8th May 2018
If you’re thinking about a family holiday in Italy this summer, take a moment to discover Puglia. It’s the region in the heel of Italy’s boot that’s now stealing a march on the country’s overcrowded south-west for everything from historic cities and seaside resorts to big beaches, stunning countryside, and sheer originality. Italian families already love Puglia for giving them the choice of Adriatic or Ionian coastlines and warm and sunny weather on either.
They’ve long been smitten with the region’s fantastic seafood, as well as its wonderful olive oil, not to mention wine festivals, incredible Gargano National Park, handmade Salento sandals, trulli architecture, and the undeniable fact that holidays in Puglia are quite a bit less expensive than elsewhere in southern Italy – reason in itself for home-grown travellers to head here in summer. Happily, for non-Italian families, Puglia’s almost as easy to reach from the UK as it is from Rome: direct UK flights to Brindisi and Bari on the east coast take less than three hours. Touring about the region is a cinch too, although you might be tempted to stay put in eastern Puglia once you set eyes on its iconic medieval cities, pretty villages and uncrowded, sandy beaches along the Marina di Ostuni coastline.
Even if Ostuni was the only city you visited in Puglia, you’d go home happy. Known as La Città Bianca, or White City, it’s one of the loveliest in the region, looks remarkable from a distance, and completely captivating at close range.
Climb up to the 15th century cathedral at the top, and you can see all the way across plains of olive groves to the glimmering Adriatic. Then wind your way down, slowly.
Kids love the mighty stone staircases, and it’s guaranteed they’ll want to stop every two seconds to check out quaint artisan workshops, tiny shops, and cute little cafés.
Don’t miss the wonderful Saturday morning market on the edge of town, it’s as traditional as Ostuni’s cobbled streets and medieval houses, and definitely not just for tourists.
Of all Italy’s 53 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, few are more delightful than the historic beehive shaped, trulli houses of Alberobello: if you didn’t know their design was purely practical, you could easily believe they’d been built for enchantment purposes only. There are 1400 trulli homes in Alberobello and no cars, so the experience of walking around the town’s narrow streets is even more of a fairy tale for kids. Teens will spot the Instagram potential instantly and, just to add to the magic, the local gelato is almost as famous as the architecture.
Another Città Bianca, and one of the region’s oldest cities, Ceglie Messapica is just a short drive west of Ostuni. It contains quite a few of Puglia’s best-loved restaurants and is well worth a visit.
Puglia is famous for its olive groves, and Carovigno claims to produce the best of all oil in the entire region. Put that to the test on a warm summer afternoon, and while you’re around join in a colourful local festival: Carovigno has at least one a month, all year round.
One of the world’s bluest and clearest seas, the Adriatic gives any of its coastlines a natural advantage, so you can confidently expect spectacular beaches along the 20km length of the Marina di Ostuni coast in eastern Puglia. What might comes as more of a surprise is how easy it is to find space on the sand here, even in sultry July and August.
For absolute serenity, impressive dunes, and masses of space for younger kids to play, Lido Morelli beach is tucked into Dune Costiere Natural Park, 20 minutes north of Ostuni. Torre Santa Sabina’s combo of 12th century Knights Templar legends and brilliant water sport beaches is teen heaven. Costa Merlato has coves for trapping wonderful Puglia sun, and cute Quarto di Monte beach is the one for sunsets and laid back beach bars.
But, if you want all great beachy things in one place, Villanova is the seaside resort that manages to cover all fun bases, and bring a fair bit of ancient heritage into the equation too – swimming in the shadow of Castello Villanova is an experience in itself.
Between enormous, sandy beaches and history that’s big on drama, family festivals, and fantastic weather, Puglia is endlessly entertaining for kids without even trying. But if you feel like making a little effort, here are just a few places where summer holiday fun is pretty non-stop.