From the Gargano Promontory, the "spur of Italy", to Santa Maria di Leuca, the extreme tip of this beautiful country’s heel where two seas meet. This unforgettable journey of discovery through Apulia takes in breathtaking views, crystal-clear seas, countryside that seems almost surreal and oodles of lovely food!
Time for an adventure to the "2020 Best value travel destination in the world" as chosen by National Geographic, Lonely Planet and the New York Times. Ready, steady, go: Apulia here we come, on board our Fiat Ducato-based motorhome.
The Gargano peninsula, a natural haven for relaxation and sporting activities
In the north of the Apulia region is a unique place in the world: the Gargano peninsula. On one side lies the coast, with its spectacular caves and endless golden beaches bordering the crystal-clear sea; on the other side is a natural wilderness of woodland and forests that make up the Gargano National Park, which is the first stop in our journey of discovery through wonderful Apulia.
Here, in addition to enjoying picture-perfect natural beauty we can try out countless pursuits, from hiking along endless paths, to scuba diving in the protected marine reserve with its kaleidoscope of colours.
For those of us who prefer more urban scenery, there is no shortage of walled medieval hamlets, including Vico del Gargano—also called "the Village of Love"—where we can experience first-hand the beauty of perfectly preserved places where past and present collide with mind-blowing results.
Bari, Polignano a Mare and a taste of the Italian hinterland
Skirting south along the coast in our Fiat Ducato-based motorhome we come to Bari, capital of Apulia and a must-visit destination for any traveller venturing along the region’s roads.
Here, in addition to learning about the folklore of local music and tasting Bari's acclaimed culinary delights, we can admire beautiful sunsets from the waterfront, stroll through the alleys of the old town and enjoy the panorama from the Norman Swabian Castle.
It would be a sin not to visit the Basilica of San Nicola, one of the few places of worship in Italy that hold both Catholic and Orthodox services. Inside this magnificent church, Romanesque-style gilded wooden ceilings adorned with 17th-century paintings leave believers and non-believers alike lost for words. Here’s a fun fact: Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra and, according to legend, his deeds inspired the myth of Santa Claus, otherwise known as Father Christmas. Did you know that?
Continuing our journey southwards on board our four-wheeled friend, we arrive at the Castellana Caves. Here, after losing track of time, space and the seasons along a 3-km underground route, we end up inside the "Grotta Bianca" (White Cave), which is famous for being the shiniest alabaster cave in the world. It takes about three hours to tour the caverns and it’s breathless work! Next we jump back aboard our Ducato and head for the delightful town of Polignano a Mare.
There are no words to describe this place, or at least none that can do justice to its beauty: the cascade of multicoloured houses perched on the cliff, the crystal clear waters, the central schooner around which the whole town was built, with its freely accessible beach. The vistas create an indescribably beautiful scene.
Although there are many cultural activities on offer in the area, the best thing you can do when staying in Polignano a Mare is definitely getting lost: losing yourself in its winding streets and among its craft shops, taking in the enchanting views of the town and the sea, tasting unique flavours while marvelling at the equally unforgettable views. In short, for freedom-loving motorhome owners like ourselves, this stopover does wonders for the heart, mind and eyes!
Last but not least, before exploring the south of the region we should pass through the "town of the Trulli": Alberobello. Here we can stroll through narrow alleys surrounded by these unique stone buildings, which have been restored and faithfully maintained down to every detail, and which are today home to small shops, unique restaurants and tiny, timeless bars. Be sure to pay them a visit before hopping back on board!
The south, Salento and the meeting place of two seas
Heading south towards Lecce in our trusty motorhome, we pass through some wonderful places that are definitely worth a gander, such as the "White City" of Ostuni, the very special Ceglie Messapica, with its farms surrounded by olive trees, the gorgeous city of Brindisi and of course the beaches. Welcome to Salento!
After a two-hour drive we arrive in Lecce, also known as the "Lady of the Baroque" due to the characteristic architecture scattered throughout the area, including spires, portals and most of the houses in the old town centre.
For those who love culture and history, Lecce offers an unrivalled range of activities, such as visits to the Roman Amphitheatre, the Castle of Charles V and the famous Basilica di Santa Croce.
If all this wandering makes you hungry, fear not, because the whole of Apulia is internationally renowned for its cuisine: Lecce is home to the famous Puccia sandwich bread which, whether natural or seasoned, will provide the perfect adventure for your palate.
Continuing our journey south, another hour’s driving takes us to the last stopover on our itinerary, which is the tip of Italy’s heel, Santa Maria di Leuca.
The time has come for a bit of relaxation, and although this area is characterised by rocky coast rather than beaches, the sea and landscape are well worth admiring. When you’re not busy enjoying the sun, sports and artistic attractions, why not walk to the top of the monumental waterfall of Leuca? It is often illuminated with decorative lighting effects at night and from the top you can admire a breathtaking landscape, at the point where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea.
We have come to the end of this journey, but we’re all ready to set off on the next expedition! Apulia offers a vast assortment of landscapes, activities, stories and vistas that are too numerous to cram into this article. Ready to get on board and see for yourselves?
Stay tuned for the next story of adventure in our Fiat Ducato-based motorhome.