Puglia, Apulia as some call it, is very special to me. Not only is it a hidden gem region located on the “heel” of Italy, it’s also my birthplace.
Additionally, the Puglia region of Italy is home to some of the best beaches in the world, produces most of the wine and olive oil in the country, and is blessed with some of the best produce.
With this post, I hope to inspire you to plan a similar trip at a reasonable cost. This post will not be a travel guide, a history lesson, or “typical” trip report. You can use Wikitravel, Wikivoyage or read Lonely Planet books if you wish to learn more about the region.
Instead, I will keep this report short, informative, and share many pictures taken from my 2011 iPad that will hopefully inspire you to put Puglia on your list.
I took a nine day trip to Puglia in November of this year with my sister. I am 58 years old and consider myself an experienced and independent traveler. My sister is over 60 and usually travels with expensive tour companies. I am including our ages to show that anyone can take a similar trip with proper planning.
My sister and I both speak Italian. I’ll note that English is not widely spoken in this part of Italy – except for some towns where the tourist infrastructure is in place, such as Alberobello, Bari, Lecce. It’s also advisable to have access to maps on your phone to help you navigate. We use T-Mobile, which allows texting and unlimited data abroad at no additional cost, and it worked fine.
You must travel light if you want to attempt this itinerary, and must be in decent shape because it requires a lot of walking and shuffling around. Most people travel this region by car, and our intention was to rent a car as well.
If you can drive stick shift, a rental car is a good value. Unfortunately, I only drive automatic and the car rental is a lot more expensive (as it is throughout Europe). I also did not want to deal with ZTL zones (no-drive zones), parking, and other hassles. At least now you know the honest motivation behind why we relied on public transportation for the whole trip.
Also, keep in mind that dinner in Italy does not start until 8pm, which can be frustrating for us old folks who like to eat earlier. The Italian “siesta” can be annoying at times too, since some towns look like ghost towns between 2pm and 7pm.
We found a cheap flight from Newark (EWR) to Rome (FCO) and then Milan (MXP) to Newark for $403 round trip with United. Then we continued from Rome to Bari (BRI) on Alitalia for $47. For visits to Puglia, you can fly to Bari or Brindisi depending on your itinerary.
Day 1: Bari
We chose to take a $5 bus ride from Bari airport, which got us into Bari Centrale train station in thirty minutes. We then walked about fifteen minutes to a great bed and breakfast I found called il Trespolo Degli Angeli for an off-season rate of 60 Euros per night.
We loved our stay – simple accommodation, with great reviews, and a good breakfast on the terrace overlooking San Nicola Cathedral. One can also take the train for twenty minutes for about same price or spend about 25 Euro for a taxi.
Day 2: Polignano Al Mare, Monopoli, Trani
Getting to Polignano a Mare from Bari is an easy twenty six-minute ride by train costing 2.50 Euro. We used www.treniitalia.it to book our tickets ahead of time (you can also buy them at the station).
Polignano is known for the Statue of Modugno, which was made famous by the song, “Volare”. Unfortunately, the famous cave restaurant was closed for renovations at the time of our visit.
Continuing onwards to Monopoli from Polignano a Mare is a one-stop, five-minute train ride for 1.10 Euro.
Getting to Trani from Monopoli can take between one hour or one hour and thirty minutes for 6.40 Euro, depending on time and train. We had some of the freshest seafood on the trip there!
Day 3: Alberobello, Locorotondo, Martina Franca
The best way to visit Alberobello from Bari is to take a one hour and five minute bus from Bari Largo Sorrentino bus station for 4.30 Euro. The train takes longer with changes.
To reach Bari Largo Sorrentino, go to the Bari Centrale train station, go down the steps, and exit at the end of station to buy tickets. The bus station is across the street, but there are no signs. Get on the bus that goes to Martina Franca. Alberobello is the 1st stop.
The train from Alberobello to Locorotondo takes ten minutes and costs 1.10 Euro. You’ll need to coordinate your schedule to train times. At the time of our visit, the train was not running due to track work that will complete in two years, and buses are running on train schedules for the time being. You can buy tickets ahead of time online or in person at “tabacchi” stores.
Locorotondo is often referred to as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It’s a beautiful white village located on a hill that’s very clean and picturesque (aka Instagramable).
Getting to Martina Franca from Locorotondo takes about twenty minutes by bus for 1.10 Euro (buses are running on train schedules). Here is a link of the most current train schedule for this part of Italy.
We spent one night in Martina Franca in a two-bedroom apartment in an awesome location for 60 Euro a night.
Martina Franca is a baroque town. Many restaurants are butcher shops that cook meat for clients. We had a great dinner at Ricci Butcher and Pizzeria for a good price. One of the delicacies from Martina Franca is Capicollo, which was really good (it’s the picture below that includes the cheese).
Day 4: Ostuni
From Martina Franca, we took a bus to Ostuni (the white city) for 2.30 Euro each, and then another bus to the center of town for 1 Euro.
We arranged a 15-Euro taxi ride to the Masseria il Frantoio from Ostuni. We wanted to experience a night with the famous 8-course dinner with wine and olive oil.
The Masseria was beautiful, and the food was like eating at a 5-star restaurant. The portions were small portions with great presentation.
The room cost us 178 Euro for an upgraded room. The 8-course dinner cost us around 65 Euro each. Though it was a splurge, it was a nice experience.
From the Masseria, we arranged a taxi to the Ostuni train station for our trip to Lecce (also known as the “Florence” of Puglia). The train from Ostuni to Lecce train takes about an hour for 5.70 Euro.
Day 5 & 6: Lecce
Our hotel in Lecce was located near the centro storico by the train station in the old town, and we paid 62 Euro a night, including breakfast. Always ask for the centro storico whenever you visit the different towns. That’s where the history of the town and beauty of the past is.
We spent the day in Gallipoli and had dinner in Lecce. The train to Gallipoli is one hour and thirty minutes for 4.30 Euro each way.
If you’re visiting Puglia, keep in mind that Italy pretty much shuts down on Sunday (especially off-season), so make sure you base yourself in a bigger city like Lecce that has a tourist infrastructure in place. Lecce is very lively on weekends. A lot of the locals go out to eat and enjoy watching people perform in the main piazza.
Day 7: Otranto
We took the train from Lecce to Otranto for 3.50 Euro each. This trip requires two train changes and takes about an hour and thirty minutes.
Keep in mind that this was a slow, old train, so make sure you ask if you need to stop in Zollino or Maglie station. The second train leaves from the next track, and sometimes they stop in Zollino, and other times in Maglie. We booked a two bedroom bed and breakfast in the center of town for $36.22 that was clean.
Our host was a super host that spoke excellent English, picked us up by train station, and took us to the apartment, which was a nice touch (otherwise it’s about a fifteen minute walk).
Otranto is a beach town, so it was really quiet in November. We had one of our favorite meals on our trip at restaurant called Da Sergio.
Day 8: Back to Lecce & Night Train to Milano Centrale
We headed back to Lecce spend more time in sightseeing and to get ready to start our journey home. We took a night train to Milano Centrale to Malpensa airport (MXP) for our return flight.
We booked a night train for 109 Euro for two tickets and then 13 Euro each from Milano Centrale to Malpensa. The night train from Lecce took eleven hours, leaving at 7:20pm and arriving at 6:40am
Our flight to New York was at 10:25am, so it worked perfectly. We booked a couchette, similar to a bunk bed, which was comfortable enough, gave us an extra day of sightseeing, and allowed us to save having to spend money on a hotel for the night.
Overall we had a great trip exploring Puglia on a budget using public transportation. Have you visited Puglia before?