Puglia is set to become one of Italy's most popular holiday destinations, so beat the crowds and head there now. This 11 day itinerary will take you on a road trip to see the best that the region has to offer; combining beautiful beaches with unspoilt countryside and a whole heap of cultural experiences.
Arrive into Bari on a direct flight (roughly three hours from London airports) and head straight to car hire, where the desk staff will be expecting you and will have your car ready to go. From here you're heading to the beautiful coast just south of Monopoli.
It's a short 45 minute drive down the SS16 main highway, so you'll have an easy route to practice driving on the wrong side of the road on! There are morning and afternoon flights to Bari from the UK so depending on what time you arrive at your hotel there will be time for lunch and the afternoon to enjoy Torre Canne beach, or a leisurely al fresco dinner.
Start your trip in the most relaxing way possible, by lying in the sun on a wide sandy beach overlooking the Adriatic Coastline. With sand between your toes and the Mediterranean sun on your face, you'll soon be embracing the laid back Italian lifestyle and over indulging in their delicious cuisine. Well it would be rude not to eat your body weight in pizza, pasta and prosecco when in Italy, and Puglian cuisine is famously excellent.
Rest assured, if you find yourself with itchy feet and the desire to start exploring - and we definitely recommend you do - you're perfectly located to do so. Hop in the car and drive around 30 minutes west, to Valle d'Itria, where you'll discover the unique architecture Puglia is famous for - its trulli houses. Though no one knows for sure why the architecture here developed this way, one theory is that the lack of cement used in the building process meant that they were easy to dismantle when the tax man came calling! Whatever the back story, this little rural valley has now become something of a tourist hot spot, thanks to the adorable and picture perfect sight of hundreds of little white houses with funny cone shaped roofs.
Today marks time to head away from the beaches and venture further south, to the heart of the Pugliese countryside. The drive will take you along the coast as far as Brindisi before you head inland, skirt around Lecce (don't worry, we'll be back in this southern Italian gem later in the trip) and then continue south to the outskirts of Martano.
With some driving anthems blaring and your sunglasses firmly fixed on your face, let the road guide you and when the hour and half journey is up you'll almost not want to get out of the car. Luckily the lush green of the surrounding fig plantations and rolling hills should tempt you out and into the fresh Italian country air. We recommend you stay in Furnirussi Tenuta for a wonderfully serene countryside experience on Europe's largest fig farm. Who knew a farm could be so luxurious?
From the comfort of your hotel, enjoy the lush landscapes of this part of the world today.
Begin your day with an early morning yoga session in the serene Mediterranean garden, then lounge by the enormous swimming pool (designed to look like a small lake) and soaking up the scenery from the Jacuzzi. Alternatively, relax at the well-equipped spa - try the Mediterranean fruit packs treatment for something a little different. Of course, while you're here a fuelling fig treat is a must. Spend several hours in Restaurant "Il Ficheto" for some serious wining and dining. Made from only the highest quality local ingredients and organic seasonal produce, the food here is well balanced and full of the simple but carefully chosen flavours which make Italian cuisine so delicious.
After a leisurely breakfast in the gardens of your hotel, go for a morning stroll or curl up in the sun with a good book for an hour. As midday draws nearer, get on the road again and head 40 minutes north to Lecce, arriving just in time for lunch (naturalmente).
It's siesta time or you can relax in the lovely hotel gardens or go for a swim in the pool before the heat of the day dissipates and it's time to partake in that most Italian of traditions, the passeggiata or evening stroll. Your local guide will meet you at the hotel for a lovely walk through a city that's known as the cultural capital of Puglia and even as the 'Florence of the South'. Explore the Old Town's winding cobbled streets lined with baroque architectural beauties and elegant limestone buildings while your guide adds colour with stories of Lecce's history before heading to Piazza Sant'Oronzo, a beautiful wide open space to sit and watch the Leccesi world go by - perhaps with a gelato?
Today is a day of exploration, Italian style. So forget your map and get a little lost along the lanes, turning corner after corner to eventually stumble upon Basilica di Santa Croce or the Roman Amphitheatre. Then, whenever you see a café or bar that take your eye, stop and enjoy - you're on holiday after all.
As for dinner, well Lecce has recently earned a deserved reputation as a culinary hotspot, so you'll be spoilt for choice, but for the very best traditional Italian fare, Tabisca Il Vico dei Tagliati comes very highly recommended.
Get up fairly early today as you start the day with a two hour drive north-west up the inside of the 'heel' of Italy to the extraordinary town of Matera - technically part of the neighbouring region of Basilicata, but Pugliese for the purposes of this trip.
Along the way you'll pass through several lovely towns, so make the journey more than just a drive and stop off to explore a little. Busy and commercial Taranto probably isn't worth stopping in, but many of the little country towns and villages are full of friendly locals and cute little bakeries to make sure you arrive full of food and happy conversation. Arrive in time for lunch and enjoy yet more southern Italian specialities before an afternoon at leisure to relax by the pool or book a spa treatment or Ayurvedic massage in the small hotel spa. Alternatively, rent a bike or slip on the walking shoes to explore the local area.
Last night's rocky experience was just a taster of what is one of the most structurally stunning places in Italy. Today you will explore the Sassi di Matera, famed for its cave-dwellings, with your local guide.
The scale and size of the cave city is so impressive that in 1993 it was made a UNESCO World Heritage site, for being 'the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region'. It is reckoned that Matera was the first permanent settlement in mainland Italy, dating back over 9,000 years; but what's even more astonishing is that while it's an ancient settlement, many of the caves were still being lived in up until the 1950s, before the troglodyte residents were forcibly evicted and rehoused. For an even stronger sense of contrast, your guide will then show you around the elegant Baroque part of the town.
Unfortunately the time has come to head home. Your drive to the airport is just over an hour, but make sure you leave plenty of time in case of traffic, and factor in dropping the car off. Then check in and enjoy one last Italian caffè before boarding. The flight home will take roughly three hours.