Discover 13 secret spots in Puglia where the locals go!
Puglia is a region in Southern Italy, known as ‘The Garden of Italy’. The whole of Puglia itself used to be a hidden gem! It certainly hasn’t been the main star on the tourist map in Italy. But now it is becoming increasingly popular with international travellers who are flocking here to enjoy a more authentic and laid-back Italian summer experience.
This means that many places in Puglia (beautiful as they are!) are starting to get very touristy and pricey, especially during the peak season. However, this gorgeous region is brimming full of hidden gems to explore if you want to stay off the beaten path in Italy.
In this post, we are sharing some of the best-kept secrets in Puglia (that the locals may not want you to find out about!). Experience the heart of Puglia, without all the tourists by adding these places to your itinerary.
1. Spiaggia di Porto Ghiacciolo, Monopoli | Bari
Spiaggia di Porto Ghiacciolo is a tiny cove located in Monopoli. This hidden gem is the perfect cove to relax. Chances are the only other people there will be locals! Make the most of the surrounding restaurants and cafes and spend the day swimming, sunbathing, drinking and eating in a picture-perfect Italian summer town setting.
2. Torre Guaceto | Brindisi
Don’t expect to find any ancient picturesque beach towns here! Torre Guaceto is one of the best beaches in Puglia because it is a nature reserve. Located in the northern province of Brindisi, Torre Guaceto boats long stretches of white sand and crystal clear, calm waters.
This is a great place for families to set up for the day with incredible swimming and snorkelling. You may even spot some marine life in the surrounding reefs while you are in this protected area!
If natural beauty, adventure and quieter, under-developed beaches (where you have no problem finding a space) are more of your vibe over towns and cities then don’t miss Torre Guaceto!
3. Tricase Porto | Lecce
Tricase Porto is a charming small seaside village near the southernmost point of Lecce. This gorgeous town boasts a small port that is so picturesque you will feel as if you are looking at a postcard!
Picture small floating boats bobbing in crystalline emerald waters casting a shadow on the white sandy seafloor. There is a small sand beach on one end of the port where you can enjoy the splendour of the most gorgeous waters you can imagine.
Stay for sunset drinks at the nearby restaurants to add to the magnificent summertime ambience of one of the most beautiful port beaches in Puglia.
4. Spiaggia di Santa Maria Al Bagno | Lecce
Santa Maria Al Bagno is an ancient fishing village located on the Ionian (west) side of Lecce, located near Gallipoli. This is a town where one of the best beaches in Puglia is located in the heart of the town centre, Spiaggia di Santa Maria Al Bagno.
This charming town has beautiful blue waters surrounded by cliffs with old houses perched on top. It is truly striking and one of the most beautiful hidden gems to visit in Puglia.
5. Monte Sant’Angelo | Foggia
Monte Sant’Angelo is a small town perched on a mountain in Puglia’s northern Foggia region. Vieste is a more well-known town in this region which attracts more visitors.
This small town has a lot of historical significance with its main feature being a castle protecting one edge of the town that dates back to 1100.
Monte Sant’Angelo is a place of religious significance (the perfect place to don a St. Christopher pendant!). The Sanctuary of Saint Michael Archangel is an underground church that is located here and is a big pilgrimage destination.
The town itself is true to its medieval roots with cobbled streets and low stone buildings with beautiful mountain views as the backdrop.
Most of the crowds you will find in Monte Sant’Angelo are pilgrims visiting the Sanctuary. So step away from the church and you will find yourself in a quiet hidden gem in Puglia.
6. Giovinazzo | Bari
Located 25 minutes north of the city of Bari, you will come across the tiny fishing village of Giovinazzo. This seaside town has a gorgeous harbour, a picturesque old town and a seaside promenade to explore.
Like many places in Italy, this small old town was deserted up until about 10 years ago as many locals fled to more modern cities to enjoy the amenities and opportunities. However, over the last 10 years, the growth of tourism in the region has enticed locals and entrepreneurs to move back and start setting up shop again!
Tourism is still relatively underdeveloped in Giovinazzo making this cute town the perfect hidden gem in Puglia (and it’s easy to access from Bari!). This is a great place to consider coming if you want to visit Puglia in the summer months but don’t want to be overrun tourists like nearby places such as Monopoli, Polignano and Alnerobello.
The best thing to do in Giovinazzo is to explore the marina and the cobbled streets. Get lost amongst the ancient architecture and soak in the authentic Italian atmosphere! Thanks to the fisherman working here, this is a great place to have incredible seafood at local prices.
7. Bitonto | Bari
Bitonto is another small town located near Bari in Puglia. This hidden gem is well and truly off the beaten path and is even a bit rough around the edges.
This old town’s main feature is the cathedral, Duomo di Bitonto built in the 11th and 12th centuries. It is some of the best architecture from the Roman era that you can find in Puglia.
However, one of the best things about Bitanto (if you like going where only locals go!) is that it is truly an authentic place to visit. There are hardly any amenities for tourists such as no hotels, no restaurants with English menus, nowhere to rent a car and so on. It is untouched.
The historic centre is still inhabited by locals so you can witness for yourself how locals live authentically (without someone in the tourism industry trying to sell you something!).
8. Martina Franca | Taranto
Our next hidden gem in Puglia is located in the Taranto region, right in the middle of the east and west coasts.
While this town is now on the tourist map, it is nowhere near as popular as the nearby villages of Ostuni and Locorotondo.
This whitewashed town features Rococo architecture which makes it so interesting and unique to explore.
The old town is home to the City Hall which features an impressive balcony, which used to be a private residence! The Basilica di San Martino is another must-visit church in Martina Franca.
The best thing to do in Martina Franca is to get lost exploring the streets of the old town and see what you stumble upon!
9. Oria | Brindisi
Oria is a lesser-known region located in the dry lowlands of Salento inside the province of Brindisi. Nearby towns of Lecce and Locorotondo have become major tourist destinations while Oria remains a hidden gem.
Oria is a charming place, usually only enjoyed by locals. The authentic village is located on top of a hill and hardly any tourists make their way here. For those of us who love hidden destinations where no tourists go, this is the place for us!
Oria has an interesting history and used to be home to Puglia’s largest Jewish communities. You can still see remnants of this today.
When in Oria you cannot miss the town castle and cathedral.
10. Nardó | Lecce
Nardo is located in the province of Lecce, on the west side of the coast near the southern tip of Puglia.
While this is the largest village in Lecce, it is still relatively unknown, making it a great hidden gem in Puglia to explore.
Much like Giovinazzo, over the last 10 years, the government has made efforts to restore the old town and attract more visitors and residents to bring it back to life. There are more people and more shops, cafes and accommodation options available here for us to enjoy.
The main square is a wonderful place to take in all the architecture and the church of San Domenico is a beautiful example of baroque architecture. Exploring the old town and the architecture is the best way to see Nardo.
If you keep heading towards the west you will find a small village called Cenate which leads to the beautiful Ionian Sea. Here you will find Spiaggia di Santa Maria al Bagno beach which is our number 4 hidden gem above!
The best part is, visiting Nardo and the surrounding areas is easy to do in a day if you are basing yourself in the city of Lecce which is just a 30-minute drive away.
11. Santa Cesarea Terme, Castro, & Tricase | Lecce
Located along the southern coast of Puglia in the province of Lecce you will find the small beach towns of Santa Cesarea Terme, Castro and Tricase all one after the other in a line.
In winter these towns are deserted, however as the weather warms up, the towns come alive. While many visitors do descend on these gorgeous beach towns in summer, they are still not on the main international tourism map, making them more authentic and charming them other beach towns in the region.
The coastline is pristine, without any heavy industry and makes for a heavenly coastal drive. Each town has a marina where you can perch yourself, swim and sunbathe all afternoon before relaxing in a restaurant with a crisp glass of white wine and some local Italian food. Thanks to the lack of sandy beaches and infrastructure, these stunning places don’t get overcrowded. It truly sounds like a picture-perfect summer in Italy dream come true!
Another highlight of Santa Cesarea Terme is the thermal springs. There are many spas where you can go to receive the healing benefits of the thermal springs.
12. Grotta Palazzese | Polignano a Mare, Bari
Grotta Palazzese isn’t necessarily a hidden gem as it is a famous restaurant located in Polignano a Mare (probably the most famous town in Puglia!). However, it is worth mentioning as you may not have heard of it before planning your trip. This restaurant is built into a cave, making it one of the coolest and most unique experiences you can have in Puglia. Expect stunning panoramic sunset views over the sea and incredible seafood and other Italian fares.
While Polignano a Mare isn’t a hidden gem, the restaurant makes a trip there very worthwhile!
13. Grotte di Castellana | Bari
Grotte di Castellana is one of the most unique places you can visit in Puglia. It is a natural wonder and can be visited during the day or at night. Grotte di Castellana is an impressive network of caves which are full of interesting colours and structures to explore.
You could spend an entire day discovering these incredible caves which are 3km long and 70 metres deep (must see if you are travelling with kids!).
14. Castel del Monte | Andria, Barletta-Andria-Trani
In the town of Andria lies Castel del Monte which is one of the most mysterious places in Italy and is a must-visit!
This castle was built around 1240 on the peak of an isolated hill overlooking the Murgia Valley on one side and the Adriatic Sea on the other.
What makes this castle so beautiful and unique is its architecture. It was built in an unusual octagon shape with octagonal towers on each corner. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 for its architectural beauty and the mystery surrounding it!
15. Matera | Basilicata
While Matera isn’t technically in Puglia, it is close enough that we thought it was appropriate to include it on this list. Matera is an ancient town located just on the other side of the border between Basilicata and Puglia. It is so beautifully picturesque it will make your eyes water!
The secret to how stunning Matera is is gaining traction around the world so 2023 might be the last year you can visit before it falls victim to over-tourism!
Materia is famous for its quaint white-washed buildings and ancient cave dwellings that are 1000s of years old. Many of these caves have been converted into incredibly unique hotels, restaurants and shops (it’s giving Cappadocia in Turkey energy).
How to get around Puglia
Without a doubt, the best way to get around Puglia is by hiring a car. The public transport system isn’t the greatest and it will be challenging to get to all of these beaches using buses and trains.
During the peak summer months, you may be able to get away with catching buses to the beaches from main centres such as Lecce City however having a car is preferred.
Plus when you have a car, you have the freedom to explore the hidden coastline where you can find hidden beaches for yourself (we all know these are truly the best ones!!).
Where to stay
If you are planning on exploring many of the beaches in Puglia as opposed to staying in one place, it’s best to find accommodation in a centrally located town or city and travel from there. See which region has the biggest number of places you’d like to go to and stay in the nearest town.
The city of Lecce is a great option as it is centrally located. It is well connected with lots of accommodation options and you can travel easily between the east, west and south coast. Plus Puglia isn’t huge overall so in a day you can see most of the destinations from Lecce from the top of Puglia to the bottom.
If you just want to base yourself in one place and do some small trips from there, pick your favourite beach and search for accommodation in the nearest town!
When to visit
The best time to visit Puglia is between May and October. July and August are the hottest, busiest and most expensive months as the rest of Italy descends on Puglia for a holiday. Therefore to get the best of everything, the most ideal months to visit are May - June and September - October. Saying that Puglia is a great destination year-round with a mild climate but during winter the beaches aren’t as appealing!