If you have never been to Puglia, then, first of all, you absolutely must go! Secondly, it is good to know about a few things that can help you prepare for your trip.
Let me start with the most important things that, in my opinion, are absolutely essential when traveling in this region:
1. Car rental
Puglia is such a vast region with lots of small towns and a variety of beaches, mostly far apart from each other, that having a car is an absolute must here. Relying only on public transport, we massively limit our access to many beautiful places (or, at least, we make them way more difficult for us to access). Puglia is definitely not a place where you can book a week’s stay in a 5 * all inclusive hotel and spend your entire holiday in one location. Even if you wanted to, you are unlikely to find such places here (thankfully). I will write a separate post about the type of accommodations in which you can stay in Puglia, but regardless of whether you choose a large city like Bari or Lecce for your base, or a small town in the middle of the mainland, a car will be absolutely essential.
When it comes to renting a car, there is no problem with it at all and the whole process is quite simple. It is best to rent a car at the airport in Bari or in Brindisi (in Bari there is a wider choice and slightly lower prices). There are several international companies to choose from, such as Hertz or Avis, but in our opinion, the cheapest are Goldcar and Sicily by Car. The earlier you book, the lower the price will be. Don’t forget to take out insurance. Even if you are 100% convinced of your driving skills, it totally pays off. And not because the roads in Puglia are damaged (not at all, traveling here is very comfortable), but there are small and narrow streets in most of the towns there, which you have to squeeze through and sometimes park in them, so it’s better to have this inner peace, that no matter if you damage the car or someone scratches it, you are fully protected. You can buy car insurance when picking the car at an airport (then it is a bit more expensive) or directly when booking it on a website (if you book through an intermediary’s website, such as carrentals.com, then read the terms of their insurance carefully and make sure if it is insurance without own contribution and settled free of charge in the event of a claim. Insurance conditions in which you do not contribute to the cost at all are the best ones).
Prices for renting a car start from just € 1 / day. I swear! Once, I rented a car for 5 days in February and paid 4.5 € for the rental. In fact, the insurance cost me about 45 €, but it was 50 € in total which, I think, is a very good price.
For comparison, renting a car for 3 weeks in mid-September (economy car, for 4 people) along with its full insurance costs approx. 500 €. Which is 125€ per person per 3 weeks. Not bad at all.
Regardless of the type or standard of the car you want to rent, it is worth having it. You will certainly not regret this decision and the money spent on it.
2. Traveling by car
If I haven’t convinced you to rent a car yet, I will only add that almost all roads in Puglia are free of charge (except one part of the motorway A14 “Adriatic” that connects Bologna with Taranto), so traveling here is relatively cheap. I would also add that fuel prices in the south of the country are significantly different from those in the north (they are much lower) so it’s a win win situation. 🙂
So how is traveling by car in Puglia? Super cool. The roads are in very good condition, traffic is moderate (except on high season weekends), and the views are just breathtaking. What you definitely have to pay attention to is the way Italians drive – very frustrating and very chaotic. It’s true especially in towns, where there are many intersections, few traffic lights, and many desperate drivers. The generally prevailing traffic rules are practically not applicable here. There is a first come, first served rule. Whoever enters the intersection first has priority, etc. Therefore, the only thing you can do in this situation, is to be patient (yes, curses will multiply in your mouth) and be 100% careful, have your eyes in the back of your head, and think for all the other drivers.
These are the charms of this country. I can tell you from my own experience that you can get used to it and, with time, you can even like it.
3. When to travel
It’s always a good time to travel to Puglia! However, there are few colder months there like January or February. Puglia is worth visiting basically from March till the end of November. If you are looking for empty beaches, warm and sunny days and less tourists, it is best to visit Puglia from April to the end of June or from September to October. April or May are wonderful months to visit Puglia due to the very good weather and the awakening nature. The weather may not be very beachy yet (the water temperature in the sea will still be moderate), but it is a great time for sightseeing, cycling, culinary trips and many other things that are offered almost all year round. A month that I definitely do not recommend for visiting this region is August. It is a hot and very unfavorable time for sightseeing, due to the mass of Italian tourists who always, ALWAYS go on vacation in August (and Puglia, next to Sicily and Sardinia, is one of the most liked summer destinations among Italians). If you happen to come to Italy in August, don’t give up. It is still possible to organize your time in such a way as to distance yourself a bit from the crowds and spend it a bit more calmly.
Our favorite months are definitely May and September, although June and the beginning of July also have a lot to offer. We generally love Puglia all year long and all of its many faces. We believe that this place has so much to offer that an unsuccessful vacation is unlikely to be an option here. You will love it here and you will only dream of coming back. This place is magical!
Parli italiano? No…? If you speak all the languages of the world, but you do not speak Italian, you may have some difficulties in this region, because Italians from the south of the country speak English quite poorly (not to say shitty). However, they are very creative in talking to foreigners and will try to get along with you by all means. It is better not to get frustrated and take it as a feature of this country, than to fight for translating something to English at all costs. Fortunately, nowadays we all have access to the Internet and smartphones, so we are able to help ourselves with various applications (it works really well and they are worth using). Usually, things such as menus in restaurants or messages at train stations or airports are in English. However, if you want to ask about something in more detail, you may have a problem with getting information in English.
Therefore, before coming to Italy, it’s good to learn a few basic phrases in Italian and then use them as much as possible, which will definitely make things easier for you. If you don’t, have your phone and a translator with you at all times and give it a go. Italians love when foreigners speak their language, so it’s really easy to impress them.
Puglia is situated on a peninsula surrounded by two seas (Adriatic and Ionian). That gives about 860 km of coast and a great variety of beaches. Both from the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea, you have a choice between sandy and rocky beaches. These, in turn, are divided into wild beaches and private beaches, called „Lido” in Italian, where entry is usually free of charge, but you pay for a sunbed or an umbrella. Yet at the same time it gives you access to services such as a toilet, bar or restaurant. We definitely prefer the wild beaches, whether sandy or rocky, but from time to time we like to go to a private beach if we want to meet friends, go for a nice lunch, or listen to some nice music and lie comfortably on a sunbed.
The choice is huge! Remember, however, that in the high season (especially in August) it is necessary to reserve sunbeds at least 1 day in advance. There are already websites or phone applications available which you can use to check the number of available sunbeds, their prices, and the possibility of booking them (e.g. www.bookyourbeach.net or www.yourbeach.it). You can also ask the host of the place you’re staying in for help in booking sunbeds. Every Apulian knows all the private and wild beaches in the area very well and can certainly give you some advice. A few of the private places that we gladly recommend are, for example: Lido Marza, Lo Sciale, Le Palme, Cala Cerasa, and Guna Beach. But we will develop this topic in a separate post, dedicated exclusively to beaches.
That’s it. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. We will be happy to answer them and help you in any matter.