Do photos of super crowded beaches in Italy (or Greece) make you think that the script of a sci-fi movie is far more realistic than the notion that one can actually have a relaxing summer vacation in said countries? Well, we can’t blame you. We’ve seen those scary shots, too. However, it’s all a matter of where you choose to go and WHEN. The when part is easy. Stay away from beachside destinations in Italy (and Greece) from mid-July to end of August. As to the where, we’re here to introduce you to the three best beach towns in Puglia, the gorgeous region in Italy’s Deep South.
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- The 3 best beach towns in Puglia
The 3 best beach towns in Puglia
Southern Italy has so many jaw-dropping seaside towns that choosing just a handful of them is not an easy task. One of the most authentic and off-the-beaten-path regions in the country is Puglia. This graced by endless sunlight piece of land in Italy’s Deep South is absolutely stunning and the ideal destination for one’s summer holidays. There are many picture-perfect beach towns in Puglia. In this article we will be talking about three of them: Trani, Otranto and Gallipoli. We’ve chosen these three beauties for two main reasons. First and foremost, all three of them are significantly less crowded than other more Instagram friendly seaside destinations within Puglia. Secondly, dividing your time between those three towns makes exploring the region a lot easier as they are conveniently located in three different parts of Puglia.
Trani is an elegant beachside town that seems to be floating dreamily over the Adriatic Sea. No wonder its second name is the Pearl of Puglia. Less than an hour’s drive from busy Bari, Trani is an excellent base to explore that part of the Adriatic Coast that stretches from Bari to the north. Towns such as Andria, Barletta and Molfetta as well as numerous beaches along the coast are within easy reach from Trani. However, the Pearl of Puglia is worth a trip in its own right for so many reasons.
Things to do in Trani
1. The Cathedral and the Castle
Trani is home to one of the most charming Cathedrals in Italy. Dedicated to Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim, Trani Cathedral enjoys an outstanding location right next to the beach, which is quite rare. Just 200m from the Cathedral lies Trani Castle. Built in 1233 by King Frederick II, the Castle of Trani became a prison from 1844 up until quite recently in 1974. Now open to the public for visits and a venue for all kinds of social events, Trani Castle is a fine example of defensive architecture of its time.
2. Sunset along seaside promenades
During our short stay in Trani, we enjoyed one of the best sunsets of our entire lives from the quaint port. Don’t miss it! Trani has many options for long seaside walks to choose from. Come to think of it, why choose? They are all marvellous:
- St. Nicholas Pier up to the iconic Green Lighthouse.
- St. Anthony Pier all the way to the Red Lighthouse.
- Quaint Santa Lucia Pier.
- The picturesque port where fancy yachts and tiny blue fishing boats sit idly side by side.
- Farther still, the charming Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo.
3. The historic centre
Trani Old Town is a maze of beautiful narrow alleys, charming palazzi and medieval churches. The historic centre of Trani is very compact with an irresistibly authentic touch.
4. Villa Comunale di Trani
The Public Gardens of Trani are splendid, even more so because of their seafront location. Wandering around Trani’s bijou park is utterly relaxing while views to the deep blue sea and the Cathedral are absolutely breathtaking.
5. A trip to Castel Del Monte
Fancy a half-day trip? Just a 45′ drive from Trani, the magnificent Castel Del Monte awaits. Built on a green hill near Andria by the same King Frederick II who built Trani Castle, Castel Del Monte is a masterpiece of medieval architecture located in the midst of an idyllic natural setting. The imposing yet solitary castle can be seen from a great distance while driving across the stunning countryside that surrounds it. The 13th century castle is unique in terms of its incredibly exact geometric shape. It is an octagonal building with an octagonal tower at each corner, eight rooms on each floor and an eight-shaped courtyard! It is said that Frederick himself oversaw the castle’s designs. Being the educated man that he was, Frederick made use of the number 8 as a symbol of perfection, thus reflecting his humanist ideas on the castle’s layout.
Castel Del Monte had been abandoned for a very long time and during the 18th century its marbles and interior decorations were either stolen or destroyed by vandals. The Italian State bought the castle in 1876 and began restoration works in 1928. In 1996, UNESCO awarded the castle World Heritage Site status not only for its almost unreal symmetry but also for being an impressive blend of cultural elements from Classic antiquity, Northern Europe and the Muslim world. The castle’s rooms are not particularly impressive as they lack furniture or other decorative elements but the mysterious Castel Del Monte is worth a visit even if it is to marvel at its extraordinary architecture alone.
Where to stay in Trani
Undoubtedly, the Old Town is the best place to stay in Trani. Not only is it the most charming part of the city, but it is also close to everything one would want to see and enjoy during their trip. For our heartbreakingly short trip to the Pearl of Puglia, we chose to stay at Sotrani, a tiny yet marvellous B&B situated right in the heart of the quaint historic centre.
To be honest, we were quite grumpy when we parked the car and headed towards the B&B. You see, this would be the last day of our amazing 2-week trip across Puglia and we just couldn’t believe it had come to its end. However, all this changed the moment Valeria, her husband and their two adorable puppies greeted us to their home. Did I just use the word home instead of hotel? Well, that’s how both Katerina and I remember Sotrani. As a home away from home.
Sotrani has two smartly decorated, super comfortable and outrageously (if that’s a thing) clean rooms. Bonus points for the tea station, books of literature and, wait for it, Netflix. The rooms share the cosiest common area where guests can hang out, watch TV or have a snack. This is also where breakfast is served. The verb served is not exactly accurate here because Valeria makes sure to load the dining table with all sorts of goodies very early in the morning so that guests can wake up at any time they choose and help themselves to a delicious breakfast without having to set up the alarm the night before. That alone, dear readers, is reason enough to adore this place. The only thing we didn’t like about our stay in Sotrani is that it was only for just one night. But we’ll be back, hopefully, soon.
Where to eat in Trani
Trani is home to many fine eateries and stylish restaurants. However, since this would be our last dinner in Italy for a while, we just felt like keeping it simple and cosy. We sat at an outside table at Al Covo Delle Chiacchiere, a traditional restaurant serving authentic Pugliese dishes. It turns out we had one of the heartiest and best value-for-money meals of our entire trip.
Otranto’s most important moment in history was back in 1480 when Ottomans caused havoc by invading the city and killing thousands of people. Nowadays, Otranto is such an easy-going and pleasant destination that it’s hard to believe it has seen such horrific days. A gateway to the East, Otranto is one of Italy’s prettiest seaside towns and the perfect base to explore some of Puglia’s most spectacular beaches.
Things to do in Otranto
1. Otranto Beach
Otranto may be the ideal town from which to explore the best Puglia beaches yet you don’t have to go far to enjoy crystal clear waters. Incredible though it may seem, the long seashore within the historic centre itself is one of the best sandy beaches we have seen in the region. No wonder it can get crowded during peak summer season. Whether you feel like swimming or walking, Otranto Beach, which is actually two or three smaller beaches one next to the other, is the town’s highlight.
2. Seaside promenade
How could we list Otranto among the best beach towns in Puglia if it didn’t boast a spectacular seaside promenade? It takes about 30′-1h, depending on one’s pace, to walk the seafront’s entire promenade, from Otranto Lighthouse all the way to the port at the other side. That said, the most breathtaking part of the promenade is hands down the Lungomare Degli Eroi (Heroes Promenade) where one can also see the monument to the martyrs of the 1480 massacre.
3. The Old Town and the Castle
While walking along the Heroes Promenade, you can’t miss La Porta Alfonsina, the gate to Otranto’s enchanting Old Town. Once you pass the gate, you are bound to lose your heart over picturesque narrow streets and the romantic ambience of Castello Aragonese, Otranto’s castle. There are no routes to follow or tips to note down. Just wander around and lose yourselves in one of Puglia’s most enchanting Old Towns.
4. The Cathedral
Otranto’s imposing Cathedral lies in the heart of the town’s historic centre. The Cathedral’s main attraction is its superb 12th century medieval mosaic floor which depicts an enormous and splendid Tree of Life. Other must-sees in the Cathedral include the crypt and the Saint Martyrs Chapel. In the latter, the remains of 800 martyrs that were beheaded by Ottomans in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam are displayed.
5. Bauxite quarry and lake
More often than not, spectacular sites are not easy to get to. However, it is a mere 10′ drive or 30′ hike from Otranto to one of the most unworldly places we have seen to date. From 1940 to 1976 there was a bauxite quarry south of Otranto. When the quarry was abandoned, Nature took over and a tiny lake was formed due to water infiltrations. The intense red colour of the rocks surrounding the emerald pond have a surreal effect on anyone who decides to visit this alien-like location which is definitely worth a place among Italy’s best kept secrets.
6. Punta Palascia Lighthouse
We love lighthouses. So, when we found out there is a super quaint one about 15′ by car from Otranto, we wouldn’t miss it for the world. Faro di Punta Palascia is an active lighthouse in Cape Otranto, Italy’s easternmost point. It is an easy hike from the main road to the lighthouse and the views are simply gorgeous.
Where to stay in Otranto
Puglia is abundant in historical palazzi. These are centuries-old residential buildings which scream elegance and nostalgia. During our 15-day road trip across Puglia we never missed a chance to stay at one of these historical mansions. One of our favourite ones is Palazzo Marzo, a nostalgic B&B in the heart of Otranto Old Town. Was it because the bright afternoon sun made all other colours fade? Or maybe because Palazzo Marzo was meant to be the canvas on which we would repaint our happiest childhood memories? For whatever reason, our first impression of the B&B, from the minute we stepped inside the utterly welcoming reception area and were greeted by sweet Marinella, was white. Yes, that’s exactly the word that comes into mind when we think of our stay in Palazzo Marzo. White. Purifying, resplendent white.
While Marinella was giving us a tour of her beyond words charming B&B, we couldn’t help but bring memories of childhood summers in our minds. The white curtains moving gently to the cool breeze, the oh so familiar mosaic floors on which we literally grew up, the peacefulness of those distant lazy summer afternoons when we were forced to keep quiet so as not to interrupt the grown-ups siesta. It all came back to us. I swear to God, it felt as though our beloved and never forgotten grandmas would suddenly appear chasing us around with bowls of freshly cut fruit. How could we not fall in love with this place instantly?
Decoration in Palazzo Marzo‘s rooms is minimal yet elegant and irresistibly old-fashioned. Among other beautiful common areas, there is a lovely terrace with jaw-dropping views to Otranto and the deep blue sea beyond. Every morning, Marinella prepares a remarkably rich breakfast which is served at a sun-washed patio. We loved our stay at Palazzo Marzo and we honestly can’t recommend this quaint B&B enough.
Where to eat in Otranto
We had dinner at La Pignata, one of Otranto’s best restaurants. Although food was really good, servings were on the small side and wine pricey for no apparent reason. For aperitivo, head to trendy Caffè Sud Est. For your gelato fix, try Deja Vù Cafè on the Heroes Promenade.
The drive from Otranto to Gallipoli takes about 50′ if you choose the mainland route suggested by Google Maps. However, we highly recommend the longest yet fascinating drive along the coastal road from Otranto to Gallipoli. This way you’ll get to marvel at some of the most incredible beaches in Puglia as well as some fantastic spots, such as Santa Maria Di Leuca Sanctuary and Lighthouse or the impressive Ciolo Bridge. Gallipoli means Beautiful City in Ancient Greek and it’s exactly this: one of the prettiest towns on Italy’s Ionian Coast. The modern part of Gallipoli is built on the mainland whereas Gallipoli Old Town stretches on a small island linked to the mainland by Papa Giovanni Paolo II Bridge.
Things to do in Gallipoli
Thanks to its position, Gallipoli boasts one of the most spectacular sunsets. Whether you choose a spot on the town’s long sandy beach or a table at one of the bars right above it, make sure you don’t miss the exact and magnificent moment when the red sphere takes a dive into the Ionian Sea.
2. Gallipoli Beach
Spiaggia Della Purità is Gallipoli’s main beach. Its crystal clear waters compete its stunning views to the enchanting old palazzi of the historic centre. It doesn’t happen every day to enjoy a perfect view to an authentic Italian town while swimming, does it?
3. The Castle, the Seafront Promenade and the Old Town
Once you find yourselves on Papa Giovanni Paolo II Bridge, the point of entry to Gallipoli Old Town, the magic begins. To the immediate left, the medieval Castle of Gallipoli welcomes visitors to this picturesque seaside town. The castle houses a History Museum and is also a popular hub for various events, both cultural and social. Continuing from the castle on either side of the beachfront promenade, one can walk the entire perimetre of the small island. This is a spectacular walk, especially at sunset. Once you’ve had enough of splendid sea views (is that even possible?), go lose yourselves in the historic centre of Gallipoli. The latter is very typical of the Italian South, with lovely grandmas sitting around and chatting in front of once brightly coloured buildings which now bear signs of the relentless passing of time. Which, in the end, is what makes those buildings utterly attractive.
4. The Cathedral
The Cathedral of Sant’Agata is a 17th century masterpiece whose baroque beauty is second only to Lecce’s phenomenal churches.
5. The fish market
The first thing one sees once on Gallipoli’s tiny island, is the quaint fish market. It is an exciting place as it bridges the past and the present in a unique way. A constant reminder of Gallipoli’s past as a traditional fishing village, the fish market becomes the absolute place to be for aperitivo when fishermen grill fresh seafood and fish and everyone fights for a place in the
sun market’s stalls.
6. Underground olive mills
Throughout Puglia, there is a wide network of underground olive mills which can attest to the region’s long tradition in oil production. Many of these frantoi ipogei are now restored and open for visits. Gallipoli is home to 35 such olive mills. Some of these are open to the public for free or at a small fee. As you walk around the historic centre of Gallipoli, you will definitely stumble upon one or two of them. Don’t miss the chance to step inside and learn some of the secrets of authentic Puglia.
7. La Fontana Greca
This fountain is situated on the mainland part of Gallipoli, right next to the Papa Giovanni Paolo II Bridge. As its name suggests, the fountain was thought to have been constructed by Greeks during the 3rd century BC. However, studies have shown that the fountain actually dates back to the Renaissance. It is an impressive fountain with elaborate carvings inspired by the Greek mythology.
Where to stay in Gallipoli
Gallipoli is all about its sea views. So we knew we had to stay at a room with a view this time. We spent our one and only night in Gallipoli at Punta Cutieri, a cosy B&B which boasts a magnificent location. It is situated right on the spectacular promenade of Gallipoli’s historic centre.
Our check-in at Punta Cutieri was done in a great hurry as we were anxious not to miss the stunning sunset. Giorgio, our excellent and super kind host, did a fantastic job giving us the best tips about his beloved hometown while we ran to our room in order to leave our luggage on the floor and head to the promenade, camera and tripod in hand. But then, once we were inside the room, I felt the impulse to draw the curtains. Alas! We couldn’t help but stand still at the sight of the Mother of all calmness and beauty, the endless sea.
Punta Cutieri offers homelike accommodation in its six rooms, most of which enjoy breathtaking views to the Ionian Sea. Breakfast is served at a marvellous terrace overlooking the sea from one side and Gallipoli’s rooftops from the other. We can’t recommend this B&B enough for its easy-going ambience, jaw-dropping views and, most importantly, the amazing hospitality of Giorgio, the owner and soul of Punta Cutieri.
Where to eat in Gallipoli
Although Giorgio recommended a couple of really nice restaurants for us to have dinner at, we felt it was finally time to try Puglia’s signature sandwich and most popular street food, la puccia. The latter is actually the name of the bread they use to make this sandwich. This round and flattened bread is typical of Salento, the central – southern part of Puglia. It comes filled with exquisite local products which include, cheese, cold cuts and vegetables. In Gallipoli, one of the best places to try la puccia is Il Ghiottone.
So, did we manage to inspire you to plan your summer vacation in what we consider the 3 best beach towns in Puglia? If so, use the comments section below to share some magic from your own vacanze all’italiana with us!
Please note that we drove to all the places included in this guide. Driving is by far the best way to explore the wonders of Puglia. However, if driving is not an option, check out the Trenitalia website before planning your itinerary. Still in doubt? Don’t hesitate to get in touch and we may be able to help you figure out how to get to most of these places by public transport.
Disclosure: We were guests at Sotrani, Palazzo Marzo, Punta Cutieri and Castel Del Monte. Yet all opinions are our own, as always.