If you find yourself town-hopping around the ‘heel’ of Italy anytime soon, you’ll be blown away by the stunning street views and the amazing landscapes. I’ve just got back from a 5-day trip to explore the region and I already can’t wait to go back but if you beat me to it, don’t forget your camera – the views are incredible! (keep reading and I’ll show you).
Luckily for me, I regularly travel with pro-photographer Hannah Young who not only carries every piece of photography kit ever imaginable but also has a knack of making me look like the only person in Italy! I wasn’t alone in the vicinity of most of these shots but during mid-April, there really weren’t many people around which made our visit a really pleasant experience. The weather was warm and the streets were quiet which I’ve heard isn’t the case in peak summer but, that said, this region of Italy is still relatively secreted from mass tourism which makes it an ideal place to explore in spring, especially for photography enthusiasts.
We flew into Bari and hired a car which I was nervous about after reading a few blogs on driving in Puglia before I went but in reality, it was so much easier than we’d been led to expect. Many of the streets in the towns are really narrow but that’s all. We hired an iconic Fiat 500 and the phrase ‘Thank goodness we didn’t get a bigger car’ was used almost as much as ‘oh wow, that view is amazing’ but, in terms of the driving difficulty level, It’s no worse than anywhere else you might find yourself in the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road.
It’s easy to think that every town within a region of a country would all look similar right? I have been to plenty of places where each town looks the same and if I’m honest, I didn’t expect much visual variety in Puglia but I could not have been more wrong. Puglia completely opposed my assumption and from the moment I arrived, I couldn’t help noticing how different each town looks from the next and it is this ultimate diversity in landscapes that I think is the no.1 best reason to visit Puglia and the reason you won’t want to come home. It could not have been anymore unexpected and really, the premise of this post is to show you just how different each landscape is from one town to the next.
From the white stone houses and grey peaked roofs of Alberobello to the ancient ruins and cherub lined streets of Lecce and the dramatic cliffs and seascapes of Polignano. Did I mention the deep rusty red dunes surrounding the emerald green lake of ‘outback’ Otranto?!
Let’s start with Lecce; the Southernmost City and heart of the Puglia region known for its baroque buildings and extravagantly carved churches, intricately decorated with cherubs, gargoyles and other 17th century fantasies and figures.
This golden sandstone City is a haven of trendy coffee shops, wine bars and quirky eateries lining the narrow streets and hidden piazzas which surround the main square, Piazza Sant’Oronzo; the highlight of which is a restored 2nd-century sunken Roman amphitheatre.
Alberobello, which I re-named ‘Wow-berobello’ (no explanation required), is possibly the most visually unlikely of all the neighbouring towns of Lecce. This small UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its dense population of Trulli, the characteristic white-washed conical-roofed houses of which there are over 1000 in this tiny town alone. The houses are trullo, the restaurants are trullo and the shops are trullo – all beautifully kept with decorated doorways and window ledges filled with hanging pots, pink flowers, sunflowers, wooden benches and friendly pet cats in baskets. It’s a magical, fairy-tale like, almost unbelievable vision that I absolutely cannot even remotely compare to anywhere I have been or seen on Instagram, Pinterest, or Disneyland. It’s simply unique. The town is surrounded by countryside, olive groves, farmhouses and spectacular scenic views.
READ MORE ABOUT ALBEROBELLO HERE
POLIGNANO A MERE
Ready for some sea views? Let me introduce you to Polignano A Mere, just south of Bari and about 35 mins by road from Alberobello. Polignano wins the title for most breathtaking views. It’s no wonder most of the tourists were strolling around with tripods over their shoulders and shooting with gigantic lenses.
The charming white-washed streets through the tiny old town of Polignano, perched above a 20m limestone cliff are simply stunning. Each doorway and courtyard is beautifully decorated and completely different from the next. You can spend hours walking through the winding streets passing old churches, cafes, ice cream bars and souvenir shops and just when you think you’re lost, you’ll pop out at one of the panoramic terraces that line the cliff edge and offer the most amazing views over the Adriatic coastline.
Just outside of the main square, through the arch entrance, you’ll find the Lama Monachile bridge with even more stunning views as you descend down staircases either side to the small pebble beach of Cala Porto, nestled between the high cliffs and facing out to the beautiful bay which is famous for Red Bull cliff diving.
Now, about that secret lake in Otranto AKA the ‘Cavi di Bauxite’ or ‘Cava di Bauxite’.
From what I can understand, it’s essentially a neglected and now completely unkept former mineral cave where, over time, nature has transformed it into this beautiful attraction which can be found via sat nav and makes a great location for hiking and photography (especially if you’ve got a drone!). It was the most unlikely place that you would never imagine to be where it is. I can only describe it as a cross between Arizona and Mars!
If you visit this cave/lake, two things… Firstly, look out fur the turtles – we saw 2 of them from quite a distance and they weren’t small. If you’ve previously read about my love of Sea Turtles, you can imagine how excited and surprised I was to see them here, in Italy! Secondly, my advice is to wear old shoes. Especially if the ground isn’t completely dry because the orange earth will stain your soles. We had to run like the wind when our viewing time was cut short due to an unexpected rainstorm but not before we popped the drone up for a very quick sky selfie…
Sadly it was dark and I was hungry when we visited Martina Franca so I don’t have any pictures to show you but I want to tell you about it because this place is absolutely beautiful. Our short and sweet stroll around the historic town centre left me knowing for sure that I want to go back asap (in daylight). It’s so photogenic!
Built on a hillside and entered via a grand historic archway, the centre is surrounded by narrow lanes filled with ornate balconies, fancy baroque windows and grand buildings with the most elegantly decorated facades. It felt like walking through a theatre set designed to depict ancient Venice. Really, it was quite surreal.
If you visit Martina Franca any time soon and take any cracking shots, drop me a line in the comments box below, i’d love to see them!