Five very different Puglia itineraries for unforgettable road trips through the very best of the Italian heel’s views and landscapes.
Guidebooks and visitors rarely praise Puglia for its natural attractions, which seems quite understandable compared to the breathtaking beauty of more spectacular Italian regions like the northern lakes, Liguria, Toscana and Campania. Still, most places wane when measured by these standards, and Puglia can be real pretty outside the tourist triangle of Castel del Monte, Alberobello and Barocco Leccese.
Here is my suggestion for five very different itineraries that will show you the best Puglian views and landscapes.
Manfredonia to Vieste
Most tourists take the easy northern road to Vieste, cheating themselves for a drive along the Amalfi coast of Puglia. Only 40 km separates Manfredonia from Vieste, but the drive takes an hour and this is not due to traffic but to hairpin bends leading up and down the mountains.
Every time you reach a bend with a poor view of the road, you have to brake and honk to warn off other cars going in the opposite direction. Free ranging cows and goats with tinkling small and bigger bells use the road as a shortcut between pastures. And once you have passed Mattinata you are in for the most spectacular views. Gargano rests on white limestone painting the sea an unusual emerald green that contrasts the blue sky and the silvery green colour of the olive fields. And in between you will see the most adorable islands, lagoons, beaches and rock formations like the famous “Architiello di San Felice”. In the end, you reach Vieste, which also qualifies as one of the best beach breaks in Puglia, especially if you’ve brought children along for the ride.
Manfredonia through Saline di Margherita di Savoia to Trani
Follow the coast from Manfredonia toward Barletta and you will come through Saline di Margherita di Savoia , the biggest saltpan in Italy. Apart from the fascinating salt ponds and salt mountains, the Salina provides perfect bird watching. For instance, you can see the largest population of pink flamingoes in Europe. Just remember to bring a pair of binoculars or a strong zoom lens to the camera.
After visiting the saltpans continue to Trani to enjoy the sophisticated feel of what has been known as the ‘Pearl of Puglia’.
Corato to Gravina in Puglia and Altamura
Driving on the S378 from Corato to Gravina and Altamura may not be on a shortlist of the five most beautiful scenic drives through Puglia, but it will take you around the Alta Murgia national park and further on to some of the most spectacular cave towns in Puglia. The Murgia is characterized by these small canyons formed by rain water that has dissolves the limestone, but they look more dramatic as if the surface of the earth has been broken into pieces. Some of the ravines have caves, swallow holes and dolines inhabited in prehistoric times, and the history combined with the naked and bleak landscape inevitable makes a strong impression. If you’ve got extra time it would be natural to see the Unesco World Heritage sites in nearby Matera and Castel del Monte
Bari through Putignano and Alberobello to Martina Franca and Ostuni
Traversing Valle d’Itra is the classic tour of trulli land, where you will see dozens of cone shaped houses with occult roof paintings dotted on every hill top. The soft hilly landscape has been cultivated for thousands of years, as can be seen from the really old gnarled and split olive tree trunks, you will pass along the way. If you start the road trip in Bari head out for Putignano and the trulli capital Alberobello. When you have enjoyed this Unesco World Heritage site continue to Martina Franca and try to squeeze in a stop in Locorotondo before continuing to Ceglia and Ostuni. These are all historic white towns and most visitors fall in love with them instantly.
I know most people prefer the scenic drives to Santa Maria di Leuca along the coast via Santa Cesarea Terme or Gallipoli, but to me the real Salento can be found on the inland road from Maglie going south in the hour around sunset. The water and the sun produce the most amazing light effects with colour changes from yellow, orange and red to deep purple and all shades of dark black blue, and every white building glows in the dark in a neon sort of way. It is pure magic.
This post was last updated in November 2017