2017 was a record season for Italy in terms of tourist numbers. According to figures released by Federalberghi and the Cultural Ministry in Italy, over 48 million people spent a night in an Italian hotel this Summer whilst a further 3 million spent the night in AirBnB accommodation, an increase of over 20% year on year.
Visitors were clearly attracted by all that Italy offers. Seaside resorts in particular, reported a dramatic rise in visitor numbers, but tourists were also attracted by the culture Italy offers with museums seeing a 12.5% rise in visitor numbers. Nowhere was this increase more apparent than in Puglia.
Puglia really is leading the way in the increase in visitor numbers. This stunning region situated in the heel of Italy is, without doubt, the up and coming place to visit in Italy at the moment. And it’s not surprising given the number of boxes that the region manages to tick!
Here are our top 10 reasons for making Puglia your number one destination in Italy.
History and culture
Puglia is a region steeped in history with a wonderful array of fascinating local customs that have been honoured for centuries. There are so many museums all across the region that it would be impossible to provide an exhaustive list but, suffice it to say, each one is designed to bring this history and culture to life. With museums devoted to showcasing the region’s history from the Museo Archeologico in Altamura which is home to the skeleton of Neanderthal Man to a selection of museums highlighting the region’s Roman history, to museums dedicated to the Middle Ages and more recent modern history, there is plenty to satisfy the most inquisitive of minds.
The region boasts an array of fascinating and enchanting towns and villages to explore. Ostuni, known affectionately as ‘The White City’ is one of the more famous along with Alberobello but also well worth a visit are Bari (the region’s capital), the fishing port of Monopoli, the seaside town of Otranto, the Baroque city of Lecce as well as Cisternino, Locorotondo and Bovino, all three of which are on Italy’s ‘Borghi i piu belli d’Italia’ list (the list of the most beautiful villages in Italy). But don’t treat this as an exhaustive list… there are so many more smaller towns and villages well worth exploring.
Puglia holds claim to being the most important agricultural region in the country, producing around 40% of Italy’s olive oil. For those interested in oil, there is no better place to learn about it history and production than the olive oil museum in Fasano. Vast tracts of territory in Puglia are given over to farming and nowhere else in Italy is the Italian focus on using only local produce as strong as it is in Puglia. Given the region’s strong rural heritage and the wonderful seafood fished from it’s shoreline, it’s not surprising that the result is an exceptional quality of food. Known affectionately as ‘cucina povera’ the dishes have a charming rustic element to them but this is rustic food as it’s most impressive! Some of the most famous dishes include the region’s ‘orecchiette’ (pasta shaped as pigs ears often served in a typical broccoli sauce) and the creamy burrata. With a strong tradition of breeding livestock, there is also an emphasis on lamb and beef dishes as well as an abundance of vegetable based dishes making use of the abundant local produce including fava beans, courgette, artichoke, rocket and peppers.
It’s not only the food that will lure you to Puglia. You’ll find the wine just as tempting to wash it down with! The region’s most famous tipples are Negromaro and Primitivo, both full bodied red grape varieties. Whilst many will no doubt believe that Tuscany is Italy’s biggest wine producing region, believe it or not, Puglia is in fact the biggest, producing about 17% of the country’s wine. White wines are less important accounting for only a fifth of the region’s wine production, but it is growing. And what better place to try the wines than in person during your stay in Puglia!
To the East of the Puglian region sits the Adriatic Sea whilst to the South East is the Ionian Sea. From top to bottom, Puglia boasts the longest coastline of any region in Italy and as a direct consequence has the most fantastic beaches to enjoy with beautiful white sand and stunning turquoise seas. The length of it’s coastline also means that the beaches are incredibly varied from the rocky, limestone cliffs of resorts such as Polignano al Mare to the long sandy beaches of the Torre Guaceto Nature Reserve further South and the calm, shallow waters of Torre Pali on the other side of Italy’s heel, known affectionately as the ‘Maldives of Italy.’ Whatever beach you try, one thing is pretty much guaranteed… the water will be incredibly clean and clear.
Puglia boasts an eclectic mix of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. Of note has been the recent rise in high end luxury boutique hotels and the superb selection of high quality self-catering accommodation. With anything from an ancient trullo to sleep in to a contemporary villa to a traditional masseria, there truly is something for everyone. The latter are unique to Puglia and are working farmhouses, often producing either olive oil or wine.
Puglia boasts a wonderful climate with no less than 300 sunny days to enjoy every year! Whilst temperatures in the peak Summer months can soar above 30 degrees centigrade when air conditioning becomes somewhat of a necessity, the Summer is a long and pleasant one with temperatures usually already in the low twenties by April and with the option of usually being able to swim in the sea as late as October. Even across the Winter months, daytime temperatures tend to be mild, only dropping at night, making it a true all year round destination.
Stretching from the foothills of the Appenines in the North of the region to the rolling hills and plains of the Valle d’Itria in its centre and all the way down to Santa Maria di Leuca at its Southernmost tip, Puglia is an incredibly varied region in terms of the architecture it offers. Probably it’s most famous architectural gems are it’s unique hobbit style houses known as trulli. Nowhere are these more easy to spot than in Puglia’s most famous town Alberobello. This has the highest concentration of trulli with over 1000 crammed into a tiny space now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. But to bring to life the massive variations in architecture, the city of Lecce south of Alberobello couldn’t be more different. It’s exhuberant Baroque monuments are commonly known as ‘Baroque Leccese’ due to it’s uniqueness.
Value for money
Despite the exchange rate currently working against British travellers to Puglia, the region still offers exceptional value for money. The region is definitely one of the cheapest when it comes to Italian tourist destinations. Pizza prices in a typical restaurant start at just 4 euros and even the most expensive pizza on the menu will normally only be around 8 euros. A typical dinner with selection of starters and a main course offers just as good value. Portions are generous and you’ll often find you could have dined on just the appetisers!
Nature and scenery
The whole Puglia region is stunningly beautiful, epitomised inland by vast swathes of olive groves broken up with dry stone walls. However, worthy of a specific mention is the National Park at Gargano. The landscape here is simply stunning with white limestone cliffs overlooking bright blue seas contrasting with dense forests and lush green meadows. It’s not uncommon to spot dolphins swimming along the coastline or to swim amongst the sea turtles in the water. However, just as the architecture is varied so is the scenery. The dramatic landscape of Gargano couldn’t be more different to other areas such as the salt basins of Margherita di Savoia, where you can marvel at the sight of plenty of pink flamingos! Whatever part of Puglia you choose, you can be assured it will be absolutely stunning!
In other words, Puglia genuinely does make the perfect holiday destination whatever your age or interests.
Jo Mackay is Director of Bookings For You.