Puglia is a region on the verge. Filled with white washed hotels, olive groves and miles and miles of glistening Adriatic coastline, it’s no wonder the Italians have kept this secret to themselves for as long as possible. Each hill town has its own distinct personality – and with fairly short driving distances between them and a scenic countryside, a road trip is the perfect way to explore the area. We visited last summer with our toddler son in the backseat – these are some of our favourite spots:
A tiny fishing village with some big-name restaurants, Polignano a Mare is renowned for its natural caves and fantastic seafood. All summer long, rainbow-colored umbrellas and beach towels crowd the sandy space between the town’s dramatic cliffs that frame the clear blue sea.
For lunch, head to Da Tuccino for impressively presented crudo and fantastic shellfish pasta dishes with a waterfront view. They’ll also whip up a mean tomato basil orecchiette (the official pasta of Puglia) for the little ones – our son enjoyed every ear-shaped bite. There are lots of great accommodations nearby, including Masseria Torre Maizza, a hip and fabulous rustic-chic hideaway with a heated pool and trendy private beach club and Borgo Egnazia, a stunning new family-friendly resort set on 50 acres of olive groves with a destination spa, a cigar and whiskey room and an excellent kids club; (also the secret setting for last summer’s Timberlake/Biel wedding.)
A charming historic city dominated by brilliant Baroque architecture, Lecce is sometimes referred to as the “Florence of the South.” Wandering through the city centre, we caught a well-attended puppet show, listened in on an impromptu performance by street musicians and passed by tons of packed cafes and restaurants with outdoor tables spilling out onto the streets.
Il Banco is a great little wine bar with barrel seating, streaming jazz and tasty tapas of local Puglian specialties. Le Zie Trattoria also comes highly recommended – hidden in what appears to be a private residence, this homey spot has a fun Grandma’s-house atmosphere and delivers a solid traditional home-cooked meal.
Widely known as “the White City,” Ostuni is one of Puglia’s loveliest towns. Moorish white-washed houses spill down its three hills towards the large café and gelateria-lined Piazza della Liberta, where many festivals are held throughout the summer. Excellent restaurants, stylish bars and some great places to stay make this town a popular Puglian pick.
One of the best boutique hotels is minimalist La Sommita – occupying a fantastic position at the town’s summit with sweeping views out to the sea, a cavernous wine bar and on-site Michelin starred restaurant. Don’t miss a multi-course family style dinner at nearby masseria Il Frantoio – before the rustic meal begins, owner Armando Balestrazzi gives an intimate tour of the property while staff set up seating for sixty in a beautiful al fresco courtyard surrounded by olive trees. On our visit, the masseria went out of their way to welcome their youngest guest – adding a wooden highchair to our table and an cute teddy bear plate setting.
In the southernmost part of the heel sits Otranto, a pretty seaside town with a wonderful holiday spirit. Sunbathers stretch out on the docks and families wade into the water along the historic port. The town center is enclosed with defensive walls – inside them, a maze of cobble-stoned alleyways lead to dozens of local trattorias and cafes. LaltroBaffo, just a few steps from the Castello Aragonese, is arguably the best restaurant in town – chef Cristina Conte impresses diners with her creative seafood dishes and complex combinations in a sleek white duplex dining room. The kitchen graciously offered to warm our son’s bottle when we arrived – which helped him drift off within minutes, allowing my husband and I to enjoy a perfect quiet dinner on the restaurant’s gorgeous rooftop.
Palazzo Papaleo, a five-star hotel located right in the old town, gave us helpful advice each morning on where to swim, eat and explore as we planned out our day, and an upgrade to a spacious 2-bedroom suite. Their modern mosaic-tiled bathrooms have huge jacuzzi tubs and heated towel racks; bedrooms are decorated in a more traditional Italian style. Nearby beaches worth a stop include Porto Badisco, a picturesque rocky cove to the south and Baia dei Turchi, a shallow, sandy beauty to the north.
3onthego is a travel blog written by Michelle Summerville about family travel, kids, food, and general adventures living in the Big Apple with her husband and 2 year old son, Jake.
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