Puglia – around Bari and Gargano Peninsula

We loved our family holiday in Puglia, southern Italy last year. The first week we spent time in The Salento area and the Valle d’Itria. Read about our adventures in these areas here.

There were a couple of places that we visited on our way to and from Bari that I wanted to share.

Polignano a Mare

Cala Porto beach overlooked by the old town.

It was our very first day in Puglia that we stopped off here for lunch. It made a great impression and is a place I would definitely recommend visiting either in passing like we did or for longer. The walled old town juts out over the cliffs, looking down over small beaches and caves. Very pretty, and we had my favourite pasta of the whole trip for lunch here in a small restaurant in the old town. Enter the old town via Porta Vecchia, and get lost in the small winding streets- we did! It’s not big, so even if you do get a bit lost you will soon find yourself back somewhere familiar. There are a few lovely viewpoints looking out along the coast and down onto the small beach next to town.

Views of Polignano a Mare from one of the viewpoints.

Top Tips:

  • If you are in a car, like we were, follow the signs for the car park above town then head downhill into town or to the beach. There was lots of on street parking but it was very busy when we were there so you had to be early or lucky to get one of those spots!
  • By the Porta Vecchia (entrance to the old town) there was a little piazza with a couple of restaurants and a small merry go round for the children.
  • Make sure you go to the viewpoints that are signposted in the old town.
  • Have lunch or a coffee in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. Its a beautiful spot and the children can play in the square while you keep an eye on them.

Castel del Monte

The perfectly Octagonal Castel del Monte

While journeying from the Valle d’Itria up to the Gargano peninsular we detoured to see this unique castle. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, so Husband was keen to go as he likes to tick these off the list in each country/ area we travel to!

The castle is visible from a distance away while driving towards it, which built up the excitement for the children. Being on top of a hill also meant that there were gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside from inside. It was a very toddler-friendly place to visit as there was nothing that B could break or knock over! On entering through the shop you come to a central courtyard from where you can go up into the castle. There wasn’t lots to look at inside, the most interesting feature being the perfectly octagonal shape of the castle itself and the amazing views from every direction. If you are in the area it is definitely worth a visit but I’m not sure I would recommend travelling a long distance to go here.

Practicalities:

  • We drove to the castle, which is probably the easiest way to get here. Note however that there is only disabled parking at the castle itself. There is a car park about 1km down the road which when we were there charged €5. They also then run a minibus all the way up to the hill to the castle for €1 per person. We saved money on the minibus by walking- well Husband dropped the children and I at the closest point that you could drive. This was still a good 10 minute walk uphill but it was a pleasant walk through the trees and for us it was quite nice after being in the car for a while. Husband parked the car and then walked all the way up to meet us. As it was downhill the children all managed the walk all the way back down to the car (B was in the pushchair)
  • Food- when we were there they were building a restaurant right next to the castle which should be finished by now. Unfortunately for us it wasn’t when we were there and it was lunchtime! Next to the car park was a large cafeteria style restaurant, which didn’t look great from the outside. Inside it seemed as if it was geared towards tour groups with large tables set up in a cavernous room, but the food was delicious.
  • Pushchairs aren’t allowed inside the castle. We just parked ours outside and B walked (well ran mostly!) around inside. If you have babies or smaller toddlers you might find a sling useful.

Promontorio del Gargano (Gargano Peninsula)

A viewpoint of Arco di San Felice, on the road south from Vieste

We spent a week on the Gargano peninsula, staying at the fabulous Agriturismo Tesori del Sud. We thought that this was the perfect family-friendly accomodation, read our review here.here.

If Puglia is the heel of Italy’s boot, Gargano is the spur! When we first started researching our Puglia trip and I read about this area it was instantly top of my list of places that I wanted to visit. The whole area is a national park (the only one in Puglia). It is very different from the rest of Puglia that we saw- much wilder and greener. The coastline is stunning, with white cliffs and beautiful beaches. Although still busy (it was August), we found the beaches here much quieter than in Salento and the Valle d’Itria where we had spent the first half of our holiday. The interior is mostly forest and along the coast are some lovely fishing towns.

Italy is renowned for fantastic food and being by the coast we has some amazing seafood here. The children are rather partial to mussels and M began to insist that every restaurant that we went to had mussels on the menu!

Vieste

Looking out at the old town of Vieste.

The town closest to our accommodation was Vieste. As with most Italian towns that we visited on this trip we found the best time to visit was late afternoon/ early evening when the heat was subsiding a bit and the early evening light left everything in a gorgeous pinky hue. Shops/ restaurants re-open after siesta and the streets become alive with locals and tourists alike. In Vieste there was a street market on most evenings in the centre of town from 8pm.

Wandering through the old town, you can find lovely little bars overlooking the cliffs to have a drink and plenty of restaurants and shops selling all kinds of souvenirs.

Gelato looking out to sea on the promenade.

There are lots of opportunities for boat trips from Vieste to see the caves along the coast, which I thought sounded great. Unfortunately for us they were mostly around 3 hours long, which would have been too much for the toddler so we didn’t take one.

Top Tips:

  • Be careful where you park in town if you are going to be there for the evening as a lot of the roadside parking was only available until 8pm when it was cleared for the market.
  • There are lots of steps in the old town so it is not very stroller friendly, a sling would probably be handy if you have a baby or young toddler.

Beaches

There are plenty of beaches to choose from all along the Gargano coast. Many of these have lido sections where you pay for sunbeds and parasols, often with parking. If you don’t want to go to one of the lidos parking can be more of an issue! Our favourite beach was Spiaggia Di Baia San Felice, about 15 minute drive south of Vieste. Unfortunately you can’t quite see the famous arch from the beach, but it is a lovely cove which is perfect for young children. There is a lido section which you can pay for and includes parking. There was a bit of on street parking if you get there early enough or like we did you can negotiate to pay just for the parking- we paid €5 I think. There was a small coffee bar too.

B loved playing in the shallow sea.

On the beach, the water is shallow for a long way- perfect for children to play in. We even went on an adventure, wading through the shallows to another small beach, which the children all thought was very exciting!

Peschici

Like Vieste, Peschici is another town with windy alleyways and side streets perched on top of the cliffs. We just called in one day for a wander and lunch so didn’t see as much of it as we did Vieste, but it seemed smaller.

It was hot when we were in Peschici, so a shop selling slushies was a welcome relief to all of us!

There are boat trips from here also and beaches just outside the town.

Forest Umbra

The ‘forest of shadows’ is the interior of the Gargano and was like another world compared with the hot, busy coast! It’s a national park and another UNESCO world heritage site. We drove up windy roads in the cool trees and parked at the visitor centre. There is a small shop here and a ‘nature centre’ (which we didn’t go in). You can buy food from the shop to feed to the deer- this was one of the reasons we headed here! The deer are in a separate part of the forest, through a fence, so not quite the wildness I was expecting! However the children still really enjoyed feeding them and for the smaller children the fence was probably a good thing!

C loved hand feeding the deer, the others preferred to throw it for them!

At the visitor centre you can buy maps of various walking routes through the forest. With young children we drove back down the road slightly from the visitor centre and did a lovely short walk around a small lake. The lake was signposted from the car park and the path was very easy to follow so we didn’t need a map. At a slow pace it took us about an hour and we then had our picnic sat by the lake.

The girls admiring Umbra lake, if you look carefully you can just spot turtles on the other end of the log.

It’s a beautiful setting and we spotted lots of little turtles both sat on logs by the edge of the water and swimming in the water by our picnic spot. There were plenty of fish too who enjoyed eating the crumbs left over from our lunch. The children thought it was fantastic watching the fish thrashing around in the shallows to get to our food!

Feeding the fish.

On the way back to the car we passed a few lovely stalls selling local produce. We ended up buying olive oil and honey. As we were leaving the heavens opened and there was a sudden downpour. We had noticed that the stall holders had started covering things up and packing away- obviously aware of what was to come! The greenery gives a clue that it probably rains quite a bit more here than on the coast. When we got back to our accommodation near the coast everything was dry as bone, it obviously hadn’t rained there at all.

Top Tips:

  • Make sure you bring a picnic, we loved eating by the lake but we also saw loads of other picnic spots as we drove through the forest.
  • It is a few degrees cooler higher up in the forest than down on the coast and is more likely to rain, so just make sure you are prepared for that. For us in the height of summer the cooler temperatures were welcome.

I absolutely loved our whole trip to Puglia- fantastic food, beautiful towns and beaches. Gargano was probably my favourite part of the trip and a place I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to. Have you been to Puglia and if so where was your favourite?