Puglia is a fascinating region to visit, from the Gargano Promontory to the Trulli fanciful world of Alberobello, where you can rent one of the odd, conical structures for your vacation. In the Gargano, visit the old cities of Monte Sant’Angelo, Lucera, Manfredonia, and San Severo, and the Padre Pio sanctuary of San Giovanni Rotondo. Vieste is near to Italy’s newest national park, the Foresta Umbra, and is the holiday capital of the Gargano.

Trani, along the coast, features an old settlement right around the harbor with seafront Cathedral dedicated to San Nicola Pellegrino. 18th century palaces like the Caccetta, the Quercia end the Bianchi give you a good idea of Puglia’s Romanesque period. The Swabian castle of Trani was built by Federico II between 1223 and 1249, and was recently used as a prison. . A nice place to stay is Hotel San Paolo al Convento, a 4-star hotel in a nicely restored convent facing the harbor.

The Baroque city of Lecce, sometimes called the Florence of the South, is the southern terminus for the Italian rail line that runs along the east coast and is the main city of the Salento area. Its historic center is filled with ornate Baroque monuments and even has a few remnants of its Roman days. Lecce is well-known for its paper mache’ handicrafts and there’s a museum of paper mache’ figurines in the castle. Lecce is a great town to walk around in…as it is blessed with a soft limestone so easy to work that Lecce became the center for ornate architectural ornamentation, called the barocco leccese, or Leccese Baroque.

If you have time, you can also visit the Basilicata town of Matera, the filming site of “The Passion of the Christ.” If you go in early July, be sure to catch the Festa della Madonna Bruna.

Conical houses found in the the area around Alberobello. Trulli dot the countryside of central Puglia but the highest concentration of trulli is in the town of Alberobello itself and its trulli zone has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Puglia’s most southern part is the Salento Peninsula. Lots of good beaches dot the coast as well as picturesque towns with Greek-style architecture like Otranto (shown in the photo) and Gallipoli. Much of this area is covered with olive groves producing the high-quality olive oil that Puglia is known for, and vineyards for making Primitivo and Salice Salentino wines.

Bari is one of the largest cities in Puglia but it has a compact and very interesting historic center with narrow, winding streets and a castle on one side. Its most popular sight is the Church of Saint Nicolas, the saint commonly associated with Christmas. Bari has a nice seaside promenade, a big pedestrian street lined with modern shops, a lively square with bars and restaurants, harbors, and a theater. Bari is one of the main stops on the train line and has an airport.You can get the ferry to Greece from Bari.

Castel del Monte, about 30 kilometers southwest of Trani, is one of Puglia’s top castles and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in the 13th century, the castle is famous for its unique octagonal shape. It stands atop an isolated hill, allowing the castle to be seen from a long distance and providing a 360 degree view from the castle’s top. The castle is featured on Italy’s one euro cent coins. More »

Ostuni, the White City
Although Puglia has several towns whose buildings have whitewashed walls, Ostuni is one of the largest and most visible. Sitting atop a hill, Ostuni’s white buildings make it stand out against the blue sky creating a beautiful image. Wander through the old alleys of its historic center, a pedestrian zone, inside its ancient walls and enjoy the views from the hilltop.

• Gargano Promontory
Puglia’s Gargano Promontory offers several diverse environments for visitors. Along the coast are good, clean beaches and several nice seaside towns. Much of inland Gargano is covered a national park, the Foresta Umbra. The promontory’s highest point is the picturesque medieval town of Monte Sant’Angelo where pilgrims come to see the Archangel Michael Sanctuary in a grotto. Another popular pilgrimage destination is Padre Pio Shrine.