Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, first captured my attention several years ago when I saw pictures of Alberobellos fairytale-like trulli, white houses with conical roofs, on the cover of Italia! Magazine. Not only is it Italy, it has sun, beach, culture, cuisine, wine and spa, making it the perfect vacation spot in my book. After Our Big Fun Italian Wedding in Positano, we headed east across the country for our honeymoon in this relatively undiscovered region of Italy.

As we drove across, we zigzagged through the valleys of the Basilicata region’s mountains. Rolling hills then gave way to the arid landscape of Puglia and we were greeted by the land of olive trees. I’ve never seen olive groves like this before… forests of them and the olive trees were HUGE, many dating back thousands of years. The sides of the road were dotted red with poppies growing wild and in between lots of prickly pear cactus.

Puglia is a region of rural farming and as the land between two seas, the Ionian to the west and Adriatic to the east, its lined with coasts of beaches and cliffs. Its history dates back 8,000 years. The first settlers of note were the Greeks who settled here in 750BC…their influence can be seen across the region. At times you feel like you’re in small Greek villages. The Romans built the Apian Way in 190BC running from Brindisi (one of the two big ‘cities’ of the region) to Rome making Puglia the gateway to the East. Today Brindisi still serves a major ferry terminal to Greece.

With a week in Puglia, we barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. We spent all of our time in two areas: the Valle d’Itria which is heart of the Murgia region (south of Bari, the region’s capital and other big ‘city’) full of rolling green hills full of olive groves, vineyards and orchards; and the Salento, the even hotter and dryer region with some of Italy’s best beaches and the country’s most southern point, Santa Maria de Leuca. Our home base was the fabulous Masseria Torre Coccaro in Savelletri di Fasano (north of Brindisi) with mostly Italians and a few British mixed in (we only came across one American couple the whole week of our travels).

The highlights of our trip…

* Towns: We made day trips to the top five on my list…Alberobello, Ostuni, Lecce, Gallipoli and Locorotondo. Each different and special in its own way. I’d love to spend weeks living in each one.

* Cuisine: The food in this area is one of the best I’ve had in Italy…steeped in their local pasta, bread, vegetables and seafood.

* Wine: Once only considered a producer of grapes for blending with other Italian region grapes, Puglia is now making fabulous wines. We tried many and found some favorites including a rosé.

I LOVE Puglia! The region is full of culture including historic ruins, music and local crafts like ceramics, papier mache and lacework. It’s also a great place for outdoor sports like hiking or camping in Garagano National Park, horseback riding in the Valle d’Itria and sailing, snorkeling and diving around the heel. And we stayed at a fabulous old restored masseria (fortified farmhouse), Masseria Torre Coccaro.

Puglia weather is the best in Italy… sun most of the year and very little rainfall. There are two airports, Brindisi and Bari, accessed via London, Milan and Paris mostly with a few flights (something that has kept it a hidden gem). We drove over from Positano then back to Rome to fly home (to Rome was four hours).

Looking forward to sharing more of Puglia with you over the next several posts and very much looking forward to my next visit!