Why for the insane? Because the pace of this road trip is quite fast. So you either have to be a little bit…let’s call it passionate about exploring, a blogger or an Instagrammer, or 3 days is all that you have and you want to make the most of it.
Either way, you have to be prepared for lots of driving and sleeping every night in a different location. But isn’t it exciting?
Especially as Puglia is perfect for a road trip. Stunning landscapes, beautiful coastline, fields of olive trees, incredibly charming towns and villages…Sounds great, right? But “where do I find it?” you might ask. Where is Puglia?
Puglia (or Apulia in English) is a region of Italy located in the southeast of the country. It fills the “heel” of Italy’s “boot” (map wise) and despite everything that it has to offer, it’s still not so popular among tourists visiting Italy. But, like everything that’s quaint, rural, quiet and calm, it’s about to change soon.
So quickly buy a plane ticket, rent a car and enjoy the delightful region of Puglia by following my 3 day Puglia road trip itinerary.
Before we start, let me let me tell you about 2 important things that are “included” in the whole Puglia road trip idea: driving and parking.
You probably heard horror stories about driving in Italy. They are…half true. Since driving on the smaller, regional Puglian roads was quite pleasant, highways are totally different experience. Italians don’t indicate when they’re about to change lanes and being “hot blooded” have no “personal driving space” meaning they can be very close behind you or sneak without any warming super close in front of you. The highway exit and enter roads are also very short, so you have to be extra careful when joining or leaving the motorway.
Parking in Puglia is not easy and can effectively ruin your mood. Driving around for 30 min looking for a spot is not what you want especially with a tight schedule. Google parking places before, find a space as soon as possible, even if it’s not in the centre and discover everything on foot.
Be aware of ZTLs (Zona Traffico Limitato). These Limited Traffic Zones are found in most major Italian cities, and they’re used to reduce congestion in high traffic areas, and make them more pleasant for pedestrians and residents. Many tourists not knowing about them pay big fines, because as soon as you enter such zone a camera takes a photograph of the licence plate. If the plate doesn’t appear on the list of permitted vehicles, a fine is automatically issued. Luckily some of the zones are restricted to locals only during certain time of the day or year. So Google it ahead.
Since 3 days are not a lot and Puglia is quite big, this itinerary includes a plan for road tripping only in the middle part of the region. But no worries, you’ll experience not only the highlights, but also the wonderful variety that Puglia has to offer. Bigger cities, smaller towns, unique places, incredible scenery…add to that, sunny weather, delicious food and super friendly people and you’ll get 3 days of truly authentic Italian experiences. Below you can find a map of the whole Puglia road trip with the starting point in Brindisi.
ARRIVAL AT BRINDISI AIRPORT
When flying to Puglia you’ll either arrive at Brindisi or Bari airport. No matter where you come, you can still follow this itinerary, since it’s a loop.
We flew to Brindisi. We actually arrived the previous evening, but decided to spend the night in the city, have some rest and start this crazy road trip in the morning. So we picked up the car straight from the airport and headed to the city.
When booking an accommodation in Puglia, make sure that the property has a designated parking space. Like you already read, it’s hard to find a place to park in Puglian towns and cities no matter what time of day.
Brindisi – Ostuni- Alberobello
Total distance: 80km
Brindisi is quite a pleasant city, but to be honest, we only treated it as a night base. So, after a quick stroll in the morning, finished off with an almond coffee (a speciality in Puglia) and a chocolate cornetto in one of the waterside cafés, we hit the road.
FIRST STOP: Ostuni – The White City
Recommended time there: 4-5 hours
When you check Google maps, you’ll notice that you have 3 possible routes from Brindisi to choose from. We decided on the “costal” one. Even though it’s the longest (45 km), but since it’s a main road, you can complete it the fastest.
The journey was enjoyable and we reached the destination faster than we expected. After you leave the main highway, keep your eyes peeled for Ostuni on the crest of one of the distant hills. You may want to rush to get there, but slow down and enjoy the view along the way – Ostuni makes a big impression even from afar.
The best place to park was just outside the city walls on Via Giosuè Pinto, you do have to pay, but it was only around 0.6 euros an hour.
Now when I think about it, we probably spent too much time in Ostuni, considering the fast pace we wanted to follow. But “Città Bianca” totally charmed us!
A web of little streets, a maze of alleyways, staircases and arches – Ostuni is a perfect place to get lost in. With its white buildings, it looks more like a town from a Greek Island, but you can definitely feel the authentic Italian atmosphere. So lose yourself in the little alleys, walk the city walls, climb up to one of the viewpoints and don’t forget to take a break to enjoy an Aperol Spritz in one of the quirky bars with great views, like: Borgo Antico Bistrot.
I can honestly say, that Ostuni was my favourite town of all the places we visited in Puglia. However, the rest of beautiful Puglia was awaiting.
SECOND STOP: Alberobello
Again, there are at least 2 routes to this unique town, but trust Google and follow the one it’s recommending. The 41 km long road will lead you through endless fields of olive trees and palazzos so just slow down and enjoy the views. You will know when you’re close to your destination from the weirdly shaped huts that start appearing now and then. When you find yourself surrounded by little white houses with conical roofs – well done – you made it to Alberobello.
Fascinated by the trulli, I planned it to be our base for the night. And since staying in one of them is a recommended experience in Puglia, we had to give it a go.
It was almost dark when we finally settled in our trullo, so we just went on a quick stroll to the “trulli village” and spent the rest of the evening enjoying a delicious dinner in: Casa Nova
Alberobello – Monopoli – Polignano a Mare – Matera
Total distance: 130 km
Yes, it was a busy day! But super exciting.
FIRST STOP: Alberobello
Recommended time there: 2-3 hours (taking that you also chose it as your base)
Well, it wasn’t really a stop, since we already spent the night there.
We started the day by waking up early in the morning to see the sun rising above the “trulli village”. It was a great experience to wander among trulli when no-one else was up.
Ok, trulli, trulli. But what are “trulli”? A trullo (singular from trulli) is a small dwelling built from the local limestone, with dry-stone walls and a characteristic conical roof. There are many stories behind their origin, not sure which one is true. Most probably they were built so “light” (without using concrete), so they could be quickly dismantled before tax inspectors reached the town. Thanks to Italian cheekiness, Alberobello is nowadays becoming more and more popular among tourists wanting to see and visit those funny little huts.
But to be honest, the “trulli village” is really all that Alberobello has to offer. So after breakfast we packed our bags and headed out to our…
SECOND STOP: Monopoli
Recommended time there: 4-5 hours (including lunch break)
The 22 km route passed very quickly, but then the problems started… I already mentioned that as cute as Puglian towns are, parking there (especially on a Sunday) can be quite a pickle. After a good 20 min of driving around, we finally found a spot in the main car park close to the harbour. BUT it was a ZTL parking place – limited for locals, luckily only until 30th of September, so by visiting in October, we were free to park.
Monopoli – located on the Adriatic Sea, this fishing town, built (like many Puglia towns) of white stone will charm you. Medieval architecture, narrow paved streets joined by arches and a bustling port where you can come to walk along the water or admire the traditional “gozzi” fishing boats and watch Italian life pass by.
The old port (il porto vecchio) is the most recognisable place in Monopoli, but I also recommend a stroll in the Old Town. Charming narrow alleys, cute corners filled with flowers, quirky cafés – Monopoli will amaze you.
During our walk we spotted the delightful Atipico Food Bar and decided to have a bite there. Panini and Caffe Leccese (coffee and almond syrup, over ice, famous in Puglia) totally satisfied us and we were ready to hit the next destination.
THIRD STOP: Polignano a Mare
Recommended time there: 4-5 hours
This was surely the shortest journey. Located only 9 km from Monopoli, Polignano a Mare is a must-visit when doing a road trip in Puglia.
Apparently everyone knows this, because Polignano a Mare was the busiest of all Puglian towns we visited. So as you might have guessed, parking there was even more complicated than in Monopoli. In the end we found some empty land on the edge of town that had a few other cars already parked. I’m not sure if it was very legal, but oh well.
Perched atop a 20 metre high limestone cliff above the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, Polignano a Mare does live up to its name and literally could not be any more “at sea”.
Known for its aqua blue water, rocky coastline, cliffside white buildings and an Insta-famous bay with rocky beach, Polignano will deliver a truly Italian experience. Walk the cute streets, take pictures on the Ponte Lama Monachile, find your way to the Cala Porto (also known as Lama Monachile) beach, go to admire the views from from Balconata sul Mare, follow the poetry path and discover Vicolo della Poesia – the poetry steps. Ohh and don’t forget to pay a visit to the monument of Domenico Modugno, writer of the famous Italian song: Volare – I’m sure you know it. After doing all of that and having a delicious Aperol Spritz in Mylo – a cute little bar with a rooftop, we had to hit the road again to make it to our last and the farthest destination of the day…
FOURTH STOP: Matera
This part of the trip was without the doubt the most demanding. Not sure if it was because of the fact that it was the longest one or we were tired after the whole day of exploring or we were driving in the dark. Probably all of above. But to be honest we couldn’t wait until this almost 100 km journey was over. Luckily when we saw beautiful Matera glowing in the dark, emerging from the hills…all our vital energy came back.
As it turned out, we needed it…
Firstly to find a parking space. If I was complaining about that before, I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Our Airbnb owners pointed out a few possible streets where we could park, but everywhere was full. It took easily 30 min to find a space where we could squeeze in.
And then…the horror with finding our accommodation started. Ok, ok, it wasn’t “a horror”, but it wasn’t pleasant either. Even being rather good with Google maps (especially Matt, I have my moments), we just couldn’t find the entrance to our flat. All those little alleys, millions of stairs, secret passages…in the end, the Airbnb owner had to come and pick us up.
The next day we saw a few people also confused about the location of their accommodation, which totally made us feel better about ourselves.
Driving and parking in Matera Old Town can be pretty horrendous, so contact your accommodation in advance to confirm parking arrangements nearby and ask for exact directions how to get there.
Matera – Brindisi Airport
Total distance: 150 km
FIRST STOP: Matera
Recommended time there: 5-6 hours (taking that you chose it as your base)
Now, wait, “but Matera is not in Puglia” you might say. Yes, it’s not. But, located in the nearby Basilicata region and being one of the world’s longest continuously inhabited human settlements, Matera is a place you have to visit. There’s also another reason. Matera is a city of caves. Carved into the rock, Matera is composed of a network of caves inhabited since the Paleolithic era. For centuries, people used to live there in caves, in poverty, without electricity or running water, together with animals. Only in the late 1950’s the Italian government started introducing some changes: people were relocated, the caves were transformed into hotels, restaurants, shops and museums, creating one of the most amazing places you can visit in Italy nowadays. So amazing that it became a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2019.
What to do in Matera? Simply stroll the streets and alleys. It’s such an incredible place that simply roaming though the Sassi (Sassi Barisano and Sassi Caveoso – ancient sections of the city) will deliver an unforgettable experience. You can also cross the ravine to see Matera from a distance and visit Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario to see how people used to live in the caves.
If you want to have a real Matera experience, choose a cave hotel or cave Airbnb as your accommodation and visit one of the cave restaurants, for example: Da Zero for pizza.
SECOND STOP: Brindisi Airport
After a lovely day in Matera, the time had come to say goodbye to bella Italia and make our way back to the airport to catch our late flight.
It was the longest journey of the road trip: 150 km, so obviously planning enough time to make it on time was needed.
A bit tired, but very satisfied with everything that we managed to see and visit, we waved to the “Italian heel” from above.
I hope my Puglia road trip itinerary for the insane, does not seem too insane for you and you’ll find it useful when planning your 3 (or maybe more) day Puglia road trip.
If you have any questions, ask them in the comments or hit me up on Instagram.
I’ll be happy to help.