Puglia (the bit of Italy that looks like the heel of the boot) is big. And when I was researching our trip there I had a lot of trouble trying to work out which towns to use as bases. No guide books or blogs really covered it or were helpful in that regard, so that’s why I decided to write this post, in case you’re thinking of going there and are having the same problem.I should also mention I prefer to stay put in one place for 3-4 nights and do day trips from there into the surrounding area. I find it saves a lot of time packing/unpacking and moving house all the time.
So I was looking for 3 or 4 nice towns in which to do that. My criteria for ‘nice towns’ = somewhere that:
- is interesting enough to walk around at night after dinner
- has good options for eating out
- has somewhere great to stay (I tend to go for B&B’s first, Airbnb second and hotels third)
- … and if there’s a beach, so much the better!
There are a lot of masserie in Puglia – these are converted farmhouses on country estates, and they can be extremely charming. I’ve stayed in few of these types of places in Southern Italy but I’m not a fan. I like to stay somewhere where there’s something to do and a bit of action. I love nothing more than wandering the streets of the old town, people watching and seeing where I end up. So they’re not my cup of tea, but they may well be yours.
Then of course you have to work out what you want to see in the area, and how you want to spend your time. I got a map and after I’d worked all that out I highlighted all the attractions and grouped them. Then I short-listed towns that made sense from a geographical perspective, and researched until I found the right ones. Easy!
There’s a lot to see in Puglia so I chose five towns. We stayed 17 nights overall and were sightseeing every day.
Where did we stay in Puglia?
We ended up staying in Monte Sant’Angelo (2 nights), Peschici (3 nights), Trani (3 nights), Polignano a Mare (4 nights) and Lecce (5 nights). Although not in Puglia, we also stayed in Matera (2 nights). As it’s so close (and so fabulous), I’m going to include it.
Did I pick the right towns?
I’d highly recommend Monte Sant’Angelo, Trani, Lecce, Polignano a Mare and Matera as bases if there are things there and nearby you want to see. Here are photos of each so you can get a feel for what they’re like.
Peschici was cute where we were in the small old town, but ugly once you stray from that, plus there wasn’t as much to do there as I’d thought. I had also considered Vieste in that area, it might be better, or you could skip it altogether.
We found ourselves driving south a lot from Lecce and if I had my time again I’d include Otranto as a base as well. It’s a surprisingly lovely town and set amongst a really lovely stretch of coastline I wish I’d had more time to explore.
So you can work out whether these places interest you, these are the daytrips we made from each town we stayed in:
- Monte Sant’Angelo – San Giovanni Rotondo, San Severino, Lucera
- Peschici – boat trip to the Isole Tremiti (we never got to do this because the weather was bad), eat at a trabucco
- Trani – Castel del Monte, Barletta, Bari, Castellana caves
- Polignano a Mare – Alberobello, Locorotondo, Cisternino, Martina Franca, Ostuni
- Lecce – Gallipoli, Otranto, and the coastline between these towns
Of course everyone’s itinerary will be different because your interests will also be different. For example, most of the sights in and around Monte Sant’Angelo are religious, so while I love them (not another church cries Mr Travelling Pantaloni!), they may not be your cup of tea at all.
My recommendation: where to stay in Puglia
For the general traveller wanting to see the best of Puglia, I’d recommend staying in Trani (3 nights), Polignano a Mare (4 nights), Lecce (3-4 nights) and Otranto (2 nights), then go to Matera in Basilicata (2 nights). That’s a two week itinerary right there!
Looking for more information on what to see and do in Puglia?
Then read on!
You can find stories and posts about our travels in Puglia here:
- Polignano a Mare
- Monte Sant’Angelo
- Eating at a trabucco
- Porto Greco
- My favourite beaches in southern Italy (includes some in Puglia)
You’ll need a car to see the best of it, especially exploring the pretty coastline, so I recommend you read my post on driving in Sicily here (which applies to Puglia as well).
If you’ve travelled to Puglia I’d be interested to hear what your recommendations would be, so leave them in the comments!
Until next time, happy travels (and happy travel planning!),
The Travelling Pantaloni
Nice list Robyn. I usually stay in my own paese of Orsara di Puglia and do trips from there. It is 2 hours to some places, like Matera, but manageable. I would definitely recommend Vieste as a hub for the Gargano. I have camped a lot in that area ( subject of a recent blog post). The Mattinata area is also visitabile if based there or Monte Sant’Angelo- and Santa Maria di Siponto. Gorgeous beaches! I loved my day trip to Polignano, but personally I found it too full of English signs for my tastes in a small place. Some visitors would consider this a positive feature, but I want to be immersed in italianità when I am there! I may be going back this year and plan to stay in Monopoli or Trani. I’m also hoping to go to Lecce which is nice as it is accessible for me by train from Foggia. We have barely started spring here in Vancouver, so I’m looking forward to a nice warm beach! Ciao, Cristina
Ciao Christina! Yes I wondered if Vieste might make a nice base, so I’m glad to hear you say it is. Next time! I really love Trani, such a great little town and we stayed in a lovely hotel right near the sea front. Looking forward to following your upcoming travels! TP
Vieste is also very lovely in the evening. The centro storico is whitewashed and it almost feels like you are in Greece. Yes, looking forward to my upcoming trip! Ciao, Cristina
Hi Robyn. First let me say that I enjoy your blogs and seem to be interested in many of the same things you have expressed. When we travel we don’t worry about cramming everything we can into a visit, but rather to take our time to enjoy a place. We are planning a 2 week trip to Puglia this summer and we’re considering 4 nights in Polignano. However after reading your blog on Polignano I’m thinking it might be better left for a day visit. Perhaps 4 nights in Trani would be better. We were thinking of 5 or 6 nights in Otranto and then have to make our way back to Fiumicino for our trip back to Canada. Any additional thoughts?
Hi David, apologies its taken me so long to reply! I’ve let my blog lapse recently due to an enormous workload with my business.
I think Polignano would be much better outside of the Red Bull diving weekend. It’s a pretty town and I did enjoy going to the beach there. they are all good bases, so it really depends on what you want to see and do and what’s more convenient for you. I’m sure you’ve already made your plans by now but i got a map out and highlighted all the things I wanted to see and worked it out that way. Have a fabulous trip!
Hi – I stumbled across this blog piece while researching ideal base(s) for exploring Puglia and I am so glad I did! Your criteria of a good base is very similar to mine so with your recommendations I will be able to conduct more research and narrow down to maybe 2-3 locations as I unfortunately only a week. Thanks so much for the travel intel!
You’re welcome Belinda. Happy travels in Puglia!
After reading your post on Trani, I think we are going to stay there for three nights at the end of our Puglia trip (staying in Martina Franca and Gallipoli for a combined total of nine nights prior to that). Do you know whether there are good beaches near Trani? Most of the guides don’t seem to mention the beaches in this area, so I wonder if they’re not particularly nice. I just want to make sure we have enough to fill our time for two full days and three nights without having to drive too far away.
Hi Jonathan, I don’t think we went to the beach near Trani actually. I’m a real beach-lover but I think we went mostly when we stayed in Polignano a Mare and on our day trip to Gallipoli. There’s lots to do around Trani, and we spent our time doing day trips from there. There’s not a lot to see in Trani itself but it’s great for wandering around in the late afternoon/evening when you’ve come back from adventuring.
Firstly, GREAT blog name! Secondly, thank you so much for this super helpful post. I was so overwhelmed with where to choose as a base and I have a much clearer idea now.
Ciao Sophia,so glad I could help!
Great post. we have 7 nights in Puglia in May. We know we cant see it all but Wondering if Galipoli would be a good base? and where else for a second base. we want to have a real Italian experience? It will be raining for 2 days while we are there. Thanks Paula
Sorry I just saw your message. Galipoli is right down the bottom so while it’s a lovely town it wouldn’t be my choice of a base unless everything you want to see is down that way. Lecce is pretty central and a lovely bigger town/small city. I really liked Trani, and Pollignano a Mare would be lovely if the weather is nice enough to swim, be outdoors (as long as there’s no festival on at the time!). Anywhere will give you a real Italian experience. have a great trip and let me know where you ended up staying. TP
Enjoying your travels around Puglia, Paula, thank you!
Would you recommend staying in Bari? Seems like a good transportation hub for the region + an interesting place.
Thank you, Georgia
Ciao Georgia! I only went there for a day but yes it looked interesting, and is a transport hub as well. I had a car so that wasn’t so important to me