoiced at the freedom of having a car. I happened upon this scenery and could choose to stop and soak it in, at a beautiful time of day. There’s so many little places to stop and marvel at in Puglia.

I was told by the owner of the Airbnb I rented a room in to check out a cafe in Porto Badisco, a few minutes down the road, known for basic but delicious deli fare called Bar Alimentari Tabacchi Da Carlo. Once again, I failed to take a picture of the food. It’s just too good in Italy to slow down and take photos of what you’re eating.

If you go between November and April, you can feast on a delicacy of the area–sea urchin, known as riccio di mare. I LOVE good sea urchin so as you can imagine was crestfallen when I realized they were out of season. I had roasted and marinated red peppers, fresh herbed cheese, and home made bread instead. I was not disappointed.

I took a stroll around Otranto’s old town after sundown, checking out Château d’Otrante pictured here…

…and quiet, ancient alleys and churches.

One my true regrets of this trip was forgetting to return in the morning and enter the cathedral above, Otranto Cathedral, to see the famed mosaic floor depicting the tree of life. If you go, don’t miss it.

Torre Sant’Andrea

Luciano, the manager of Masseria il Frantoio that I mentioned in Part II, recommended that I stop in Torre Sant’Andrea (in the town of Melendugno, just a bit north of Otranto) at some point. It was probably the single best piece of advice I received along my travels this summer. From what I can tell, more tourists head to Torre del Orso just a fraction north of Torre Sant’Andrea even though Sant’Andrea looks prettier and has less people. The winding, calcareous coast of Torre Sant’Andrea is remarkable.

I started at Torre Sant’Andrea beach…

…and took the trail to the right of this view to walk south.

The trail winds beside a pale cliffy shoreline that drops down to crystalline aquamarine waters.

 

Did you notice the people swimming the last couple of photos? No, they did not jump from those cliffs like crazies. Another gorgeous feature of this coast are steps carved into the soft stone leading down to various beaches.

Torre Sant’Andrea beach is OK–it’s good for those that need to drive right up to a beach. If you’re capable I highly recommend walking where I did for the views and more secluded beaches.

The trail is clear and flat, the only issue (in the summer at least) is little shade. Wear a hat.

This low shrubbery was the most shade provided anywhere on the trail.
This low shrubbery was the most shade provided anywhere on the trail.

Matera

You may recognize Matera as the location where Mel Gibson filmed Passion of the Christ.

Before doing anything else touristy in Matera, your first stop should be Casa Noha. There you can watch a fantastic audio-visual presentation that gives historical context to the fascinating town carved into a canyon.

Matera has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era, when men lived in a hand-carved cave network called the Sassi. Over time, the Sassi and people who’ve lived in them have gone through immense change and power struggles with empires, the church, governments, etc. The town was evacuated by Italian officials in the middle of the 20th century because living conditions were so awful. The Sassi lay abandoned until 1986 when they were cleaned up, people moved back in, and the effort to turn the Sassi and Matera into a tourist destination/cultural hotspot began.

The effort worked. The Sassi are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and won the title of European capital of culture for 2019.

If you go to Matera you should stay in a Sassi to get the full experience. I stayed in this Airbnb which had a lovely view. The host speaks English.

Sleeping in a Sassi
Sleeping in a Sassi
Entryway to my Sassi
Entryway to my Sassi
Caught this shot in the middle of a wedding.
Caught this shot in the middle of a wedding.

Walking around the Sassi and Matera, you will lose track of time and place as it’s truly a time capsule of ancient history. It’s obvious why so many biblical films are shot there.

  

Standout Eating

The best meal I had in Matera was at a sandwich shop called Quattroquarti Crostaemollica. I had one of the best sandwiches of my life at this hole in the wall, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. It’s fast, cheap, and very high quality with tons of options.

Sadly the night I arrived it was too late to try the restaurant recommended to me by Luciano at Masseria il Frantoio–Trattoria del Caveoso.

Bari, The Departure Point

After a night and day in Matera I drove to Bari, where I was scheduled to drop off my Smartcar. I took an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik, Croatia and documented the process, which is confusing with little to no official information online, in Taking the Jadrolinija Ferry from Bari, Italy to Dubrovnik.

Bottom Line

I feel as though I barely dipped my toe in the water of what Italy has to offer, not to mention just what Puglia has to offer, by road tripping through it for eight days. I will go back.

I left Puglia enchanted. Even the most taxing aspect of the region in the summer, the brutally dry and hot climate, reminded one to slow down and slip into la dolce vita.

If you like history, ancient baroque architecture, Mediterranean white washed towns, abundant produce, seafood, and handmade pasta, oceans tinted every shade of blue, white sandy beaches, cliffs, and caves…

…you get the picture.

Just go.


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7 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the trip report. It would be most appreciated if you could highlight your favorite places/activities for us to plan our own trip, for which we would only have about 4 days.

    • Hmm. Do you guys tend to care more about natural landscape/outdoor activities or architecture and culture?

  2. Great trip report, I truly enjoyed it. Did you encounter any issues with renting a car in italy? I hear stories about bad driving all the time that i wanted to avoid it. But it seems that would be the only way to get to any of these places. Are you going to do a report on Dubrovnik?

    • Glad you did! I had no issues renting a car in Italy. Most highways and streets were pretty well marked and I didn’t find others’ driving tendencies to be any different than what I’m already used to. I do think having a car in this region is highly recommendable.

      I am not planning on doing a trip report on Dubrovnik. Sadly I didn’t have the best experience there… it was only a few days, over a weekend during high season, so the city was absolutely flooded with tourists. Game of Thrones fever has really taken over and it’s kind of obnoxious. I think it would be much more pleasant in the off season however, Dubrovnik is obviously an incredibly beautiful place rich in history.

      Two things I loved doing in Dubrovnik: Walking the city walls and hiking up Mount Srd.

  3. I plan to spend 30 days in southern Italy next September. I want to base in one town, rent a car, and then eat, drink, and explore my way around the region. I was thinking of Ostuni but Matera looks absolutely fantastic, although a bit far away from the other tourist spots. Do you have a good suggestion for a base? Where you would want to spend 30 days? I’d like somewhere small where I could “live like a local” (yeah, I know, sounds corny) and make it my own for a month. Suggestions? (Great trip report, BTW!)

    • I think either Ostuni or Lecce. 15 days in each would be really incredible and split up the trip nicely.

      Matera is very interesting and worth a visit, perhaps on your way out, but it’s blistering hot and far from the majority of places you’ll want to see in southern Italy. Wouldn’t do 30 days there.

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