Nine Under-the-Radar Places to Visit in Puglia

Done Tuscany? Escaping Campania’s crowds? Head to Puglia, where olive groves and vineyards are interspersed with clusters of trulli. We’ve ventured beyond Alberobello, Lecce and Castel del Monte to find some of the region’s most charming villages, secluded beaches and the best caves for wild swimming.

Rugged coastlines, hills dotted with whitewashed villages and vast wildflower-filled plains, Puglia's landscapes are some of the dreamiest in Italy. It's little wonder that crowds of travellers are drawn to its beauty each year. Yet, if you look beyond the olive groves and towers of trulli, you'll find hypnotic caves, hidden beaches and invigorating rivers that welcome wild swimming. Thought you knew Puglia? Think again.

Wild swimming, secluded coves and the best vineyard-strewn hills to visit in Puglia

Vico del Gargano


Nicknamed the "village of love", Vico del Gargano is often touted as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Yet, despite this affectionate moniker, it still flies relatively under the radar. Its warren of narrow alleys is framed by cobbled houses sporting swoon-worthy balconies while, outside the historic old town, you'll find rich hot springs and miles of citrus groves. Forget Amalfi limoncello, it's here that you'll find palm-sized, canary-yellow lemons that are sweet enough to bite into. Lovestruck couples (or those seeking their own Eat, Pray, Love moment) will want to stop by the "vicolo del bacio", a passageway so narrow that starstruck lovers would detour via the alley so that they were forced to touch as they squeezed past each other. Romeo and Juliet would have been thrilled.

Stay: Donna Elena

Grotta Sfondata

Vieste, Foggia

Journey along Gargano's wild emerald coast dotted with undisturbed bays to discover Grotta Sfondata. Accessible only by boat, the two caves (Grotta Sfondata Piccola and Grotta Sfondata Grande) are separated by a small passage of glittery waters. Photographers would be wise to book a boat trip here, the crack in the natural ceiling - from which it draws its name, meaning "broken down cave" - allows sunlight to flood through and bounce off the water's surface creating a hypnotic, kaleidoscope of colours. Pass beneath a rocky arch to discover the Grande (just less than three kilometres along from the first cave) to reach a small, secluded beach behind the bay. Chances are you'll have the sandy swathe all to yourself.

Stay: La Banchina

Baia del Mulino d'Acqua

Otranto, Lecce

A few steps from the crowded beaches of Otranto, you'll find Baia del Mulino d'Acqua, a peaceful sandy stretch hewn into the side of a cliff - its name references a historic mill that once stood here. Today it's a beach where numerous swimmable caves open up across the water. We recommend making a beeline for the southern stretch, where a watery passage makes it easy to swim between a trio of caves: the Grotta dell'Eremita, Scoglio di Sapunerò and Grotta della Monaca.

Stay: Masseria Muntibianchi AgriResort

Porto Selvaggio

Nardò, Lecce

Ok, so Porto Selvaggio might not fall into the "hidden gem" category with its legion of in-the-know Italian fans, but you certainly won't be wrestling with your neighbour's parasol like on Spiaggia di Pescoluse, either - especially since Porto Selvaggio is home to 432 hectares of protected pine-backed coastline. Pack and picnic and head to the centre of the nature park where you'll find a pebble beach bordered by low cliffs. It's a great place to seek respite from Puglia's sweltering summers as the beach is serviced by a current of cold water that gushes into the bay.

Stay: Relais Il Mignano

River Chidro


Salento is not only synonymous with paradisical beaches and postcard-perfect villages. Look beyond the bleach-white bays and whitewashed towns to seek out the River Chidro. Few people know to swap sea for stream, but here you can bathe in the cooling waters before following the river bank that'll eventually lead you all the way to the sea. Wild swimming here in the morning is a great way to start your day.

Stay: Gyaaim



Well worth a stop is the town of Locorotondo, the jewel of the Murgia dei Trulli region. It's located on a hilltop, so you'll need to climb to the top for views across patches of Mediterranean forest, vineyards, olive groves and clusters of trulli. Take time to explore the wine route of the Itria Valley that passes through here; Locorotondo DOC is one of the most spectacular wines in Puglia and is produced in the surrounding vineyards. Switch out your standard Aperol for a glass of this - the fruity aroma works well as an accompaniment to fish and vegetable dishes.

Stay: Leonardo Trulli Resort

Porto Vecchio

Castro, Lecce

Eschew the Castro Marina in favour of visiting Porto Vecchio. Unlike its neighbour, now serviced by mammoth international cruise liners, this tiny port is still used by rowing boats, pedalos (which you can hire) and the odd canoeist. It was once a thriving fishing port filled with gozzo, a traditional boat - venture farther along the port and you'll be able to admire a few of these handsome old vessels, which have been lovingly repaired, painted and adorned with fishing nets.

Stay: Villa Infinity

Cava di Bauxite

Otranto, Lecce

More of an en-route stop than a full-day trip - ideal if you're travelling from Lecce to Otranto - Cava di Bauxite was an extraction site for the bauxite mineral until the mid-70s. After being abandoned, the site filled with water leaving behind a San Pelligrino-bottle-coloured lake encircled by fiery red terrain that gives it a Martian-like feel. As inviting as the lake is, sadly it's not suitable for swimming. Instead, time your trip to arrive just before sunset when the light that skips along the ochre edge creates a mesmerising show.

Stay: Don Totu

Spiaggia di Porto Badisco

Otranto, Lecce

Not far from the seaside towns of Castro and Santa Cesarea Terme is a cove that's commonly referred to as the "pearl of Salento". Such a beguiling spot would often attract hordes of holidaymakers but remains relatively undisturbed thanks to the army of sea urchins that rule the waters. Instead, it makes the ideal spot for an afternoon siesta or a sundowner as the daylight disappears. Pop into the bistro opposite to sample the local delicacies. Fancy a dip? Scoot along to Porto Miggiano (about 10 minutes' drive). In this tiny, crescent-shaped bay, flat rocks are ideal for lounging while waters are clear and urchin-free.

Stay: Hotel Palazzo Papaleo

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