Lately I see the name Puglia more and more often appearing on my feeds, it seems like ‘Puglia mania’ has started and is in the middle of its peek at the moment.
If you are one of the few that still doesn’t know about this region in the South of Italy, Puglia is where I’m from and I have to admit that I am pretty impressed with how popular it has become over the past months and it looks like it’s enjoying its momentum of notoriety.
I remember that a time when I mentioned Puglia to people that were curious to know which part of Italy I was from, rarely would I find somebody that heard about it already. I usually needed to explain that it was the heel of the boot nestled between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas to make them understand where I was talking about.
I love Puglia and not only because is very close to my heart – but being the place where I grew up – also because it’s very different from other parts of Italy. Visitors used to picture it as one of the off-the-beaten path areas, more rustic and less spoiled compared to other regions like Tuscany for instance. I used to get a bit upset when people didn’t know much about Puglia, I thought it was such a shame considering how beautiful it is and I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t well known already. Now that Puglia is becoming so popular and more recognized in the travelling community I’m scared that one day it will be a very commercial place like many others.
Acquiring notoriety is good in same ways, it means that more visitors will travel to Puglia which helps the local economy, that’s for sure, but on the other hand I only hope that the old ways and traditions that are still make an impact in local life today won’t disappear and that they will be preserved because it’s also thanks to these that Puglia is such a special place.
I like to think that when there will be an event, a festival or something else going on, it will be because it’s always been that way for many decades and not because it’s particularly customized and made to please tourists and their curiosity.
Today it’s still possible to visit Puglia and enjoy it for what it is, there are plenty of local events and things to see and take part in that would happen in any case with or without visitors. I am that kind of traveller that enjoys sinking into the local culture without interfering too much, almost like a silent spectator that joins in only if asked, in that way I know that I’ll be enjoying something original that isn’t made ad hoc for tourists.
I recently saw many guides all over the Internet about activities and things to do in Puglia and I have to admit they are pretty well written, with good tips and highlights on very good spots but in some cases the very expensive resort or dining experience has to be part of them cutting off any other budget suggestions. I don’t want people to think that Puglia is only affordable for wealthy people, there also are plenty of local experiences and places to see for budget travellers and, being one myself, I feel the need to share them.
Best Places To See
I could simply make a list of cities and towns here starting with my hometown of Alberobello and adding many more like Lecce, Bari, Polignano a Mare, Monopoli, Trani, Ostuni… These and more that I haven’t mentioned are all incredibly beautiful places, unique in their own ways and worth visiting, my suggestion though is simply to wander around everywhere you feel like stopping, no matter if it is a big or small town or if it is already famous or you have never heard of it.
Simply walk and get lost in the narrow streets and cobblestoned piazzas because Puglia is always off-the-beaten path and there is plenty of local life happening anytime of the day: women making fresh pasta by their home doors (if you are brave enough to ask they might even teach you how to do it), men building straw baskets to be sold in the next market, kids playing, cats hanging on steps and stone fences, smells of fresh food floating in the streets coming from the open doors and windows and people always chatting loudly mostly in the typical and very distinct dialect.
Walking cost nothing and can be a very rewarding activity!
Explore the Unexplored
Get a bike and cycle in the countryside where you can admire typical Puglia landscapes, the flora and fauna, and if you are lucky enough some century-old olive trees. If you like history and Roman remains, there are still some areas where the famous and ancient Via Traiana – built as extension of the Via Appia to get all the way from Rome to Brindisi – can be seen, simply do a research beforehand to know where to spot these areas.
Enjoy the sea breeze
There are so many seaside places to go but again simply drive along the coast and stop where there is no one, anywhere you like the most. In summer the beaches can get pretty crowded especially at weekends, that’s way I’d prefer to go where I can actually have some space and usually late in the evening when everyone else is leaving. It’s the best!
Markets Are Your Best Choice
In every town, even the smallest one, there is a weekly market, which also means fresh, local and cheap food for you to buy. But it’s also a great opportunity to know more about the local products and to people watch too (another free activity and one of my favourites).
For architecture lovers
There are plenty of castles, churches and towers around to be seen beside the more famous Castel Del Monte. Also the typical trulli of Alberobello which I would recommend to spend a night in, even if it’s not that cheap, but it’s a lovely experience to take as a splurge. Also there are trulli in the whole area surrounding Alberobello, it is easy to find original ones that haven’t been turned into souvenir shops just outside of the busier center, even in the countryside (be aware though that most are private property).
Cheap and Local Eats
Look more for places where they make food to take away, those are the cheapest and usually used by the local workers to buy their lunches, the daily menu changes often offering local dishes like orecchiette al ragu’ and many others. Also look for Alimentari where they make freshly baked panini stuffed with whatever you like inside. If you see a sign saying Panificio or Rosticceria, and you love bakery as much as me, don’t hesitate to walk in, you can try some typical focaccia with simple tomatoes and olives or stuffed even, they might also have some still steaming panzerotti and many other snacks like taralli.
Try some local cheeses and buy them directly from a Caseificio which is the place where they make them, it cannot get any more fresh. Get some coffee as the locals do and if you want to pay cheaply, don’t seat at the table but drink the espresso at the counter, you won’t pay the service charge.
Old Traditions Never Die
If you want to witness something typical all you have to do is look for Festivals and Events happening, go on the local website of the town you are in and see what’s on. In the summer there are many concerts, food festivals, folklore events, dancing shows and historical representations. If you want to see a real religious festival each town or city has its own Patron Celebration and you don’t have to pay anything, just be there and watch. Puglia, like the rest of Italy, is famous for having various festivals and they aren’t made for tourists so it doesn’t get any more local than that.
Will Puglia change? Maybe it will someday, and in my opinion that process has already started, but for now, Puglia is proudly one of the best ‘less spoiled’ parts of southern Italy with its pace, traditions, beauty and relaxed atmosphere.
Will you visit Puglia?