Last summer we had a fabulous family holiday in Puglia. Puglia (Apulia) is a region of southern Italy- the heel of the boot on the map. We had heard positive reports about the area and managed to get a good deal on flights to Bari, which is the main airport of the area. After a lot of research we decided on 3 centres for our 2 week holiday. We had 3 nights in the southern Salento region, staying in Lecce, 4 nights in the Valle d’Itria, staying just outside Ostuni. The second week we stayed on the Gargano peninsular at the fantastic Tesori del Sud. You can read about our adventures there in a separate post here.
In my opinion you can’t go too far wrong with kids in Italy. The Italians love children, so cater for them really well, and which kids don’t like pizza and pasta!? Although ours ate more mussels than pasta! The great thing about the puglia region was that it had all these advantages and yet was a lot cheaper than many other areas of Italy. A coffee was €1 pretty much everywhere and €1.50 for a cappuccino.
We hired a car for the duration of our stay, which made getting around easy. When driving in Puglia there are lots of small windy country lanes, which are very pretty but aren’t always the quickest route. Beware of blindly following the sat nav (which we did on occasion) and ending up on a really slow route- not always the best choice when you have children in the car that are eager to arrive!
Lecce is apparently known as the ‘Florence of the South’ and it really is a beautiful city- probably my favourite of the trip. We loved simply wandering through the winding streets of the old town (much of it is pedestrianised) and happening across pretty squares and churches. We found the best time of day to do this was in the evening when the whole place came to life with street vendors and street entertainment. M was particularly enthralled by ‘the sand man’ making art from different coloured sand. We had to drag her away and then had to go back to look for him every time we were nearby!
The Giardini Pubblico (public gardens) behind the Basilica di Santa Croce had a couple of nice playgrounds which the children enjoyed as a break from looking at historic buildings and churches!
While based in Lecce we also did day trips to a couple of other nice towns in the area:
We drove from Lecce to Otranto on the south east coast. Otranto old town is a small ancient walled town set on the cliffs. Small winding streets were mostly pedestrianised although we did see the occasional car trying to negotiate some of them- locals only I think as in one instance there was only about an inch spare on either side of the small car! Just outside the old walled town there were restaurants along the sea front which were a lovely place for our morning coffee/ milk shake.
From Otranto we drove south along the beautiful wild coast to Castro. I would definitely recommend this drive as it was really beautiful. We arrived in Castro at siesta time which was a bit of a mistake as not much was open! There is a marina, which we didn’t go to so can’t comment on and the old town is uphill on top of the cliffs. The main Piazza has stunning sea views and we managed to find the one place in town that seemed to be open to have a late lunch here. It was a nice town but a bit of a ghost town when we were there and so lacking any atmosphere- our fault probably for getting there at the wrong time!
On a different day we drove to Gallipoli on the west coast of the Salento peninsula. We headed there late afternoon and went to the beach at Baia Verde, just south of town. Once we eventually found somewhere to park we arrived on what was a beautiful beach but was quite possibly the most crowded beach I have ever been to in my life! It was a Sunday afternoon in August, so with hindsight not the best day to go. We did manage to acquire a small area of sand to flop our towels down on and the children didn’t seem to particularly mind having so many people around them while they were making their sandcastles.
After the beach we headed into the town of Gallipoli. The new town is on the mainland and the old town is over a bridge on a small island. It reminded me of a smaller version of Lecce, by the sea. Lots of beautiful buildings and small alleyways to wander through. Lots of shops selling souvenirs and restaurants. We managed to find a nice restaurant for dinner which was on the edge of the old town looking out to sea. Being west facing we were also treated to a spectacular sunset.
The Salento peninsular has some beautiful towns but is very flat. We enjoyed our three days there and were then ready to move on to the hills of the Valle D’Itria.
This area is apparently the most popular with tourists. It is really beautiful- rolling hills, and picturesque towns. We stayed at a small group of holiday homes sharing a pool, just outside Ostuni. We had four days there where we combined relaxing by the pool at our holiday home, a trip to the beach and discovering the pretty towns of the area.
Being our closest town we did go into Ostuni a few times. As with Lecce, we most enjoyed being in town in the evening, when the temperatures were cooler and there was plenty of life in the Centro Storico (old town). If you go here don’t miss wandering up the steep streets to the cathedral, it is really worth it! We had dinner here in the main square and also an amazing lunch of grilled Octopus in a small cafe one day- enjoying the air conditioning. We hadn’t realised when we went in what a specialist restaurant it was- there was no written menu and when we asked what they had it was grilled octopus or octopus panini. Luckily the children love seafood and they enjoyed sharing an octopus while us parents had gorgeous octopus panini.
This is a lovely little town, set on top of a hill. As with all the towns in this area, the old town area was pretty with a lovely cathedral. We loved the Villa Comunale, a public garden at the edge of the old town with beautiful views across the valley.
Views across the valley from Villa Comunale in Locorotondo
Probably the most touristy and busiest place that we went on this whole trip was Alberobello. It’s a UNESCO world heritage sight (which always inspires Husband to go to places!) and despite the crowds is definitely worth a visit. Throughout this area of Puglia you can spot a few ‘trulli’ dotted around. These are small beehive shaped homes, and the ‘zona dei trulli’ in Alberbello apparently has around 1500 of them! It is really fascinating to wander through the area. Most of them are now small tourist shops and restaurants. Some are still people’s homes and there were a few that you could have a look inside for a small fee. The children were fascinated by the ‘gnome houses’!
Being a peninsular, wherever you are in this part of Puglia you aren’t too far from a beach. After the crowded beach experience that we had down near Gallipoli I did a bit of google research to try and work out which of the local beaches to try. We opted for Monte beach, which turned out to be a good choice. It was busy, which we expected on any beach being peak season. Despite this we were able to get a decent space and the children had room to play. The sea was crystal clear and shallow for a long way so the children enjoyed playing in the sea, paddling, swimming and splashing in the shallows. If you want a Puglian beach with small children I would recommend Monte as the sea was just so safe for them.
As with most Italian beaches that we saw, there was a lido area where you could pay to have a parasol and sunbeds. There was also plenty of other space to just put down your towel or your own beach chairs. There is plenty of free parking space there too (if you are early enough) but also paid parking which had some shade.
Monte beach was only around 10 minutes from where we were staying in Ostuni. There are loads of other beaches in the area that we didn’t try, so whichever part of Puglia you are staying in I’m sure you will be able to find some beautiful beaches.
We think that Puglia with children is a fantastic holiday destination with something for everyone. Beautiful beaches, fantastic scenery, cultural sights and of course delicious Italian food!