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Puglia, Italy: Cultural and Natural Highlights

Puglia: it’s often described as “the heel of Italy’s boot,” which might help you find it on the map but hardly does it justice when it comes to beauty. Puglia’s location means it has the longest coastline of any region in mainland Italy, giving it a warm climate and luxurious stretches of sandy beaches. Culturally speaking, it’s home to inimitable, UNESCO-worthy architecture and unforgettable gastronomic experiences.

Yet somehow, tourists have yet to discover Puglia in the same numbers that flock to Rome, Venice, Florence, and other well-known Italian destinations. That makes now an excellent time to embark on our Discovering Puglia tour, while authentic experiences still abound and the sunny open spaces remain uncrowded. Here are a few of the highlights on this eight-day tour.

Conical roofs of trulli huts

Trulli and the Architecture of Puglia

From a distance, you might mistake the dazzling whitewashed architecture of Alberobello for a traditional Grecian village. Look more closely, and you’ll discover a UNESCO World Heritage Site unique to Puglia. A trullo (plural trulli) is a dry-stone hut with a conical roof, with the oldest standing example dating to the 14th century. Dry-stone construction means they are built without mortar and can be quickly brought down. Legend has it they were invented to get around taxes on permanent structures—though these days they’re cherished as a cultural treasure.

We spend Day Six of the Discovering Puglia tour exploring the historical areas of Alberobello, where we have a chance to learn more about these remarkable structures.

Pleasant-looking Italian lawn with white home in the background

Food and Drink

While Puglia isn’t Italy’s top wine destination (Tuscany and Piedmont vie for that crown), that often plays in Puglia’s favor. Its unique geography means Mediterranean breezes from east and west create a warm, fertile climate excellent for vineyards. You can get superb wine without paying a premium for a famous name.

One of the region’s most famous exports is Primitivo (also known as Zinfandel when grown in California), a variety often described as “big” for its rich and full-bodied flavor. Don’t be fooled into thinking Primitivo means “primitive”—in Italian it refers to early ripening, which gives the wine its fruity character. On the Discovering Puglia tour, we visit a family-owned winery to learn about the local viticulture and wine production of this region. Of course, we have the opportunity to taste a selection of their wines!

Wine is only part of the story when it comes to Puglia’s agriculture, however. The region accounts for 40% of Italy’s total olive production, often derived from ancient olive groves passed down through generations. On Day Two of the Discovering Puglia tour we have the opportunity to take a cooking class, where we gain insight into how simple, high-quality ingredients can produce dishes of astounding quality. Our immersion in Pugliese gastronomy continues at a traditional farmhouse where we meet the owners and enjoy a home-cooked dinner. We also visit an underground olive oil mill and learn about cheese production at a local farmhouse.

Beach in Bari, Italy

The Coastline

Along Puglia’s coastline you’ll find beaches with fine sand and crystal-clear turquoise water. Better yet, the weather is warmer than in the north of Italy, which allows you to enjoy the coast deeper into the shoulder season.

Day Three of the tour takes us to Otranto, the easternmost point of Puglia. We begin by exploring the medieval old-world streets and taking in the breathtaking 12th century Tree of Life mosaic at Otranto Cathedral. Fantastical creatures roost in the tree’s branches, scattered between mysterious scenes from the Old Testament.

Afterward, we take in some fresh air as we stroll along the coves of Salento and refresh ourselves with a dip in the Adriatic.


View the Italy: Discovering Puglia tour here

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