10 day self drive holiday in Puglia, Italy
Tenuta San Francesco
We flew from Dublin to Bari (the capital of the Southern region of Puglia, Italy) with Ryanair. The Puglian hospitality was evident before we ever left the airport with the girl organizing our car hire expressing her love of U2 and being very interested in learning about the Irish rebellions at school! Less than an hour from the airport and a few minutes from the main road we were driving through vineyards towards our first hotel. As the gates rolled closed behind us, we entered the world of Tenuta San Francesco, a vineyard since the 1600s but now a hotel with beautiful gardens, palm trees and resident peacocks roaming around. All you need here is a good book to sit back & enjoy the surroundings. At first glance, Puglia is a wonderfully wholesome and beautiful region with a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
We explored the Gargano peninsula (sitting pretty on the Adriatic Sea in Puglia) from here with its plentiful coves and beaches. We could have spent longer getting to know this area which extends through a national park to the Trimiti islands and had to be reminded that we were due to check out after 2 nights. We had become far too relaxed and so, in complete holiday mode, we drove to the historic village of Conversano (located in the southern Metropolitian City of Bari). Here, cars are left on the outskirts of the village and wondering how we ever managed without google maps, we wound our way through the narrow cobblestone streets to find the most charming Corte Altavilla hotel. The hotel is nestled in among medieval walls with the rooms beautifully restored. A great restaurant on-site, lovely breakfast, bikes for hire & welcome drinks in the evening after a day exploring.
Corte Altavilla Hotel, Conversano
This was a great base to see much of the sights of Puglia. We went to the bustling town of Polignano al Mare with its limestone cliffs and pretty beach & caves. We also went to see Alberobello with the famous conical Trulli houses and gift shops.
Polignano al Mare
Just 20 minutes away, our hotel had recommended a private beach SabbiaDoro which has a standard daily rate. Sun loungers by the water’s edge, great coffee, beautiful restaurant serving fresh local ingredients, hot showers & changing rooms, we’d never seen facilities this good on a beach! That was a tough day :)
Fish baked in salt crust, SabbiaDoro
Santa Mario al Bagno
Thinking Mary Kane couldn’t surprise us anymore or improve on this hotel or location, we headed to our next destination, Santa Mario al Bagno. This was about 2 hours drive to the other side of the Puglian peninsula. Like leaving the M7 and driving the smaller roads to Kerry, as we got closer it felt like we were going somewhere special. And it was, we absolutely loved this place!
The village is in the Salento region of Puglia. Or, as our beach lifeguard pronounced it ‘Salennnn-to’, as ‘lento’ in Italian means slow. No one is in any hurry here!
View of the village at Santa Maria al Bagno
Village beach at Santa Maria al Bagno
Our swimming spot at Santa Maria al Bagno
Our hotel was facing onto the sea and we swam a few times each day here. A sea swimmers paradise! The waters of the Ionian were warm and crystal clear with beautiful colourful fish.
There was a path that went for miles along the coast, which was very popular for la passeggiata/the evening walk and the sunsets were glorious.
The seafood was amazing with calamari being the specialty in the local restaurants. We happened to be here for the annual blessing of the fishermen & boats where the Madonna is brought on a procession through the streets and out onto the bay. Lovely atmosphere with fireworks afterwards.
Our last couple of days were spent in the city of Lecce (located about 2 hours from Puglia). Famous for its baroque architecture, easy to see why it’s called the ‘Florence of the south’.
Leaving our car back at Bari airport on the final day we were so happy with our holiday and were certain that we would return to Puglia. Mid-September was the perfect time as it is still in season but not crowded. Temperatures were high 20s and sea water warm. As a first visit to Puglia, this was the perfect way to see all it has to offer & I absolutely recommend it.
Guest blog written by Sinead Kane