Here’s Your Perfect Road Trip Itinerary Through Puglia

Puglia: the gorgeous heel of Italy characterized by rustic farmlands and crystalline beaches.

The deep South has been eclipsed by more-famous vacation destinations like the Amalfi Coast or Cinque Terre. But the secret is out and Puglia is coming into its own as a leading seaside destination for international travelers. The good news is, despite the spike in tourists, Puglia retains its calm, rustic charm; offering travelers a chance to truly relax and rejuvenate.

Puglia is a vast region, consisting of the entire back heel of Italy’s boot-like landmass. All the sights, towns and beaches are far apart so traveling by car is the only option for Puglia. Our road trip was made possible by Discover Cars. This was my first time renting a car and driving outside of the United States. Discover Cars’ website made booking as simple as possible. It was super easy to search by location and dates, and also filter for automatic versus manual transmission, which is important for many Americans renting cars abroad.

Discover Cars offers some of the lowest rates for car rentals internationally because they negotiate directly with the car rental companies. The entire process from booking to pick up was seamless. I also had a small mishap and scratched my rental car on a low wall while parking (damn you, Amalfi!) It was very easy to file the insurance claim online on Discover Cars’ website and I promptly received the wire transfer in my bank account within 10 business days. We definitely recommend checking out Discover Cars the next time you’re looking for an international car rental.

We took the A16 autostrada which is the fastest route to get from Naples to Puglia. This road appears quite new and was very smooth to drive on without much traffic. The tolls weren’t too bad either. Going from Naples Airport to Molfetta, we paid about 19 euros in tolls.

My sister and I covered a lot of ground in a week. We hit most of the must-see sights, but didn’t have enough time to go all the way to Santa Maria di Leuca at the southern tip or Gallipoli. We would definitely recommend including those two spots if you’re spending more time further south near Lecce. Otherwise, follow our itinerary for a fabulous Italian road trip by the sea!

NAPLES

The City of Seven Castles and the grandest city of Southern Italy. Naples is the gateway to many destinations such as the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Ischia as well as Puglia. We picked up our rental car at Naples International Airport and drove straight to Puglia, as I was warned that driving in the city center of Naples is not for the faint of heart.

But before hitting the road, it’s always nice to spend a couples of days getting lost in this chaotic yet charming city. Naples never fails to ignite your Italian sensibilities. It is one of the remaining cities that still oozes that mischievous old-world charm. It offers endless things to do: whether you want to get lost in the labyrinth of the Spanish Quarter, try the margherita pizza Julia Roberts ate in Eat, Pray Love (aka. Pizzeria Da Michele,) shop ‘til you drop on Corso Umberto or take a dramatically romantic stroll along the Lungomare di Napoli (Naples’ dreamy boardwalk along the sea.)

POLIGNANO A MARE

Polignano a Mare Puglia
Polignano a Mare. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Polignano a Mare is where you will find the most famous view in Puglia: the iconic view of Cala Porto (Lama Monachile) beach framed by the ancient arches and limestone cliffs. This is the view that inspired myself, and no doubt many others, to travel to Puglia. It’s what also inspired the classic Italian song, “Volare!” But because it’s so well-known, Polignano a Mare is typically packed with travelers.

Polignano a Mare Puglia
Polignano a Mare. PHOTO NADIA CHO

The historic center is lovely with bright white buildings winding along small flagstone alleys, similar to Santorini. An unexpected yet fabulous surprise were the trendy boutiques we found all throughout the historic center. You can do some serious shopping, especially for resort wear and accessories, in Polignano a Mare. Every boutique has exceptionally-made items from independent designers and artisans that you won’t find anywhere else.

We had lunch at Ristorante Antiche Mura which we totally recommend. We were taken aback by the highly refined setting and service, despite the affordable prices (around 15-20€ per plate.) The restaurant has multiple mouthwatering seafood dishes and pastas featuring sea urchin, langoustines, lobster, sea bass and more.

MONOPOLI

Monopoli town Puglia
Monopoli town. PHOTO NADIA CHO
Monopoli sunset Puglia
Monopoli sunset. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Monopoli is a picturesque port town with low white-washed buildings and romantic cathedrals by the sea. There are lots of pretty beaches to hit up between Polignano a Mare and Monopoli. We went to Porto Ghiacciolo, which is a small sandy beach next to a medieval castle. There’s a lot where you can pay 4 euros to park and it’s a tranquil place to lay down and have a dip when it’s not too crowded.

Monopoli Puglia
Monopoli. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Monopoli is a gorgeous town, especially at sunset when the sky bathes everything in pastel purple against the calm teal sea. The city also bursts with vibrant contemporary art and culture. The international photography festival, PhEST, has impactful photo exhibits on display in the Palazzo Palmieri, Chiesta San Salvatore, Chiesta SS. Pietro e Paolo and all along Cala Porta Vecchia and the castle boardwalk. With pretty views and plenty of culture to consume, Monopoli should definitely be on your list of destinations to visit in Puglia.

PORTO CESAREO

Porto Cesareo Torre Lapillo
Porto Cesareo Torre Lapillo. PHOTO NADIA CHO

Porto Cesareo is a small port town located 40 minutes away from Lecce. Porto Cesareo and the western coast of Puglia is known for having the clearest water and light sand beaches. Punta Prosciutto is the most famous beach for the impossibly clear water and powdery sand that stretches on as far as the eye can see. But Punta Prosciutto was insanely crowded with every inch of sand covered by beachgoers. It was still packed when we went in September, so I can’t even imagine how intense the crowds during high season are.

Porto Cesareo Puglia
Porto Cesareo. PHOTO NADIA CHO

We ventured a bit further down to Torre Lapillo instead, another beach famous for its clear aqua water that curves around the bay. Torre Lapillo was also quite full, but not as packed as Punta Prosciutto. The water and sand were just as beautiful and we definitely preferred the slightly more laidback vibe at Torre Lapillo.