My husband and I got married in Tuscany this September, so Puglia was the perfect honeymoon destination for us. It’s been on my bucket list for a while now as I’ve visited most of the popular destinations in Italy, but had never ventured down to Puglia. You really need at least a full week to fully explore Puglia and at least 10 days if you plan to also see Matera like we did. Puglia is a southern region in Italy, forming the heel of the “boot”. It is known for beautiful Mediterranean coasts, whitewashed towns, ancient farmlands, and production of olive oil, wine, and mozzarella. It’s definitely a different vibe than Amalfi coast- Puglia is far less crowded, but more spread out. I love researching destinations and planning trips, and spent almost 8 months working on this one! September was a perfect time of year to visit as there were less crowds, but it was still warm enough to swim! If you want to see all the bougainvillea in bloom though you have to visit in May or June.
Since we were coming from Florence area it was a really easy travel day for us because it was just a little over an hour flight from Florence to Bari (BRI). Bari is the capital of the Puglia region and is where the main airport is located, although there’s another smaller airport, Brindisi, that’s further south. From all my research I found that you really have to have a car to do Puglia. Most of the towns you’ll want to visit are spread out and make great day trips, but there isn’t much public transportation and it wouldn’t be worth getting a driver every day. We rented our car through Avis off of Expedia, just make sure it’s automatic and not manual! An international driving permit isn’t required by the rental companies, but we got one just to be safe because you can get fined if you get pulled over without having one. It’s super easy and just $20 to get one at your local AAA branch.
WHERE TO STAY:
Since it was our honeymoon we wanted it to be as relaxing as possible and didn’t want to have to move around hotels a lot. We chose to stay at Borgo Egnazia for 7 nights as it was centrally located and less than 30 minutes from most of the nearby popular towns. This 5 star resort was truly amazing and was the highlight of our trip. Their slogan “like nowhere else” is very accurate- you drive in and feel like you were transported to a different century, but it still has all the modern, luxury amenities you could want. It actually only just opened in 2010, but was designed to look like a typical ancient Apulian village. It’s been featured in Condé Nast, Travel + Leisure, Vogue, and more as one of the top hotels in the world, and I can see why! The resort stretches across 40 acres and has 6 restaurants, 4 pools, tennis and padel (the European version of pickleball) courts, bike trails, a private beach club, renowned spa, and access to an oceanside 18-hole golf course. We honestly could’ve never left the hotel and it still would’ve been an amazing trip. Every meal we had there was incredible, from the vast breakfast spread (that even had a table full of gluten free baked goods and a dedicated toaster), to Puglian BBQ dinners under the olive groves. We alternated every other day with 4 full days just relaxing at the resort, and the other 3 doing afternoon day trips to the nearby towns. I could go on forever about how much we loved this place, but there is still a lot more to Puglia!
WHAT TO DO:
There are so many towns along the Puglia coastline to visit- it was hard to narrow down! Since we didn’t want to spend a ton of time driving we narrowed it down to 4 (Ostuni, Alberobello, Monopoli, and Polignano a Mare) that were close enough to our hotel to be able to easily do day trips. If we had more time or wanted to road trip more, I’ve heard great things about Lecce, Otranto, and Gallipoli. Many people also choose to split up their trip and stay a couple nights in each town to experience them a little more. When visiting the towns by car, it’s best to search “parking” in your Maps app and find a public parking lot on the edge of town. It’s much easier to park further out and walk into town, because in the towns the streets get very narrow and crowded.
This white-washed town is perched up on a hill with views of the ocean and vast olive groves. You can easily spend an afternoon here just wandering the cobblestone streets, shopping the handmade ceramics, and enjoying a sunset apertif at Borgo Antico Bistrot. On our way to Ostuni we did an olive oil production tour and tasting at Masseria Brancati. It was so interesting to see some of the huge, 3,000 year old olive trees and how the farm used to produce oil with equipment dating back to the medieval times. For dinner, we had reservations at a Michelin guide restaurant on a nearby farm, Masseria Il Frantoio. They use only ingredients fresh from their farm and have a different set menu each night of 8 courses and a wine pairing for just $85 a person. They were easily able to accommodate my gluten allergy and every bite of food was so unique!
This was probably our favorite excursion day of the trip! We booked a tour through Borgo Egnazia with Francesco at Allways Puglia and it was absolutely amazing! First he took us on a “tuk-tuk” or “ape” cart to a nearby dairy farm where we got to see the full production of mozzarella and burrata. After the demonstration we ate a large spread of the fresh cheeses with snacks, bread, and homemade wine for lunch. Then we headed back into town and Francesco took us on a golf cart tour through the old part of Alberobello where people still live in the “trulli”, the traditional domed Puglian houses. In the new side of town most of the trulli are converted into hotels, restaurants, or souvenir shops. We wandered around town and enjoyed a wine tasting at Trulli e Puglia Wine Bar where we got to taste several wines that were locally produced.
We did a quick stop in Monopoli on our way to Polignano a Mare. We were only there an hour or two and thought it was plenty of time to see the famous medieval port and wander around the cute town.
Polignano a Mare
We spent a full afternoon and evening here and it was such a charming town. From the picturesque beach, to little colorful streets and a bustling main square, there was lots to see! For the best views walk over to Terrazza Santo Stefano viewpoint. We had a dinner reservation at 6pm (reservations are required and be sure to make it early enough to catch the sunset) at the famous restaurant, Grotta Palazzese. It’s been voted the most romantic restaurant in the world so it was a perfect celebratory honeymoon dinner experience. I had heard mixed reviews that the restaurant was overrated, but we had a great experience! It is pretty pricey, but the views alone are 100% worth it. The ambience is amazing with the sun setting on the ocean as a live saxophone player performs during your meal. We really enjoyed our meal and they were able to make a delicious gluten free version of the menu for me!
Although Matera isn’t technically in the Puglia region, it is just an hour and a half inland and is a must-see on a Puglia trip. You can easily visit with just a one or two night stay. Matera is known as a city of caves and one of the oldest towns in the world. The history is so interesting- the cave-dwellings have been inhabited for up to 10,000 years. People lived in the caves in terrible conditions with no electricity or plumbing all the way until the 1950s. It was actually known as the “shame of Italy” and all the residents were neglected for centuries. Finally the Italian government stepped in and provided nearby housing for all the residents, leaving the “Sassi”, or old part of Matera abandoned for decades. It wasn’t until the 1980s that some of the residents began moving back into the town and plumbing was installed by the government. In 1993 things changed when UNESCO named the Sassi a World Heritage site which increased revitalization and tourism. Matera was still hardly known until 2004 when Mel Gibson’s “Passion of The Christ” was filmed there. Many of the popular restaurants and hotels just opened within the last 7 years, so it’s really only lately become a popular destination! Some of the locals we talked to said the new James Bond movie, “No Time To Die”, that was released in 2021 helped bring in a lot more tourism too. Despite Matera having been forgotten for so long, it is now known as a hidden gem of Italy and a town filled with hip restaurants and luxury hotels built inside caves to experience a part of history. Also beware that the Sassi is walkable but definitely only in sneakers, as there are lots of stairs and the cobblestone is slippery.
WHERE TO STAY:
We chose to stay in a cave hotel room at Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita to get the true Matera experience. This 4-star hotel has 18 original caves that were restored and turned into hotel rooms. This was definitely more of a “glamping” type experience as the caves are lit by candles and don’t have many amenities besides a bath, electricity, and a few small mirrors. However it was such a unique, once in a lifetime experience and really made us appreciate the history of Matera. If you prefer a more luxurious stay check out Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort, which still has some rooms built out of the caves, but isn’t as authentic. There were also many cute BnBs we passed by if you’re wanting a more affordable option!
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK:
We really loved our stay in Puglia- it made for the perfect honeymoon with half the days being able to relax and the other half being able to explore/experience! We decided we have to go back to Borgo Egnazia every 10 years of our marriage- and hope to bring our family there someday too! Puglia is a dream especially for photographers- from the turquoise beaches to the ancient towns and charming streets- you’ll want to take photos at every corner! I know I did!