A road trip through art cities and breathtaking landscapes to spend 7 days in Apulia and unveil all the secrets of an extraordinary culture.

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Apulia is often referred to as the "Heel of the Boot", which metaphorically symbolizes the shape of the Italian peninsula. Situated on the eastern side of Southern Italy, here we find ourselves in a sun-kissed territory rich in history, parks, and culture, deserving of exploration for its fabulous landscapes, colors, flavors, and authentic traditions that thrive in charming villages nestled in pristine nature.

There’s no better way to explore this wonderful region than with a road trip: we'll be able to admire wonderful places and share unforgettable experiences, amidst artistic and cultural hubs, National Parks, art cities, and excellent products. So let's get ready to spend 7 days in Apulia and discover every secret of this truly special land.

7 days in Apulia, an on-the-road itinerary through the Heel of Italy

7 days in Apulia, on-the-road itinerary

For its role as the regional capital, as well as its location and the presence of the Karol Wojtyla International Airport, Bari represents the ideal base for our journey of 7 days in Apulia.

As the first stop, we can explore the city on foot, using public transportation, or perhaps renting a convenient bike to move faster between the attractions of the old town.

From the second day onwards, the on-the-road itinerary will kick off: that’s why we'll need to pick up a car from one of the many rental points at the airport (easily accessible from the center of Bari by railway) before heading north along the Gulf of Manfredonia, reaching the Gargano area and the splendid Vieste.

The next stop will see us retracing our steps, but this time we'll be traveling inland, crossing the splendid scenery of the Alta Murgia National Park until we reach Altamura and, the following day, Alberobello, where we'll admire the picturesque Trulli, one of the most famous and spectacular attractions of the entire region.

In the last three days, we'll be exploring the wonderful Salento, first reaching its southern tip in Santa Maria di Leuca, then discovering the historical and architectural wonders of Lecce, the "Lady of the Baroque", and finally heading back north along the Adriatic coast, between fabulous bays, enchanting beaches and breathtaking landscapes.

1st stage: Bari, cultural hub and base for our trip of 7 days in Apulia

7 days in Apulia, Bari

Basilicas and cathedrals, historical monuments, good food and a seaside atmosphere. The city of Bari is all this and much more: it’s the blend of ancient and modern, tradition and innovation, tranquility and liveliness.

Bari's historical and artistic heritage goes hand in hand with its liveliness, fueled by an excellent climate that encourages tourists and locals to stroll through neighborhoods rich in cultural attractions, shopping streets or along the splendid and iconic Lungomare.

We can start exploring the city from the district of San Nicola, known as Bari Vecchia. In this historic area, we find some of the most significant places in Bari, such as the imposing Castello Svevo, located at the southwestern border of the neighborhood, or the splendid Basilica of San Nicola, which stands in the homonymous square, right in the heart of Bari Vecchia.

San Nicola is indeed the city's patron saint, and the Basilica houses his remains inside the crypt. Visiting it with a guided tour is an excellent choice, also to learn more about the secrets of the Saint described in legends as the original Santa Claus!

Before leaving Bari Vecchia, let's stop at one of the numerous venues to taste a dish of traditional Orecchiette pasta, especially the famous Orecchiette alle Cime di Rapa. Then we exit the historic center from the eastern side, passing through Piazza Mercantile and reaching the Fortino di Sant’Antonio, a defensive structure from the 16th century from where we can admire the panorama of the Adriatic Sea.

From this point, we follow the Lungomare southwards and appreciate its colors, sounds, and scents. We pass by the Margherita Theater and stop at the majestic Panoramic Wheel, then we enter the modern part of the center for a stroll along the lively pedestrian Via Sparano da Bari, amidst shops and boutiques often set within charming historical buildings.

We end the day beautifully with a dinner to savor other typical dishes of Bari, such as Potatoes, Rice and Mussels, Fava Beans and Chicory, or Lampascioni.

2nd stage: Gargano National Park and Vieste

7 days in Apulia, Gargano

From Bari Central Station, let’s take the train line towards the airport, where we can rent a car to leave the city and embark on a journey to discover the beauties of Apulia.

Let's head north towards Manfredonia: we can proceed along the A14 Adriatic Highway to Foggia and then take the SS89, a longer route in terms of distance but slightly faster in terms of time; or we can follow the coast passing through Bisceglie, Trani (a splendid place to visit for those with a few extra days to spare), and Barletta.

In any case, once we pass Manfredonia, we leave the main road at the village of Madonna delle Grazie and head up to Monte Sant’Angelo, where we can follow the signs indicating the Foresta Umbra, within the Gargano National Park.

The Foresta Umbra and the entire Gargano area, in general, represent a real natural oasis, a pleasant place immersed in greenery and rich in trails and unique views. For example, we can walk the short distance from the road to the beautiful Falascone d’Umbra lake, to enjoy a moment of relaxation in an idyllic setting and appreciate the local flora and fauna, including deer, carp, and turtles.

After crossing the forest, let’s head towards Peschici, about fifteen minutes away, and only then do we turn east to follow the coast to Vieste, the final destination of our day.

In this way, we’ll extend the route, but we’ll be able to admire the landscapes, beaches and traditional Apulian trabucchi, ancient wooden structures that once served as fishing machines and have now become an important attraction along the Adriatic coast, being restored and in some cases even transformed into picturesque restaurants.

Once we reach Vieste (just over half an hour, stops excluded), we can dedicate the rest of the afternoon and evening to exploring this small and charming village, being enchanted by the breathtaking views from the Castello Svevo Aragonese or from the Trabucco di Punta San Francesco, and strolling through the picturesque alleys of the historic center, stopping at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (XI century) or the romantic Scalinata dell’Amore (Stairway of Love).

3rd stage: Alta Murgia National Park

7 days in Apulia, Castel del Monte

Let’s continue our itinerary of 7 days in Apulia by leaving Vieste and heading back along the coast of the Gulf of Manfredonia to the town of Lido di Rivoli. From there, we venture into the inland, shortly after Canosa di Puglia, entering the Alta Murgia National Park.

The Murge plateau is a vast area, a true subregion that extends over much of Central Apulia, bordering even into the neighboring Basilicata where the Murgia Materana is located. Instead, we find ourselves in the Alta Murgia, a high hill territory rich in splendid panoramas.

Crossing the roads of the National Park is an attraction in itself, because we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a charming bucolic scenery amidst small villages and farmhouses surrounded by greenery.

Located in the northern part of the Park, in the municipality of Andria, a stop to discover the fabulous Castel del Monte is a must. This fortress was built in the XIII century by Frederick II of Swabia, it’s a UNESCO heritage site since 1996, and is one of the most visited sites in all of Italy, being even depicted on the 1 cent coins produced in our country.

Apart from the grandeur of the structure (and the interiors, which are visitable), Castel del Monte also offers extraordinary views over much of the Alta Murgia, thanks to its strategic position on top of a hill.

From this point, still crossing the suggestive roads of the National Park, we can reach the town of Altamura in about an hour. Here we'll spend a pleasant afternoon strolling through the beautiful historic center, visiting the baroque Cathedral, the typical fortified farms, or the Bread Museum, where we can learn about the history and tradition of the famous Altamura Bread.

4th stage: from Altamura to Alberobello

7 days in Apulia, Alberobello

On the morning of the fourth day, we leave Altamura to head towards the town of Alberobello, about an hour's drive away.

However, in the first part, we can make a couple of detours from the shortest route: first, let’s make a stop at the archaeological sites in the surrounding area, such as Lamalunga, where the skeleton of the Man of Altamura, dating back to the Paleolithic Era, was discovered in 1993. At the Lamalunga Visitor Center, we can learn more about this extraordinary discovery and the history of the area.

Then, continuing towards Cassano delle Murge, we pass through the scenic Mercadante Forest, making a brief stop to walk at least a short stretch of one of the trails in this relaxing and expansive landscape.

Leaving the forest behind, let’s head straight to Alberobello, so we’ll have the entire afternoon to spend among the picturesque Trulli that characterize this beautiful town.

One might think that the town, also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, has lost some of its authentic charm due to its fame and the large number of visitors. The reality is that the scenery of Alberobello possesses a unique charm, and it never fails to leave us speechless.

The panoramic view of the Trulli from the Church of Santa Lucia offers an unforgettable postcard image, and walking through the narrow streets of the historic center next to these wonderful buildings makes us feel almost as if we were inside a fairy tale.

So, let's explore the two-story Trullo Sovrano, the characteristic central area of Aja Piccola, and also the Rione Monti, the most commercial area where we can find some souvenirs to take home and remember this special place.

5th stage: heading towards Santa Maria di Leuca

7 days in Apulia, Santa Maria di Leuca

Today we enter the splendid area of Salento. In particular, we’ll reach the southernmost tip of Apulia, the town of Santa Maria di Leuca, the meeting point of the two seas that bathe the region, the Ionian and the Adriatic.

The fastest route involves passing through Brindisi and Lecce before turning towards the western coast of Salento, passing Gallipoli, and finally reaching Santa Maria di Leuca after about 2 hours and 15 minutes of travel.

Along the way, there are some very interesting places where we can stop to spend the morning: one of these is the town of Ostuni, the White Town. Here we can visit the beautiful historic center and its centuries-old alleys, along with the fascinating palaces and walls that offer incredible views of the Valle d'Itria territory and all the way to the Adriatic Sea.

In addition to Ostuni, another perfect place for a morning stop along the road to Santa Maria di Leuca is Gallipoli.

This time we are already in the heart of Salento, among beautiful sandy beaches and the crystal-clear waters of the Ionian Sea. In Gallipoli, too, we can get lost in the streets of the historic center, with its baroque-style houses, the Cathedral of Sant'Agata, and the ancient Frantoio Ipogeo (where olives were processed for oil production).

Let's not forget to take a stroll along the Lungomare adjacent to the Spiaggia della Purità before stopping at a trattoria to savor tasty local dishes, such as Scapece or Polpo alla Pignata (lu purpu alla pignata, in local dialect), prepared with sauce and olive oil.

In the early afternoon, we finally reach Santa Maria di Leuca and explore the wonderful views enjoyed from the promontory where the Sanctuary of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae and the Lighthouse of Santa Maria di Leuca (one of the tallest in Europe) are located.

Then, a walk from the historic center to Punta Ristola Leuca is a must. Here we can find the real "Heel of Italy", the southernmost point of Puglia, in a fabulous setting among caves, cliffs, and breathtaking views of the sea.

6th stage: Lecce, the Lady of Baroque

7 days in Apulia, Lecce

We have to drive for about an hour to reach Lecce from Santa Maria di Leuca. Then we can dedicate the entire day to visiting the city known as "the Lady of Baroque”.

We begin the exploration by entering the heart of the historic center through the imposing Porta Rudiae (early 18th century) and strolling along the paved Via Libertini, which runs among ancient and scenic buildings until Piazza del Duomo, where the Cathedral, the Bell Tower, the elegant Archbishop's Palace and the Seminary Palace are located.

Once we leave the square, let's walk along Via Vittorio Emanuele II to reach Piazza Sant'Oronzo, true living room of the city, where baroque architecture spectacularly coexists with the suggestive ruins of the ancient Roman Amphitheater.

This is the right place for a stop at one of the venues located in the alleys surrounding the square. After resting and refueling ourselves, perhaps with one of the classic Lecce street foods, such as Puccia (typical stuffed bread) or Frisa Salentina (a kind of toasted bread), let’s continue our tour of Lecce by reaching the Castle of Charles V.

Besides being the largest castle in all of Apulia, this site is truly interesting both from the perspective of its external architecture, with its mighty fortifications, and for the visit inside, among the rooms, prisons, churches and fascinating ramparts.

After leaving the castle, we stroll through the shops of Via Trinchese to the wide and green Piazza Mazzini, before returning to the heart of the center to spend there the rest of the afternoon, walking among the historic buildings and hidden, romantic courtyards, and searching for the most beautiful views to discover and photograph.

The area between Piazza Duomo and Piazza Sant'Oronzo is particularly charming also in the evening, and is the place where locals experience the city during nighttime hours.

7th stage: the eastern coast of Salento

7 days in Apulia, Grotta della Poesia

For the final stage of our journey of 7 days in Apulia, we'll finally return to Bari. However, we won't take the most direct route: instead, we'll leave Lecce heading south, specifically towards Otranto, and then we'll head back north along the eastern coast of Salento.

There are several places perfect for a stop, allowing us to appreciate the fantastic natural scenery of this area. One of these is the Baia dei Turchi, just a ten-minute drive from Otranto.

We'll park the car in one of the numerous parking lots, and then walk through the pine forest separating the road from the beach to reach the fabulous sea of the bay.

During the summer months, Baia dei Turchi will certainly be crowded. In that case, we can continue along the coast, where there are plenty of viewpoints: from the Baia del Bastimento to Torre dell’Orso, not forgetting the splendid Grotta della Poesia, an open-air archaeological site that frames a wonderful landscape.

Going north, we leave the Salento region just before the city of Monopoli. From here to Bari there are only 40km left to travel, but along the way, there's one last town definitely worth stopping at, namely Polignano a Mare.

In Polignano, we can relax with a seafood lunch and then spend the afternoon exploring its picturesque historic center and extraordinary lookouts overlooking the sea, making the town truly unique, a quintessential blend of history, architecture, and nature, which is what makes the cities of Apulia so special.

Once we leave Polignano a Mare, it will take us about 30 minutes to reach Bari. Our itinerary in Puglia thus comes to an end: we've traveled far and wide through the roads and landscapes of this magnificent region, and now we can carry with us all the most spectacular images of a territory rich in magical places impossible to forget.

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