A wild coast, olive groves as far as the eye can see and beautiful cities – Apulia is the perfect destination for a successful road trip in southern Italy. Apulia forms the “boot heel” of Italy and is washed by two seas – the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea. Maritime flair is therefore omnipresent on a road trip through Puglia.
If you ask us: Apulia’s charms are particularly inland. There are numerous beautiful cities such as the baroque city of Lecce or the “White City” of Ostuni. Apulia is clearly not just a beach holiday destination, but also extremely exciting from a cultural point of view.
Perhaps you are considering making a road trip through Puglia and are still looking for helpful tips for your round trip? We have packed all the information and many practical travel tips into this blog article so that you can plan and prepare your road trip perfectly.
1. Apulia road trip: First travel tips at a glance
This is what awaits you in Puglia
- Rugged Coast
The east coast of Puglia is surprisingly spectacular. So spectacular that at the rock formation “Torre Sant’Andrea” we almost had the feeling of having landed on the Great Ocean Road in Australia. It is not for nothing that the coastal road in the east south of Otranto is considered the most beautiful road in Apulia.
- Beautiful baroque and medieval cities
On a road trip through Puglia you will get to know countless great cities. There are, for example, the two baroque cities of Lecce and Martina Franca. Or the small medieval towns with their whitewashed houses, above all Ostuni. And last but not least: The (very touristy) trulli town of Alberobello – one of the most typical photo motifs in Apulia.
- “Dolce Vita”
pizza, pasta, gelato, aperitivo? Si, per favore! Apulia is simply a dream to really enjoy the southern Italian way of life.
The best time to travel to Puglia
First of all, here is an important tip that will probably not surprise you: If possible, avoid the high season, i.e. the months of July and August!
The “problem”: Apulia is also an extremely popular holiday destination among Italian travelers and the beaches are often crowded to almost the last centimeter in the high season. This particularly applies to the time around “Ferragosto”, that holiday on August 15th.
In addition, it can get incredibly hot in the summer . At 35 degrees and upwards, exploring cities is just incredibly tedious. (And that’s exactly what you shouldn’t miss on a road trip through Puglia.)
It will be a little quieter and more pleasant in terms of temperature in September. So if you really want to swim, this month is in good hands.
We personally were in Puglia in mid- October and found this travel time ideal. We had temperatures around 20 to 23 degrees during the day. It was a little fresher than expected, but bright and sunny. Of course, you can always have a bit of bad luck with the weather in October – please take that into account. Of course, a round trip in spring is also possible, for example in May or June.
Note: olive trees are dying in Apulia
Olive trees have shaped the landscape in Apulia for centuries. It should be over 60 million (!). Since 2013, however, Apulia’s olive trees have suffered a sad fate. Since then, a bacterium (“Xylella fastidiosa”) has been raging in Apulia. It blocks the water and nutrient transport within the tree and literally makes it die of thirst.
It is a tragedy for the region. Some of the olive farmers can only watch as their ancient trees perish – and with them their livelihood.
As a traveller, you will see the olive trees dying in Apulia especially when you drive south. In Salento in particular, we found the situation partly frightening.
In the meantime, everything is being tried to stop the spread. For example, healthy trees are given a kind of “vaccination”. Only time will tell if it will be useful.
2. The most beautiful places in Puglia for your road trip
In this chapter we will introduce you to some of the most beautiful places in Apulia and reveal what awaits you there. Would you rather know which exact itinerary (incl. overnight stops) we would recommend? Then skip straight to the next chapter.
In our opinion, Lecce is one of the cities most worth seeing on a road trip through Puglia. The baroque city is bursting with impressive sights. Lecce is sometimes called the “Florence of the South” for a reason.
The Piazza del Duomo with the gigantic cathedral of Lecce is particularly impressive . Quite curious: A Roman amphitheater sits enthroned in the middle of the old town . It dates from the 2nd century and was actually only discovered by chance during excavations at the beginning of the 20th century.
We ourselves spent one night in Lecce. If you only want to visit Lecce as a day trip, we would recommend at least half a day.
Here you can find our detailed blog article: Lecce travel tips
Ostuni – the “White City” – is in our eyes a must-see destination on a tour of Puglia. Ostuni is impressive even from a distance: the town with the whitewashed houses is enthroned on three hills and is simply beautiful to look at.
The old town of Ostuni is also pretty spruced up. Beautiful photo opportunities are waiting for you around every corner . The Cathedral of Ostuni and the “Arco Scopa”, a historic bridge arch, are particularly worth seeing.
We spent two nights on our road trip on the outskirts of Ostuni and explored the city and other travel destinations from there. Ostuni is relatively small, we recommend at least two hours for a city tour. Important to know: Ostuni is quite touristy.
Here you can find our detailed travel report: Ostuni Tips
In the Valle d’Itria (Itria Valley) you will find what is probably the most famous photo motif in Apulia: the so-called trulli. The tiny, whitewashed round houses jut out of the landscape like pointed caps.
The “trulli capital” of Apulia is clearly Alberobello. Only here do entire districts consist of the characteristic conical houses. As you can probably already guess, Alberobello has a magical attraction for travellers. The town is therefore really insanely touristy.
Also worth seeing in the Valle d’Itria are Martina Franca and Locorotondo. We visited the Valle d’Itria as part of a day trip and had enough time for the individual places.
Click here for our detailed article: Valle d’Itria travel tips
Polignano a mare
The coastal town of Polignano a Mare is probably one of the most photographed places in Puglia and should not be missed on your road trip through Puglia. Perched on the edge of a cliff , Polignano is truly spectacular to behold. Here is also one of the most famous beaches in Puglia, the Lama Monachile.
The old town of Polignano am Mare is very pretty, but in our opinion the highlight here are the many vantage points, from which you always get different perspectives of the coast and the city.
We ourselves visited Polignano a Mare as an excursion and spent about five hours there (albeit including dinner). Otherwise, two to hours would be enough. In our opinion, it doesn’t take any more time, especially since there’s always a lot going on in Polignano.
Here you get to our detailed article: Polignano a Mare & Monopoli
With its whitewashed houses, pretty alleys and many cacti, Monopoli is certainly one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Apulia.
In Monopoli, it’s not so much the impressive sights that make the town special, but rather the relaxed flair. Worth seeing are the city beach, the cathedral and the old port (“Porto Vecchio”). The old town of Monopoli is small and manageable, two to three hours are easily enough for a tour.
Check out this article for more tips: Polignano a Mare & Monopoli
Otranto is also on the sea, more precisely on the so-called Salento, the southernmost region of Apulia. The port city immediately appealed to us with its cozy flair.
One of the most famous churches in Apulia, the Basilica Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata, is also enthroned in Otranto . It is known for its 12th-century floor mosaic. We can also highly recommend a walk along the promenade to the city beach of Otranto.
You can find more information about Otranto in our Salento article: Salento travel tips
The pretty port town of Gallipoli is located on the west coast of Salento. As in many other cities in Apulia, a labyrinth of narrow alleys awaits you in Gallipoli’s old town .
We were here at sunset. You can marvel at it on the city beach (Spiaggia della Purità). Gallipoli is fairly compact, so around two hours is enough for a visit.
You can find more information about Gallipoli in our Salento article: Salento travel tips
Last but not least: Bari – Puglia’s capital (and largest city). Most travelers land in Bari (which is where Puglia’s main airport is located), so it makes sense to visit the city on a Puglia road trip.
Bari is a little different from other Puglia cities. Bigger, louder and in many corners of the old town the plaster is already crumbling. If you want to immerse yourself in southern Italian life , Bari is the place for you. Local flair instead of souvenir stands is the motto.
We didn’t stay in Bari ourselves, but “only” went on a day trip and would do it that way again at any time. We would recommend at least half a day for your visit – there is a lot to see.
You can access our detailed article here: Bari tips
3. Itinerary: Tips for route planning
Maybe you are like us before our trip and you have no idea which places in Puglia are good to stay and how much time you should spend in each one ? We understand too well.
The thing is: There is no right or wrong and the choice of the specific itinerary is of course always a matter of taste. After a lot of research, we decided on the route below and would not change anything in retrospect.
Matera: 2 nights
Ok, a little confusion: Matera does not belong to Apulia at all. However, the spectacular rock city in the Basilicata region is so impressive that we would warmly recommend that you make the detour on your road trip through Puglia.
Our hotel tip: Ai Maestri Rooms & Cafe
Detailed blog article: Matera tips
Lecce: 1 night
From Matera we went to the baroque city of Lecce (journey time approx. 2 hours 15 minutes). We were glad to have planned an overnight stay here. However, you could also visit the city as a day trip (see next stop).
Our hotel tip: Palazzo Bignami
Detailed blog article: Lecce tips
Salento: 2-3 nights
The next stop on our road trip was the southern tip of Puglia called Salento. (Lecce is actually one of them.) From here we explored, for example, Gallipoli, Otranto and of course the spectacular coastal road between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca.
Our accommodation tip: Masseria Corte degli Aromi
Detailed blog article: Salento travel tips
Ostuni: 2 nights
Now it’s back north, more precisely to the beautiful city of Ostuni. Ostuni is a jewel, the landscape is beautiful all around and last but not least a great home base for trips to the Valle d’Itria (Alberobello).
Our accommodation tip: Masseria Dagilupi
Detailed blog article: Ostuni tips
Putignano: 2 nights
For the final stop of our road trip, we were looking for a place to explore Bari, Polignano and Monopoli – and ended up in the sleepy little town of Putignano. For us it was perfect.
Our accommodation tip: Dimora Clementina
Detailed blog articles: Bari | Polignano & Monopoli
Another note on route planning
As you may have noticed, we wanted to discover as many corners of Puglia as possible – so our travel pace was quite brisk. Are all the changes of location too stressful for you? Then we would recommend looking for two home bases: one in the south (Salento) and one a little further north, for example in the area around Ostuni.
4. Stay overnight in Apulia: Our accommodation tips
Special feature in Apulia: Masseria & Trulli Hotel
As soon as you start researching where to stay in Puglia for your itinerary, one word in particular will spring to mind: masseria. A masseria is a specialty in Apulia and refers to a historic, mostly beautifully renovated estate – mostly old farms or oil mills.
Numerous masserie (= in Italian the plural form of masseria) have been converted into tourist accommodation . Many of them are really hip and have become “Instagram hotspots” thanks to their minimalist design.
A little tip: When choosing a masseria, be sure to pay attention to the reviews. As you can probably imagine, old houses in particular are prone to moisture.
Another special feature are trulli hotels, i.e. hotels that are housed in the famous Apulian round stone houses . There are both larger complexes and small holiday apartments.
Tips for accommodation in Puglia
Masseria Court of the aromas (Salento)
A luxurious masseria in the south of Salento. Each suite is completely individually furnished. In terms of equipment, nothing is missing. Perfect location to explore Salento.
You can book accommodation here: Masseria Corte degli Aromi
Palazzo Bignami (Lecce)
If you want to stay overnight on your road trip in Lecce, we can highly recommend this family-run bed & breakfast. The location is ideal, as is the price-performance ratio.
You can book accommodation here: Palazzo Bignami
Masseria Dagilupi (Ostuni)
A small, lovingly run Masseria, which is located in an absolutely quiet location surrounded by hundreds of olive trees. Excellent breakfast and a very accommodating host couple.
You can book accommodation here: Masseria Dagilupi
Dimora Clementina (Putignano)
A gem of accommodation in the small town of Putignano. From here we explored various destinations such as Bari, Monopoli and Polignano.
You can book accommodation here: Dimora Clementina
5. Arrival & transport: rental car information & tips
Arrival in Puglia
The main airport in Apulia is in Bari. There are direct connections from many cities in German-speaking countries (including Vienna, Frankfurt, Berlin and many more).
You can check for cheap flights here: Skyscanner
Alternatively, you can also take the train , although the journey is more for slow travelers at around 20 hours. We personally would not travel to Apulia with our own car . The danger of theft/burglary would be too high for us here.
Book a rental car in Puglia
The first important tip: When booking a rental car, be sure to book fully comprehensive insurance – with no excess or with reimbursement of the excess by the rental company.
The reason: No matter how careful you are on your road trip, damage that is not your fault (e.g. to your parked car) can easily happen. And if there’s no one to blame, you’re just left with the costs.
We like to book our rental car through Sunny Cars . The practical thing: there is already fully comprehensive cover. Sunny Cars is a comparison platform, ie you book through Sunny Cars and then pick up your car from a local rental company (e.g. Hertz).
When choosing the rental car classes , we recommend: As small as possible, but big enough to be able to stow your luggage completely (and not visibly) in the trunk. We had a Fiat 500X, which is a slightly larger Fiat 500. There was room in the trunk for a large suitcase and a carry-on suitcase.
Traffic on the roads & road conditions
What we are writing now will not make you happy: YES, there are actually different conditions on the roads of southern Italy. The driving style of the people is (there is no other way to describe it) chaotic , offensive and often not quite according to the rules.
Unfortunately, you always have to expect that other drivers will suddenly do things that would be very unusual in Germany or Austria – such as starting daring overtaking manoeuvres . And so we got the feeling that stop signs in Apulia were at most a recommendation.
The road conditions themselves are not always the best thing either. In other words, you should be prepared for potholes and for being jolted through often. Most roads are bumpy, but at least paved. We hardly had to conquer gravel roads on our road trip. And of course there are exceptions: the main routes between the big cities are in good condition.
With all the negative aspects: please don’t let it drive you too crazy. If you are reasonably experienced, drive defensively and attentively , you will soon find your way around the traffic in Apulia.
6. Safety: Tips for a safe road trip
Once you start researching safety in Puglia, you will come across problems such as car theft and car break-ins fairly quickly . We don’t want to sugarcoat anything here: Of course, these things are the order of the day and with a bit of bad luck you can be affected by them too. (It’s not for nothing that you get a folder with safety tips when you rent a car in Apulia!)
However: the chance that nothing will happen to you (like us) is still higher. In this respect, we can only give one tip: relax, follow a few safety recommendations and hope for a bit of luck. You can’t do much more. Here are a few points we took note of on our trip:
- Never leave valuables in the car (not even in the glove compartment!). And always wear them well protected, as close to the body as possible. Means, for example: The back trouser pocket is taboo.
- Personally, we made sure never to stop in a city with a full trunk . In other words: we always checked in first and then drove on (with an empty car).
- Always (manually) check that the car is properly locked and that all windows are closed.
- We usually parked in larger parking lots, but very often directly on the street. If you want to have an advantage in terms of security, the parking lot/parking garage must already be under video surveillance.
7. Map for your road trip: All places in Apulia at a glance
So that you can get a better overview of the most beautiful places in Apulia , we have marked our highlights on this map. Our hotel tips are also listed here. We wish you a wonderful road trip!
Transparency: Affiliate links
This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we will receive a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. A thousand thanks from both of us!