Ask BGP | is October too late to visit Puglia?

We are often asked for travel advice and information by visitors and those planning trips to our region.

If you have something to ask to help with planning your holiday to Puglia email us. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram.

This one comes from Uccle, located in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium.

The question:

Hi! We are a couple in our mid 50s and we want to come to Puglia for between 10 days and 2 weeks from the 10th of October onwards. We love food. Do you think we will find that a lot of restaurants will be shut by then as it’s no longer the high season? Also, where would you suggest we make as our two bases? With Covid we don’t want to change hotels every night and we are thinking of renting 2 places on Airbnb. We will have a car. Our main priorities are wandering around pretty places, (not necessarily inside museums), seeing stunning landscape and eating special meals (Quite good if sometimes we can walk to a restaurant, but not imperative). Do you think we would still be able to eat outside in the evenings or is it too cold by then? Thank you

Our answer:

Bella ciao from Puglia.

You love food. That’s a great start! We need go no further than the sleeve cover of one of our favourite regional cookbooks (The Silver Spoon Puglia, published by Phaidon) to read that Puglia is:

“Hailed as one of Italy’s most unique and exciting regions for food. Puglia is the destination for foodies in the know ...”

We often say that in Puglia bad food is hard to find. We don’t usually feel the need to make restaurant recommendations. In our experience good food is always just around the corner. Italians simply won’t tolerate bad food. Not in their own kitchens and certainly not on the occasions - which they tend to be - when they eat out.

Typical Pugliese cuisine is honest and simple. The small town of Carovigno, just a few kilometres outside Ostuni, has a Michelin starred restaurant in its centro storico. But we prefer to eat in a small, family run trattoria at the other end of the piazza, and regularly do. A testament to the ingenious capacity for making something delicious out of only a few well chosen ingredients.

And while simplicity may be the key to our culinary tradition, it is the superb quality of the fresh, locally produced (or caught) ingredients that really makes the food of our region stand out.

Orecchiette is the classic pasta of Puglia. Whether with a simple tomato sauce or cime di rape when in season. Here it is served with lamb and a white sauce.

Some frise - bread baked twice, the second time to dry and preserve it. Before serving it is rehydrated for a few minutes and then “seasoned” with oil and tomato and served with burrata - a cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains stracciatella and cream, giving it a soft, creamy texture.

Fresh seafood is always a must. We had this bowl of pepata di cozze in Vieste, but it can be found throughout our region.

Visiting in October

We often joke that in Puglia we only have two seasons: estate and non-estate. Summer and not-summer.

Across our region most restaurants and bars usually stay open at least until the end of October. From November some may reduce their hours, take a seasonal break or close altogether, even in the most popular destinations.

In Polignano a Mare Mint Cucina Fresca - great for a romantic dinner - opens from the end of March until the end of October. Take a short drive to close neighbour Monopoli and Dono - Legàmi di Gusto one of our favourites for fine dining is closed from November to March. Further south in Otranto Altro Baffo a chic restaurant in the old town takes a break during November to February. And so on.

Private lidos and beach clubs start to close from the beginning of October. Public beaches - there are no shortage here in Puglia - stay open all year round.

The sea is still warm averaging 20C, although most Italians won’t return to the beach after September until June. But so long as the sun is shining the Podcast crew keep visiting the sea and swimming, usually until the week before Halloween.

The further south you explore, the warmer the weather is likely to be. The average October temperature in Santa Maria di Leuca at the tip of the heel is around 19C compared with 17.5C in Bari. That might make it a little too cool for evening al fresco dining, but during the day and in the sunshine it is going to feel much warmer.

You might encounter some rainy days in October. We have an average of 8 in October, compared with only 3 in July and in August. But that still means 23 days of up to 6 hours of sun.

What can make a difference as to where to base yourself - at any time of the year, but especially after August - is whether you have your own transport.

Public transport providers usually switch from their summer timetable by October. Ferrovie Del Sud Est, one of our main train and bus service providers make the switch on 14 September this year.

Thereafter public transport options are likely to be more limited in terms of frequency and destinations. Connections can be more cumbersome the further away you want to get from the Adriatic coast and the main transport hubs of Bari, Foggia and Lecce.

But in your case you will be hiring a car, so all of our region is open to you to explore.

Whether it’s rugged, natural coast ...

... long stretches of golden beach ... (this photo at Punta Prosciutto on the Ionian coast was taken in late October)

... or rocky shelves and natural swimming basins, Puglia has it all.

Pretty Places and Stunning Landscapes

We have no shortage of these in Puglia.

From Peschici and Monte Sant’Angelo in the Gargano, via the charming whitewashed hilltop towns of the Valle d’Itria with their winding cobbled alleyways snaking through, to the stunning coastal drive along the Adriatic from Santa Cesarea Terme to Santa Maria di Leuca.

And with 10 - 14 days to explore, there’s plenty you can see. Puglia is eminently navigable, the distance from town to town reasonably short.

To facilitate travelling around think of Puglia in three sections:

Bari and the north | Gargano, Barletta-Andria-Trani and Foggia
Valle d’Itria | this takes in many well known destinations like Polignano a Mare, Alberobello and Ostuni
Salento | everything south of an imaginary line drawn from Brindisi to Taranto.

Then there is the beautifully stunning Matera. Not part of our region but within easy reach from Bari by motorway or cross country through the Valle d’Itria.

Two bases afford the opportunity of visiting many interesting locations. But let’s start with a dilemma.

Most visitors choose a central base in the Valle d’Itria and a second in Salento. That way they can easily access most of Puglia from Bari to Santa Maria di Leuca at the very tip of the heel.

But this means missing out on the Gargano (the spur of Italy’s boot). This part of our region is simply beautiful - one of our favourite parts of Puglia. Driving around the coast is an amazing experience. Stunning landscapes and picturesque towns are not lacking. It has our favourite Puglia experience. The Tremiti Islands located off the coast are breathtaking.

It is a two hour drive from Bari to Vieste, so doesn’t lend itself to a day trip. If you decide to make a base there, then it will limit your options when it comes to a second base - Gargano is not where we would locate ourselves to explore the other parts of our region from.

Likewise Matera is worthy of more than a day trip - perhaps a couple of nights.

We will come back to that ...

Vieste

a trabucco outside Peschici

the Gargano coast

Bite size Puglia

Planning road trips into manageable “boccone della Puglia” - bitesize pieces of Puglia - can help inform where to base yourself.

Starting with some more stunning landscapes.

1. SANTA CESAREA TERME | SANTA MARIA DI LEUCA

The drive along the coast is one of the most dramatic in Puglia. For us it is an absolute highlight. The drive is leisurely, the pace easy.

We have broken this journey down (and expanded it if you want to explore further afield) here.

2. Grotta della Poesia | Torre dell’Orso

Located only 30 minutes from Lecce by car is the Grotta della Poesia (the Cave of Poetry). Here you can swim in the clear waters of a natural swimming pool formed by a sinkhole in the rock.

Nearby at Torre dell’Orso is the award winning Spiaggia delle Due Sorelle. According to legend the two stacks rising up out of the sea are two dutiful and innocent sisters transformed by the gods to save them from drowning to be together forever. With soft, white sand, crystal clear sea and gently undulating dunes dappled with maquis scrub, framed by the pine grove behind, it is one of Puglia’s finest beaches.

Grotta della Poesia

le Due Sorelle - the two sisters stacks at the bottom end of the Torre dell’Orso beach.

Santa Cesarea Terme

3. Gallipoli | Punta della Suina | Porto Selvaggio

Gallipoli has a beautiful old town. Still a working fishing port - the fish market is the biggest in Salento and is located opposite the Castello di Gallipoli as you enter the old town - it is surrounded by the Ionian Sea.

One of the great pleasures is strolling around the old town. You can watch fishermen weave baskets, and enjoy some fresh catch of the day for lunch, followed by pastries, dolce or a gelato at Martinucci (Corso Roma 93/95).

From there you can either heard south to Punta della Suina if you want to walk along the rugged coast and admire the azure sea. It is also a wonderful place to watch the sunset over the old town.

The Gallipoli coast along from Punta della Suina up to spiaggia degli innamorati.

If you are feeling more ambitious, you could drive to Nardò and Porto Selvaggio for even more rugged coast. Our beach guide has information how to get there - scroll down to the bottom of that page. It’s in our gay section, but only to reference the naturist section, which is far away from the main parts of this natural park.

Gallipoli’s old town beach

the sun setting behind Gallipoli (viewed from Pôr do Sol at Baia Verde)

looking over Porto Selvaggio with Gallipoli in the far distance

Now to consider various destinations in and around the Valle d’Itria. Not yet as bases, but to construct other road trips around.

4. Alberobello

You can read our guide to Alberobello here. Many people rave about the beauty of Alberobello, but we really do find the main trulli zone at Rione Monti the least authentic part of our region. It totally caters for tourists, and almost every trullo is a shop or a restaurant.

Instead, head to the Aia Piccola quarter and take your time to look for the hidden, unrenovated trulli.

Quanto Basta is centrally located only minutes from the trulli zone. Yet it is a calm oasis with exquisite and reasonably priced pizza. The margherita 5€ was stunning. Their very original asiatica 8€ with gorgonzola, honey, pear and walnut a tour de force.

We also had a puccia - a round type of panini common in the south, sliced down the middle and stuffed full of flavour packed fillings. Our choice was the piccantissima, a tasty treat with spicy nduja (soft and spicy) salami, gorgonzola, tomato salsa and fior di late (a mozzarella type cheese made locally).

The pucce (one puccia, two pucce) menu replicates the pizza menu. If you see a pizza you want but fancy it puccia style, just ask.

They make their own bread which added to the deliciousness.

5. Monopoli | Polignano a Mare

Because Alberobello is one of the ‘must do’ items for visitors, the town has become overcrowded with organised tour groups and day trippers. This year has been the exception - with no cruise ships docking in Bari or Brindisi, the bus groups from the cruises have been wonderfully absent.

Many visitors now try to come early before the build up of crowds (we recently read a travel blog suggesting arriving by 07:00 before the 08:00 crowds), but this year, and certainly in October, you shouldn’t have that problem.

Once you have zipped through the shopping streets of the Rione Monti and taken your time to enjoy the quieter Rione Aia Piccola (and hopefully discovered the hidden ‘abandoned’ trulli close by), even if you pranzare in Alberobello, you should still have the afternoon and evening to spend elsewhere.

The drive from Alberobello to Monopoli takes in some nice scenery as you descent towards the Adriatic, so we usually recommend splitting the day between the two.

As Polignano is a very close neighbour to Monopoli, you could even split your day among all three destinations. Although with 10 - 14 days, you can be more generous with your time. In which case we would suggest spending another, full day in Polignano a Mare.

Monopoli | Often suggested as a base for those looking for seaside location and a vibrant evening life. But that overlooks that Monopoli has very little by way of beach. Such that it has are small crowded areas where sand is at a premium. It does however have plenty of rocky coves and shelves, like Polignano, which are popular with the locals.

However it does have a lovely centro storico and porto antico, where you can loose yourself for a few hours. Walking around the lungomare that surrounds them is especially pleasant. We like to combine this with lunch or dinner in one of the restaurants on the Piazza Guiseppe Garibaldi where it only seems right to be eating some fresh fish or seafood ...

Monopoli’s porto antico

some carpaccio from ristorante la Dolce Vita on Monopoli’s Piazza Garibaldi

Monopoli’s porto rosso beach

Polignano a Mare | even if you don’t recognise the name, you are bound to recognise perhaps the most celebrated feature of our region’s landscape as you walk across the bridge over the Lama Monachile.

In addition you probably know the words to a song that describes Polignano a Mare; the most famous song never to have won the Eurovision Song Contest and sung by Polignano’s most famous son.

Be sure to walk over to the Monumento Domenico Modugno, in his most iconic of poses. Take the ‘Volare’ steps down to the Lungomare Domenico Modugno, and enjoy the most spectacular view of the old town and understand instantly why his song celebrates “flying through the blue pained blue”.

Exploring the old town and getting lost in the passages winding around the piazze is fun. Make sure that you find the balcone viewing areas on the edge of the cliff top plunging into the sea below - so long as you have a head for heights.

Wherever you eat lunch or dinner, try and save room for a gelato from Il Super Mago del Gelo Mario Campanella. Make your other meal a street food ‘snack’ from Pescaria, famously served in a bread roll.

6. Cisternino | Locorotondo | Ceglie Messapica | Martina Franca | Ostuni

The rhythm of life in Puglia continues beyond the summer months. Towns are fairly quiet in the afternoon during the post-lunch riposta. Shops and even tourist attractions typically close from around 12:30 | 13:00 to 16:30 | 17:00. Most restaurants stop serving lunch between 14:00 | 14:30 (you will be extremely lucky if you find one still serving lunch until 15:00), usually opening for dinner around 20:00. Though here in the south most Italians won’t think about eating until at least 21:00. You can usually identify the British and then the Northern Europeans who populate random tables in empty restaurants before then!

Towns come to life again in the evenings when we enjoy our passeggiata around town before and after dinner.

Cisternino and Locorotondo in the heart of the Valle d’Itria are both designated as borgo più bello d’Italia, one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. It is hard to say which is the most beautiful. Locorotondo sits atop a hilltop. Cisternino enjoys a wonderful view across the valley to the west.

Locorotondo may have the slight edge, but Cisternino is famous for a culinary tradition: bombetta pugliese. Slices of pork wrapped around cheese, usually provolone, then roasted on a skewer over wood or charcoal. The meat used is usually from pig crossed with wild boar, though it looks more like beef. Some come with extra flavourings, such as mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes.

Locorotondo

some bombette eaten in Cisternino

Cisternino

The centro storico of Ceglie is medieval in origin. Like its sister towns a dense maze of narrow alleyways and paved streets wind around the whitewashed houses, prettily decorated with colourful flowerpots hanging from their balconies.

In our opinion it is less attractive than Locorotondo and Cisternino, but again it is well known for its excellent regional cuisine and has become a foodies must-visit destination.

Martina Franca is slightly bigger than the neighbouring towns already mentioned.

Ostuni rises up from the Valle d’Itria, crowning the hill it sits on. The white walls and buildings of the old town gleam in the distance and can be seen as you drive along the main coastal highway. Indeed, its panoramic views of the Adriatic mean it is unique among the other towns mentioned in this section.

Lime washing the town’s houses - a practice believed to have originated as a defence against the plague in the 17th century - is still carried out annually, lightening up the centro storico’s maze of dark medieval streets and alleys that wind and creep around.

The combination of an attractive historic town and proximity to the beach means Ostuni sees more tourists than many other towns in the area. Through this year it has been so much quieter. In any event it is usually quieter in October anyway.

There were plenty of restaurants, cafes, and small hotels that make it feel like it would be a great place to stay.

We have a more detailed guide to Ostuni (featured in the pictures below) here.

7. Bari | Lecce | Otranto

Bari | Forget what you may have heard about Bari Vecchia being a gritty “no-go” area for locals. Extensive regeneration was undertaken years ago transforming the area into a fine destination for visitors. And while there are sparkling, expensively refurbished apartments with amazing terraces overlooking the Adriatic within Bari Vecchia you can still see the way that longtime residents of the old town live, front doors opening into the cool shadow of the narrow alleyways, the sound of food being prepared and of families dining together echoing around and laundry hanging from balconies to dry in the lazy heat of the afternoon.

Everyday life as it has been and still is continues around - and, with the exception perhaps of Monopoli, this isn’t something you actually notice in Lecce nor in many of our region’s other towns and cities in the way you can feel it around you in Bari.

You can read more about visiting Bari here.

Lecce | Salento’s main city, bursting with piazzas and palazzi built in creamy limestone in barocco leccese style.

The Basilica di Santa Croce has one of the finest and most intricate Baroque facades in Italy, taking over 200 years to complete, and only just revealed after years of restoration.

 

 

The old town is packed full of good restaurants, busy bars and some of our favourite boutiques (there is no concept of "high street" here) - open for business all year round.

More detailed information on Lecce can be found here.

Otranto | just over an easy half hour drive from Lecce. The advantage it has over Lecce is that it sits right on the Adriatic sea. It has great sea front and excellent seafood restaurants. The white sandy beach along the lungomare means it is a very popular summer destination. It’s equally good in October, though quieter.

The castle dominates the vista, but for us it’s the cathedral with its mosaic floors that are a highlight not to be missed. The downstairs crypt is also inspiring.

When in Otranto visiting the Laghetto Cave di Bauxite, only 6 minutes out of town by car, is a must. It’s beautiful, especially in the early morning or golden hour (evening) sun.

 

Conclusion (and what about Matera?)

So, where will it be best to base yourselves? You decide!

The information given above is intended to help you plan what to see and how to manage those trips.

When it comes to the destinations in the Valle d’Itria and beyond (Bari/Matera/Gargano) your decision should be informed by geographical proximity and whether you want to be right on the sea or inland.

This summer we would have advised visitors to consider staying in Locorotondo or Cisternino instead of Ostuni. This was based on Ostuni being a more popular - and therefore busier - destination. However come October, there are fewer visitors in any event and Ostuni might be more interesting than its smaller, equally picturesque sister towns. Ostuni has enough to hold your attention in its own right for 2 - 3 days, and it is closer to the Adriatic coast from there (Torre Guaceto nature reserve is close by and would be a nice beach walk).

If you decide on a coastal base, we usually suggest Monopoli over Polignano because it tends to be slightly better value both in terms of accommodation and eating out. But these days it does seem to be catching up. Bear in mind the limitations on the beaches here.

Either of these destinations will allow you to travel around the Valle d’Itria and even to Bari for Bari Vecchia and to Matera - which really is worth a full day (if not a couple of nights, though that would move away from your intention of keeping to only 2 bases).

When it comes to Salento, there are similar considerations. These draw us to Lecce vs Otranto. The former is more metropolitan the latter closer to the tip of the heel and those wonderful parts of Salento we are fond of.

If you think that you might prefer to have a few more ‘relaxing’ days without the need to jump in the car and travel somewhere, Lecce might just have the edge ...

 

Anything else to think about?

  1. When looking for accommodation try Booking.com as well as AirBnB. Booking.com seems to be the more popular choice for Italians, both letting and looking.
  2. Remember our originals gambit. Bad food is hard to find. So don’t obsess over finding the perfect restaurant. Follow your eyes, nose and ears!
  3. Holiday like a local to get the most out of your holiday.
  4. Our guide to driving in Puglia might give some useful insight before you get here.
  5. Let Puglia inspire you.

Buone vacanze!

 

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