Puglia: a one week car-free itinerary

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Puglia… does that ring a bell? It might, since this region of Southern Italy is quickly becoming the new hot spot… Dreaming of going but you don’t have a car? I’ve got your back! This article gathers all the best tips to fully enjoy this little paradise on earth, without the stress of driving.

(For another idea of italian escape, click here.)

Table of contents

I. Travelling without a car: is that really possible? What’s the point?
II. Itinerary:
– Day 1: Bari
– Day 2: Polignano a Mare
– Day 3: Alberobello
– Day 4: Monopoli and evening in Bari
– Day 5: Ostuni
– Day 6: Lecce
– Day 7: Torre dell’Orso, Grotta della Poesia
– Day 8: Otranto and evening in Lecce
III. Must try foods
IV. What’s the travel cost?
V. When’s the best time to go?
Bonus: memories scribbled along the way

I. Travelling without a car: is that really possible? What’s the point?

Let us start with this one thing you’re all dying to know: can you actually visit Puglia without a car? Many articles online argue the opposite… And still! I experienced it with a friend earlier this year, as part of a 17-day train trip in Italy, and believe me: it was a pretty epic, yet unforgettable journey!

All of those who believe you’re nuts – Italians included – are just very used to going everywhere by car and forget that other means of transport exist… Obviously, if you really do love driving, or if you’re all about buying time, go ahead and take a car. For the others however, these few aspects will convince you:

1. Your journey will be less stressful

Driving abroad is never an easy task, especially if this is your first time in Italy (to put it nicely, Italians have a pretty sporty driving style!)

2. Some city centers are difficult to access by car

The parking restrictions can drive you crazy and cars are even banned from some city centers (more info on the limited traffic zones on this website).

3. Let’s learn to appreciate slow travel!

As the saying goes, chi va piano va sano (=slow and steady wins the race)! I’m a real advocate for sustainable tourism and I’m sure many of you also care about their carbon footprint while travelling. Besides, I feel like we should all be able to enjoy the journey as much as the destination!

And of course, travelling shouldn’t be reserved to those who have a car – or a driver’s licence 😉

II. Itinerary

Quite logically, a wise choice of accomodation is the secret to travelling without a car. To optimize your time, you should choose a place that is strategically located from the rest. In this itinerary, we’re staying 5 nights in Bari and 3 nights in Lecce. The Airbnbs we found were both awesome deals:

Our Airbnb in Bari. New and modern apartment, close to the city center. Be aware that the train station is a bit far, so if you don’t enjoy walking as much as we do…

Here’s another option of guest house in Bari. Excellent reviews, right in front of the station.

Our Airbnb in Lecce. Giant apartment that you might share with other guests, but as it was covid period, we had it to ourselves! Close to the train station and bus stop, buffet breakfast included.

Another option of guest house in Lecce, right in the old town and with a jacuzzi, for a fair price!

Well settled? So let’s kick things off!

Day 1: Bari

We’re starting our discovery of Puglia with its famous capital: Bari. As mentionned earlier, we did the whole journey by train, so we got to Bari’s central station with the night train (you don’t want to see how we looked like on that morning…). However, if you get there by plane, you’ll arrive at Karol Wojtyla airport, from which you can reach the city center in 30 minutes with the shuttle (4€). See the website here.

Great surprise with our apartement: despite the low price (42€/night for 2), it’s of pretty high standard! After a quick refreshment, we decide to spend this first day in the city. Not everyone will agree on this, but I do think Bari should be on your list while in Puglia. The Murat neighborhood, layed out in a grid plan like some US cities, is the modern part and not worth the visit. The old town (or Bari vecchia) by the waterfront, though, is the real spot to see! Make sure you don’t miss the San Nicola basilica, the Castello normanno-svevo and the San Sabino cathedral. When the evening comes, go enjoy the sea breeze on the Lungomare promenade.

Jour 2: Polignano a Mare

I know you’ve all been waiting for this: here’s one of the most instagrammable places of Puglia (do I hate myself for using that term? Maybe just a little bit). Polignano a Mare is undoubtedly a real gem in the region. The typical shade-of-beige houses hang on top of incredible limestone cliffs that are tirelessly hit by the crashing waves of the deep blue Adriatic.

Head to the must-see Cala Porto creek, where you will enjoy a dream beach dug in between the cliffs. You can dive from some spots further up, but be careful: the waves are massive! When you’re tired of lazing around (is that even possible?), go take a stroll in the town’s lovely streets and make sure to stop at the Piazza dell’Orologio and the Matrice di Santa Maria Assunta church. If you’re luckier than us, have a look at the amazing Grotta Palazzese restaurant, which locates itself in one of the mind-blowing caves of the cliff (it was under construction at the time of our visit…).

Fun fact: Domenico Modugno, singer of the famous « Volare« , comes from Polignano – hence the statue of him by the waterfront 😉 Doesn’t ring a bell? This might help:

Going to Polignano from Bari:

From the station of Bari Centrale, the train takes you directly there in 30 min for only 5€ round trip. There’s a train every 30 min or so. We bought all our tickets directly at the machines at the station (they’re available in English). To check all the timetables, go on the train company’s website Trenitalia.

Day 3: Alberobello

Today, we set course for the historical village of Alberobello. It’s hard to imagine visiting Puglia without stopping by this unique town, listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO! These intriguing, one-of-a-kind constructions are called trulli (singular: trullo). They are little houses with a circular basis and lime walls. Their most distinctive aspect is their cone-shaped roof. Click here to learn more about their origins.

There is no particular landmark to visit in Alberobello, except maybe the Casa Pezzolla: this museum introduces you with the history of the trulli in a rather entertaining way. The best way to discover the village is to meander along the streets. In case you’re wondering: today, most trulli are turned into gift shops or guest houses… Might be the right occasion to spend the night in an unsual house! Overall: Alberobello is a place to see once in your life. But one day there is largely enough, because let’s be frank: there isn’t that much to do.

On another note: we had one of the best lunches of our trip here! Head to the Trattoria Casa Amatulli to enjoy great quality food in a beautiful traditional place.

Going to Alberobello from Bari:

Bare with me on that one: you’ll have to be patient! From Bari Centrale, take the regional train that takes you to Alberobello’s little station without connection… but the ride is 1h50 long! A round trip ticket costs 10€. Be careful, there aren’t many trains with no connection, so make sure to check the timetables on Trenitalia. We got slightely bored on the way back, but if you can keep yourself busy, it is doable.

Day 4: Monopoli and evening in Bari

This morning, while having our go-to cappucino and cornetto duo (note: don’t expect the french croissant… nothing can beat french pastry!), we feel the urge to go swimming. Thinking about it, we haven’t taken a dip yet since the trip started – or at least, in quiet waters and not in Polignano’s monstrous waves! Today’s destination, then, is the little coastal town of Monopoli. I’m reading your minds, folks: no, there’s no relation whatsoever with the famous board game!

Monopoli is a true hidden gem! It’s less popular among tourists and yet, the town is absolutely adorable, peaceful and as typical as it can get, and perfect for a beach day. Grab a quick lunch in one of the many bars and restaurants (super cheap), then have a walk by the harbour and end your afternoon on the crystal clear beach.

Going to Monopoli from Bari:

Take the regional train from Bari Centrale that goes directly to Monopoli. 25 minutes, 6€ round trip. There’s a train every 30 minutes or so.

Back at the apartment in Bari, we feel like going on a cheeky little night adventure in the old town. Great idea: the Piazza Mercantile, in particular, really comes to life after the sun sets! A joyful crowd of all ages, mostly local, choose this moment to go out, take a walk or enjoy a drink.

The Cavanbah Pub is the perfect spot for people watching (my favorite sport) while sipping on a craft bear. Salute!

Day 5: Ostuni

Ah, Ostuni. Its paved and steep alleys, its hidden architectural treasures, its tightly packed houses perched high up on the hill… Look at the first picture: no wonder why the town is known as « città bianca » (the white city)! This is the place to be for history lovers: the historical center is packed with fascinating places, such as the romanesque-gothic style Santa Maria Assunta cathedral, the Piazza della Libertà and its Sant’Oronzo obelisk or the Palazzo Vescovile. As usual, we decide to go with the flow and wander around until we almost get lost in this maze of alleys and stairways. But don’t you think there’s something quite thrilling in the fact of getting lost?

Going to Ostuni from Bari:

From Bari Centrale, take the regional train veloce (rapid) and get off at Ostuni’s station (45 min, 11€ round trip, train every hour). As the town is located on top of hills, the train station is a bit far from it. You must take the bus that’s right in front of the station. The ride takes about 10 minutes. Get your bus tickets at the station’s tobacco shop (tabaccheria). For the way back, there are several bus stops in town. If you get lost, do as we did and gently ask you way to the shop owners – for those of you who get by in Italian: « Dov’è la fermata del bus per andare alla stazione? » 😉

Day 6: Lecce

This morning, we’re leaving our beautiful Bari apartment with a slight twinge of sadness. The truth is, it started to feel a little bit like home! However, there’s no time to waste: the train to Lecce won’t wait!

We quickly discover our new place (the link is on top of the article) and rush to the old town. Pay attention to this, my friends: Lecce is a real treasure that you absolutely can’t miss on a trip to Puglia! For us, it was love at first sight. The historical center is full of churches, palaces and other mind-blowing monuments which beauty will leave you speechless. Baroque lovers, this is your heaven! A short list of unmissable landmarks: the Santa Croce Basilica, the Piazza del Duomo, the Middle-Ages Castel, the Piazza Sant’Oronzo and its roman amphitheatre

Going to Lecce from Bari:

1h40 train journey from Bari Centrale with the regionale veloce (10,90€ one way). You can also obviously go to Lecce directly from Ostuni.

Day 7: Grotta della Poesia, Torre dell’Orso

This morning, we swap the train for the bus to spice things up a bit. The bus squeezes its way between pine forests and the sea as we can hardly wait to get off and run towards the fine sand beaches! Today’s destination is Torre dell’Orso. Anyone of you will enjoy this little beach resort: the amosphere is family-friendly, the waters are quiet and crystal-clear and the geography of the place is spectacular. Make sure you don’t miss the incredible natural, carved into the rock pool called Grotta della Poesia. It’s the place to be if you’re into diving! The spot is easy to access by foot from Torre dell’Orso’s beach.

Note: if you have more time on your hands, go to Due Sorelle, the other main attraction there!

Going to Torre dell’Orso from Lecce:

Take the bus line 101 from the company « Salento in bus« . You can get your tickets at the booths next to the bus stops or directly in the bus. The journey takes a little less than an hour and costs 4€ round-trip. See the company’s website.

Day 8: Otranto, evening in Lecce

For this last day of the itinerary, I’m bringing you to Otranto, a little historical beauty located South from Lecce (we’re actually almost reaching the extreme South of Italy!). The protagonist of this coastal town is undoubtedly the 15th century castel, which stands proudly by the waterfront. Another masterpiece you don’t want to miss is the Byzantine church Chiesa di San Pietro, located in the old town. As nostalgia begins to set in (Puglia will soon be nothing but a memory…!), we spend most of the day immersing ourselves in the atmosphere of the tiny shopping streets and recalling the best moments of our trip while sipping on a leccese coffee (see picture).

Going to Otranto from Lecce:

Take the same bus as the one for Torre dell’Orso (101). The journey takes a little more than an hour and costs about 5€ round-trip.

Lecce in the late afternoon

We decide to spend the evening in Lecce’s old town again, since it definately was one of the trip’s highlights! Also, I don’t know about you, but I feel like visiting a place at sunset or night undeniably gives it a whole new atmosphere… In any case, Lecce at dusk is magical. The orange tinted skies fit so well the beige shades of the buildings. People take a stroll, gather around for the aperitivo, elbow their way to the best gelato. When it gets dark, the monuments of the Piazza del Duomo, illuminated in the dead of night, take an extraordinary, almost phantasmagorical apperance.

III. Must try foods in Puglia

As you probably know, each region of Italy has its own specialty! Puglia’s cuisine is simple but finger-licking good. Don’t miss:

Puccia: THE street food by excellence. A sandwich of vegetables, charcuterie or seafood in a nice and crusty bread.

Panzerotto: a fried pizza dough filled with the best of local ingredients… You’ll fall for it!

Orecchiette is little ear-shaped pasta (hence its name, as orecchio means ear!). Most of the time, it is served alla cime di rapa, with broccoli rabe.

La purè di gave e cicoria: originally the food for the poor, these smashed beans served with chicory typically represent the flavors of the regions.

Caffè leccese: iced coffee with almond milk (locals described it that way, but I think it is almond syrup). We were addicted!!

IV. What’s the travel cost?

If you’re an adventure kind of traveller like us, the 8 days will cost you more or less, per person:

Plane (arrival at Bari-return flight from Brindisi, the closest airport from Lecce), example from Paris in May100€
Housing Bari 5 nights105€
Housing Lecce 3 nights75€
Total transportation in Puglia52€
Food, drinks (about 25€/day)200€
Total532€

V. When’s the best time to go?

We travelled in July and the temperature was really bearable (never more than 31°). Thanks to its location in South Europe, Puglia has a very pleasant weather and a summer that lasts until October. The best time to go is between April and November. July and August are usually the busiest months in terms of tourism, but as it was covid period, we were obviously not impacted…

Bonus: memories scribbled along the way

Before wrapping up this article, I’m leaving you with a few sketches I drew during the trip…

If you went to Puglia, or if you’d like to react to this article / ask me a question, feel free to leave a comment down below 🤗 !

All pictures are my property or the one of my friend, Emma Gnidula. Any unauthorized copy or duplicate of this material without my express written consent is strictly forbidden.


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