more to Italy’s stiletto heel than ear-shaped pasta and
olive oil (although obviously we’re fans of them too). Scurry along
from the tourist honeypots of
Lecce and Bari to find rugged, fjord-like bays, coves with
waters the colour of a Polo mint packet and a sun-baked landscape
that can be likened to the coastline of
Croatia before the crowds came.
Here’s where to find Puglia’s finest crowd-free sands.
Baia dei Turchi
Otranto is very much the Puglia
you’ve seen on
Pinterest – it’s all whitewashed houses with spearmint-green
shutters, gnarly olive trees and family-run delis selling
piping-hot slices of chilli-spiked focaccia. Otranto’s main sandy
drag may suffice for some but travel a few kilometres north towards
Casino dei Turchi to be rewarded with empty shores lined with
abandoned fishing boats. Arrive at dei Turchi’s car park and you’ll
likely be confused by the neat rows of striped umbrellas on the
horizon. Fear not; this is Alimini Beach. Turn right, walk for five
minutes and you’ll find the (blissfully bare) sweet spot.
Stay: Plump for one of
Masseria Muntibianchi Agriresort‘s garden rooms for its
secluded, pretty walled garden.
Acquaviva di Marittima
More of a craggy inlet than a full-blown beach, Acquaviva di
Marittima is one of the few swimmable bays along the rocky coast
between Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca – it’s just a 30-minute
walk from the pastel-hued houses and swaying palms of Castro. Cut
through the fields behind the Museo Naturalistico and descend the
stone-hewn stairs to reach it – you’ll know you’re in the right
place when you see the white-stone kiosk stocking warm Fanta Lemon.
Last summer, the kiosk upped its entrepreneurship and started
renting out six sunbeds – there’s isn’t space for anymore – for a
few euros. As much as we applaud its efforts, we’d much rather
plonk our towel straight on the rocks and make a beeline for the
sea. Even in the punishing throes of summer, the water remains cool
thanks to the springs that trickle straight down into the
Stay: Encircled by olive groves and prickly
pear cactus trees, Eliados
is a gorgeous coral-hued farmhouse that sleeps eight. From here,
it’s just a few minutes’ drive down a dusty road to the beach.
Easy-going Nardò isn’t exactly undiscovered – it’s the Biarritz
of Italy; plenty of people screw parasols into the market town’s
pebble beach come summertime. Yet we recommend scuttling away from
gelato stands that sell inflatable crocodiles to Porto Selvaggio –
meaning “Wild Harbour” – a cove that’s little known outside of
local circles. This coastal enclave is a tranquil 20-minute forest
walk from the Villa Tafuro park entrance. Step over shrubby tufts
that shoot up from the smooth rocks (these double as au naturel
tanning slabs) to take in arresting views across the water.
Stay: At the centre of Nardò in Il
Culbo, a design-driven loft conversion with roof terrace
overlooking the Ionian Sea.
Italians aren’t very good at keeping secrets; as soon as a beach
is awarded Blue-Flag status you can almost guarantee that by the
time the next summer rolls around, there’ll be 400
sponsored-by-Walls parasols and a matching lido pitched upon its
sands. Unless it’s like Torre Guaceto, that is. Classed as a
protected marine area, it’s completely unspoiled. Dotted with
crumbling pirate ruins and dunes strewn with shells, its untamed
sweeps are more akin to Norfolk than Capri. Pack a picnic – pick up
ingredients from the neighbouring town of Specchiolla – rent a bike
and, come dusk, spot the dolphins frolicking a few metres from the
Stay: Did you even visit Puglia if you didn’t
stay in a trulli?
Trulli Olea is our pick.
Dune di Campomarino
Mention the Taranto province to anyone in Puglia and you’ll be
met with a furrowed brow and puzzled expression; it’s famous for
having a dilapidated, mildew-dappled Old Town and controversial
steel-making plant. Yet an hour’s drive south of the forgotten city
is the charming town of Maruggio, home to a single honey-coloured
church, a few sun-bleached houses and an entirely undisturbed
beach. Rarely visited and flying completely off-radar – except to
the few resident flamingoes – its fine-sand peaks are blotted with
cacti and lavender bushes as purple as a pack of Parma Violets.
Stay: As attractive as the abandoned sands may
be, Marruggio is no more than a day-trip destination. Base yourself
at I Bastioni San Domenico in Gallipoli instead.