Occupying the heel of Italy’s famous boot and the coastline north of it, Puglia – or Apulia to the natives – has been ‘discovered’ by overseas tourists but is still a great bet for those seeking to avoid the crowds of more popular regions such as Tuscany. As a family destination, Puglia's strengths are its lovely coastline (Italy’s longest) and its sun-drenched landscape with its silvery olive groves. This largely agricultural region produces nearly half of the county’s olive oil, as well as much of its wine.
As with the rest of Italy, Puglia is relaxed, with child-friendly folk who don’t bat an eyelid at tantrum-prone toddlers or sulky teens. And the food is fantastic even by Italian standards!
Things to do with kids in Puglia
Head for the gorgeous Promontorio del Gargano with its shimmering sea, limestone cliffs, chalky grottoes, fragrant maquis and primeval forests and its charming seaside resorts of Vieste and Peschici. Within the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, take guided walks or Jeep, quad-bike or mountain-bike tours. You can take a ferry to the Tremiti Islands: also in the National Park and named for the many earthquakes in the area, they're surrounded by amazing clear Adriatic waters. Back on the mainland, don't miss the Baia delle Zagare, a stunning beach named for its scented orange blossoms, with impressive sea stacks just offshore.
Make a beeline for the white-sand beaches of the Salentina peninsula, the actual heel of Italy, strewn with olive trees and vineyards. Top beauty spots here are the Alimini lakes (Adriatic Coast), Porto Selvaggio (Ionian Coast) and Otranto harbour. South of Otranto, the Punta Palascìa lighthouse stands on Italy's easternmost point.
Don’t miss Alberobello with its famous UNESCO World Heritage listed trulli – dry stone huts with conical roofs. Some are rented out as self-catering cottages or opened up as B&B accommodation.
Explore the regional capital Bari, especially its medieval quarter, Bari Vecchia, where you can stroll along the waterfront on the old city walls. In Bari province, don’t miss the spectacular Castellana Grotte calcite caves.
Check out Lecce, dubbed the ‘Florence of the south’, with lots of baroque architecture to ogle and some great places to sample rustic local cuisine.
Vieste in the Gargano National Park.
As befits its agricultural heritage, Puglia is a great place for food. The rustic cooking makes the most of local produce including tomatoes, artichokes, fava beans, rocket, courgettes, fennel, peppers and durum wheat, the latter the main ingredient of the delicious local bread and also the local pasta speciality, orecchiette – ear-shaped shells that are often served with meat ragu. Don’t miss maccheroni al forno, a pasta mixed with meatballs, hard-boiled eggs and other ingredients and baked in a pie crust.
Roast lamb is another culinary highlight, and the local pecorino cheese and ricotta are excellent. On the coast, freshly caught seafood treats include sea bass, red mullet, cuttlefish, anchovies and mussels.
Desserts here often take the form of sweetened ricotta. Many sweet dishes feature local almonds, honey and/or fig essence.
A local delicacy of sea snails with olive oil.
When to go to Puglia
July and August are naturally Puglia’s busiest months – many Italians choose to take their summer holidays here, and there are events galore, including festivals (sagre) and concerts. Out of high season, Puglia is more relaxed and the temperature can be more comfortable, especially if you are travelling with young kids. If you come in January or February, Puglia is famous for its season of colourful Carnival events.
Punta Palascìa lighthouse, Puglia.
Puglia can be a very good-value family holiday destination but this is also a place where you can splurge. See the Where to Stay tab for our hand-picked recommendations ranging from budget-friendly campsites and agriturismo farmstays to luxury villas and hotels.
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Trulli in Alberobello.
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