Puglia is the heel of long-legged Italy and one of the country's underrated gems. It has plenty of gorgeous beaches, delicious food and unique architecture to explore, with far fewer crowds than in Venice or Rome.
Puglia is famous for producing around 40% of Italy's olive oil, as well as bread and pasta, which is why it is nicknamed the “bread basked of Italy”. Puglia also has the longest coastline of Italy – over 800km / 500 miles, so you know you're guaranteed to find excellent beaches here. Lecce is an example of one of the many architectural gems in Puglia – a city comprised of Baroque architecture, earning it the epithet, “the Florence of the South”.
There's plenty to do in Puglia to plan your holiday just in this region. We did a road trip here and put together our 10 favourite things to do in Puglia for gay travellers:
Gallipoli: the best gay scene in Puglia
We love Gallipoli old town in the evening. It's always buzzing with life, buskers performing in the streets, cool little boutique shops and excellent restaurants. Gallipoli is also is the heart of Puglia's gay scene with a handful of bars worth checking out.
The main gay hangout to look out for is the LED Cafe. This is the main gay bar in Gallipoli and the best place to start the night. We recommend coming here to chat with other local gay guys to get a feel for any ad hoc parties taking place. The main gay club in Gallipoli is Village Picador, which is only open during the summer months.
D'Ayala: the best gay beach in Puglia
There are a handful of gay friendly beaches to check out across Puglia, most of which are also nude friendly beaches because they are usually more remote and harder to reach. Our favourite, and probably the most famous is D'Ayala beach, located 45 minutes drive from Tarranto City and 1 hour from Gallipoli.
The official name is “Spiaggia D’Ayala”, which is also the best reference to use in your Google Maps. It is a long coastline, separated from the main road by a large forest. We also love it because as well as the privacy afforded by the large forest, the water is perfect for swimming, and the sand powdery white.
Foodie tour around Puglia
As passionate foodies, we knew we were in for a treat when we heard Puglia's nickname is “the bread basket of Italy“. It comes from the fact that Puglia produces over 80% of the country's pasta. One of our favourites we recommend you try is the ear shaped “orecchiette”, which literally translates to “little ears”. Other famous pastas from Puglia to look out for include troccoli, cavatelli, stacchiodde, curti and gruessi.
Another exciting culinary prize which delighted us in Puglia was the abundance of cheese produced here. The most famous Puglia cheeses include Canestrato Pugliese, Burrata di Andria and Fallone di Gravina. Most breakfasts at your hotel will include healthy servings of each of these, usually washed down with an array of cured meats.
Lecce: exploring unique Baroque architecture
Lecce is one of the cultural highlights of Puglia. It's full of Baroque style buildings, cute narrow cobblestone roads, Roman ruins and impressive churches. It is nicknamed “the Florence of the south” and became a UNESCO World Heritage listed site in 2006. Some sites to look out for include the Piazza del Duomo main square, Lecce Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Cross, Roman Amphitheatre and the Castello di Carlo V.
To prepare for Lecce, we watched the 2010 film called “Loose Cannons” (“Mine Vaganti” in Italian). It depicts a family in Lecce who own a pasta making business, and also have two very cute sons. These two sons are also gay, and all hell breaks loose when they try to come out to their conservative family. As well as being a very funny film, it also gives you a feel of Lecce and what gay life is like in Puglia.
Ostuni: experience a gay yoga retreat
Ostuni's whitewashed old town is extremely pretty and worth a stop over, especially if like us you are visiting Puglia on a road trip. Ostuni dates back to the pre-classic period, was subsequently destroyed by Hannibal, then rebuilt by the Greeks, who named it Astynéon, meaning: “new town”.
We loved exploring the narrow cobblestone streets of Ostuni's old town. It is perched on a hill, fortified by ancient walls. Ostuni's nickname is “the White Town” (La Città Bianca in Italian) because of the many Greek island-like white painted buildings. The main sightseeing highlights to look out for in Ostuni include the main Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace.
Alberobello: exploring the famous trulli huts
A trullo is a stone Hobbit-like hut with a conical roof, unique to Puglia, especially in the Itria Valley. The trulli (plural of trullo) are a UNESCO listed site and are mainly be found in Alberobello, which has over 1,500, some dating back to the 1300s.
Today the trulli are preserved as inns, souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. We visited Alberobello as a day trip and loved exploring the different trulli – each with its own symbol on the roof. Trulli aside, Alberobello is also a fascinating place to visit, with cute photogenic narrow cobblestone streets. One recommendation is to walk up the hill and go on the balcony of one of the trulli cafes for the best views.
Otranto: pretty seaside town
Otranto is a pretty coastal town in Puglia famous for its Aragonese Castle, which dates back to the 1400s. It also has an impressive 11th century Cathedral which also attracts large crowds. The old town has many small winding streets, which is fun to get lost in.
We particularly loved the harbour area, which is a nice spot to get a bite to eat, coffee or romantic sunset cocktail. The views of the fishing boats out in the water are particularly picturesque.
One favourite recommendation of ours in Otranto is “Skafe“. We found it on Tripadvisor when searching for an inexpensive lunch spot. They make delicious baguettes using local ingredients, which you pick.
Polignano a Mare: famous cliff diving
Polignano a Mare was one of our favourite coastal towns in Puglia, mainly because of its famous beach, surrounded by cliffs, where the waves come crashing onto the rocks on a beach. If it's not too windy, it's the perfect place to take a dip.
This spot is also famous for cliff diving and has even hosted the famous Red Bull diving competition, attracting huge crowds of around 50,000.
When we came, the winds were strong, so people were just sunbathing or (like us) trying to get the perfect Polignano selfie.
Polignano a Mare also has a quaint old town with many bars and restaurants. Most are touristy, but there are some gems here. We loved the pizza at Bella ‘Mbriana. Not only was it delicious, it's located right in the middle of the old town, making it ideal for
perving on the many hot Italian local guys people watching.
Grotta della poesia: swim like a mythical Princess
The “Grotta della poesia” in Roca Vecchia is a 100 foot wide sinkhole at the edge of the sea. According to legend, this used to be the favourite swimming spot for an ancient princess. The sight of her swimming inspired poets, hence the name “Caves of Poetry” (Grotta della poesia). Today, this is a popular spot for cliff diving and scuba diving.
On the North side of the cove is an archaeological site with ruins of an ancient city dating back to the 4th Century BC, which is thought to have been an important place of worship. One tip is to come early in the day as it gets very busy here, particularly on weekends.
Or, like us, come when there's a heavy storm with heavy winds…! Despite our bad luck, the clouds nonetheless gave us quite a pretty image to takeaway.
Castel del Monte: the back of the one cent coin
Castel del Montel is a UNESCO listed 13th century citadel located on a hill in Andria. It was built in 1240 by King Frederick II of Swabia. Its layout is famous for its mathematical and astronomical precision, which also has a perfect octagonal shape.
Another famous fact about the Castel del Monte is that it appears on the back of the Italian one cent Euro coin:
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