Last Updated on June 1, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Planning a Puglia road trip? Here’s my 1-week Southern Italy itinerary that packs in the best beaches, towns and grottos.
Mention Southern Italy and most people think of the flamboyant Amalfi Coast or sun-kissed Sicily. Have you heard of Puglia?
Poised on the “heel” of Italy, the region of Puglia is a lesser-known part of Southern Italy that is slowly making its way into the limelight. We’ve just returned from a Puglia road trip, and have completely fallen under its spell.
With more than 800 km of coastline, Puglia lies between the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea and has no shortage of incredible beaches. And once you get away from the coast, you’ll find a treasure trove of cave networks, historical villages and unique architecture.
Table of Contents
- My Puglia Road Trip Itinerary
- How to Get to Puglia
- How to Get Around Puglia
- Best Time to Travel Southern Italy
- My 1-Week Southern Italy Itinerary
- Map of Puglia
- Southern Italy Itinerary Day 1-2: Bari
- Get lost in the Old Town
- Enjoy Street Food at Largo Albicocca
- Explore Bari Castle
- Where to Stay in Bari
- Southern Italy Itinerary Day 3: Polignano a Mare & Monopoli
- Swim in the beach at Polignano a Mare
- Explore the Centro Storico
- Enjoy Fresh Seafood with a View
- Hop over to Monopoli
- Where to Stay in Monopoli
- Southern Italy Itinerary Day 4: Ostuni
- Wander around the White-Washed Town
- Visit the Saturday Market
- Dine in a Cave
- Where to Stay in Ostuni
- Italy Itinerary Day 5: Alberobello
- Explore the Trullo Town of Alberobello
- Enjoy the View at the Belvedere
- Visit Museums and Churches
- Where to Stay in Alberobello
- Italy Itinerary Days 6-7: Matera
- Learn about the Story of Matera
- Marvel at the Sasso Barisano
- See Matera’s Best Viewpoints
- Don’t Miss the Belvedere di Murgia Timone
- Explore Sasso Caveoso
- Eat in a Cave Again!
- Where to Stay in Matera
- Itinerary Day 8: Back to Bari
- How Much Does this Southern Italy Itinerary Cost?
- More Southern Italy Itinerary Ideas
- Drive to the tip of Puglia
- Explore the Amalfi Coast
- Hop over to Sicily
- Enjoy Your Puglia Road Trip!
My Puglia Road Trip Itinerary
With 1 week in Southern Italy, you’ll barely scratch the surface of the region. There is just SO much to see in Italy — every little village and historical town has a story to tell.
In this Southern Italy itinerary, we will be focusing on the region of Puglia. 7days in Puglia are perfect to explore at a leisurely pace and see the best part of the region. If you have more time, definitely tag on the Amalfi Coast and Sicily, which are just a few hours south of Puglia by car.
How to Get to Puglia
This Southern Italy itinerary starts and ends in Bari, the capital of Puglia. The airport is small, and it does not offer any COVID19 test on arrival.
There are plenty of budget flights to Bari from major cities in Europe like London and Paris. We got our flights from Amsterdam to Bari on Transavia for just 150 euros round trip.
If you’re flying from the US, you can get flights from New York to Bari for as cheap as $500 return these days.
How to Get Around Puglia
With its winding coastal roads and excellent infrastructure, Puglia is made for road trips. It’s relatively easy to drive in Puglia, but be careful of maniac drivers within the cities. We’ve driven around Italy a few times and never had any issues.
Car rental is affordable in Puglia, with prices starting from US$30 per day. There are many car hire companies at the airport. I always book my car hire with Discover Cars as they have consistently given the best prices and customer service.
Best Time to Travel Southern Italy
Southern Italy has a Mediterranean climate and is great to visit all year round.
In general, the best time to visit Puglia is April – June, and October – November. There are less people and prices are lower. Plus the weather will still be sunny and relatively warm.
We did this Puglia road trip at the end of October, and temperatures were still as high as 73°F (or 23°C) during the day. They dip to around 55°F (13°C) at night. We just needed a small jacket for chilly mornings and evenings. During the day, we could wander around with just a t-shirt/shorts or dress.
My 1-Week Southern Italy Itinerary
- Days 1-2: Bari
- Day 3: Poligano a Mare
- Day 4: Ostuni
- Day 5: Alberobello
- Day 6-7: Matera
Map of Puglia
To follow this itinerary, open the map below in Google Maps app to get a full scale interactive view.
Southern Italy Itinerary Day 1-2: Bari
Most people tend to skip Bari and head straight to nearby coastal towns. That’s such a shame as Bari is just as worthwhile to visit as its famous neighbors. We recommend spending at least 2 days in Bari before starting your Puglia road trip.
Get lost in the Old Town
The historic centre, known as Bari Vecchia, is built between the city’s two ports. Its labyrinth of narrow alleys lined with historic buildings and ornate shrines is made for walking.
Visit the Basilica di San Nicola, chat with the ladies along Orecchiette Street by the Cathedral (locals love to sit out and make fresh pasta shaped like ears), and enjoy some fresh pasta and wine at Piazza Mercantile — Bari is bound to surprise you.
Enjoy Street Food at Largo Albicocca
Largo Albicocca is the best place in Bari for some authentic Puglian street food. Try some panzerotto (deep fried pizza dough filled with tomato and mozzarella) and sgagliozze (polenta).
In recent years, this formerly neglected open space in the historic centre has transformed into an urban garden of sorts that comes alive every evening.
Explore Bari Castle
Built around 1132, Castello Normanno Svevo is an impressive construction encircled by moat. One of the best attractions in Bari, the castle now serves as an exhibition centre and events venue. A visit to the castle’s grounds costs 9€/adult.
Southern Italy Itinerary Day 3: Polignano a Mare & Monopoli
It’s time to hit the road and get this Puglia road trip started! Your first stop is just a 30-minute drive away. You’ve probably seen photos of this iconic beach on Instagram: Polignano a Mare is a stunning beach town unlike anywhere else in Italy.
Swim in the beach at Polignano a Mare
Hemmed in by rugged cliffs that resemble a fjord, the main beach of Polignano a Mare is the main star of the show. It was once a harbor for the Romans, but these days, it has become a seafront piazza that’s particular busy in summer.
During our visit in October, there were still a few locals swimming at the beach. But the water was definitely too cold for us. If you’re here in summer, check out the boat trips that take you beneath the cliffs and further along the coast.
Explore the Centro Storico
Perched above the craggy cliffs, Polignano a Mare was founded by a seafaring Roman commander. The white-washed old town perched on the cliffs right next to the famous beach is a charming maze of winding streets, churches, alfresco cafes and terraces offering spectacular sea views.
Enjoy Fresh Seafood with a View
Donna Gina has some of the best views in town and also the best atmosphere for romantic dinners. Fly #Calaporto is located right on the beach and serves fresh seafood with impressive cocktails but views aren’t as great.
The cliff restaurant that is built into the caves above the sea, Grotta Palazzese, is a sight to behold — but be prepared to fork out at least $200 for a meal here.
Hop over to Monopoli
Another 15-minute drive south along the coast lies Monopoli, another coastal town that is surprisingly large by comparison. The old town of Monopoli also feels refreshingly less touristy than Polignano a Mare.
Visit the 16th-century Castle of Charles V which is built on a promontory that juts out into the sea. Next to the fortified walls is a popular rocky beach where you can take a refreshing dip after a day before ending your day.
Southern Italy Itinerary Day 4: Ostuni
After a night in Monopoli, continue driving south along the coast. The small coastal road will bring you past one charming fishing village after another.
Make a quick stop at Capitolo to visit the Spanish fort of Torre Cintola that dates back to the 1500s. Then continue on to Savalletri where you’ll find plenty of rocky beaches and natural, shallow pools.
Enjoy a seafood lunch under the sun at one of the waterfront restaurants in Savalletri. We recommend MòMò Pescato e Cucinato, which has a stunning setting and also outstanding frittura (fried seafood platter) and fresh sashimi and sea urchins.
Wander around the White-Washed Town
It’s easy to see how Ostuni earned the nickname “Citta Bianca”, meaning white city, as you make your approach into town. Built atop a hill to protect from invaders, Ostuni is essentially a stack of white-washed houses stacked atop a sea of green olive groves.
Take your time to meander along the cobblestoned paths and explore the maze of houses upon houses, with little gardens. We absolutely enjoyed finding surprises at every corner, including hidden trattoria and artisan shops.
Visit the Saturday Market
Ostuni is renown for its fresh local produce and culinary culture, thanks to its location in the fertile Valle d’Itria. If you’re here on a Saturday, be sure to visit the open-air weekly market, held between 8 am and 1 pm along Via Gabbriele D’Annunzio.
Dine in a Cave
Ostuni is renown for having the best Puglian cuisine in the region. We had so many amazing meals here, but the one that stood out was dinner at the cave restaurant, Ristorante Caffe Cavour right outside the old town. The ambience is fantastic, and prices are affordable.
Italy Itinerary Day 5: Alberobello
Next day, prepare for a scenic drive as you head further inland into the Valle d’Itria. Set on a high fertile plain in the centre of Puglia, the Itria Valley stretches from Ostuni to Putignano.
Its wooded slopes, vineyards and endless olive groves are punctuated by the coned roofs of the trullo, whitewashed stone huts with an architectural style unique to the area.
The trullo house was first created as a means to avoid paying taxes. Local peasants would build their houses without mortar so that they could quickly and easily take them down when inspectors came! Many of them still remain standing today, but most have been converted into hotels and restaurants.
Explore the Trullo Town of Alberobello
Alberobello has the highest concentration of trulli (trullo in singular form) in Puglia, with over 1,500 of them packed into one small town. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Alberobello draws in hordes of tourists and daytrippers.
Avoid coming here in summer or try to visit early in the morning.
But during our visit in October 2020, we were lucky to find Alberobello without the usual crowds (due to the pandemic).
Enjoy the View at the Belvedere
Once you arrive in the town centre, head to the hilltop Rione Monti quarter within the ‘trulli zone’. The best viewpoint for a panorama of all the trulli rooftops in Alberobello is Belvedere Santa Lucia along Via Contessa (right by the steep steps that have writings on them).
Visit Museums and Churches
Rione Monti is extremely touristy, with every trullo converted into tacky souvenir shops or produce stores. If you can look past them, you’ll still photogenic corners and quiet backstreets hidden within.
Visit the Museo del Territorio Casa Pezzolla to understand how life in the trulli was like centuries ago. Entry is only 3euros and it comes with an iPad interactive guide.
At the top of the hill, you’ll find the Parrocchia Sant’Antonio di Padova, the only trullo church in the world! Aberobello town’s church has a truly unique architecture and definitely worth visiting just to see its exterior.
Italy Itinerary Days 6-7: Matera
I have saved the best for last! Around a 1-hour drive from Alberobello is by far our favorite spot in this Puglia road trip: the ancient cave city of Matera. [Technically Matera is located in the Basilicata region, not Puglia — but it is just an 1-hour’s drive from Bari.]
Matera is madly photogenic: Houses tumble down the hillsides, stacked on top of one another, perched on the edge of a ravine. Its hilltop tangle of caves and sand-colored alleys is beyond compare. But what makes it truly special is the story behind Matera.
Learn about the Story of Matera
In the 1950s, Matera was branded “ the shame of Italy”. People here lived in caves with their livestock, without electricity, plumbing nor running water. But a writer Carlo Levi changed Matera’s fate with his book.
The Italian authorities were forced to stop ignoring the issue, and relocated residents to a nearby rural development. The creatives then moved in and made it their mission to uphold Matera’s cultural traditions. After a transformation from slum to cultural hub, Matera was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Marvel at the Sasso Barisano
The old part of Matera is huge and there are plenty of things to do in Matera. The Sassi di Matera is divided into two districts — Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. Start in Sasso Barisano and spend a day roaming its narrow alleyways, interconnected loops and cave-converted-spaces.
The main square, Piazza Vittorio Veneto, is full of life especially in the morning. It’s also where you’ll find a panoramic viewpoint of the Sassi as well as Palombaro Lungo, an underground cistern with impressive columns and arches.
See Matera’s Best Viewpoints
Walk all the way down to Via Fiorentini and visit Sassi in Miniatura, a free museum with impressive clay miniature models of the old town. Then climb up to the Cathedral for yet another impressive view of Matera.
At the back of the Cathedral, continue down the steps and you’ll see the plunging ravine before you. Across the ravine is a hill punctuated with paleolithic caves that have existed for over 7,000 years! To get there, you can actually hike down the slopes via Porto Pistola and cross the bridge.
Don’t Miss the Belvedere di Murgia Timone
Alternatively, you can also drive across the ravine to get to the paleolithic caves. The Belvedere di Murgia Timone, easily the best photography spot in Matera, is just a 10-minute drive away. The best time to come here is at sunset. Click here for directions.
This was where the crucifixion scene in The Passion of Christ was filmed — and you can easily see why they chose this spot as Matera looks almost biblical in the background.
Explore Sasso Caveoso
Next day, head to Sasso Caveoso, the other part of ancient Matera. In contrast to Sasso Barisano, this area is less developed and you will get to see caves that are left entirely intact (especially those dug into the area that runs into Via Casalnuovo).
From the main piazza, the beautiful Church of San Pietro Caveoso is a gorgeous landmark worth visiting. Right above it is the rock church of Santa Maria de Idris, which is carved into a huge rock pinnacle jutting from the gorge. Climbing to the top of the rock is an experience on its own!
In the evening, head to the Piazza G. Pascoli to see the maze-like city lit up in gold. It’s a gorgeous sight and definitely one you don’t want to miss! If you have extra days, check out my full list of things to do in Matera.
Eat in a Cave Again!
Matera is one of the best places to try authentic Italian food and there is no shortage of atmospheric restaurants in Matera — but La Lopa really takes it up a notch with its otherworldly setting. They serve Materan dishes and wine using only locally sourced ingredients. And it also has the cutest little cinema that plays movies set in Matera!
Itinerary Day 8: Back to Bari
Sadly your Puglia road trip has come to an end. From Matera, it’s just a short 1-hour drive back to Bari Airport. Bari Airport is small, so you won’t need to arrive more than 2 hours before your flight departs. Drop your hired car and catch your flight home.
How Much Does this Southern Italy Itinerary Cost?
Southern Italy is a relatively affordable destination, compared to the US, UK and other parts of Western Europe. Food is exquisite and affordable, a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant costs around $30/person.
Car rental is cheap, you can find rates as low as $30/day. We always book online at DiscoverCars.com as their rates are consistently the lowest. We spent US$200 for a 1-week car rental with pickup/dropoff at Bari Airport.
Accommodation is slightly more expensive in the popular tourist destinations like Alberobello. But you can still find accommodation in a trullo or cave for $80/night.
More Southern Italy Itinerary Ideas
1 week is barely enough time to cover Puglia, not to mention the whole of Southern Italy. If you’ve got more than 1 week, here are some ideas on how you can extend your Southern Italy itinerary.
Drive to the tip of Puglia
For those who’d like to explore Puglia further, you can actually drive around the entire heel of southern Italy. From Ostuni, continue driving east along the coast to the beautiful rocky beaches of Torre Sant’ Andrea and La Grotta de Poesia. Make a stop at the towns of Lecce and Otranto before heading south all the way to Gallipoli.