If your ideal getaway involves tiny picturesque villages, grand baroque towns, mouth-watering cuisine and jaw-dropping landscapes, you'll find it all in Puglia. Even better, you'll also be able to while away the long, sunny days lounging on tranquil golden beaches, which isn’t always easy to find along Italy's coastline.
Despite its many visit-worthy qualities, Puglia, the region in the heel of Italy's boot, attracts just a fraction of the tourists of better-known areas like Campania and Tuscany. But it won’t stay this way for long. There are clear signs that the Puglian secret is starting to get out, with tourism operators frequently citing it as one of the country's hottest up-and-coming destinations. If you want to visit Puglia as it is today - largely unspoiled and oozing relaxed Southern Italian charm - you'd better move fast.
Read on for the Flexicover team’s guide on why you should go and what to do when you're there.
Planning your trip
As with all of Southern Italy the winters are short and mild and the summers hot and dry; in fact, it's one of the driest and hottest regions in the whole country. Average maximum temperatures reach 28C in July and August. The sea also warms up beautifully into the mid-20s at this time of year, so don’t be afraid to take a dip. As Italy is part of the single currency you'll be using the euro during your visit and you won't need a visa. Ryanair and Easyjet fly direct to Bari from Stansted and Gatwick respectively, while the former also offers direct flights from Liverpool.
What to do
They may not have the global fame of Rome or Venice, but the cities of Bari and Lecce are well worth exploring during your time in Puglia. Bari is a bustling port and university city with a maze-like old town, Bari Vecchia. Meanwhile Lecce, dubbed the Florence of the South, is renowned for its Baroque architecture. Give yourself some time to stroll the historic streets on foot, stopping for refreshments at one of the many picturesque cafes lining the back streets. However, you'll need to venture outside of the cities to experience the true heart of Puglia. Wander through the towering pines of the vast Umbra Forest or soak up some sun on the glorious beaches of Salento at the far south of the peninsula.
What to see
While Puglia's sandy stretches are undoubtedly appealing, tear yourself away for a day or two of sightseeing - it's well worth the effort. Perhaps the region's best-known attraction is the UNESCO-listed Castel del Monte, a 13th-century citadel perched atop a hill in Andria. With no nearby strategic roads or towns to guard no one is sure why the perfectly octagonal structure was built. To experience some natural beauty head to the Grotte di Castellana, Italy's longest cave network. First discovered in 1938 it's home to stalactite and stalagmite formations, many with weird and wonderful names - look out for the jellyfish, the bacon and the stocking.
Where to stay
Planning to spend a day or two roaming the picturesque alleyways of Bari Vecchia? Book a stay at B&B Murex on the edge of the old town. Many of the rooms include balconies that are tailor-made for a spot of people-watching at the end of your walking tour. To explore the stunning Salento peninsula, base yourself in pretty Torre Santa Susanna. There you'll find the striking Castello Conti Filo, a hotel set in the majestic surrounds of a 16th-century castle. Pick a room with a spa bath for a little luxury. Or for something closer to the sea try Faro Bianco, just 100m from the beach at Spiaggia della Purita. The views from the sun terrace are some of the best in town.
What to eat
You’ll be pleased to learn that Puglia boasts some of the best traditional food in Italy. The region stays true to the principle of cucina povera ("poor kitchen") by which the country's lower classes historically fed themselves with whatever they could grow or buy at the local market. Fortunately it means they have fantastic fresh ingredients to work with. If you're after a snack make a beeline for a street stand selling pizzette. After something a little more filling? Try baccala alla salentina: dried, salted cod sprinkled with breadcrumbs, cheese and tomato. Or sagne ‘ncannulate: a long, spiralled pasta that's said to resemble the intricate Baroque swirls of Lecce's historic buildings. It's traditionally dished up with a cheese and tomato sauce.
Wherever you plan on heading to this year it’s good to know that Flexicover Travel Insurance is committed to providing you with the highest level of protection to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.