Giada's Guide To Puglia
Summer Vacation the Italian Way: A Trip to Puglia
Life moves a little more slowly in Puglia, the southern region of Italy that resides in the “heel” of the country’s boot. Long a well-kept secret, it’s becoming a popular vacation destination for Italians and others from around Europe who want to experience the Italian philosophy of il dolce far niente—the sweetness of doing nothing. With more than 500 miles of coastline, Puglia allows visitors to take advantage of the slower pace of life. Most shops are closed in the early afternoon for a long break—all the more time to admire the crystal-blue waters, natural rock formations, and stunning white-washed architecture.
It’s the perfect setting for a family trip, like the one Giada took this summer with Jade, Aunt Raffy, her sister Eloisa, and Raffy’s husband, Buzz. Transported by boat from port to port, they enjoyed the best that Puglia has to offer. Follow along on their trip down the Salento coast, the beautiful beach region at the southern tip of Puglia that is a popular destination for city-dwellers from Rome and Milan. As Giada says, it’s “the Hamptons of Italy.” Here are her can’t-miss stops:
Once part of the Greek colony called Magna Grecia, Porto Cesareo is full of ancient history—you can still spot Greek statuary as you walk around town. With a long, semicircular beach of shallow, turquoise water protected by a bank of small islands, it’s a serene, picturesque destination. The waters are a marine protected area, home to rare species of flora and fauna. Adventurous visitors can rent scuba or snorkel equipment in town to view the unique coral formations, turtles, sea horses, and other marine life.
Via Silvio Pellico, 38
Right on the waterfront, this gorgeous restaurant is the spot for stunning sunset views to go with your dinner. The food is light and clean, with amazing fresh seafood options.
Via L. Muratori
This coffee, pastry, and gelato shop is the perfect place to start the morning with a multigrain cornetto (a croissant with an Italian twist) and a cappuccino. Get there early before the crowds arrive to enjoy the waterfront views.
Via Silvio Pellico
A great way to save money on food when traveling is to stock up at a local deli or grocery store. Giada picked up some delicious prosciutto cotto and mozzarella at this small shop, which also makes panini for quick and easy lunches.
Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 51
It wouldn’t be summer in Italy without the frozen treats! This shop sells gelato, but the real draw is their icy-cold granita made with real fresh fruit. The lemon granita is tart, juicy, and so refreshing on a sunny afternoon.
This hilly city is divided into two parts: the new town on the mainland, and the fortified old city located on an island just off the coast. The two are joined by a 16th-century bridge, and both halves of the town can be reached from land or water. Be sure to make time to see the cathedral of Sant’Agata in the old city, a gorgeous limestone building that is lined inside with enormous, stunning baroque paintings by Giovanni Andrea Coppola and others.
Piazza de Amicis, 13
Dine indoors or out on the small piazza on which this charming trattoria is located for optimal people-watching. Either way, you’ll enjoy gorgeous fresh seafood pulled from the waters that are a literal stone’s throw away from where you sit.
Via Antonietta de Pace, 116
Run by a husband-and-wife team, this restaurant is decorated with striking paintings in the baroque tradition of the city. The food is just as eye-catching, with an emphasis on fresh seafood (of course!) and handmade pastas.
Riviera Cristoforo Colombo, 39
With a patio that overlooks the water, this restaurant and hotel was Giada and Jade’s choice for a relaxing lunch. Giada enjoyed an eggplant parmigiana with mussels and clams, and Jade loved the gnocchi pomodoro. Their fried fish tower is a real show-stopper!
Via Antonietta de Pace, 72
In the shadow of the stunning cathedral of Sant’Agata, this is the perfect stop for coffee and gelato when you need a little sightseeing pick-me-up. Jade’s choice was the Snickers gelato, while Giada went for the classic coffee.
Frantoio Oleario Ipogeo di Palazzo Granafei
Via Antonietta de Pace, 87
Under the cobblestoned streets of the old city is an incredible glimpse of history in this restored olive oil cave-slash-museum. In the 17th century, Gallipoli was home to dozens of these underground mills, which supplied most of Europe with lamp oil pre-electricity. This is the only one that has been fully restored and is open to the public.
Marina di Novaglie
This tiny resort town is marked by the clear blue waters of the sea, which visitors can admire in the grottoes and caves carved into its rocky edges. It’s best to arrive here by boat; hike down the seafront Cipolliane path to access the caves from land.
Via A. Vespucci, 73031 Marina di Novaglie LE
Stop in by boat to this beach club, hotel, and restaurant for a quintessentially Italian summer experience. Visitors can stay for a few hours or the night, all while enjoying delicious food and gorgeous views of the rocky coast. All of their produce comes from their own hilltop garden inland, and of course the seafood is as fresh as can be. Giada and Aunt Raffy enjoyed the pasta with butter sauce, garbanzo puree and breadcrumb topping; stuffed pasta with burrata and yellow tomato; and the fried triglie, a local fish also known as mullet.
High on a cliff overlooking the Adriatic sea, this comune (town) has unbelievable views of the coastline. Take a bus up the hill to get to the charming medieval town center, where a compass rose set in the pavement is a reminder of the days when Ancient Greeks and Romans used this place as a navigational aide. It was home to a temple to the goddess Athena, and later was briefly conquered by the Normans, who built the fortress that still stands today. Just down the coast is the world-famous Grotta Zinzulusa, a massive limestone cave on the water’s edge that features breathtaking rock formations and crystal-clear lakes.
Piazza Dante, 1
Get a taste of Italian home cooking at this amazing mom-and-pop restaurant. Mom is in the kitchen making handmade pastas and gnocchi di sorrento, a local variation made with both semolina and potato that is cooked in huge batches and spooned directly onto your plate. Giada and her family loved everything they ate here, including orecchiette alle cime di rapa (a type of broccolini), spaghetti with zucchini and shrimp, and casarecce with mussels.
The center of this bustling, historic town is the 15th-century Castello Aragonese, a fortress that is now a fascinating museum that is open to the public. The other side of the castle’s moat is dotted with outdoor cafés where you can sip a coffee or glass of wine and watch the action. With its whitewashed buildings and walkable streets, Otranto has a chic character similar to Capri. But, with smaller crowds and few American visitors, it retains an authentic European charm that can be hard to find in some of the more touristy destinations. The gorgeously decorated olive oil bottles that can be found all over town make a great souvenir.
Via Basiliano Cenobio, 23
At this modern restaurant owned by chef Cristina Conte, traditional Salento cuisine is given an exciting update. Giada loved her meal here, including orecchiette with a pesto made of mint and basil, spaghetti carbonara with local sea urchin, and anchovies marinated with chicory, almonds, and clementines.
Via Castello, 30
On the piazza next to the fortress, this small shop was Giada’s choice for a gelato stop to cool off and enjoy some people-watching in this energetic town. Dig into a bombolo here: an ice cream sandwich made with a warm brioche roll split and stuffed with fresh gelato in your choice of flavors.
Known as “the Florence of the South,” Lecce is home to some truly stunning baroque architecture. The capital of the province of Lecce, this historic city has existed for more than 2,000 years and changed hands multiple times, from the ancient Messapii people to the Romans, Ostrogoths, and Normans. Every street you stroll down has something fascinating to see, but the most dazzling might just be the Basilica di Santa Croce, whose elaborately carved exterior took more than 100 years and three generations of artisans to achieve.
Via Maremonti, 33
This popular restaurant is known for perfectly executed Pugliese specialties like ciceri e tria, pasta with chickpeas topped with crunchy fried pasta, with a friendly, welcoming spirit. Aunt Raffy enjoyed a fried artichoke pasta here. Tip: Book in advance if you can!
Via Umberto I, 19
This wine bar is the sister spot to the more formal La Cucina di Mamma Elvira, with the same dedication to local food and—most importantly—delicious local wines. About 250 Pugliese wines are available by the glass, ready for a supremely leisurely lunch.
Piazza Sant’Oronzo, 30
At this famous pastry and gelato shop, don’t try to take your goodies to go—you’re encouraged to sit down and enjoy the experience. Try the local pasticciotto leccese, a small, cream-filled pie, or any of the decadent flavors of gelato.
Piazzetta de Summa Scipione, 4
A 17th-century home-turned-hotel, La Fiermontina is an ode to the owners’ grandmother, Antonia Fiermonte, an artists’ muse and model who left Puglia for Paris in the 1930s. Her romantic spirit (she left one artist husband for another) can be felt around the gorgeously modern property—literally, as she’s depicted in a number of artworks found in the lobby and gardens. The café here serves traditional caffè leccese, an iced espresso with sweet almond syrup, which Giada enjoyed with a soft, chewy almond cookie.
Via Umberto I, 38
A sister to La Fiermontina, this hotel in a 17th-century palazzo is located in the heart of Lecce, just steps from the Basilica di Santa Croce. With purified air, en-suite saunas, and a “relaxarium,” it’s a serene, wellness-focused retreat from the city hustle.
The waterfront town of Monopoli is energetic and lively, with an active port and bustling industry, making it more lived-in than pure tourist destination. Giada says arriving here felt a little like Las Vegas after visiting so many small towns on their trip! That’s not to say it doesn’t have plenty of history; the remains of the ancient defensive wall still stand in the old town center, which you can admire from the seafront promenade.
From Monopoli, take a day trip inland to the utterly picturesque town of Alberobello. It’s famous for its 15th-century conical stone huts called trulli, whitewashed homes that were originally built as temporary housing for farm workers. They are constructed without mortar so they could be disassembled quickly—which landowners would do when tax assessors came around to avoid paying for their extra residents! Alberobello’s trulli have been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a popular tourist destination, so aim to get there early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the crowds.
Contrada Torricella, 345
This former 17th-century farmhouse-turned-hotel just outside of town is a gorgeous retreat surrounded by olive groves and lush gardens. Some of those gardens provide the produce for the stunning on-site restaurant, where Giada had a delicious stuffed pasta with tomato and squash topped with burrata and truffle. The whitewashed rooms are serene and restful, outfitted with amazing antiques and original art.
Contrada Losciale, 63
Located in a former fishery, this restaurant is not just by the sea, it’s in the sea! The glass dining room is built on a rock promontory over the water, so it seems like there’s nothing between you and the waves. Of course, seafood is on the menu here—some of the freshest you’ll ever have, in artful crudos and innovative light dishes. Try the oyster martini!
The capital of Puglia, Bari is a modern city with an historic heart. Wander the labyrinthine cobblestone streets of the Bari Vecchio, the old city, where residents still live among the ancient churches and museums. Christmas-lovers can’t miss a visit to the Basilica di San Nicola, built in honor of Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) himself! Stroll the Lungomare, the longest waterfront promenade in Italy, which is dotted with lively cafés and bars and plenty of opportunities to step onto the sparkling beaches.
Via Francesco Lombardi, 18
This airy restaurant with high, vaulted ceilings is known for its pizza, which is only available at dinnertime, and unique, hearty pastas. Giada and Aunt Raffy had a delicious meal here, including orecchiette with tomato sauce, fried basil leaf, and spicy ricotta, the Pugliese cheese of choice for pastas, and scialatielli (a short, almost rectangular pasta shape) made with local wheat and mushrooms.